Showing posts with label Cretan road trip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cretan road trip. Show all posts

Friday, August 6, 2021

Crete ~ Those Haunting Echoes of the Past

The summer sun was already punishing as we began the mid-morning climb to that monument on the hill overlooking the village of Chora Sfakia on Crete's southern coast.  It was tempting to stop mid-point in the ascent, but that wouldn't have been a fair tribute to those the monument honored. We have visited it each time we have been here and we weren't going to miss it this time. 

As I last wrote, we were covering as much ground as possible during our week-long visit to Greece's largest island. I am beginning today's tale where I left off, in the small harbor town on the Libyan Sea that played a big role in World War II:

Chora Sfakia

The Chora Sfakia Monument

In May 1941 Chora Sfakia was the last hope of escape for some 16,000 British, New Zealand, Australian and Greek troops after German forces began an airborne assault on the island, today known as the Battle of Crete. Over four successive nights 11,000 escaped. Five thousand were captured and held in captivity.  In villages throughout the island, Cretans were subjected to severe punishment -- up to and including executions -- for helping the Allied Forces.

The plaque to the side of this monument reads, 'Lest We Forget, This plaque is laid to the everlasting memory of these Cretan patriots who in 1941 were executed by the Germans for helping New Zealand soldiers escape from Crete.' The skulls of those executed patriots are visible in the base of the monument.

Similar chilling reminders of the past -- monuments and statues - can be found throughout the island. We have visited a number of them but Chora Sfakia's will always stand out as among the most memorable reminders of war's atrocities.

Loutro and the Libyan Sea

The Church near Loutro

The ferry trip  from Chora Sfakia to Loutro is short, about 20 minutes, but memorable.  The landscape along this section of the southern coast is some of the most barren to be found. The harshness of the stark hillsides assault one's senses and lets the imagination soar. One of the few signs of humanity along the route is the small church, shown in the photo above. One might say its location is 'in the middle of nowhere'; perched above a steep cliff with only a hiker's trail, or goat trail, to get to it. Who built it?, we wonder. And who keeps it up? 

Loutro on the Libyan Sea

I often describe Loutro as one of our favorite places on earth. And it cast its magic spell on us again as the ferry turned just slightly and the white washed village appeared, almost as if a mirage, in the stark landscape that surrounds it.  

Loutro in late June 2021

Our previous visits here have been in the early spring when businesses were just opening and the season not quite in full swing.  It was different place in late June . . .still charming, very hot, and full of tourists! We were glad we revisited this special spot but equally as glad this visit was a day trip.

On the Road Again

Not far from Chora Sfakia

Lonely Planet guidebook says you can tell you're approaching Chora Sfakia by the increasing numbers of gun shots in the road signs.  I can tell you that all traffic signs we've encountered in Greece seem to be targets of graffiti artists and marksmen.  But I will admit, signs are definitely full of bullet holes along the road to this section of the southern coast.

Heading east: destination Plaka

We headed north, then east, after two nights on the southern coast. Our next destination, Plaka, would be our base for the next two nights. It is the gateway to the island of Spinalonga, the island that for decades served as Crete's leper colony. The remains of the village created there by those castaway victims of  Hanson's Disease, is today a tourist attraction.  The island was made famous by British writer, Victoria Hislop, in her novel about the colony, The Island

Spinalonga island from Blue Palace Resort

Our room at the Blue Palace Resort provided us a stunning view of his haunting place. Tour boats regularly take visitors to and from the island but having visited it on a previous trip, we were content to view it from afar - again letting our imaginations run with the echoes of the past.

Elounda, near Plaka

The weather was hot, as we've learned weather can be in Greece in the summer. We limited our outings to a few hours in the morning then sought the comfort of our air-conditioned room. We often ask ourselves why we travel in the summer in Greece and then further ponder what the appeal of Greece is to the thousands who come here each summer. (Spring and Fall are really much nicer times to travel here.)  

Blue Palace Resort, Plaka, Crete

It was so hot that the resort, operating with the strictest of Covid protocols, (including downloading an app on your mobile and checking yourself in), had to discontinue the practice of taking the temperature of arriving guests before they entered the lobby.  It was so hot that aiming the thermometer at one's forehead made it impossible to get an accurate reading.


Don't believe everything you read in a guidebook, we reminded ourselves again when we were sitting at the cutest beach bar we've visited in a long time. We'd crossed the island again and were back at its west end. We were just down the road from the ferry dock in this port town of Kissamos, on Crete's west end. Our ferry back to the Peloponnese would depart early the next morning.

Kissamos, on Crete's west end

Lonely Planet had us believing if we blinked that we miss the town and it wouldn't be much of a loss if we did.  Au contraire, we would say now that we've been there.  So taken with the town and the hotel in which we spent our final night on the island were we, that we will likely use it as our base on our next trip.

Charming coffee shops, quaint restaurants and numerous shops beckoned.  But in the heat of the day, we headed to the beach - it was the perfect place to end the week.

We thank you for joining us on the last half of our travels in Crete. 

A firesky at our Stone House on the Hill

In closing, I know that many of you follow us on Facebook and therefore know that Greece is fighting a mind-boggling number of wildfires this week.  Some 80+ blazes, with several large fires remaining out of control as I write this on Friday afternoon. Additional equipment and human resources are thankfully arriving from a number of European countries.  The nearest blaze to us is some 12 miles away and we've watched water-bearing helicopters and planes fly a path back and forth dipping into the Messinias Bay in front of our home in their attempts to bring our closest blaze under control for two days now. Please keep Greece, its firefighters and victims in your thoughts and prayers ~

Stay safe where ever you are ~ hope you'll be back with us next week.

Linking in the near future with:

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Crete ~ Old Favorites and New Friends

We knew when we set out that a week-long trip to Crete, or Kriti, as it is known here, simply isn't long enough to see all that this, the largest of the Greek islands, has to offer. 

So our itinerary was based on  two criteria: revisit some of our favorite places and make the face-to-face acquaintance of several Facebook friends who live there.

Bound for Crete from our departure port Gythio 

The length of our stay in late June was determined by the once-a-week sailing schedule of the ferry we had taken from Gythio, in our Peloponnese region of Greece to this elongated island on the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. 

Our week-long itinerary took us to some of our favorite places

The Itinerary

We arrived in Crete's most western port city of Kissamos, in the wee small hour of the morning.  We then drove to nearby Chania, with its charming old town wrapped around its Venetian harbor. Then, after two nights, it was up and over the White Mountain range to the island's southern coast for another two nights in Chora Sfakia. While there, we did a day trip (by ferry) to Loutro . Then, retracing our route back over the mountains, we headed east to Plaka for another two nights. Our final night was spent in the port city of Kissamos. In this post I will take you as far as Loutro. . .

Driving in Crete is a different experience

As I last wrote, we traveled about the island in our car. One of the advantages of being expats and living in Greece is having your own car for road trips like this.  It didn't take long to be reminded of the quirky - but readily accepted --way people drive on this island. It is normal to pull off to the right side so that those behind you can pass even if there are oncoming cars.

Crete/Kriti, at 8,450 square kilometers/3,260 square miles, is so large that it can easily take five hours to drive from its western end to the eastern, a distance of some 340 kilometers.  


I was most excited about our stay in Chania because I have some very good friends there; friends who I had never met face-to-face.  And while I know many of you reading this have your qualms about Facebook, I can tell you that some of the friendships I have made through that social medium are among the many reasons that I sing its praises.  

One FB friend in Chania has been a friend so long that I don't even remember how we met in this on-line world. It was her family-owned hotel that had booked for our first two nights.

Fagotta bar old town Chania

Despoina's small five-studio hotel, Iason Studios, is located only footsteps from the harbor on a street that in the evening turned itself into a fairy-tale setting. And I knew she was a good friend when she told me that she didn't mind waiting until 1 a.m. for our arrival! Yikes! 

The balcony on our 'Lavender' studio

After Despoina got us settled in our studio and headed home for the night, we kicked off our holiday  with a glass of wine at the bar named Fagotto, Greek for the musical instrument, a bassoon. We sat at one of the half dozen tables set up on this narrow street. I didn't think our surroundings could get better until I opened the door and saw our bougainvillea-draped balcony in the morning sun. We couldn't have been in a better location. The suite, which came with kitchen, sitting area, and bedroom, was huge. And our hostess was a charming as I knew she would be! Luckily the Greek government removed the 'wear the mask outdoors' requirement the day we arrived so that she and I could pose for the photo below.

My friend Despoina outside her Iason Studios

The other friends I wanted to meet in Chania were the mother-daughter team who own and operate a jewelry store, Alexia Jewels. We also met on social media when I selected an anniversary necklace from a FB post of theirs last year. The ease of that transaction kicked off our friendship. Throughout the year we've messaged, just to stay in touch.  

I purposely did not post our travel destination on FB as I planned to wear my necklace into the store to see how long it took them to recognize me. I should have known. . .

Alexia and Eveline, friends at Alexia Jewels in Chania, Crete

I had barely gotten to the doorway and not yet entered when Eveline looked up and cried out, "Jackie!!! Is it really you? You came!!"  A warmer welcome I couldn't have received from friends I've known much longer. We pulled out seats and sat and visited as if we'd known each other for years.

South to Chora Sfakia 

Would Niki and her husband still run the small bakery in town?  Would Delfini's still be serving the Sfakian Meat Pie we still talk about seven years later? Would the village look and feel the same?

Sfakian Meat Pie Four cheeses and lamb - still being served!

One of our favorite places on earth is the southern coast of Crete, home to Chora Sfakia and Loutro, villages that we return to each time we are on the island. Not only did Niki and Markos still own the bakery, they have added a second one. Delfini's was still there, serving our favorite meat pie and our favorite waiter is still working there and brought that pie to our table!  

An old coffee shop with a new look in the village 

The village has definitely modernized its waterfront but all our favorites were still there. Many people  even looked the same as we remembered them. We were especially happy to see none of the businesses had fallen victim to the lengthy Covid lockdown we experienced in Greece.  

We had booked a hotel that we'd not stayed in before and found it to be one of the most upscale places we have ever stayed in. A spacious room, huge bathroom and a terrace that could have accommodated many more than the two of us. From the terrace we could watch the ferry arrive from its run along the coast. 

Our upscale room in Chora Sfakia

For you hikers, this is the ferry that hundreds who hike the Samaria Gorge take from the end of the trail to meet buses parked in Chora Sfakia that will transport them back to their vehicles at the trailhead.  

Approaching Chora Sfakia by ferry

We took the Samaria, as the ferry is named, to Loutro the tiny village a bit further west for a morning of  walking along Memory Lane as we have spent two past Greek Easter's in this picturesque spot. (That blue link will take you to more tales and photos of Loutro.)  

Loutro in southern Crete is accessible only by water

With this stop we were half way through our week and I will pause the story there and take up with the rest of Crete next week.  Thank you for the time you've spent with us and welcome to our new subscribers and followers!!  We hope you'll return for the second half of our trip. Until then, stay safe.

Linking soon with:

Friday, July 16, 2021

Another Greek Ferry Tale ~ Destination Crete

The summer sun was uncompromising as we pulled into the line of vehicles waiting to enter the ferry. Often times -- especially on hot and humid afternoons like this -- we wonder why so many people flock to Greece in the summer as shoulder seasons - spring and fall - offer far kinder weather for travel. 

Perhaps, this year the visitors are like we are, making good on a promises made during COVID lockdown to travel again as soon as possible. . . no longer put off trips to some future date. 'Carpe Diem!' we think, even if the sun is baking our brains while we await boarding.

Bound for Crete

This trip in late June, our second 'ferry tale' since Greece reopened to travel in May, was to Crete, the largest and the most populated island in Greece. This ferry took us and our trusty Hi Ho Silver (our Toyota RAV) from Gythio, a town just an hour's drive southeast of us in the Peloponnese to Kissamos, the westernmost port in Crete. 

Our ferry route in red and orange

Often times ferry departure and arrival times are at odd times of the day, such as in the late afternoon and in the middle of the night, as was the case for this trip. Our projected midnight arrival time was actually delayed when one of the semi trucks got high centered on the loading ramp . . .thus we didn't get to our hotel in Chania until 1 a.m. That delayed arrival made us even happier in those wee small hours of the morning that we had brought our car and didn't need to search out a rental car lot along the dark perimeter of the ferry dock. 

Ready to drive a car onto a Greek ferry are you?

But taking a car on a Greek ferry is somewhat 'a trip' in itself - and certainly not for the faint-of-heart or timid driver.  It is especially hair-raising for Americans who are used to having space, lots of personal space. It just isn't that way in Europe. So I must tip my hat to The Scout, who had the duty of driving the car into the ferry.

Drivers wait for cars to move so they can get into their car

The cars are packed so tightly into the belly of the ship that passengers aren't allowed to stay in them when they are driven into the ferry. So The Scout drove the car in and I waited at the ferry entrance for him to emerge. (When we disembarked passengers were allowed to go to the car and wait and thus I was able to take these photos.)  This vessel had a gargantuan loft on which we were parked which required driving down a narrow and steep ramp, 'Tap your brakes! Tap your brakes! Tap your brakes,' the staff shouted as we began our descent.

Tap your brake! and down we went in a blur

Now before I prompt an onslaught of  'unsafe' and 'overloaded' comments, let me assure you that every ferry on which we've ever traveled in Greece with a car has looked this same way. The staff carefully load by vehicle size and destination as these ships often have buses and large semi-tractor trailer rigs filling the center sections. This ferry route operates once a week so they make use of every bit of space.

Inside look at Greek ferries

Our journey was scheduled to be 7.5 hours in length. We could have sat inside at tables in a cavernous restaurant or in airplane type seats in a small airconditioned television area. We, like many others, chose the view seats on the upper exterior deck. The ocean breeze lessened the heat and the canopy provided shade.  This vessel also came without internet so one entertained oneself by reading or sightseeing (or watching Greek television inside). 

Upper deck where every seat has a view. . .

While this was a modern ship, its engine did seem to have mechanical intestinal disturbances which resulted in oil and soot being belched from giant smokestacks making us very cautious in leaning on railings and moving around to different seats.

Soot and oil on passenger benches: don't wear white!

I know I've sung the praises of Greek ferry travel before, but I must again tell you that the Absolute. Best. Part. is:  arriving and departing islands that you might otherwise never have seen as you make your way to your destination.  

This routing took us to the island of Kythira, two hours from Gythio, and then to Antikythera another two hours south.  No matter what the ferry or the island, there is an excitement about approaching land. Once docked, the mad dash and a scramble to load and unload passengers and vehicles always makes for great entertainment. And such was the case in this teeny tiny place. A virtual parade of construction vehicles rumbled off the ship here.

Approaching Potamos, the port in Antikythera 10 p.m.

This route let us see the port shrouded in darkness as well as the way the tiny little place looks in the blazing heat of day. Antikythera reportedly has a year-round population of about 45 and that number can swell to 500 in the summertime.  The island has a medical center, police station, small grocery stores and a helipad.

Approaching Potamos port in Antikythira island at 10 a.m.

Now the larger island of Kythira has perhaps one of the most desolate looking ports we've seen in Greece, but having spent a week here a couple years ago, let me assure you the place also offers charming villages sprinkled about its hillsides and beaches. For a look at Kythira, click this link.

Tourists wait for the ferry at Kythira port

A number of you've written, saying you hope to experience a Greek ferry trip one day. We encourage you to do just that but do keep in mind a few key points: first, weather can impact ferry schedules, up to and including, keeping the ferries from sailing, so make sure your schedule allows for possible delays.  Also check which days the days and how often the ferries sail to places you want to visit. You might be thinking two nights and the ferry may only come once a week. Check arrival and departure times as they could be 2 a.m. in the morning.

Ferries, still our favorite way to visit Greek islands, are conducive to 'slow travel' -- but that doesn't appeal to everyone so pack your patience or book a flight if you can't sit back and relax.

And they aren't the cheapest way to travel either. Our tickets, for a small SUV and two passengers traveling between Gythio and Kissamos cost 150 euros or $177US each way. (Now I have to admit it was great buying things like big jars of Cretan honey and simply putting them in the car, not worrying about fitting them into a suitcase!)

Destination Crete

Crete ahead!

We were gobsmacked to realize that it has been seven years since we spent time in Crete. How had we let that much time slip by without returning to the island where we had actually looked for real estate before settling in the Mani? 

Would Niki still have a bakery in Chora Sfakia on Crete's southern coast? Did they still make those Cretan meat pies at our favorite restaurant in the village? Would Elounda to the east be as charming as we remembered it?

I have Facebook friends on Crete who I've known for years now. It was time to meet as many of them face-to-face as I could. The ferry travels between Gythio and Crete every Wednesday. . .we had a week. in which to travel down Memory Lane. Hope you'll join us next time as we do just that!

Until then, thanks for your time and stay safe!

Linking up soon with:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Crete: A Road Trip to Remember

We’ve left our little ‘red wagon’ at the Athens airport, flown to Crete and picked up our new wheels. . .another teeny, tiny car, which, we’ve decided, is the best in which to travel the rural roads of Greece.  (And with gasoline nearly $8 a gallon – these teeny, tiny cars get great mileage.)

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Our teeny tiny car came in handy today as we took one of our favorite road trips high up into the mountains behind the port town of  Chora Sfakia, where we are staying on Crete’s southern shore. We were headed to Anopoli, another small town, and then on to Aradena, a virtually abandoned township a couple of kilometers beyond it.  Come along for the ride, but buckle up – this isn’t for white knucklers:

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I took this photo at about midpoint of our journey, that’s our little town of Chora Sfakia towards the right side of the photo.  Because The Scout is also The Driver here (manual shift cars)  I had time to count the 38 turns, a mix of sharp hairpin spinners and to take photos of the animals that like to rest on those curves.

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We were heading into the south coast’s rugged and beautiful interior country; a haven for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

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We limited our ‘hiking’ to a stroll through the olive groves that surround Anopoli,  – once such a bustling place that it minted its own coins – today, it  is a starting point for a number of hiking trips.  Two kilometers further down the narrow road we crossed the Vardinogiannis Bridge, a single span of wooden beams and steel frame some 138 meters, or 455 feet above the Aradena Gorge. Just wide enough for our teeny, tiny car!

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Cars cross the bridge slowly, almost hesitantly, the majority are driven by tourists who venture here – either sightseeing or en route to do some hiking  into the gorge. The noise that reverberates throughout the area when a car crosses those beams sounds similar to a series of explosions re-echoing through the gorge.

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The gorge is not only popular with hikers, but the bridge – according to the guidebooks – is a popular bungie jumping point – and holds the distinction of being the highest such point in Greece. (No thank you!)

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Those two highlighted spots on the  right of the photo above are parts of the trail that leads into the gorge. I have to admit that once again we wish we had packed shoes suitable for hiking. . .as these gorges are far too inviting. (And for you ‘boomer’ travelers out there: a majority of the hikers we’ve seen here sport varying shades of gray or white hair so there really are no excuses for not hitting the trail!)

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There’s a lone cafe to the side of the bridge and on its menu was “mountain tea with honey’. We’ve seen that in rural areas and finally gave in to curiosity. . .and now are hooked on this magnificent tea made from plants/herbs/flowers gathered from the upper reaches of the area’s White Mountains or Lefka Ori, It is served with a hearty dollop of locally made honey.

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Crete's White Mountains

We’ll head a bit further west on this southern coast of Crete, overlooking the Libyan Sea when we hop the ferry on Friday to Loutro for Easter weekend. Sorry we’ve not had the time to tell you more about the places we’ve been but we are trying to keep you along in real time and we’ve been on the move for the last week.  I’ll fill in some of the gaps when we are back home and basking in the afterglow of the trip.

Hope you’ll stay with us as we move on after Easter to . . . well, we don’t know where we are going after the weekend.

horasfakia2014 012 
We’ve considered staying in Crete a bit longer, or heading to Thessoloniki in the north of Greece, or returning to The Mani or to Poros Island or perhaps Mykonos and Santorini. . . or perhaps, Egypt. No joke.  We are ‘sort of’ in the neighborhood . . .and we’d still have time for a few nights in Istanbul.

We don’t know where we are going.  If you are up for the suspense of traveling where the winds blow us, stay with us!

Map picture
Linking up today with Budget Travelers Sandbox, Travel Photo Thursday.


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