Published: August 18th 2009August 18th 2009
Today was our day to visit the northeastern end of Crete, situated around the main city in the region, Sitia (sih-tee-ah). The Rolling Box again encountered rugged, mountain terrain, and while we were a little bit green from the hairpin turns, we made it in short order. Sitia is a busy oceanside city that caters to tourists, farmers from the surrounding countryside, industrial entrepeneurs, vacationers from mainland Greece, and a large boating community. Unfortunately, it does this all at one time, and the little comment in our guidebook that says "Sitia is off the main tourist routes, guaranteeing travelers a degree of tranquillity" appears to be slightly outdated.
The main reason we came today is because it's market day in Sitia, and two whole streets are converted into a busy produce, clothing, and knickknack bazaar. Rickelle and I wandered up and down both rows, but nothing jumped out as a must have to either of us. We were tempted by the multitude of fresh tomatoes, beans, onions, cheese, okra, apples, peaches, oranges, grapes, pistachios -- it all looked so good!
After driving around a bit and becoming frustrated that the "Sitia Automobile Parking" area actually translates to "If you
are not able to transform your auto into a suitcase a la the Jetsons, you will not get to park in Sitia", we decided to head up the coast to see Moni Toplou and Vai.
On our way along beautiful seaside coasts, we passed the Dionysus Village, which from afar looks like a scale model or Disney-esque town perched perfectly on a hill and sloping down to water's edge. We made a plan to stop back by later on, because most attractions, stores, and restaurants close down between noon and four in the afternoon -- napping is taken very seriously here! Our second stop of the day was the Monastery Toplou, which is an Orthodox Greek monastery that has perched atop a high plateau for several centuries, and now houses an extensive museum, leases the windy plateau to the national government for placement of huge wind turbines, and has its own winery and vineyard. We toured the museum, snuck out to the back to see the grapes hanging from the trellises, checked out the old gristmill, and then escaped just as two full tour buses pulled into the parking lot.
On our way to Vai, we finally ran
into a herd of "feta on the hoof" -- we have been eating feta cheese on our Greek salads everywhere we can over the past twelve days, but today was the first day we have seen goats and sheep in abundance! Rickelle loved taking the goats' pictures, and they seemed to enjoy it just as much! They posed magnificently on rocky outcroppings, stared unflinchingly into the camera as if they were professional goat models, and even came up to see if she had anything delicious in her hand. After about ten minutes of us being parked on the side of the road, there were goats all around us, and I think we now have as many goat pictures as we do of the rest of our trip. When we finally got back to the main highway, I asked Rickelle if she was mad, and when she raised her eyebrow and asked why, I hit her with the pun I had been saving for five kilometers... "Well, that road really got your goat..." Ha-ha, and the Rolling Box rolls on!
Our next destination of the day was the ancient city of Itanos, which we just did an obligatory driveby through,
and the palm forest of Vai, which is the biggest collection of palm trees in all of Europe. I'm sure that this is particulary awe-inspiring to your average European, but to two Florida/Bahamas kids, we were kind of needing the Black Forest of palm trees to be suitably impressed. Either way, we drove through what there is really quick, got up to where the vacationer entrance is, and did a quick U-turn. Vai is one of the busiest beaches on Crete, but we didn't feel the need to share in the beach experience, since we're pretty jaded about our own Exuma beaches.
On the way back from Vai, we pulled into Dionysus Village again. You enter from the top, so the whole thing slopes down below you to the sea. We zoomed to the end like a bunch of tourists, turned around, and came back and parked. From here, things entered some sort of parallel dimension, because we walked around this whole Village, complete with two story condos, post office, humongous deck pool, and wine shop, and we never saw a single human being
. Not anywhere. Think of ghost town, and then multiply that by a hundred. *cue the
Twilight Zone music*, and we got out of there, before the zombies erupted from the manhole covers or the Birds attacked from the sky.
Our last stop of significance we almost missed, but Rickelle's "STOP THE CAR NOW!" let me pull over in time for us to become the proud owners of a full kilogram of fresh grapes from a roadside stand adjacent to the fields they were picked in. We spent the rest of the ride back to Makrigialos popping handfuls of fresh, sweet, delicious grapes into our mouths like M&M's. Amazing!
We just got back from the hotel's Greek night by the pool. The food was great, but we have to admit to running away from the smoking and Zeus the lounge singer's renditions of "It's Now or Never" and "Guantanamera". We're going to bed early so we can do some spleunking tomorrow in some of Crete's three thousand caves.
There are more photos below