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Published: January 31st 2010
When I set off from home in February, I didn't have a very precise plan of where I was going; all I had was an airline ticket to Bangkok and a connecting flight several weeks later to Kathmandu. I had hoped to visit Greece in the fall, perhaps on the way to Israel, to climb Mount Olympus. However, I ran out of time and decided to skip Mount Olympus in order not to miss the first week of the Israel National Trail. After all, as my sister said, "Mount Olympus will be something to look forward to in the future! Barring earthquakes or volcanic eruptions it should still be there." So I was a tad surprised to find myself flying into Athens at the end of December. For that I have to thank Cairo.
I've been blogging a bit out of order so should briefly explain. After visiting Jordan, I returned to Israel for two days and then undertook 18 hours of bus rides to travel from Tel Aviv to Cairo. (Really not bad considering that during that period I also had an hour nap in a park, visited the hostel in Eilat where my friend works and obtained an Egyptian visa from the consulate.) After five days in Cairo, I decided that it was not a city in which I wished to spend any additional time so started looking for a place to visit while waiting for an organized tour of Egypt to start. The cheapest flight I found was to Athens, so Greece made its way back onto my itinerary (even though its too late in the year to climb Mount Olympus).
I found a fantastic hostel in Athens - the Backpackers Hostel, which is located about a 5 minute walk from the Acropolis and a street filled with touristy, but nice, cafes and restaurants. I spent a few days wandering around the city, visiting local graveyards, walking through the ruins, etc. and enjoyed New Years eve in the city, watching the fireworks after dinner with two Canadian girls that I had met who are working in South Korea. Then, as I had missed it on my former visit to Greece, I decided to go to Crete. My first stop, after the overnight ferry from Athens (which, by the way, should add an announcement when it reaches port so that heavy sleepers like me don't wake up to find the boat nearly empty) was Chania. A fellow-passenger from the boat was picked up by her boyfriend and they gave me a ride into the center of town where, at 6 in the morning, I was fortunate to find an open restaurant that let me nurse a cup of tea for 2.5 hours before setting off to find a place to stay. (I knew it was time to go when the restaurant manager came off to comment/complain that I read a lot.) The town is full of houses with rooms to let, the only trick, given that I was visiting in the off-season, was to find one that was open and had someone at home. Many of the houses posted a mobile number to call if you were interested in a room, but that isn't much help to someone travelling without a phone. I finally found a nice spot, just a block from the old harbour, where I rented a mini-apartment. The first level had a small sitting area with kitchenette and bathroom and the loft above was the bedroom.
My plan in going to Chania was to find some nice mountain walks; not too high given the snow but through the foothills. However, I quickly realized that sleeping in and walking in the area, rather than a long bus ride to walk on paved roads, was rather appealing. So I spent several days lazing about, taking walks along the beach instead of in the mountains. My next stop was Heraklion, the city that hosts the ruins of the Minotaur's labyrinth. I bought a bus ticket and hopped on the public bus in the middle of the day, not sure how long the trip would take but figuring it couldn't be too long as Crete is not that large an island. After about 2 hours we stopped and everyone got off, so I followed suit and struck off into town looking for a place to stay. The next morning, I returned to the bus station to inquire about the local bus to the ruins. The ticket seller told me that I had to firs travel to Heraklion and catch a bus from there. Hmm, I figured I must be on the outskirts of the city, and asked how far the trip was to Heraklion. She responsed that it was an hour and a half by bus! Now I was quite perplexed, but too proud to ask where I actually was. So I spent the next two hours walking through the city, looking for any sign that named the city in the English alphabet. I finally found a shop that mentioned the city name - it turned out, I'd only made it halfway across Crete. I was in the island's third major city, which the guidebook described as a good place to visit to "get a feel for the local way of life." This is code for "there is nothing to do here." Happily, I found a bookstore and it was a sunny day so I spent the time spread out reading on a balcony. I finished my trip to Heraklion the next day. (I have to say, I'm actually quite impressed that this was only the first time that I had got off a bus or train in the wrong place.)
The highlight of Heraklion is the Minoan ruins. Despite repeated reminders from my father that the Minotaur was a myth, not real, I was a bit disappointed to find that there was no actual labyrinth at the site. Nonetheless, it was a nice place to visit (and free on Sundays), although my ability to be impressed was a bit dulled after seeing the pyramids. The signs at the site were very informative, and although I took a guided tour, I'd say in hindsight that it wasn't necessary. Because I'd given myself plenty of time to find the ruins that day, I'd managed to walk the 5 miles out, tour the area, walk back and spend an hour on the internet before 2 p.m. I was then faced with spending the afternoon and the next day at the absolutely awful hostel where I was staying. The thought of taking a shower there caused me to revolt; I checked out of the hostel and moved into a lovely hotel for the night, made possible by a pocket full of sunshine (thanks Jaimee!). My free day in the city was actually very nice; there is a great coast to walk around and the town is filled with old ruins and nice buildings. At the end, I took the night ferry to Athens, from where I was flying back to Cairo that afternoon. For those of you trying to locate me in real time, I have finished a great visit to Egypt and am now in Ireland, where I am consuming enough chocolate to sustain a small country (I figure rather than wear an extra sweater as I return to cold climates, I'll just add on a layer of blubber - it will save time getting dressed in the mornings!)
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