A Travellerspoint blog

Heraklion

A visit to the south coast of Crete.

sunny 35 °C
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Red woke up this morning - aching all over. He reckons that this bed is harder than the one in Budapest - now, that's saying something! I didn't sleep too badly, but probably woke up about 10 times. We resolved that we would work out a better arrangement for tonight.
Breakfast is served here at the Erivolos Apartments, and cooked by Liza herself. So, at about 8am we walked down to the little dining area near the pool and had a lovely breakfast - that started with cake! Oh well - as a restaurant proprietor in Santorini once said to us - "You are in Greece! EAT!" So - we did!
Liza's daughter Giouli (pronounced Julie) - gave us some advice on where to go today. Redmond - the absolute king of internet research - had found out that the Archeological Site at Knossos (which is just outside of Heraklion) is quite a disappointment - due to the amateurish attempts to renovate the site in years gone by. For example - walls concreted up and then painted in a colour that it was thought might have been correct. There is a difference between meticulous excavation and do it yourself reconstruction. It is said that Sir Arthur Evans imaginatively restored the Palace of Knossos. It sounds like that might have been a nice way to put it. Although we had wanted to go to Knossos - we decided against it. Instead, we went to visit The Palace of Phaestos - which is about an hour and a half drive south from Heraklion. It was great to do this because we pretty much drove down the centre of Crete - from the sea in the north to the sea in the south. Amazing scenery all the way down - rugged, barren mountains baking in the sun, and quite fertile plateaus and valleys.
It was hot today, probably around 35 degrees when we arrived at Phaestos. This place was pretty amazing - a palace that was destroyed thousands of years ago, due to perhaps a tidal wave?? - or earthquake. It was rebuilt twice - and the latest construction was in use up until 1450BC. Mind boggling! We were walking over ruins - some of which were 4,000 years old.
After a couple of hours here - including a quick lunch looking out over the absolutely startling mountain ranges - we jumped back in the black beast (now a very dusty black beast) and drove further south, right to the coast - to Matala (Giouli's suggestion). This is a beautiful beach with limestone on either side of the little bay - including caves, one big cave that you can swim right in to. The "Two Idiots Abroad" didn't bring their bathers! What were we thinking? It was really hot and the beach was beautiful - it would have been great. Oh well - we paddled our feet, and then ended up in a cafe with an icecream and a fresh orange juice. It was really pleasant sitting there with a fresh breeze coming in off the beach - watching the owner of the cafe touting the passersby for business. He was quite a character and suggested that Red might like to go up on the roof of his cafe to take some better photos - which he did.
It was time to head back up north through the same little towns that we drove through on our way down. The towns were quieter this time - siesta time perhaps. Driving through them this morning - it was CRAZY! We passed by so many of those concrete shells that I mentioned earlier - dreams put on hold.
We arrived back home hot, tired and dirty. We had a shower and decided to have a quiet dinner once again - on our balcony - looking out over this beautiful little bay.
We then pulled apart the divan - took out the two inch high foam mattress and put that on top of the bed for Red. It wasn't brilliant, but it was better than last night!
Overlooking Lygaria Bay at night - complete with crescent moon.

Overlooking Lygaria Bay at night - complete with crescent moon.

The beach at Matala - on Crete's south coast. The photo was taken from the roof of a seaside cafe.

The beach at Matala - on Crete's south coast. The photo was taken from the roof of a seaside cafe.

Matala - Crete.

Matala - Crete.

Church of Agios Georgios - adjacent to Phaestos.

Church of Agios Georgios - adjacent to Phaestos.

Archeological ruins of the Minoan Palace at Phaestos.

Archeological ruins of the Minoan Palace at Phaestos.

Selfie - at the Archeological Ruins of Phaestos.

Selfie - at the Archeological Ruins of Phaestos.

Ruins of the Phaestos Palace - the Palace was destroyed and rebuilt twice.

Ruins of the Phaestos Palace - the Palace was destroyed and rebuilt twice.

Storage Room at Phaestos - as it was discovered.

Storage Room at Phaestos - as it was discovered.

Phaestos - cooking utensils?

Phaestos - cooking utensils?

Grand entrance of the Minoan Palace.

Grand entrance of the Minoan Palace.

Coming to terms with the fact that some of these ruins are 4,000 years old. The paving in the Main Court behind Anne is original (1900-1700BC).

Coming to terms with the fact that some of these ruins are 4,000 years old. The paving in the Main Court behind Anne is original (1900-1700BC).

Travelling through one of the small towns on the way south to Phaestos.

Travelling through one of the small towns on the way south to Phaestos.

Stark mountains and fertile plateaus - close to the centre of the island of Crete.

Stark mountains and fertile plateaus - close to the centre of the island of Crete.

Posted by Gibbo54 12:18 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Heraklion

Staying out of the city - in Lygaria Bay.

sunny 30 °C
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Time to move on and head back west to Heraklion. We had a quick walk into the town and found a barber for an overdue haircut for Red. Then did some shopping for provisions for the remainder of our stay in Crete.
After spreading ourselves out in our apartment we once again managed to consolidate, packed our bags and took them downstairs (one at a time) in the tiny lift. We were chatting to Costas - he had told us that he would play us a song on his piano accordion, and this hadn't happened yet. He was hoping that Maria would get back before we left because they sing a special song together. He sang and played "Never On A Sunday" (in Greek of course) which was really special. I recorded it on my phone. Maria did get back in time and the two of them sang this special song with the piano accordion accompanying them. Then, one of their friends arrived in the Reception area of the building - she walked in the door and immediately started singing along with them. She is a member of a choir and her voice was lovely. I was recording this song also, so I just panned around to the door and recorded her as well. It was a very special time for us - a lovely way to be saying goodbye to these wonderful people. If we do come back to Agios Nikolaus it will be in the main because of Costas and Maria.
Mantraki Apartments have won numerous awards in the past and this year they were awarded No.1 in their class of accommodation for Agios Nikolaus by Trip Advisor. It doesn't get much better than that. Costas told us that they knew they couldn't compare to 5 star hotels - so they've kept it basic and just given good old fashioned family hospitality.
We said goodbye to everyone and drove through the centre of Agios Nikolaus without too much trouble. We drove back the way we came 2 days ago and arrived at our new digs in Lygaria Bay - just around the coast a bit from Heraklion.
Heraklion we've been told - is a big city - like a mini Athens, so we probably won't venture in to the town on this trip. We skirted around the city, along the coast and found our way here. We have a lovely view of the bay - we're up quite high and it's very steep. The car is parked in the carpark on a sideways incline. You open up the car door and almost fall out of the car!
We were met by Liza - the owner of the establishment - a gorgeous, friendly lady. She invited us to sit down in the outdoor dining area and offered us some cold water and cake. It's a magic day today, it was really pleasant just sitting there on the side of the hill. We met a couple from Holland who had just arrived as well. This is their second visit here to these apartments, so that was a good sign for us that we're on a winner.
Liza directed us to our apartment - really lovely, spacious - and damn hard beds!! So help me! What I would do to sleep in a comfy bed! We unpacked a bit and just vegged out for a few hours - sorting photos and catching up on the blog.
At about 8pm (still broad daylight) we ventured on foot down the winding road to the small beach on Lygaria Bay and checked out the little restaurants that line the beach. It is sad to see the concrete shells of homes that were started but not completed - we assume because of the Greek financial crisis. There are amazing caves and rock formations around here - some a pale green colour. I must find out just what they are.
We walked back up the hill to our apartment and even though we only have a little portable hotplate in our kitchen, we were able to cook a really nice pizza for dinner. We sat out on our balcony and had dinner with some really nice Greek Chardonnay - looking out over the beautiful lights of this little bay. The night is still and balmy - perfect.
Now to the sleeping arrangements! The lounge is actually quite comfortable (albeit skinny). It's too short for Red to sleep on, but okay for me if I don't stretch my legs out completely. It's a divan, and we had checked out the foam mattress - but that was a no go (only about 2 inches thick). So, I slept on the lounge and Red toughed it out in the bed!
Lygaria Bay - swimming beach.

Lygaria Bay - swimming beach.

View of Lygaria Bay from our balcony. We had breakfast in the dining area on the right of the photo.

View of Lygaria Bay from our balcony. We had breakfast in the dining area on the right of the photo.

This is Erivolos Apartments - Lygaria Bay.

This is Erivolos Apartments - Lygaria Bay.

Our apartment in Lygaria Bay opened up on to this balcony.

Our apartment in Lygaria Bay opened up on to this balcony.

Evening view from our balcony.

Evening view from our balcony.

Our hosts in Agios Nikolaus - Costas and Maria.

Our hosts in Agios Nikolaus - Costas and Maria.

Posted by Gibbo54 10:33 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Agios Nikolaus

A visit to Spinalonga Island.

sunny 35 °C
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We already realise that 2 nights here is not nearly enough. We have 1 full day here only. Church bells woke us up this morning. We are right in between a Monastery and a 14th Century Church.
Doing research back in Perth on Crete and where to stay while we're here, we came across some information regarding an island not far from Agios Nikolaus. It's called Spinalonga Island. I knew it rang a bell with me, and realised that a couple of years ago I'd read a book called "The Island" by Victoria Hislop. It was set in Crete on the island of Spinalonga - a leper colony from 1903 until 1957. It is a fictional story but based on fact - a really good read. I read the book again just before we left on this trip nearly 7 weeks ago - to familiarise myself. Today we visited Spinalonga - and it was a brilliant day. Only last week UNESCO declared the island of Spinalonga a World Heritage Site.
It only took about 30 minutes to drive up the coast - words don't do the scenery justice - amazing! How many times have I used that word?!? We passed through Elounda, arrived in the tiny town of Plaka and took a boat trip (about 7 minutes in duration) to the island. The weather has been just perfect today - as you'll see by the photos.
We arrived on the island and walked through the tunnel - taking the same steps as poor people suffering from leprosy did - all those years ago. There is a Venitian Fortress on the island - so much history here, I just don't know where to begin. We spent 2 hours walking all over the island - right to the very top where the views were simply spectacular. The water so blue and green, the sky so blue, the mountains so rugged. This is such a beautiful part of Crete.
Just after 1pm we hopped back on our little boat and made the short journey back to the mainland. We had a relaxed lunch in a Seafood Restaurant in Plaka - right on the edge of the water, looked straight out over Spinalonga, and watched the fishermen reeling in their fishing nets - the old fashioned way. Unforgettable.
We got back in our car and headed back in the direction of Agios Nikolaus taking in the breathtaking scenery once again. Headed inland towards Kritsa and the Ancient Archeological Site of Lato. We got there at 3.15pm - it had closed at 3pm. 3pm - are you kidding? We then drove to a 13th Century Church called Panagia Kera whose walls are adorned with stunning frescoes. We got there at 3.45pm - it had closed at 3.30pm. What?!! There was a family there who had also missed out on seeing the church. They are from Amsterdam. We had an interesting chat with them for about half an hour - a husband, wife and daughter in her early 20's. This lovely young girl helped me get up on this high wall in front of the church (well, I call it high), so that I could peak in the window and see some of the frescoes.
Never to see them again, we wished these folks a safe and happy holiday - and took off in the direction of Agios Nikolaus. We ended up in the centre of town trying to work out how to get back home. These streets are so narrow - and confusing! We made it back - a sigh of relief. Home safe once again.
I took off on a walk around the town - taking some photos in the late afternoon. For the last few hours we've been in our apartment - doing our own thing, and watching the light fade away. Another wonderful day on the island of Crete.
Our view of Spinalonga while we had lunch in the village of Plaka.

Our view of Spinalonga while we had lunch in the village of Plaka.

A beautiful lunch in a Seafood Restaurant - Plaka.

A beautiful lunch in a Seafood Restaurant - Plaka.

Plaka - Crete.

Plaka - Crete.

The large building in the middle of the photo was the hospital for the lepers on Spinalonga Island.

The large building in the middle of the photo was the hospital for the lepers on Spinalonga Island.

This is Spinalonga Island - Crete.

This is Spinalonga Island - Crete.

The Michiel Demilune - Spinalonga Island.

The Michiel Demilune - Spinalonga Island.

Stunning scenery on Spinalonga.

Stunning scenery on Spinalonga.

Fortification walls on Spinalonga Island.

Fortification walls on Spinalonga Island.

One of two dormitories on Spinalonga Island - a home for some of those suffering from leprosy.

One of two dormitories on Spinalonga Island - a home for some of those suffering from leprosy.

Some buildings on Spinalonga are in disrepair.

Some buildings on Spinalonga are in disrepair.

Anne standing in the main street of the town - which was developed in to a lively community - for those suffering from leprosy.

Anne standing in the main street of the town - which was developed in to a lively community - for those suffering from leprosy.

Looking across to Plaka.

Looking across to Plaka.

On top of Spinalonga Island.

On top of Spinalonga Island.

Selfie - on the highest point of Spinalonga Island - Crete.

Selfie - on the highest point of Spinalonga Island - Crete.

Elounda in the distance - view from Spinalonga Island.

Elounda in the distance - view from Spinalonga Island.

Standing at the entrance to the tunnel on Spinalonga - where lepers walked through to start their new life on the island.

Standing at the entrance to the tunnel on Spinalonga - where lepers walked through to start their new life on the island.

The port in the little village of Plaka.

The port in the little village of Plaka.

Agios Nikolaus' 13th Century Church of Panagia Vrefotrophos. Our apartment is literally next door.

Agios Nikolaus' 13th Century Church of Panagia Vrefotrophos. Our apartment is literally next door.

Late afternoon in the centre of Agios Nikolaus.

Late afternoon in the centre of Agios Nikolaus.

The bridge in the centre of Agios Nikolaus - it features in most tourism photos of the town.

The bridge in the centre of Agios Nikolaus - it features in most tourism photos of the town.

The busy sea port of Agios Nikolaus - Crete.

The busy sea port of Agios Nikolaus - Crete.

Roadside stall - Kritsa.

Roadside stall - Kritsa.

Byzantine Church  Panagia Kera (13th Century) - displays 14 scenes of the secret life of the Virgin Mary.

Byzantine Church Panagia Kera (13th Century) - displays 14 scenes of the secret life of the Virgin Mary.

Walls of the Venetian Fortress on Spinalonga Island.

Walls of the Venetian Fortress on Spinalonga Island.

Main street of the town on Spinalonga - these buildings were shops and houses for members of the leper community.

Main street of the town on Spinalonga - these buildings were shops and houses for members of the leper community.

Buildings from the Ottoman period on Spinalonga Island.

Buildings from the Ottoman period on Spinalonga Island.

Posted by Gibbo54 09:31 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Agios Nikolaus

Today we traversed the island of Crete.

sunny 34 °C
View Red and Annie's European Journey on Gibbo54's travel map.

Today we are travelling from Chania in the west of Crete to Agios Nikolaus (pronounced Agyoose Nikolowse) in the east - about 160 kms. We packed up all our gear and took it downstairs in a couple of trips. I really don't like the second set of stairs in our apartment building. They are wooden, steep, curved - and I swear they move when you walk up them. I am relieved that neither of us took a tumble during our 4 days here.
We said goodbye to lovely Silvia - she is such a sweetie. She's run Silde Apartments in Chania for 25 years - she made us feel very special, nothing was too much trouble.
We said farewell to Chania at 10.30am - and took off the same way as yesterday - on to the New National Road. We passed by Rethymno and made a stop at a little cafe on the side of a hill/mountain with a view over a little town called Bali. We've finally been to Bali. It was so nice to make this unexpected stop - with a beautiful view over this little town. I was feeling tired and didn't want to put our safety at risk by carrying on any further. So a coffee and chocolate wafer later - I felt heaps better (caffeine and sugar did the trick). Red took over driving from here though.
The scenery was just outstanding - the sea was so blue you would have thought that it was photoshopped. We decided to make a stop just out of Heraklion - where we're staying in a few days - just to check out where the place is. We've heard that it's hard to find. We'll be staying on the side of a little bay about 15 kms out of the town. It's stunning - we've got that to look forward to!
Back on the main road and right past Heraklion, and in to Agios Nikolaus at around 2.30pm. Picturesque - a perfect word for this place. We found a public parking area - 3 euros per day. Then we asked directions to our accommodation here. Luckily we weren't too far away. We lugged about two thirds of our gear up a steep street and in the front door of our apartment building. We were met by the wife of this family business. Maria introduced herself, then one of her daughters, followed by her husband Costas. They invited us to sit down in the lounge area, offered us a cold drink - I had cinnamon, Red had cherry - beautiful. That was followed by home made biscuits. Later, out came fresh strawberries. We sat talking with them for over 2 hours. They are a very interesting couple. Maria is an architect - she designed the apartment building, and Costas is a naval architect. One daughter is a school teacher, the other one is also an architect living in Athens. She unfortunately has been out of work for 3 years. Maria and Costas are semi-retired and now just run the apartment booking business.
We were able to move our car from the parking area down the road to out the back of the apartment block - much better. Finally got up to our room and pottered around for a couple of hours. We took a walk to the local supermarket and stocked up on some provisions. Then we got changed and walked in to the main part of town looking for a restaurant that Costas had recommended. We finally found it with the help of some kind locals. It was right on the water - a beautiful warm night - sitting outside - with numerous cats roaming around. The meal was lovely. Full as bulls - we waddled into the heart of Agios Nikolaus and took tome night photos of the little lake area and bridge. This area is famous for it's little fishing boats and many are moored right in the centre of the town. Back to our apartment and called it a day at around 11pm.
View from our apartment balcony in Agios Nikolaus.

View from our apartment balcony in Agios Nikolaus.

Passing a windmill on the side of the road - as you do!

Passing a windmill on the side of the road - as you do!

Travelling east - skirting the city of Heraklion.

Travelling east - skirting the city of Heraklion.

Action shot - mountains and oleanders.

Action shot - mountains and oleanders.

Stopping for a coffee break outside the seaside town of Bali.

Stopping for a coffee break outside the seaside town of Bali.

Bali - in Crete.

Bali - in Crete.

The centre of town - Agios Nikolaus. Fishing boats are moored on the lake.

The centre of town - Agios Nikolaus. Fishing boats are moored on the lake.

Posted by Gibbo54 08:34 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Chania

Last day in Chania before heading east.

semi-overcast 35 °C
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It's our last day in Chania, so we thought that we'd make the most of our time and take a trip to Rethymno. We left our apartment at around 10am, got in our car and headed east. After our collective magnificent efforts in the car yesterday - I did not feel nearly as intimidated by our little black beast as I did previously.
I feel that at this point I really need to talk about the Greek drivers. They are maniacs! Red has done some internet research on the subject and apparently the likelihood of us being among the few drivers on the road with a legitimate driving licence is actually quite high. This fact is reinforced by just watching how they drive. They completely ignore the speed signs, as well as the double lines in the middle of the road. They overtake around corners where you can't see what's coming, and they pull out in front of you at the last minute. Even pedestrians don't get off the road, you've either got to wait for them or drive around them. It's just crazy!! Add to that - there is so much graffiti on the island of Crete - including the speed signs. It's hard to read what's underneath the rubbish that's been sprayed all over the signs, so at times you don't know what the speed limit is. The graffiti is just left on the signs. Visiting the countries that we have so far has made us realise how regulated a country Australia is - and I really think that that's not a bad thing.
Anyhow, aside from all of that - it's feeling more natural now to drive on the right hand side of the road - and it's a great feeling of freedom to be able to go wherever we want - whenever we want.
So. We headed east for Rethymno which is on the north coast of Crete and about an hour from Chania. The weather was quite cloudy and then glary, and then sunny, humid and hot. Quite a mixed bag today. When we arrived we parked in a local parking area and started off on foot to check out this little town. It has an old town, port and lighthouse like Chania but on a smaller scale. It also has beautiful little restaurants along the water - all really nicely decked out in sea themes. Photo opportunities everywhere. We walked through the little streets that are a bit wider than those in Chania, and had our first Gyros since arriving in Greece. It took forever to be served - just 6 tables in this little cafe and they forgot our order. Not to worry - it was nice when it finally arrived.
We could have had a look at the fortress, but to be honest - I think we've had our fill of history for the moment, and it probably would have washed over us. So, after more of a walk around we decided to head back home. We arrived back in the carpark at about 4.30pm, and as luck would have it - a couple waved to us to let us know that they were leaving and we could have their spot. Yes - how easy was that!
Red had a bit of a siesta and I sat for a while on our little balcony. It was so peaceful, there was a light breeze blowing, heaps of little swallows were chirping and flying overhead in all different directions. There was a guy in a nearby cafe singing and playing a mandolin - greek music that I'd never heard before. I looked out over a scene, that apart from a clothes line and some electricity wires - could have been 100 years ago. Such a simple little magic moment for me.This country is so easy to love - despite it's crazy drivers! We who are caught up in the rat race of life could learn alot from the Greeks. So many of them don't have that much, but they're happy with their lot - they lead a very simple kind of life.
I decided to go out and have a last look at the lovely shops in Chania as I still had to get a couple of gifts for loved ones at home. That was great fun, just strolling around and dropping in to this shop and that.
I came back to the apartment and cooked us a very simple meal on our portable hotplate. We had an easy night in - pottering around, doing this and that, and listening to that same guy singing and playing the mandolin. It was such a warm night that we needed to have the windows open. This made us very aware of the noise outside, people were everywhere having a good night. Ear plugs needed once again!
Downtown Rethymno.

Downtown Rethymno.

Many of the roads in Crete are lined with Oleander bushes - white, pink, deep pink.

Many of the roads in Crete are lined with Oleander bushes - white, pink, deep pink.

A street in Rethymno's old town.

A street in Rethymno's old town.

Beautiful bouganvillea in a Rethymno street.

Beautiful bouganvillea in a Rethymno street.

Turkish influence in the architecture of some buildings in Rethymno - wooden exterior.

Turkish influence in the architecture of some buildings in Rethymno - wooden exterior.

Tourist area of Rethymno.

Tourist area of Rethymno.

Guard dog out the front of a jewellery shop in Chania.

Guard dog out the front of a jewellery shop in Chania.

Old Venetian Harbour at dusk - Chania.

Old Venetian Harbour at dusk - Chania.

Chania Promenade at dusk.

Chania Promenade at dusk.

Chania at dusk.

Chania at dusk.

Posted by Gibbo54 09:52 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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