Tuesday 22 May 2007
We ate breakfast again in the villa. Tried several times to call the caretaker so we could give the key back. Eventually he answered and we set off at 1035 but then had to wait for the next bus to Fira at 1120. The plan today is to drop off some laundry at the Pelican Hotel laundrette in Fira. The good thing about this place is they have large lockers we can leave out backpacks in and we can then wonder off with just out smaller day-packs. Spent the day souvenir shopping. Tony got carried away taking pictures of kittens.

dscf2857dscf2859dscf2868dscf2904

Picked up our laundry and backpacks and headed for the bus station. The bus ride to Athinios was very scenic, particularly down the steep and narrow road to the port. We didn't get to see much of it on arrival because of all the rain. Had to wait an hour for the ferry to arrive. The fast-ferry to Crete left at 1810 and was a lot smoother this time, although there was a slight swell half way. Arrive at Heraklion (Iraklio to the locals) at 2000. Heraklion is an old Venetian port and very pretty, particularly at night. The inner-city has a large wall surrounding it.

Caught a taxi to Atrion Hotel. There was a stuff up with our hotel booking. Several months earlier while planning the trip we discovered the ferry would not be operating on May 23 so we altered our plans to arrive a day earlier. Somewhere in the string of travel agencies, the new itinerary had not been booked and updated. Turns out it was the agent in Athens that stuffed it up. Anyway, the kind hotel staff offered us a complimentary drink while they sorted out our booking. The Atrion was fully booked for the night and couldn't accommodate us so they got us a taxi that took us to the Astoria Hotel, a more superior hotel nearby for no extra charge. Yay, a free upgrade for the night.

Once we were assigned a room, we realised it was getting rather late, so we found a taverna in the nearby Plateia Eleftherias and enjoyed a hearty Greek meal. Fully stuffed to the gills, I'm sure I'm over my petite 70kg's now!


Wednesday 23 May 2007
Breakfast at Astoria before checking out. Left bags at the hotel lock-up and went looking for the bus station. Found the Battle of Crete memorial. Spent a few minutes reading the plaques, particularly about the Australian troop involvement. I then realised Tony was leading us in the wrong direction - south, instead of north towards the port. I took over the map reading duties from here.

dscf2910dscf2914

Once we'd found the bus station, we caught the bus to Knossos historic site - a Minoan temple dating back to 1900BC, and is one of Crete's major tourist attractions. Entry is €6 and then we were conned into the guided tour for an extra €10. The guide was a tiny old greek lady who spoke broken English very well. The poor dear fainted half way through the tour. Spent about two hours here then caught the 7km bus ride back to Iraklio. We talked to some Aussies on the bus who'd just been to Turkey.

dscf2919dscf2924dscf2937dscf2958dscf2959dscf2973dscf2980dscf2981dscf2993dscf2996

Back in Iraklio, we took photos around the harbour, particularly the venetian fortress, Rocca al Mare. Checked into Atrion Hotel, and rested for a while. Then walked over to Astoria to collect our packs and walked back - about 7 minutes each way, if you know your way around. Rested some more.

dscf3016dscf3039dscf3048dscf3058

Went out to dinner - found a taverna near the Morosini 'lion' Fountain in Plateia Venizelou. The fountain was undergoing maintenance at the time so we didn't see it operational. Took some night photos around the fort area. I had this strong craving for icecream so we had coffee and strawberry icecream on the way back to hotel.

dscf3067dscf3079dscf3092dscf3096dscf3100


Thursday 24 May 2007
Breakfast at hotel and checked out. Walked with the packs to the bus station. Caught the 1030 bus to Chania. €10.50 each... normally €11 but because we bought two tickets we got a discount. The bus ride took three hours. Entertained by arguing Greeks on the bus. It got quite heated, and in the end we're still not sure what all the shouting was about. The northern coast of Crete is very beautiful, with lots of small villages and purpose built resorts scattered along the way. One place I noticed was called Bali. It looked very touristy, just like the one in Indonesia.

The bus stopped briefly at Rethymno then continued on to Chania (pronounced Hania or Xania). Thankfully we had our Lonely Planet guide book handy as it took us a while to get our bearings, just to find our way from the bus station to the port. We found our hotel in an alleyway just off the harbour quay. The Porto Del Colombo Hotel is a beautiful venetian building said to be around 650 years old. The receptionist asked if we'd like to book the Samaria Gorge walk, (which is why we came here) so that was organised for us to do on Saturday. The afternoon was spent wondering around the old port and exploring central Hania.

dscf3120dscf3131dscf3132dscf3141

We rested for a while in our hotel then out to dinner on the harbour quay around 1930. The port was absolutely glowing as the sun set. We were kicking ourselves for not having our cameras with us at the time.


Friday 25 May 2007
Had quite a slow day today as it was raining early on, so we stayed in the hotel room and played cards for an hour or so. Went out with cameras to explore more of Hania and took an old boat ride to a small island off shore. Anchored there for a short time while the captain offered everyone a glass of his "raki". After that we went back to the hotel for our what's now become our routine mid-afternoon "siesta".

dscf3172dscf3188dscf3189dscf3191dscf3199dscf3202dscf3233dscf3255

Later went out for dinner. Unfortunately tonight, the weather was not good for sunset photos, it's rather cool and clouded over but we get some good night photos later and stopped at a restaurant for cheesecake.

dscf3279dscf3283dscf3289dscf3290dscf3295dscf3304

Saturday 26 May 2007
We had an early start at 0500. Downstairs, the hotel had prepared a light breakfast for us, then raced off to meet the bus at 0615 that would take us to Samaria Gorge. By 0710 the bus is winding through mountain roads in heavy early morning fog. When we were near the top of the mountain, and the bus stopped for a 20 minute break for people to get last minute supplies and have food and drink before the walk.

dscf3307dscf3314dscf3315dscf3316dscf3324dscf3325

By 0745 we were at the park entrance, and ready to start our adventure through Samaria National Park. The trail descends from 1280 metres, and covers over 13 km inside the national park, and then another 3km outside the park to where the southern coast of Crete meets the Libyan Sea. We're the second bus load for the day so there's not many people on the track yet. The gorge is more impressive than we imagined. Every step of the way the scenery is quite stunning with views of steer rock walls, still shrouded in mist.

The first section is all down hill, on a rocky but well maintained zig-zag track. We pass signs warning of rock falls but we felt completely safe. There are plenty of rest stops throughout the gorge but we only stopped at a few. The guide had given us suggested times to be leaving each of the main resting places, and we were well ahead of that schedule.

dscf3335dscf3344dscf3351dscf3424dscf3435dscf3443dscf3451dscf3461dscf3487dscf3488dscf3501dscf3505

One rest area is the old uninhabited village of Samaria, were we stopped for a snack. The village was abandoned when the gorge became a national park back in the 1960's. Saw a couple of Kri-Kri (wild Cretan mountain goats) but these seemed tame as they wanted to eat half my muffin.

I'm amazed at the variety of terrain we pass through... forests, olive groves and rocky gully's. There are lots of interesting shapes and patterns in the rock walls of the gorge. This is easily the most beautiful walk I've ever done and I'm hoping my photos are as spectacular as the scenery.

Tony seemed to be setting a cracking pace and not stopping at the rest stops. It was quite an effort to keep up with him. After an hour of rock hopping, my right knee began to play up, becoming quite sore to walk with. It's happened a few times before when I've been on extended hiking treks so I was half expecting this to happen. Eventually, it was just too painful to walk and I had to stop and sit down for about 15 minutes. I took some headache tables which managed to kill the pain somewhat. My water bottle was also getting low. I continued on, luckily about 10 minutes later we arrived at the next rest stop. We stayed here for about half an hour and with replentished water bottles we continued on, my knee not as sore but I'm still taking it easy.

dscf3522dscf3528dscf3531dscf3546dscf3566dscf3592dscf3599dscf3607dscf3609dscf3610

One of the features of the gorge are the Iron Gates, a gap in a towering rock wall about 3 metres wide. The narrow way through is partly submerged so we carefully negotiate the stepping stones and try not to get our feet wet.

By the time we get to the end of the park we were about 90 minutes ahead of the suggested times. Here we rest and enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice and then finish the final 3km to the southern coast of Crete. We arrived at Agia Roumeli about 1330, plenty of time to have a wade in the water and cool our tired feet in the Libyan Sea. We also had plenty of time to sink a few beers and have some lunch. The small village of Agia Roumeli has no roads connecting it to anywhere on Crete. We have to catch a boat back to another village (Sougia) to get back on the buses, so it's better we not miss the boat!

dscf3619dscf3632dscf3639dscf3642dscf3647dscf3658

We boarded the ferry around 1630, and took in the amazing southern Cretan coastline. We reached Sougia around 1730, and then hit the road for a very long trip (2 hours, 30 minutes) back to Chania, just in time to get some photos of the sunset on the old port. Had a shower to wash all the dust and sweat off us and had something to eat at a nearby taverna (I recall it had blue chairs - mmm, very Greek!) A very long day, and we were very sticky and tired by the end, but it was well worth it.

dscf3665dscf3670dscf3677dscf3680dscf3687dscf3693dscf3728dscf3735dscf3739dscf3747dscf3748dscf3750


Sunday 27 May 2007
We slept in today, had breakfast about 1000. Played cards in the room until 1200 and then checked out. We had several hours to fill in before our flight to Zakynthos (via Athens) so we caught up on sending e-mails. I had typed out a nice description of our gorge walk on my GMail and stupidly forgot to send it. Then I copied it to my blog but instead of control-c, I hit shift-c and lost everything. I had to start again.

Had some lunch then picked up our bags from the hotel. Walked to the taxi's at Plateia 1866 (one of the city's main squares) for a thrilling and speedy €18 ride to the airport. The Olympic Airways flight to Athens left at 1700 and then transfered on to Zakynthos, located in the Ionian group of islands, arriving at 2130 - slighty later than expected. A large plane load of British had also just arrived, so the baggage claim area was rather crowded.

We got ourselves a taxi to Zakantha Beach Hotel in Argassi. We have a corner room on the first floor with a balcony facing the sea. The hotel organised for our washing to be done tomorrow.



Next island... Zakynthos
Crete

... is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization, the oldest civilization in Europe. Crete today, is a popular tourist destination; its attractions include the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos, the classical site of Gortys, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, and the Samaria Gorge, as well as many other natural sites, monuments, and beaches. [more]

Heraklion

... or Iraklion, is the largest city and capital of Crete. It is also the fourth largest city in Greece. [more]

Knossos

... is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, probably the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization and culture. [more]

Chania

... also transliterated as Hania, is the second largest city of Crete. It lies along the north coast of the island. .The city of Chania can be divided in two parts: the old town and the modern city which is the larger one. The old town is situated next to the old harbour and is the matrix around which the whole urban area was developed. [more]

Samariá Gorge

... is a national park on the island of Crete. Created by a small river running between the White Mountains and Mount Volakias. The gorge is the second longest in Europe. [more]

The Ionian Islands

...are a group of islands off the western coast of mainland Greece and the Peloponnese Peninsula . [more]