Thursday, October 1, 2015

Our week in Crete - part 1

A week in Crete

We booked a vacation.  In July, we booked a week on the island of Crete, one of the Greek Islands.  We booked it for Sunday, August 30 through Monday, September 7.

Quite honestly, we decided on Greece because all the experts were saying that, with the Greek financial crisis, Greece would be a good place to vacation.  The dollar and Euro would be strong and the businesses would appreciate tourists.  Plus, the price was not bad.
We booked through a travel agency.  Although the internet has hurt them badly in the U.S., travel agencies are still going strong here in Poland.  This agency is located here in Malbork.  They are actually quite busy.  When we visited, Alicja talked to the agent and she agreed that Greece would be a good option.  And, the weather in the southern Mediterranean would be nice.  So, we took a couple of tour books home to review.  The tour books are much like the books of various cruises you can get from travel agencies in the U.S.  One book was from a company called Rainbow Tours and the other was from a company called Itaka.  They are both quite popular in Poland.  They list destinations, hotels, etc. for various locations - Greece, Croatia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, etc.
After poring over the books, we decided on Itaka.  Alicja has used Itaka in the past and has been quite satisfied with them.
We ultimately decided on going to Crete the first week in September.  We reviewed various hotels and settled on a place called Miramare Resort located in the town of Agios Nikolaos on an “all-inclusive” plan.  All inclusive means all food and drink (in this case “sort of”) But, the price was quite reasonable.
We booked the trip and I paid for it.  Cash only - the travel agent did not accept credit or debit cards.  Oh, well.
We were scheduled to leave very early on Sunday, August 30th.  By very early, I mean 4 freakin’ AM.  Very early.  And, we were booked on something called Small Planet Airlines.  Having never heard of it, I did a bit of research.  The reviews were mixed.  It is apparently a small (7 plane) charter company based in Poland.  But, we were committed; so, we were determined to make the best of it.  As it turned out, there was no problem.  But, one interesting note.  As a charter airline, they limit passengers to 20 kilograms of checked luggage (as opposed to the normal 25 in Europe ), plus one personal or carry-on of 5 kilograms.  I checked in at 19.2 kg.  They did not weigh my backpack, thank goodness.
On Saturday, the 29th, we drove to Gdansk.  We had opted to get a room at the Hampton by the airport and get a bit of sleep before our flight.  It helped that Alicja’s son, Marek, works there and got us the family rate for the night.  The hotel is literally steps away from the airport entrance.  And, we left the car with Marek so we had no parking fees.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, we made our way to the terminal to board our flight.  As it turns out, the plane was neat, clean and we had no problem at all.  The flight attendants were all very nice.  One interesting thing about it was that it was a true discount airline.  Discount meaning everything cost money.  EVERYTHING.  Coffee was not complimentary; tea was not complimentary.  Water was not complimentary.  I paid 5 PLN for coffee for me and another 5 PLN for tea for Alicja.  They had things to eat - for more money; but, we opted to forego those things.  Regardless, the flight was smooth, pleasant and uneventful.
Crete is an hour ahead of us here in Poland.  So, after a 3-hour flight, we landed at about 8:00 a.m. local time in Greece.  It was warm and sunny and beautiful.  We landed in Heraklion, the capital city of Crete.  It is about in the middle of the island.    The airport is not a large one by any means.
After collecting our luggage, our next task was to find our transportation to the hotel.  This was the beginning of my appreciation of Itaka.  We retrieved our luggage and went outside.  There was an area with Itaka representatives at a desk.  We gave them our names and we were directed to a specific bus.  At the bus, we told the driver our hotel and we boarded.  When the bus was filled with the proper passengers, we left the airport.
Agios Nikolaos is about an hour’s drive from Heraklion.  But, of course, we had to stop at various hotels to drop off passengers.  After about an hour and a half, we arrived at our hotel.  I have to say, I was happy with our choice of location.  The area of Agios Nikolaos is simply beautiful.  But, we did have a few issues with the hotel.

As I said, we booked a place called the Miramare Resort.  It is rated at 4 stars.  That is the Greek rating system.  Motel 6 would be 3.5 stars by their system.  In the U.S., the hotel would probably be about 3 stars....maybe.  But, as I said, the location was wonderful.
The hotel is located on a steep hill not far from the center of the town of Agios Nikolaos.  Agios Nikolaos is a small city about the size of Shawnee, OK.  Our hotel was in easy walking distance from the hotel.  Going THERE.  That part was downhill.   Coming back was uphill and that was a different matter altogether.   But, I digress...........
We arrived at the hotel and went to check in.   Unfortunately, our room was not ready yet.  Not until 1:00 p.m.  And, our “all inclusive” didn’t start until 12:00 p.m.  So, we went to the bar and I got a beer that I had to pay for.

The view from the bar:

 Later, at 12:00, we were able to obtain our little plastic bracelets to show that we were “all-inclusive.”  Later, yet, at 1:00 p.m., we were able to go to the restaurant and eat lunch in our “all-inclusive” plan.
Actually, the food was not bad.  It was not gourmet; but, it was not at all bad.
Later - about 2:00 p.m.- we were given our room.  We went and looked at it and immediately returned to the front desk to complain.   Not just complain.  We told them it was totally unacceptable.   The room was old, dilapidated and the balcony looked out upon another building.  In short, it sucked.

“Mr. Helpful” at the front desk told us he could not change anything and we would have to wait for his colleague to come on duty to make any changes.  (We did not/do not believe him).  But, later, his colleague, Yana, did, in fact, help us after I told her the room sucked and we would not stay there.  She gave us the key to another room to look at.  We looked at it and were much happier.  We told her so and we changed rooms.  This one was much nicer.  It was newer and the balcony looked out over one of the three swimming pools on the property.  So, we were much happier.

The swimming pool right below our room.  (The place had three pools)  Beyond is Mirabelo Bay.

After we got settled in our room, we walked down the hill to the beaches.  There are two beaches in easy walking distance of the hotel.  The nearest one is a small beach with pebbles rather than sand.  A short distance to the south is a much larger sand beach with some concession stands and numerous lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent.

The small pebble beach is in the foreground.  Agios Nikolaos is in the background.

Later, we walked into the town of Agios Nikolaos.  Agios Nikolaos is a beautiful small city of about 25,000 people.  It is very much oriented toward the tourism business.  There are tons of souvenir shops, coffee shops, bars and restaurants.  They all stay open late.  In one jewelry store we asked what time they closed.  The lady said, “11:00 p.m.  But, regardless, it is an interesting little city and quite picturesque.

To be continued..............

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