October 4, 2018
For our trip to Greece we chose a very special place for Christina. As a teenager she lived for 7 months on the island of Crete and so we were returning to get to explore her old stomping grounds. She really enjoyed getting to see everything with a new adult perspective. It was great for me because I got to visit all the places and experience all of the things that she would tell stories about.
We arrived at the small Chania airport and headed out to catch the bus into town. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to locate the bus and buy tickets. I was following this website, which is trying to sell airport pickups, but had surprisingly good info about the bus.
It doesn’t actually say where to catch it and I don’t actually know which direction the exit is on the map, but the bus is just to the far right and its not a very extensive place. It’s easy to find and CHEAP. Usually airport transit prices are jacked up, but this was a quite reasonable 2.50 euros, which is an inflated price for the island yet shows how reasonable transit costs are.
We checked into an awesome apartment that we found on AirBnB. Chania is pretty small so everything is more or less centrally located, but this location couldn’t have been better. Basically right between the bus stop and the historic waterfront, ten minute walk to the beach, and right around the block from a supermarket. It was a really cool studio with high ceilings and a loft for the bed, a decent kitchen, and a washing machine. The only real trouble we had was with the bogged down internet. It seems to be a bit slow in all the places we stayed in Greece.
I’ve come to realize that the first thing I should do in any new country is visit a grocery store. I have always known this to be important, but now I feel like it has to be my absolute first priority to get a pulse on the food situation.
So a few notable things that I’ve noted about Greek grocery stores. First is that feta is not that cheap, which was a bit of a let down. But fresh fruit and veggies are and that was a very welcome change from Korea and Japan where produce was just unbearably expensive ($20 for a watermelon, are you nuts!?).
I also noted that the super markets don’t seem have a lot of selection for cheese and nothing for fresh baked goods. Greece has an interesting culture that has kept small specialty shops alive. So the best (only) place for bread and pastries are bakeries and cheese shops, which are amazing.
Finally the Greek snack game is not super strong, but they have a really interesting soda selection that is super regional in terms of brands, production, and flavors. This is the best article I found online about it. I found some of the drinks hit or miss, but it was definitely a fun place to purchase soda.
Also, on the topic of Japan, the Japanese get a lot of credit for their vending machine culture. It’s well deserved, but Greece had some really interesting vending machines. We saw a fresh orange juice squeezing machine, an “unexpected overnight” vending machine that stocked toiletries (toothpaste, saline solutions, etc) but mostly condoms, and finally a freaking contact lens vending machine with prescriptions down to -9 diopters. That’s insane, hardly anyone has that bad of a prescription. I did, but never met anyone else.
Chania is a small place so it was easy to do the touristing highlights in a day, but the real appeal was wandering about and just taking things slow in a picturesque place. This town is really postcard material. The old water front is a charming mix of cafes and restaurants with a backdrop of old ruins of buildings and walls. It’s slammed with tourists, but it’s still really lovely. We found ourselves along the Old Venetian Harbor often. Probably my favorite part of the whole area was the Mosque of Janissaries which was been converted into a shop for local artists.
We also took at turn at the Nea Chora beach. The water is actually pretty terrible for swimming here, it was murky and oily. But it was a nice place to people watch close by and a good spot for sunset. We spent an afternoon there and enjoyed our time.
One of my favorite things about Greece is the Greek coffee, which is the same as Turkish coffee as far as I can tell, but I’m sure there is an international disagreement over this. Anyway, my personally preference is for the sugared version of the drink (gliko). Later on I started noticing that a lot of Greeks seemed to prefer a frothy iced coffee beverage which is called a freddo espresso and this subsequently became my favorite Greek beverage.
We quickly found our go to cafe and lunch spot in town. By pure luck we stopped by this coffee shop. We stopped in because of the science and math themed artwork on the walls. We kept coming back because the coffee was good, cheap, and the owner Lukas had amazing restaurant recommendations.
The first was for a nearby gyro spot called Oasis. It’s a small hole in the wall with two guys serving up simple gyros for 2 euro each. You just walk up ask for a gyro and they prepare it wrapped up in some paper and a napkin and off you go. I love no frills shops like this that serve one thing and make it simple, cheap, and delicious. My only regret from Chania is not eating more of these.
Lukas also gave us a top notch recommendation for a good dinner spot. My parents had given us some money to celebrate our anniversary and we did it here. We went all out on a meal at Christosomos. It’s at the end of the Venetian harbor and a bit off the beaten path. The view from the restaurant isn’t much, but the place is very cute and everything else was spot on. The wait staff were super friendly and the food was fantastic across the board. The house wine was a steal and ranged from good to excellent. It comes in half liters and seeing as we were able to compare two of the offerings.
The amazing thing was that, even though we went all out and were stuffed full and a bit wobbly, and this sort of restaurant is totally out of our typical budget for this trip, we didn’t actually break the bank. If this were a week vacation while we were working, we would have been raving about how cheap fancy meals are in Greece. You can check out the menu on their website. We loved this place.
One of the greatest Cretan traditions is the after meal service. The tradition here is that after the meal (lunch, dinner, maybe breakfast I don’t know) you will receive a small desert and shot glass of cold raki.
It’s a clear liquor distilled from the left over material from the wine making process. It’s often of varying proof and locally made and available for purchase from markets in unlabeled plastic bottles. It’s served without any input on your part and I’m sure I would have been pleasantly absolutely thrilled by this practice if I wasn’t aware of it from Christina’s descriptions of life on Crete. Anyway, here a some more pictures of meals that all included raki, including a seafood meal that made me dreadfully sick during our departure from the island.
Speaking of interesting alcohols, we made a few cheap and interesting wine purchases at the supermarkets. We went with the red in the large liter and a half clear plastic bottle and a white served up in a clear glass with a pop top lid. The red wine tasted like communion wine, which was treat.
The white wine though was something quite unique called retsina. Traditionally it was a wine stored in resin sealed casks, then it became a flavor of wine (because of the resin), then it became a way to mask crappy wine, and now it’s supposedly going through a revival as something distinctly Greek and not always crappy. Well it is a little crappy. At least the one we got. It’s definitely weird and I thought it tasted like a rosemary infused white wine. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I loved the experience and the fact that I randomly found something so distinctly Greek and odd.
Back to the actual adventuring. Our main goal during our stay was to go around visiting Christina’s old haunts. She lived a bit outside of Chania in a little town called Chorafakia. There isn’t much written about it, but we were easily able to reach it by catching a bus from the main station. Unfortunately, on our first attempt we were unaware that the bus didn’t operate at all from about 10 am to 3 pm so we ended up pushing our adventure towards the end of our stay. But we did it.
We spent some time walking around looking for the house where Christina used to live. She was going off of vague memories and some google maps research. There is lots of new construction so she wasn’t feeling super confident. I absolutely loved the area. There were beautiful views of the sea and the nearby mountains. The entire area was filled with beautiful flowering fragrant trees and olives and fruit. It was some serious postcard material and I can’t believe that she used to live in such a beautiful place.
Our first success on Christina’s “Y2K Nostalgia Tour” was finding a small sign for horse stables where Christina used to ride horses called Zefiros. We had some trouble finding the entrance and eventually ended up walking up the driveway of an adjacent house where someone was moving in (or out?). The movers didn’t mind at all when we asked if we could climb the fence at the top of the to have a look around. We found the training arena and the stables abandoned and overgrown.
Afterwards we were able to quickly hunt down Christina’s old home. It was situated adjacent to a deep ravine with an amazing looking cave. We didn’t have the time to fight our way through the brush and explore it, but it looked liked a wonderful place to run around as a kid.
The final bit of nostalgia that we partook in was walking down to the nearby Kalathas beach. Whereas the beach in Chania was sufficient, Kalathas was absolutely beautiful. It was well worth the bus journey just to visit here. The water was perfectly clear turquoise blue and again total postcard material.
Our first task was to hunt down the cliff jumping spot where teenage Christina and her friend Nia used to jump. The water was amazing here and as adults we were a bit worried about the jumpability of the spot. We took a swim around and decided that the water was sufficiently deep to not kill ourselves. But the ocean crashing on the nearby rocks, covered in sea urchins was a bit more of a concern, but we worked it out.
The cliff jumping was a ton of fun, but I do admit it was pretty darn intimidating and I’ve jumped off some scary high cliffs in Minnesota. What made this especially tricky was judging the height of the jump. With the water so clear, it was tough to guess when you would actually be hitting the water. We only did one jump each owing to the precarious water-exit situation, but if you want to go for an adrenaline inducing adventure, the spot is located on the cliffs to the north of the beach.
We also had some opportunities for exercise during our stay. We were able to visit the local track to go for a run. The streets of Chania are a bit narrow with infrequent but high speed vehicles, so being able to run on a track was a welcome benefit. The track was super active on a Saturday with groups of high school kids as well as adults. We also partook in the really tall climbing ropes on the edge of the track.
Finally, the journey to the mainland. We booked a ferry ride through Anek Ferries. There are two ferry companies that run the overnight route between Chania and Athens. The other is Minoan Lines. They are both really terribly reviewed. I was really scared about how it was going to go, but based on the price we chose the cheapest class of tickets. The tickets go from a full private cabin with a bed, ‘airline’ seats which is basically a big room with large comfortable chairs that are roughly equivalent to first class airline seats, to ‘deck seating.’ The deck seating means that you just have to find a place to sleep on the floor somewhere. Luckily this isn’t actually literally on the deck but just in any public area on the ship.
The port of departure was a 30 minute bus ride outside of Chania to the Port of Souda. We stopped into the Anek office near the old Agora to figure out what bus to take, but we failed to note it down. We had no issue checking in an getting our printed tickets and just walked on to the ferry. It was way nicer than I expected based on the reviews. Maybe not quite as nice as the ferry between Korea and Japan, or at least there was less cool weird stuff like karaoke and video game rooms. But overall it was really nice and fancy looking.
I was actually pretty dead from food sickness so I didn’t explore at all. We did scope out the airline seats section and it looked like a pretty miserable place to spend the night since the seats don’t really recline all the way and the area was very brightly lit. We were able to find an awesome little cubby underneath a flight of stairs in a carpeted area.
We laid down our blankets and I was out cold. Not the most comfortable night sleep. The lights were a bit bright, the announcements were too long and loud, and some of the other passengers were a bit loud but overall it was way better than I expected. Obviously it required bringing our own bedding material and some people even came prepared with blow up mattresses and pillows. I’m quite happy with the experience even though I was so sick.
We arrived at the Pireaus Port in Athens early in the morning and went directly to the Petaluda Guest House that we had booked. I was not in great shape so we were just hoping they would let us check in or at least let me rest in the common area. It took us a while to find the metro and then there was a long walk to the hotel, only for us to find out that the walk was totally unnecessary and we were in the wrong location. When we finally arrived the staff was nice enough to change our room number and let me fall asleep in a bed.
There were some grand plans to do some rapid touristing of the major sites, namely, the Acropolis. But we were only staying one night before heading off to Egypt and with my condition, we did exactly nothing except buy our train tickets from Athens to Sofia, our plan being to visit Egypt then return to Athens and make our way to Bulgaria. So the visit the Acropolis was postponed until our (brief) return.
We headed off to the airport early in the morning, well before trains were running. We were pleasantly surprised at the relatively low taxi fare to get from the hotel to the bus station. We used this website as a guide and caught the X95 bus. I was worried that it wasn’t in fact a 24 hr bus, but it was and it worked great.
Then we were off and on our way to Egypt, and our first ever visit to the continent of Africa!