The final stop for the travel band...
Chania, pronounced Hahn-yah, is the second largest city on the island of Crete. In typical Greek fashion, Chania can be spelled one of three different ways (talk about confusing! Obviously this is excluding the Greek lettering); Chania, Hania, or Xania. This was the first location that we decided to hire cars, and of course being in Greece and on the right hand side of the road, it made for all kinds of fun adventures in trying to decipher where we were going (and are we really ever going to make it home? Wait, how do you spell Chania again?).
Even though Crete was the final gig for the travel band, we weren't too sad yet, we still had six days ahead of us. We arrived at the Heraklion airport in the late afternoon. The flight from Santorini to Heraklion was interesting, one of those up and down flights, but uncharacteristically Greek, we left about twenty minutes prior to our scheduled take off time, and the pilot had started to take off almost before the flight attendant could finish giving us the safety demonstration. Interesting! Our stewardess had some mad skills (or maybe just lots of practice with our over zeallous pilot!).
We had booked the 20.00 bus to Chania, which was about a three hour drive from Heraklion (the main city in Crete). The bus ride was pretty uneventful, despite some very annoying young Greek boys who were joking around the entire time. We arrived in Chania a little later than expected and feeling a little worse for wear. We divided up into two groups for the taxis so that they could drop us off at our accommodation as our host, Andreas, was patiently waiting for us. As is the case with most bus stations in town, they are usually right in thick of the action, which appeared to be the case for the station in Chania. However, our taxi ride was proving to be much longer than it should have been and I was beginning to get a little worried. Great, finally the bubble of "luck" that I had had in booking the accommodation for us had burst. Our taxi finally pulled up to an incredibly run down building on the outskirts of town. I quickly looked at my phone (which had the pictures of our stay) and then at the house, "nope, this cannot be it!". Unless of course, I had been played a fool by the best photoshopper out there! I passed my phone to the driver and had him dial our host Andreas. A few seconds later (what seemed like 10 minutes), the driver was laughing, he had taken us to the wrong area (thank god! We were miles from anything worthwhile) but in his defense, there were two of these streets in Chania. A few minutes later, we were back in the Old Town of Chania (were the touristas belong!).
The Old Town of Chania is a labyrinth to navigate, so many twisting and winding turns, so it was easier for us to do the rest of the distance by foot. Thankfully Andreas (who funnily enough ended up being a friend of a friend of mine from uni - very small world!), was patiently waiting for us. And even more fortunately, the accommodation lived up to (and again exceeded expectations)....phew!! A gigantic sigh of relief.
Our first day in Chania was very relaxing. We spent the majority of the day sightseeing and getting a sense of the layout of the town, which was much larger than Oia (but definitely manageable). We went to the famous leather markets and spent the rest of the afternoon bar hopping (we were in the ideal location for it). By early evening, we retired to our terrace where the drinking continued (this time we were peanut racing! Explained in pictures below but a tradition in our families). And as you can imagine with any drinking game, it got rowdy. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant not far from our house and then headed out on the town again (and for more peanut racing). It wasn't long before it became abundantly clear to us that it was time to go home. Peanut racing had gotten the better of us (and to be honest, I'm not sure that Greece was ready for it...we had random men helping themselves to eating our racing peanuts right out of the bag). They clearly had no appreciation for the sanctity of the game.
The second day began with a visit to the Chania Farmer's Market, which was conveniently located about two streets over from our accommodation. We had decided the previous day that we were all quite keen for a home cooked meal that evening so what better way to prepare for it than to purchase locally grown produce! We then dipped out for a quick lunch followed by a very chilled day relaxing at the local beach. That evening we cooked our meal. Each of us was "assigned" to a course; Kel made bruschetta, I made the grilled veggies, and Elena and Tori were in charge of the pasta (Alex made sure our glasses were topped up). It was a spectacular meal and definitely a well received break from all of the eating out that we had done recently.
On the third morning, Alex, Elena, Tori, Sam and I had elected to go on a hike of the Samaria Gorge, which is the largest gorge in Europe and Crete's only National Park. The hike began with a pick up in the centre of town at 6am. We drove to Omalos, where we had a quick breakfast, and then proceeded to Xiloskalo to commence a 16km descent (thankfully not an ascent!) into the Samaria Gorge. We were at 1230m altitude. The hike was thoroughly enjoyable and certainly a very picturesque part of the world. By far the highlight of the day was our tour operator Thomas. I still burst into fits of laughter whenever I think of him (and his bumbag or fanny-pack for you Americans) and I really wish I had gotten a picture with him as only a picture can capture the true essence of Thomas! Let's just say that I can certainly see the likes of Will Ferrel or Sascha Baron Cohen playing a Thomas-esque character about being a park ranger in the future. I'm not sure if Thomas originally hailed from Greece (he had long flowing blonde locks...a wild curly mane!), his English was good, but certainly interesting to say the least as he took very odd long pauses when he spoke (I took a video of him talking to us - Alex and I spent both the journey to and from the Gorge in tears from so much laughter). He would repeat very odd things excessively when he spoke, for example, when trying to clarify at what time we were supposed to be halfway through our walk, he would say "Eleven fifteen. That is fifteen minutes passed eleven, or one one dot one five" (and then go on to repeat it several more times). Needless to say, when you hear that several times, and along with the other things spelled out this way, it was hilarious. You could also say that we are both slightly immature!
Following our hike, we finished the walk by taking a dip in the Libyan Sea. The cold water never felt so good on our aching feet! We had a few beers beachside while we waited for the rest of the tour group to finish and then we piled back on the bus. In the early evening, we met Kel back at the apartment, quick showers were taken all round and we went out for dinner. Somehow we managed to bargain an excellent deal with one very naive matri'd who agreed to give us free drinks if we ate at his restaurant while we watched the World Cup. Big mistake for him, but a win, win for team travel!
The next morning, we had finally obtained a bit of independence and opted to hire a couple of cars to further explore Crete. Because none of us felt confident enough to drive a seven seater stick van (it has been a long time since I have driven a manual and being on the right hand side of the road would be far too intimidating! AND in Greece no less...AND I'd have five backseat drivers...), we opted for two small automatic cars. I drove one car, and Alex drove the other. I knew driving in Greece was going to be interesting, but it wasn't nearly as hectic as I had imagined it (perhaps it's worse on the mainland), but all the other drivers seemed to be quite courteous and nobody did anything too obscene. Having said that, it goes without saying that all the speed signs are completely inconsistent, and if someone is taking you over, you are supposed to pull halfway off of the road. Interesting. As my car (which contained Tori and Elena) was the designated lead car, we were in charge of leading the way. Tori, my Chief Navigator, did a fabulous job of accurately navigating me at all times. The only problem was that on most occasions, our GPS would either not update accurately, or was completely outdated for the "new" roads (which I would guess weren't all that new!). Things got incredibly "interesting" when we had a few instances of off-roading (and I'm talking serious bush bashing) while trying to find the on-ramp to the highway. I'm not sure the second car found our adventures nearly as amusing as we did, but our car certainly found all of our unplanned adventures to be highly comical. We got the see the real Crete!
Our first road trip was to Elafonisi Island, which was about three hours away and is a large lagoon with crystal clear water (and pink sand!). It was absolutely stunning. One side of the Island is luke warm water, and the other side is refreshingly cold. It is very shallow and you have to walk out almost a kilometre to get any depth! Ideal for young children, I would imagine. Following Elafonisi, we had a small pit stop at a beach that we spied that was not too far out of Chania (about 20kms). Elena and Alex had a quick dip while the rest of us relaxed. The second car was quite keen to get back to Chania to relax before dinner so they decided to leave the beach early. Tori, Elena and I were slightly peckish before we packed up and left so we decided to eat at one of the restuarants that we saw on the shorefront of the beach. WOW! All I can say is that it was by far the best food that I had in Greece. Absolutely divine (and free shots and dessert to boot!). Of course because the rest of the travel band missed out on the incredible meal, we vowed to take them there for lunch the next day (and we did).
Day five, our final full day in Greece, began with a quick stint of last minute shopping in the morning before we packed up our things and hit the road. As the small snack the Wetmores & I had had the evening before had made such an impression on us, we decided to drive 20km out of our way to take the rest of the group there for lunch. And we couldn't have been more pleased we did. They also agreed, best meal in Greece. Hands down (Thank you to Tori for picking it!). Following lunch (post more free desserts and shots...sidebar, don't worry, the drivers were not doing shots!), we piled back into our respective cars and made our way for Heraklion. It was about a 160km drive but passed by relatively quickly as we had plenty of stunning views, some great banter and some "interesting" Greek music on the radio.
That evening we had dinner at our hotel, which was very close to the airport. The dinner was nothing special, but a buffet, so gave us plenty of chances to stock up "one last time" on anything Greek that we were going to miss. I for one certainly ate my fair share of tzatiki (we seriously must have consumed kilos of the stuff during our trip! Insane). The best part of dinner was in fact that the beer and wine was on tap and unlimited. So what was planned to be an early night ended up turning into a serious session of "go time" and we had the rowdiest night for our entire stay in Greece. Again, I repeat, when will I learn to not drink excessively before a travel day?!
With very sore heads the next day, some far worse than others (thankfully it was not me!), we bid farewell and closed out a fabulous holiday. Such a fantastic trip with so many memories and laughs! Big thank you's to my family for making the time and spending the money to come and spend time with me! I cannot wait to go to back to Greece...
Next up Berlin....
Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.
Shots at breakfast...OPAAA!!!!! Bit of a rough way to start the morning. My preferred shot in Greece is by far ouzo. As we were now in Crete, we were drinking Raki which is the local liquor (it's ouzo in Athens and other islands). Boo Raki (I think the Turkish Raki is nicer). Although Elena and Alex seemed to acquire quite the thirst for it...Alex seemed to drink it like water and Elena was down to do a shot at anytime! I was happy when I was "driving" so I could kindly decline and slide it right on over to Elena...the Raki shot master!
The streets of Chania. This place is such a gorgeous seaside town. I adored it.
The coast of Chania.
Our amazing rooftop terrace! We killed some serious time (and brain cells) up here. Bloody brilliant! Who doesn't love a good rooftop patio!
The Old Town in Chania from our terrace.
Elena and her champion peanut! PEANUT RACING!!!! I'll explain the significance of this below...
Cousins peanut racing!!! So this might sound quite strange, but peanut racing is a pretty important game in our family (and I believe the reason Elena and I are a week apart...after a very boozey weekend away peanut racing). Back in the early 80s (and maybe the 70s?!), our parents were avid peanut racers. That was the thing to do on a night out. You each would sit with your pint of beer, pick a peanut, and ready steady go, drop it in the beer. The first peanut to get to the bottom and then rise to the top is the winner. And if you loose, you down your pint. You really don't know how exciting or how intense this game can get until you get involved (and perhaps a few pints in). There really aren't any hard and fast rules as to which peanuts are "winners". I've used small ones, big ones, extra salty ones, etc and they have each been winners. But rest assured...when you find that winning nut, you put that buddy in your pocket and use him all night long! You can imagine the strange looks we received when we started racing our peanuts in the middle of a restaurant (screaming at our beers!)....and walking into a nightclub with a bag of peanuts...snack time?! It is honestly hysterical. And just to emphasize how important it is to look after your winner, about a week later in Berlin, I was wearing a pair of shorts I hadn't worn for a while and found my winning nut in my pocket. It's serious business!
Peanut racing in action.
My lovely cousins.
Bit blurry but Al & I.
Kel & Sam.
An intense game...although Tori looks completely preoccupied!
The markets! Just outside our house.
Hahaha...oh this bloke...wow...I don't know what to say. I think pictures scream far louder than words. But he does make a helluva kebab, Al bought one from him...tasty.
View of Chania from a lookout.
The magnificent Samaria Gorge...
Alex keeping hydrated. We were so excited that we could just fill up our water bottles as we walked! Until we saw people upstream washing their feet....GROSS!
Some wild deer (not actually sure what this animal is!)
More of the incredible Gorge.
Me in the Gorge.
A very well deserved swim post the 16km hike (fortunately downhill!). Well, for most of it. And also the scene of quite possibly the worst chat up line I have ever heard. The young Egyptian waiter was quite found of Elena, and asked to see her eyes (which are blue). He then proceeded to tell her "oh, you are not so bright!". Hmmm...are you knocking her intelligence young sir? I believe he was trying to make a comment for how tan she is considering she has light eyes, but who really knows...anyway, we got a kick out of it.
Seriously the most incredible blues that I have ever seen!
The very warm water of Elafonisi island. Some parts of the beach were very warm, others quite cold. A beautiful large lagoon with pink sand (Bermuda you aren't alone!).
And again...I was really blown away.
Elena and Al having a dip at a random pebbled beach we found on the way home from Elafonisi.
Sunset somewhere in Crete (random town we found).
Our last night...I hate goodbyes! The close of a fabulous trip with my lovely family.
Ok this just sums up our last night...ridiculously boozey...why oh why do we drink before a travel day?! Never again (ugh, now we all know that is a lie!)