Friday, October 16, 2015

Crete part 2

Our week in Crete, part 2.

As I said previously, we booked the trip through a company called Itaka.  They are a pretty large company and do many tours from Poland to various places.

A sunrise photo from our hotel.

On Monday, we had a meeting with our Itaka representative.  It started at 10:00 a.m. and lasted well over an hour.  It was for all the Itaka clients at the hotel.  There were probably 50 - 75 people there.  Of course, she gave the entire spiel in Polish but, at the end, Alicja explained the high points to me.  In addition to tips and information about Crete, a significant part of the talk was an explanation of the tours available through Itaka.  We had received a brochure about them the previous day so we had a good idea of what we wanted to do.  First, we had decided that we would not rent a car because driving in Crete is simply suicidal.  So, we ended up booking three tours.  The first would be a ferry to the island of Santorini on Wednesday, the second a bus trip to the beach at Vai on Friday and then a bus trip to Knossos and the Herakli0n archaeological museum on Saturday.
The remainder of Monday we spent lazing by the pool followed by a walk into Agios Nikolaos.
Tuesday we had a free day.  Again, we lazed by the pool for part of the day.  Then, we went into Agios Nikolaos and did a bit of shopping and had dinner.  All in all, just a relaxing day.
Wednesday, we had to get up very early for the trip to Santorini.  Our bus arrived about 6:30 a.m.  We arranged for an early breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  This is something we had to arranged with the front desk the night before.  It is not really much of a breakfast.  Just some rolls, cheeses, cold cuts and fruits.  Plus, of course, coffee.  But, it filled our needs.  We also arranged for a lunch box to take with us for the day since we would not be there for lunch.
The bus trip to the ferry terminal at Heraklion took a bit over an hour.  The ferry is a high-speed catamaran ship that can carry several hundred passengers and a number of cars.  It is a very large ferry.  And, it is definitely high-speed.  The trip used to take the old ferry 4 hours.  This one is a 2 ½ hour jaunt.  And, the ferry has two bar/café counters to serve passengers while enroute.  It was actually not a bad trip at all.

On the ferry.

Our ferry (picture taken from up on the mountain).

Santorini is a beautiful island that is actually part of the remains of an ancient volcano.  The port area is in the place where the caldera of the volcano was several hundreds of years ago.  It is picturesque to say the least.  When we arrived, I think there were five cruise ships there.
After arriving and debarking, our Itaka guide (Beata) herded us toward the correct bus.
The bus ride was interesting to say the least.  The road has to climb the mountain to get to the top.  This requires numerous switchback turns and the road is very narrow.  Two busses cannot pass side by side on the road.  One must pull over into a wider place.  And, the road has no guardrails.

  But, fortunately, we survived and made it to the top.  We meandered around the narrow roads and made our way to the city of Thera.  It is basically built on the side of the mountain and is incredibly beautiful.  There are many, many bars, restaurants, coffee shops and tourist shops there. 

We were told when and were to meet back and were turned loose to wander as we pleased.  Alicja and I roamed around, sightseeing and taking pictures and, ultimately, went to a restaurant for some lunch.  The food was good and the local beer was good. 

 And, they had WIFI so I posted a picture on Facebook.  After that, we made our way back to the bus for the trip back down the mountain.

Our ferry coming in.

The trip back was very enjoyable.  We had good seats on the ferry and they had a trio from Barbados playing next to the bar.  It was fun.
We got back to the hotel very late that evening.
Thursday was another free day.  We spent most of it just lying out in the sun next to the pool.  For a while, we went down to the beach and swam in the  Mirabelo bay.  Later, we went back to Agios Nikolaos for a bit of shopping and drinks.
Friday was our day to go to Sitia and Vai beach.  It was an early start although not as early as Wednesday.  We met our guide for the day, Marysia.  She was a very nice young lady who spoke English.


The bus ride was through some beautiful country which exposed us to the many olive tree orchards on Crete.

In Sitia, we had a bit over an hour to roam around, take pictures and have a drink.  We had coffee at a local restaurant that looked out over the Aegean Sea.  The weather, as it had been all week, was wonderful.  Then, on to Vai Beach.
Vai Beach is simply beautiful.  It is a very large, long beach with soft, white sand and the water is warm and clear.  We spent some time just lazing and swimming in the clear, warm water.  Then, we had lunch at the restaurant on the beach.  Lunch was included in our tour package.  The food was very good.  It was a relaxing time.

Our lunch:

On the way back, we stopped at an old, old Greek Orthodox monastery.


Saturday was our tour to Knossos.  We boarded our bus at about 8:00 a.m.  Our tour guide was Dominika, a very nice young lady.  After several stops to pick up other passengers, we made it to Knossos.


Knossos is an ancient ruin of the Minoan Empire.  Although discovered earlier, excavation of the site of the ruins began in 1900 by the English archaelogist, Sir Arthur Evans.  Excavation continued for 35 years.  A number of artifacts and some paintings were discovered.  Most of those now reside in the Heraklion Archaelogical Museum which we visited later in the day.
The excavation and ruins are impressive.  It is incredible to visualize people living in the palace and surrounding area 4,500 years ago.  Their engineering and architecture are impressive. 

Since it was a Saturday, it was very crowded with people.  But, we made the best of it anyway.
After visiting Knossos, we boarded the bus and went into Heraklion to the Archaelogical Museum.   The items on display are, for a history buff, pretty incredible.  Included is the Phaistos disk believed to date back to about 2000 BC.

Phaistos disk:

The museum was very interesting for us.  We saw very large Pithos pottery containers used to store olive oil and other items.  They are huge.  They were also used as burial containers for the deceased.

Pithos with human remains inside.

After visiting the museum, Alicja and I went to a local restaurant for some lunch.  Very good lunch.  Then, we met back at the bus.  At that point, Dominika invited us to follow her to a wine shop for a wine tasting.  Since I am always open to free booze, I went.  Alicja did not.  I went to the wine shop and got a few free samples, but I did not buy anything.
Alicja and I have decided that Itaka must have an arrangement with some local vendors since two of our trips included stops at wine places for free tasting and, of course, an attempt to sell local wines/products.  But, it was fun.
After all that, we reboarded our bus for the ride back to the hotel.  For some reason, we had a different bus driver for the ride back.  He was a young guy who thought he was driving a Formula 1 race car rather than a bus.  A couple of times he scared the crap out of me.  Then, he got a call on his cell phone and proceeded to have a leisurely conversation.  It was at this point that Dominika chastised him and told him she was responsible for the passengers on the tour and he must pay attention to his work.  He acted pissed off, but he did start to focus after that.  Thankfully.
Finally, we arrived back at the hotel.  It had been a long day.
Sunday was our day of departure, albeit very late that night.  We went to the front desk and asked about getting a late checkout.  35 Euros later we were approved until 6:00 p.m.  Our bus was to pick us up at about 10:00 p.m.   But, that was good since otherwise we would have had to check out at noon.  So, we lazed by the pool, enjoyed the warmth and generally took it easy.
Later, we packed our bags and checked out of our room.  We put our bags in the storage area and walked back into Agios Nikolaos for a while.

Finally, it was time to catch our bus back to the airport.  All too soon, truth be told.  Our time in Crete was idyllic.  The weather was wonderful, the food was good and the people were friendly.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely.  I would go back in a heartbeat.
We left Crete in the night and the temperature was in the 80's.  We arrived in Gdansk to rain and cold.  The temperature was below 50.
      Back to reality.

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