Archive for the ‘Crete 2016’ Category

Sometimes I forget just how cheap things can be in Greece. Last night I wanted a simple dinner and found a taverna just a few minutes from the hotel that looked like it could deliver this. One of the reasons I chose it was that there seemed to be several Greek groups and family parties in the taverna; indeed, they outnumbered the foreign visitors.

I had some bread and olive oil as a starter, then a pasta dish – penne pasta with chicken bits and mushrooms, all in a creamy sauce. With this I had a 250 ml glass of local wine, followed by a coffee. They also gave me a free mini-dessert and a shot of Raki. Cost? €10.50

A short while later I was in a bar in the centre of the village where I could have spent more than that on a small measure of single malt scotch. Readers, I didn’t.

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Paleochora is on the south coast of Crete, near the western end. It sits on a headland sticking out into the Libyan Sea.  There are two beaches. One, on the western side, is sandy and has some infrastructure – beach loungers, sun shades, etc, although it appears to be pretty minimal. The other beach, on the eastern side is rocky/pebbly and at first sight appears to be even more basic. The town itself occupies the central part of the headland, between the beaches, although the town’s centre of gravity is biased towards the eastern side of town – there are quite a few tavernas along the sea on that side whereas there are fewer on the western side. There’s also a main drag in the centre of town, with about perhaps a couple of dozen bars/restaurants/tavernas along it. At night – well, last night certainly – that street was closed to traffic, there are seats laid out along the road, and even TV screens set up. (Mostly tuned to German channels, it seems.)

It’s actually pretty small – I walked all round the headland (there’s an old harbour complex right at the southern tip) and that didn’t take long. Cutting across the headland – going direct from beach to beach, through the town – means that almost everywhere is within five minutes’ walk of anywhere else.

I gather that Paleochora was regarded as very remote until quite recently. It was always occupied by Cretans, of course, but road links with the rest of Crete were minimal and boats were the best way of getting in and out. Allegedly it was the hippies who ‘discovered’ it, in the early 70s. Since then the roads have been improved to the point where there are 3 buses to/from Chania every day, and some links along the coast as well. That said, there are still one or two towns/villages that don’t have road connections at all – Agia Roumelli, at the foot of the Samaria Gorge walk, is one such. In response to this the originally casual boat network had been improved and there’s now an official car/passenger service running along this end of the south coast. Paleochora is the western end of this service with a ferry leaving at around 7:30 and heading eastwards to Sougia, Agia Roumelli, and points further east.

So it’s small and not especially busy. Part of me is wondering if I would have done better to have one night fewer here, and an extra night in Chania. But never mind – I’m here now, and I shall enjoy it. I just need to remember how to relax. And sun bathe.

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So today was all about finally getting to Paleochora; which, since I’m here, I must have managed to do.

I had a morning to walk round Chania and remind myself of all the places I like. I checked out of the hotel (in which, incidentally, I had a perfectly good night – the Hotel Arkadi, right in the centre of Chania – recommended) at 11:45, walked round to the bus station and waited the hour for the bus.

Chania bus station – indeed, all the bus stations I’ve become familiar with in Crete – has always struck me as being disordered and chaotic, with hordes of people rushing hither and thither. Spending an hour just observing the place has brought home that’s its actually perfectly well organised. Each bus has a number, on the windscreen. It’s not a service number, it’s the number of the bus, e.g. 12; 45; or whatever. There’s an electronic notice board that tells you the times the buses are leaving, their destination, and crucially the number of the bus. So there might be hordes of people waiting for a bus to the airport, and one might be scheduled for 30 minutes past the hour. It’ll also say which number the bus will be – 33, say. In the run up to the due time more and more people will be congregating around the concourse, all with luggage, and looking more and more anxious. But at about 25 minutes past the hour, up rolls bus #33 with a load passengers from the airport. There then follow a couple of minutes of real disorganisation as the passengers wanting to get on get mixed up with the newly-arrived passengers getting off. Soon however that’ll be sorted out after which people start loading their bags into the luggage bays under the passenger compartment, people start getting on the bus (having their tickets checked on the way), then at just before 30 minutes past the hour someone starts shouting “last call for the airport bus!” (or words to that effect), and finally the bus pulls out and calm descends – you realise that 40 to 50 people, plus their bags, have been removed from the concourse.

I ought to say that there is also a ticket office with staff who seem to speak good English (and, I suspect, good German) who give unfailingly helpful and accurate advice.

So I went through this process as well and was on the bus at 12:45. The journey took just under two hours, and is split into two sections. First we drove along the north coast, west of Chania, for almost an hour, and then we headed south, across the island and over the mountains for the rest of the journey. The first half was quite boring, the second half was quite dramatic. There’s no doubt that Crete is a very beautiful island. The mountains we crossed were quite small by Cretan standards – off to the east of the route I could see some much higher peaks 10 or 15 miles away; no road through them, I suspect (or none for a bus).

At the end of the journey I had arrived in Paleochora. More about that later.

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The trauma, the stress…..

My flight was at 2:15 and Ryanair recommended getting to the airport two hours in advance. It’s barely an hour from home to East Midlands airport so the plan was to leave at 10:30 and thus give myself plenty of time.

So I was at home some time after 9:30 when I got a text from Val who was at the dentists. She’d heard that there were delays on the M1. I checked and indeed there were, just beyond where I was going but of course these would of course impact on travel further north. So I set off at 10 o’clock.

On the road I learned that in fact the motorway was closed between J23A And J22, but I couldn’t think of any better route than just pressing on – East Midlands airport is impossible to get to except from the M1.

By 10:45 I’d reached J25 for Nottingham, and I only needed to get to J24. Then the queues started. In the end it took me just over two hours to get from J25 to the airport, and I was pulling into the car park at just after 1 o’clock. Now the clock was definitely ticking – baggage drop for my flight was due to finish at 1:35. I won’t bore you with the details of the stress of getting through that, suffice to say that in the end it was down to passengers in the queue having to sort it out so that those trying to get the 2:15 flight could shuffle to the head of the queue. (There’s generally a single checkin queue for Ryanair at E. Mids.) But I made it, and thereafter things went OK. The flight was full but there were no problems, we landed at Chania just ahead of time, my transport arrangements into Chania town worked well, I’ve got my bus ticket to Paleochora for tomorrow, and I even had time to go out for a drink around Chania harbour.

So tomorrow I’m moving on to Paleochora. By the time I get there it will have taken me more than 24 hours to do so!

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Off to Greece (again)

Tomorrow I shall be going to Crete again. I visited the island about this time last year and blogged from it – you can find last year’s posts here.

I’m flying in and out of the same airport (Chania) as last year, but thereafter the itinerary will be different. Instead of spending the week in Chania I shall be on the south coast, in the village of Paleochora, for four nights. They’ll actually be nights 2 to 5 of the holiday – thanks to the flight not arriving in Crete until 8:30 or so Monday evening I’ll be spending the first night in a hotel in Chania. Then I’ll get the bus to Paleochora on Tuesday morning.

On Saturday I’ll be returning to Chania for a final couple of nights in a very nice hotel around the harbour – Casa Delfina. I walked past it a number of times last year and it did look very inviting. It’s also rather pricey – the two nights there are costing more than the other five nights together.

Then I’ll return to the UK on the 20th. However, the flight back isn’t until just before 9pm – it’s the same plane as the outbound flight, returning to the UK – so I won’t be getting to East Midlands airport until at least 11:15pm, and possibly much later. Given that Val has to get up early on Tuesday morning to drive to Stoke for her job, we’ve agreed that I shall spend a final night away in the exotic location of an on-airport Premier Inn. That will be the highlight of the trip, I know…..

I shall be doing posts while I’m away so call in again from time to time.

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