Travel Tales Home Page

Previous Page      Eastern Europe Plus Home Page      Next Page

    
Crete, Greece
 
May 6

A travel day. High-speed catamaran from Santorini to Iraklio, Crete and then by bus to Hania (also spelt Chania and Xania without counting the ways using the Greek alphabet).

It was already late and dark when we made our way from the bus station to Hania’s Old Town. Perhaps late for us after a long day of travel but not for others who were sharing food, drink and conversation. Lights from the restaurants around Old Harbour danced on the water promising a grand day for us tomorrow.

catamaran from Island of Santorini to Crete

We had booked a room at Pension Lena. A note on her door explained that the people who had been in the room we were to have wanted to stay on for two more nights (a testament to Lena, her rooms and Hania), so for tonight she was putting us in a small room. A small room it was with enough space for some quaint charm, a double bed and a mini-bathroom.  We were soon asleep.

Hania, Crete
Hania, Crete - Pension Lena Hania, Crete - Lena of Lena Pension

May 7

We dosie-do’d around each other in the tiny room getting ourselves ready for a day in Hania. We hadn’t unpacked in anticipation of moving to another room. Down the narrow staircase into what at one time must have been this home’s kitchen-living area, we met Lena (pronounced Len-a not Lean-a). She asked if the room was okay or did we want to move to a larger room. Our decision was based on the response to Terry’s next question, "Is the gorge open?"

"Yes," she responded.

"Then we would like to change to a larger room and we would like to stay two more nights."

She explained that all of her larger rooms were occupied with people staying longer than first thought, therefore, she would show us a larger room which her cousin had available. She walked us around the corner of the block, through a doorway which had a sign on the side reading "Kalliopi" and up some stairs. The door of the room was open and a lady was cleaning. It wasn’t the cleaning lady we saw first, nor the bed, fridge or furniture. What caught our eyes was the tall open window with a view out past the park to the sparkling blue waters of the Sea of Crete. There wasn’t any time needed to consider the answer before the question was even asked. We just grinned at our good fortune and said, "It will be lovely, thank you."

Hania, Crete - Kalliopi Pension Hania, Crete - Kalliopi Pension

We transferred our backpacks from Lena’s to a neat stack in the new room and then left the lady to finish her chores while we began our discovery of Hania.

Hania, Crete Hania, Crete Hania, Crete

Near our new room, we stopped into a little grocery and picked up strawberries, apples, bananas and yogurt, bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives, sausage and a little serrated knife; thinking of breakfasts and tomorrow’s packed lunch.

Hania, Crete

Feeling bold, we stopped by Lena’s and asked if we might borrow two plates and two forks. She willing lent us those and added on her own accord another plate, spoons and a container of salt. It was appreciated.

We had the room to ourselves upon our return. We opened the window wide and moved the table to just in front. Soon we were nibbling on strawberries, enjoying the view and people watching. Moments like these on our trips are cherished as much as some of the day trips we take.

Walking away from our room, we passed the parking lot, the park’s end and came to the water. We could see the lighthouse to our right. The seawall walk brought us to the Old Venetian Harbour we had walked around last night. We stood at the top left of the harbour’s "U" shape. It looked Venetian with tall buildings, each with its own subtle colour, each touching the next and all set back from the water’s edge.

Most have ground floor restaurants with outdoor seating in front. Most restaurant have a person, usually a man, whose job it is to entice you to have a drink and or meal in their establishment. Between the outdoor tables and the water, the harbour’s raised walkway is perfect for strolling while park benches give people an opportunity to sit a spell and drink in the atmosphere. Delicious! Enhancing the whole experience was Greek music which seemed to float in the air. Wondering where it was coming from, we found that at the top right of the harbour’s "U" a stage had been set up, a band was playing and dancers were performing. As we sauntered around this picturesque scene complete with soundtrack it was as though we were walking through a travelogue. Moving through the narrow back streets, we found photo still-lifes around each corner. When we weren’t walking we were sitting and people watching. Hania is a real charmer.  

We had a gyro for dinner (held the fries and liked it better). An early night was in order because tomorrow was going to be a special day.

May 8 

 

 

The one and a half hour bus ride from Hania to the head of the Samaria Gorge took us through orange groves and vineyards and thirty-five minutes plus of climbing switchbacks with stunning valley views; then down the other side to just below Omalos Plateau where we purchased our tickets into the park. Our trek began at a height of 1227 m and would end on the shores of the Libyan sea in Agia Roumeli

Carved by a river flowing between Avlimaniko Mountain (1858m) and Volakias Mountain (2147m), the Samaria Gorge (named in honour of Saint Maria of Egypt) claims to be the longest in Europe at 18 km. It was made a national park in 1962 mostly to protect the agrimi, a shy wild Cretan goat also known as "kri-kri".

 
 
 The first section of the hike was down a series of switchbacks. Our hiking boots squeaked like well worn leather saddles as with each step we concentrated on finding secure footing on the uneven stony steep grade (parts with wooden railings). We had to make a point of stopping to have a look around at the stunning views. Scenes not too unfamiliar for those who have enjoyed hiking in British Columbia. Even where they have attempted to "pave" the path with stone, the terrain is uneven with loose gravel.  
 
Water on such a hike is necessary but here one only has to carry their water bottle, for along the way are fresh water springs and toilet facilities. When we reach the bottom of the switchbacks we are treated to the sound of water but the unnamed river teases and will often disappear underground to magically reappear later down the gorge.  
 

The pine trees on Crete are different than those found elsewhere in Greece. The gorge is home to a number of interesting plant species including one we had not seen before. The dragon arum (Dracunculus Vulgaris)with its rich maroon coloured spathe also called dragonwort, dragon lily and voodoo lily. By smelling like rotting meat it attracts flies to the bulbous bulge on its stem (within this bulb is where the flower is located). The insects are trapped and later freed, covered in pollen, to go onto the next flower. The long leaf shaped spathe feels like smooth leather and the long carrot shaped spike feels thick skinned but hollow.

Also along the hike there are remembrances that man has used this valley for centuries. Part of an ancient shrine, dating back to the 6th century BC has been excavated. Religious worship was carried out around a large rock with a natural cavity. Large stones were used to build a wall and a well defined fire area revealed half-burned bones of animals, a small copper ram figurine and clay pots with human figures had been placed on top of the stone wall for religious ceremonies. The evidence unearthed indicated the shrine was dedicated to either Apollo or Diana and the religious ceremonies took place in the open.

 

We also passed the little church of St Nicholas surrounded by a stand of cypress. Samaria cypress are not the slender vertical variety that one sees in the rest of Greece. The Crete variety of cypress has strong horizontal branches which give the tree a bulky shape. The age of the trees around St Nicholas’ church span two to three centuries. Since antiquity cypress have been used in ship building.

We came to the abandoned settlement of Samaria and, like others, stopped for lunch and to refill our water bottles. Signs of prehistoric times abound in the area - ancient findings, Byzantine churches, two Venetian castles, old pathways and olive tree cultivation. During war periods, local fighters found shelter and refuge in the gorge. Today some of the old buildings are used for warden posts and medical aid stations.

 

The walls of the gorge, lined with millennia (as far back as a 180 million years ago) of growth marks and fossils, upheavals and stress uncovered by the relentless passage of time and erosion, grew taller on each side and the distance between them undulated. We lost count of how many times we crossed water (when it was not hiding). Sometimes the crossing was done over logs, sometimes just by picking our way across on stones.

At the 11.5km mark, we came to the sight of photographs and postcards ... Portes (meaning Gates) ... also known as "The Iron Gates". The distance between the gorge walls at this point is a mere 3 metres while the vertical height reaches up to 300 metres.

   

 

There were still a few more kilometres to walk before we were out of the park and into the village of Agia Roumeli where we had an ice cream and gave our feet a rest while we waited for the ferry. The ferry took us far as Hora Sfakion where we then caught a bus back to Hania ... tired and happy.

 

May 9

Not everything goes according to plan. That is why when Terry researches and lays out our travel itinerary, we try to stay flexible in our thinking. The ferries from Hania to the Greek Peloponnesian Peninsula are not running as often as we thought and changes had to be made. The decision was made to bypass the Peloponnese and go directly to Athens. To get there we had three options:

1. The high speed catamaran which would make the crossing from Crete in approximately four and a half hours. Sherrie’s stomach has not been working well on this trip so this first option was discounted.

2. The slow boat. Larger and offering state rooms for the overnight trip. Sherrie’s stomach could perhaps handle this.

3. Flying. It is the fastest and the price was comparable to a private stateroom on the overnight ferry. (Flying can be done for around half price if you know to book more than 12 days ahead of time).

Our flight left at 8:30pm so we gave ourselves a leisurely day enjoying our room with its window view until it was necessary to check out.

Mr. Papikinos, our host, allowed us to store our luggage with him until we had to leave town. He is as gracious as his rooms and a hard worker. He was an engineer on ships in his younger days and is also very talented working with metals. He designed and built the metal furniture throughout Kalliopi Rooms and sells other pieces. He is retired now and thinks his five pension rooms will keep him busy enough, yet allow him to enjoy life. He tells us he will have a web site soon, in the meantime, we are sure Lena in her helpful way is assisting him.

We roamed the streets and found a few more we had not yet explored. We took the computer to one of the harbourside restaurants that offer WiFi access if you have something (even as small as a drink). While Sherrie tapped and sipped, Terry ran into town and picked up our airline tickets.

   
   

Later in the afternoon we did some walking out of Old Town and explored "ordinary" neighbourhoods where instead of souvenir shops we found stores selling household goods, clothing and music. At a music store we purchased a cd of traditional Greek music. Heading back towards Old Town, we stopped in the large covered market. The hustle of early morning had long since passed and the only stalls open were those selling tourist items.

Gathering up our backpacks and having another short visit with Mr. Papikinos (his English is very good), we made our way up to the bus depot to catch a bus to the airport. One day we will return to Hania and hopefully find Mr. Papikinos, and his rooms, still in business.

 

click here to continue May 9 and Athens, Greece ...

      

Previous Page      Eastern Europe Plus Home Page      Next Page

Travel Tales Home Page