Two weeks in Crete on a last-minute deal: from Chania and Rethymon to Iraklio, Chersonisos and Siteia, we packed it all in those 14 days!

Day 1 : 13 July 2003 : Tzikas Apts

Lazing about at Tzikas Apartments

After a late arrival (about 4am), it was no surprise that we didn't wake too early. 10am wasn't a bad time, all things considered. Strangely, despite the time, the windows were dark, but having pulled the curtains open I realised that the windows were shuttered. When I opened the shutters, the blinding sunlight quickly explained the need for these shutters!

The next couple of hours were spent milling about the apartment finding homes for things or, for me, playing with my new toy - I had spotted a very tasty 15GB iPod in the duty-free shop on the way out and so treated myself. The irony is that 4 hours after buying said device, I tried to use my CD MP3 player on the coach journey to the apartments and it refused to read the MP3 files, nor would it play any sound for an audio CD. In short, the old player knew that I'd got a shinier, sleeker model and it decided to play all dejected. Actually, that was the only thing I got it to play, so my first task of the morning was to get the iPod charged up and to get some of the music on to the thing (thankfully, I had brought the laptop along - for diary writing purposes - and so had a way to manage the music files on the iPod. Deep joy).

At 1pm we had our welcome meeting at the bar area of Eleanora Apartments - our next-door neighbours whose pool we were allowed to use, as we were their bar. Very neighbourly (or entrepreneurial). The Olympic rep was a guy named Aaron who I immediately spotted as being an Aussie. Not difficult really. Our friend from 'Seed knee' was new to the apartments (as a repping location) and, it later turned out, was also new to Crete in general - he'd come from a job as a social worker in Sweden to Crete just one week previously. Now there's a change in temperature and culture!

These things are always the same - the tour rep tells us things about the island that we probably already know from scouring through whatever guidebooks we bought long before the trip or, in our case, just a few days ago to find just where the hell we were going! After the initial spiel, you're given a list of optional excursions, and we decided to take up the offer of a few. We chose:

  • The one-day cruise to stunning Santorini (ancient Thera, which sits atop a volcanic submerged crater)
  • A Cretan night - probably very similar to the Turkish night we went to in ... erm, Turkey ... so we know not to sit in the first few rows or else get picked on!
  • To do an 11-mile trek through the Samaria Gorge, a place which has been described in some guidebooks as the Grand Canyon of Europe. I'll believe that when I see it - assuming I'm not doubling up and suffering from heart failure (may I remind everyone that it was 25 degrees celsius at 2:30 am - who knows what we could expect from an exposed mountainous area at midday). If this diary is not completed, you'll know we never made it back. Sorry about not making a will yet, mum. Hope it hasn't been too much bother for you ;-)

Our meeting place - the bar at Eleanora Apartments - also meant that we got to meet Eleanora herself, her father (Babas - essentially he's the old Greek bloke who speaks no English but understands a lot) and George (or Yorgos to his friends). Oh, and there's Jack also - the family pet dog. He's about five years old, wirey coated and has a penchant for chocolate. He also has a thing for chasing traffic, apparently, despite suffering a broken leg two years ago from doing the very same thing. Dumb dog. As ever, I made a fuss of the dog while thinking of my own dog, Scooby, who had gone to the vets three days before the holiday and had been diagnosed as having a diseased heart valve. apparently no-one had told her that she should take it easy - the only visible sign that something was not right was the shaved areas on her chest and legs where various monitor wires had been attached.

Jack, the family dog who loves chocolate
Me and Jack, the chocolate-loving family dog at Eleanora Apartments.

With a few trips booked for later in the week, we set off for Chersonisos (pronounced 'Hersonisos'). We had chosen to stay at Chersonisos when we booked the holiday, but like I mentioned before, what we actually got was 'a place not too far outside of Chersonisos', a place known as Anissaras. 5€ was all it took to get us there and almost immediately we stopped for something to eat. For our first meal in Greece we were very good - both of us avoided egg and chips and went for moussaka. OK, it's entry-level traditional Greek cuisine but this was the first meal! We could have tried a lucky dip instead - where other menu options read "Garlic Bread, Tzatziki, Beeftekia ... etc" menu option 5 read "?, Surprise, Surprise, Surprise, Surprise, ?????". Too much too soon.

The menu offered a 'surprise' meal.
Menu option number 5 - a lucky dip.

The moussaka was delicious and we were in a nice shady spot overlooking the sea. Superb.

Manda - about to order food at Dorian Restaurant
Manda - about to order food at Dorian Restaurant

Duly refueled, we began a long walk up the main highway that passes through Chersonisos and is lined on either side with the usual tourist tat shops, and we must have gone into nearly all of them. No matter that each one had exactly the same items out on display by the pavement - caps, shades that offer zero UV protection, fake Oakley clothing with a badly misspelled logo, postcards of half or completely naked Greek men or women - we still went in and checked out the goods inside.

Perhaps the strangest thing about these places is - to my mind at least - how the shop owners don't find it strange to put the children's toys so close to items such as flick knives and pornographic playing cards (the front covers of which leave nothing to the imagination). But it's not just Greece - I remember Tenerife being almost exactly the same, and there are probably countless others. A different world ...

Anyway, so we bought a whole load of stuff - fridge magnets, natural sponges, a bandana - then caught a taxi back to the apartments.

That evening we opted to stay local - unless you caught a taxi or walked for ages there was little choice anyway. We stayed at the bar of Eleanora Apartments where George (Eleanora's brother) came and joined us. He's a gregarious chap is George; normally he works as a 'computer technician' but in the summer months he gives it up to help out with the family business. At 21 George had already completed national service and he struck me as the sort of person who would rather not have done it, given the choice - a genuinely friendly chap. Another Scottish couple who were also at the bar said that they'd stayed at Eleanora 4 times before. Why did they come back so many times? "Because of people like him," said Iain (from Stornaway), pointing over at George, who then walked off and returned with complementary drinks of raki for Manda and I.

If you have not tasted raki, you haven't missed much. It's not got a lot of flavour, but it has a lot of kick to it and immediately warms up your insides and lets you know that it's doing its work - and that work is to get you very drunk very quickly (if you have enough of them). The locals call it fire-water. I find it hard to imagine that anyone could tell a good raki from a bad one - they all make me grimace when I knock them back. Then again, some people think the same thing about Scotch while others will happily pay triple figures for a special rare malt. One thing is for sure - I was no raki connoisseur!

The raki - and the numerous bottles of Amstel - took their effect. Time for bed.