Our Cretan Crawl

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March 17th 2011
Published: March 17th 2011
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Thu 10 – We awoke at our beachside campsite at Kineta..........not the latest in mod-cons! The toilet and shower blocks were extremely uninviting. Being the only campers, we knew there were no worries about queuing for the shower but we did expect it to work. Baz tried inserting coins into 2 separate cubicles with no luck, yet he persevered in a trickle of cold water (J had a nice hot shower in the Hymer!) The owner, a Greek version of Rigsby, seemed to know the shower wasn’t working but hadn’t thought to mention it to us!

We finally departed and headed for the huge port of Piraeus along the old twisty coast road, with huge chunks of precipitous wall missing every half mile and very often flowers, a cross or wreath where the accident had happened! The Greeks rarely wear seat belts or crash-helmets and cram as many people into their cars as required, including young children and babies on laps.

Thankfully following GPS we’d got, we found our ferry and the check-in desk. We boarded straight away, about 1.30pm for a 3pm crossing to Crete.....a 6½ hour journey. This ferry was even more luxurious than the last. We enjoyed a sunny, calm crossing treating ourselves to both lunch and dinner on board. B was delighted to watch a Liverpool v Portugal game on TV (though they lost 1-0). Landing at about 9.30pm, we parked up on the dockside for the night.

Fri 11 – A cold and overcast start that gradually brightened, found us walking from the port to the ancient Venetian fort and then into town. Not the most attractive of cities but very busy and commercial. A look around, a hair-cut for J, drinkies in a bar in the market then back to the van.

Again following advice and GPS we had, we located a garage which was able to re-fill our two gas bottles (a French & Italian) without too much hassle and swearing between Baz, the bottles and the attendant! From there we headed back to the coast in an easterly direction, driving beside the water, passing through what would be fairly touristy developments...............dormant at this time of year. We finally parked up at about 5.30pm by a lovely beach and settled in.

Sat 12 - A glorious warm, sunny day – T shirts and sandles out. A nice lazy day meandering eastwards. Stopped in the nearest largish town to do a supermarket shop.......all VERY Greek, nothing written in English.....our lamb chops turn out to be pork!

Drove through a string of resorty places with busy towns but rows of empty,closed bars/tavernas. All in a beautiful setting but a bit rough-round-the-edges and a mass of concret buildings. Finally headed inland around the first main headland east of Heraklion...very mountainous, rural and rugged (olives, sheep and goats...who usually appeared in the middle of the road, just after a hair-pin corner). We stopped at Paralia Milatau a charming tiny fishing village with a couple of open tavernas......hence stopping for ‘refreshments’. Whilst sipping our carafe of wine we were befriended by a Scottish woman who lives there. She gave us a map and some good tips of places to stop at. On her recommendation we drove upwards to Milatos caves and after a picnic lunch, we took our torches to explore the very start of the caves (used in previous times as a refuge from the Turks). With our torches being only so-so, we didn’t go far but we were told the caves are vast (a couple of years ago a pair of tourists got lost in the caves overnight!).

Carrying on and trying to find our way around the headland (having to turn back at one point and re-negotiate the route which passed through hamlets where families had to move their tables and chairs again to let us through!) we finally arrived in the small fishing village of Plaka. We have parked up by the beach directly opposite the tiny island of Spinologa... a former Venetian bastion, then a Turkish fortress before becoming a leper colony in the early 1900’s. We are hopefully going to eat in one of the fish tavernas that seem to be open for the locals.

Sun 13 – What a special night last night! We ate in our nearest Taverna with only a couple of locals and a group of about 4 young couples who had gathered for an evening of traditional music and dance...... 3 stringed instruments and a flute; one girl in particular with a lovely voice, who occasionally joined the the other girls to dance...using a paper napkin to wave instead of a kerchief. Ignoring the extensive menu, we just asked what was good and hugely enjoyed shared plates of Greek salad, Calamares, Gavros (whitebait?) and sautéed potatoes....all washed down with ¾ litre of red. We lingered for the evening, experimenting with our Greek with the waitress and playing cards.....fabby.

After a slow start we drove south to Elounda, a charming little town where we stopped for a meander. Being a Sunday there was little traffic but a lot of Greeks about. Then on the the large town of Agios Nikolaos (Ag Nik to the Brit ex-pats!). We parked up and spent a couple of hours exploring in the wonderful sunshine (about 70 degrees). We walked around a large inland (very deep) lake, which has now been opened to the harbour, where we stopped for drinkies, more exploring then a stop for lunch at a very popular waterside spot....with the inevitable road separating the waterside diners from the main restaurant and slow-paced waiters ambling between any traffic to the other side! Meatballs, fried courgettes & potatoes cooked with tomato/onion and a ½ litre of wine for 16 euros...not bad.

Carrying on, we followed a coastal road with terrific views, before venturing deep into the countryside, mainly on paved roads to reach the little village of Mohlos....typically tatty (usual rubbish strewn about and cats everywhere) but with several great looking fish tavernas. We parked up in a large gravel area beside the sea and after an hour or so’s stroll, settled in for the evening which didn’t turn out as expected. Our problem with the leisure battery flashing a ‘low’ warning happened again so we cooked and played scrabble by candlelight!

Monday 14 – Meandering back onto the main road we drove through the mountains to the largish town of Sitia. Our route took us through some lovely villages with groups of old men nattering in the cafes and old women dressed in black, sitting on their doorsteps. Also the colours are soooo good.......blue skies and water, very green grass and masses of early blossoming trees and spring flowers in yellow, white and purple.

Navigating anywhere is a challenge in Greece. Many road signs are in the Greek alphabet only and others had been graffitied or shot full of holes! Whether one uses a map or the TomTom, the trick is firstly finding the right spelling....the same town can have several different spellings depending on which book/map you’re looking at........and then having found your chosen town on TomTom, he will list a dozen or so Greek towns of the same name!!

Having arrived in Sitia, with some clever use of our Greek phrase book (thanks Dave & Andrea!) we found a shop selling calorgas lanterns (our wind-up one is pathetic).....so at least if we have to spend evenings without the leisure battery, we’ll have decent light. We then very cleverly drove out onto the marina, parked up and plugged ourselves into free mains electricity. This is a fantastic spot with panoramic views of harbour, town, castle and mountains and...........hot sunshine! We’ve had a lazy day at home, even getting out the sun-lounger by the quayside to sunbathe. This seemed to amuse the locals, who despite the heat are still clad in jumpas/coats.

We’re eating in tonight but will go for a stroll around town early evening.

Tue 15 – A walk up to the Venetian fort then back around to the market......no EEC regulation sized veggies here! A haircut for B in an old style barbers, complete with masking tape holding the vinyl seat covers together, drinkies in the sun whilst waiting for our BBQ’d chicken to be ready then back to Hymie for lunch. We reluctantly headed on from this perfect spot in Sitia to make our way into the wilds to the BC ruins of Itanos, pretty much the furthest north-easterly point in Crete. Only passing the occasional car/truck we turned off the main road and found ourselves in a fantastic, deserted area with 2 superb beaches either side of a hill festooned with ancient ruins and great views of the rocky coast to the south.

After exploring, onwards to Vai, otherwise known as Palm Beach as the whole area is thick with date palms.....apparently derived from the Romans discarding their date pips! Vai is literally only the beach with a large carpark behind, where we are parked. The beach is a lovely stretch of sand with an attractive bay and off-shore rocky outcrop. The evidence of a closed restaurant, various stalls and enormous carpark indicates that this is a top-spot in the season....................we have it all to ourselves, not a soul around.

Wed 16 – After another stroll on the lovely beach we set off down the east coast, passing through little towns and stopping at Zakros to buy bread and walk around the narrow little backstreets. Everyone is very friendly with big smiles, nods of heads and a Kaleemera or Ya sas as you pass by. A little way on we stopped at Kato Zakros to brew-up. This would be a wonderful place to stay, very peaceful and quiet with just a few houses/tavernas (all closed now) The weather was so glorious, we laid towels on the beach and sunbathed/read for a while.

Moving on, we stopped at the beginning of the Zakros gorge (dead man’s gorge...the ancients used to bury their dead in the caves either side). We ventured far enough down the rocky footpath (thick with wild flowers) into the gorge to get a good view, then continued our drive to Xerokambos.............a lovely and very remote spot with a terrific beach, rooms to let and a couple of tavernas (again, all closed at the moment). After lunch we explored some BC ruins and then moved on.

By this time we were crossing the mountains of Crete’s south-east corner........ ziggy-zaggy, up & down with wonderful views (we passed only wo other cars on the road!), finally descending into Gourdouras.........not particularly attractive and typical of towns on this coast....due to zillions of greenhouses clad in white plastic. This part of Crete grows veggies for the whole of Greece. We carried on along the coast and have finally parked up next to the beach in Makrigialos. Again, not especially attractive, closed bars/tavernas but a good long sandy beach.

Our Route (overnight stops in capital letters)
Since KINETA on Wed 9 March.........Megara; Elefsina; Piraeus; ferry to HERAKLION (206 miles)
Gournes; Kato Gouves; ANALIPSI
Limin Hersonissou; Malia; Paralia Milatou; Latskia; Neapoli; Finokata; Vrouhas; PLAKA
Elounda; Agios Nikolaos; Istro; Gournia; Kavoussi; MOHLOS
Mirsni; Skopi; SITIA
Mont Toplou; Enmoupolis/Itanos; VAI (Palm Beach)
Palekastro; Kelaria; Zakros; Kato Zakros; Xerokambos; Ziros; Gourdouras; MAKRIGIALOS

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