Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, June 08, 2017

GREECE: Crete - by - Car, Day 1

This Is How the Venetian Fortress in Heraklion Used to Look
We had spent some days in Heraklion, getting to know some of the attractions, like the Venetian Fort that sits right at the old harbor. This is a place to visit while you are in Heraklion, but not especially special. Carol really loved the Archeological Museum and the mystery of the writing on the Phaistos Disc. We strolled along the piers, taking lots of pictures, had lunch at the Marina, etc. 
While we enjoyed our little place away from home, we also wanted to see a bit more of Crete than just the neighborhood we were in; even if only for a few days. What does Crete look like away from the city? 
Entrance To the Fort
Size Of the Ropes Used

We walked around our neighborhood, even asked in a muffler repair shop if they know of a local car rental place, but there was no other way but to rent via the Internet. Yes, they told us, there are rental spots in Heraklion but a better choice would be the
Nice Car
Airport. Since the airport was not that far away, I agreed to rent from there. So, early Sunday morning we sat and waited for our bus, which also goes to the Airport. We waited, and waited some more. It’s Sunday morning early, like 7 AM. I am not sure when the bus starts running but when a taxi came by I flagged it down and off we went. Instead of the customary 15 Euros he agreed to take 12. I guess he needed the business, too. The check-out procedure for a rent-a-car is a bit more proper than what I am used to. Every ding, scratch or mar was written down; before we received the car it was gone over with a fine toothed comb.  

We rented a car for 3 days with Enterprise and off we went into the blue yonder, without really a plan as to where we end up. Kind of like we travel via motorcycle. But to rent a motorcycle would have meant riding without proper clothing, something we don’t do. So the car was the only option. Carol had worked out some lose goals and I made sure we got a car with a GPS unit, even though that was an extra charge.
Advertising For the Samaria Gorge

Finally, around 10 AM we are off. Where to? Carol had read about a gorge, the most famous place on Crete, the Samaria Gorge. So we set our GPS for Hora Sfakion and drove off. This town is on the southern coast and from here we could take a ferry to the bottom of the Gorge. Trekking down the Gorge from the top would have been a serious physical challenge so we opted to start up from the bottom as the most spectacular views are near the bottom.
We were warned that the roads in Crete are narrow, that the roads are twisty and full of animals. We were warned that Greek drivers are aggressive, etc., etc. Well, that made me 
cautious. The ‘highway’ was an OK road, a bit wider than usual, most of the time a 2 lane road. But only around Heraklion was it a 'highway', the rest was like a good local road.
Spectacular Scenery

Traffic was mildly fast. Speed limits 90 KM/Hour (55 MPH). It felt a bit slow, but people did not really speed. Signs for electronic cameras hidden on the side of the road might have slowed them down. I don’t know, but it was kind of nice to just doodle along, following the GPS. So, we just sat and waited for the GPS to tell us, take the next exit. 

Road Hazards But Cute
Well, something went wrong. We heard nothing, we looked at the display but it told us to keep going.  So we pulled over and looked at each other, what is going on?  The trouble with the Greek GPS was that when we entered the town, we entered it in English; of course we don't
speak or write Greek. The guy at the rent-a-car place had set the unit to English but the town names were still in Greek. So when something popped up on the display that was close to what we thought was the right town we said, YES. So, we reentered the destination again, this time taking the Greek town as our goal and now the GPS told us to go back. Yuk! I hate this, but it all worked out in the end. We now knew to make absolutely sure to enter the correct town name, which was not an easy task, because the spelling from Greek into English is not uniform. Heraklion is also spelled Iraklion, so you see, it can get very confusing. Then there are 3 towns with exactly the same name but in different districts. So we have no clue as to what district we have to go to. The GPS, while very good, was an adventure. So now we are set to Hora Sfakion.  
Roads Are Getting Narrower

We followed the GPS through small villages. We stopped and asked people just to check if we were on the right track. The people tried out their best English and we went through constructions sites, over very old roads, past herds of sheep, always towards Hora Sfakion. The roads now are very narrow. When a car comes towards us we slow down and move way over off the side of the road to let him pass. Crete is old, the roads are older. I think animals charted them first, and then man walked on those trails. Yes, the roads are very twisty but they are fun, too. I was glad we had the GPS, because many times there were no road signs. Going without a GPS would have been a roll of the dice; this way or that way? 
Can You Imagine Riding This Road For An Hour?
This Is Where We Missed Our Bikes
We Are Trying to Get to the Flat Land Far Below
In the south of Crete is the very small village of Hora Sfakion. It sits at the water’s edge, you can see it from miles away, but to get down to it, the road drops in serpentine form for about one hour. It’s a steep drop and in inclement weather I would even call it dangerous. We were lucky though, we had wonderful sunshine and clear sky. Even with the GPS guiding us, we had to be careful to get to the center of town. Houses were built on the hill and the streets were made before there were cars. So everything is just wide enough for 2 donkeys to pass each other. The little area that is flat is treasured for parking. 
When we drove into town we tried to park between flowerpots at the side of the road when a young man came out of the house and asked: “are you here for lunch?” We nodded and he moved one flowerpot so we could park easier. 

Taverna Nikos. We Sat Down By the Water
Nikos Himself
Yummy Garlic Bread
Nice guy! He turned out to be the son of the owner of the Restaurant and his name was George.  So of course we felt a little obligated to really eat at his place and not the other places all around the harbor. It worked out well, because George’s family own the place and it had great food. We ate like kings. His place is named Taverna Nikos, should you ever visit. The Garlic bread is fantastic. We told him we would be back later for dinner. 
Very Picturesque Little Town, Hora Sfakion

We were in Hora Sfakion at a time when the tourist season had not really started. Everybody had time and could chat. So George and I chatted and he told us that the Gorge, the place we wanted to visit, was still under water by about 3 feet. There was no way we could go into the Samaria Gorge and in fact it was closed because of the flooding. Bummer! We came all this way for nothing? George just shrugged his shoulders and let us sit and stew on the news. Well, we are not going anyplace until we find out if what George said is true. We asked him for a hotel recommendation and he pointed us to the Stavris Hotel. It’s just a short walk up hill from the center of town.  It is
Stavris Hotel. Beautiful View From Our Second Floor Balcony
a very typical Greek place, clean, with Wi-Fi and a view of the ocean from the small deck off the room.  35 Euros per night, NO breakfast included. Well, for one night it’s ok with us. This place is close to town, everything is within walking distance and the price is normal for this time of year.

So we now had to find out if the news George told us is really true. We ambled all over the small harbor town and yes, the news is right. It is impossible to walk within the Gorge this time of year. The small river that runs inside the gorge is swollen up by the melt waters of the snow from the higher elevations. We could see some snow caps still hanging on the tips of the mountains around us and so we just accepted that we were not going to see what we came to see;
Had Our Breakfast In the Courtyard of the Stavris Hotel
So when given a lemon, make lemonade. We settled down, explored some of the town and had a wonderful dinner of fresh caught Sea Bass that George’s father, Niko, made especially for us. Wine with that?  Of course. The greens we ate with the fish were fresh dandelions, a new experience for Carol. Dessert was whatever George had in the house. And as a thank you to us, he gave us a free shot of Raki
... ...YUK. Not so good! 

Walking the Beach
It turned out to be a great day, even though it did not turn out as planned. The experiences of the day, the new roads, the excitement, and the roads themselves made me tired enough to go to sleep early. Or was that the wine? Or the Raki? In any case, by 9:30 PM we had the lights out.

Did Not See Her Catch Anything
This Is Most of the Town



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