In the past three years, we have been to over 50 Greek islands. Just a drop in the bucket considering there are more than 6,000 (of which around 200 are inhabited). But the moment we arrived in Crete, we knew that something was different there. This was not just another Greek island; it was more like a completely new country.
We spent 10 days touring Crete. By Greek island standards it is huge. In fact, it is the largest Greek island and the fifth largest Mediterranean island. At 160 miles long and between seven and 38 miles wide, with tall mountains (over 8,000 feet high) and strong winds, it is not especially cruising friendly. But there were places to leave Berkeley East, cars to be rented, and excellent roads. So we drove, and drove, and drove, to see the beautiful island.
Crete's history goes back 4,000 years prior to any other civilization in Europe. After the Minoan society was devastated by the Santorin eruption, Crete developed an organization of city states, then successively became part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, was an autonomous state, briefly occupied by the Germans, and now is a state of the country of Greece. As we drove around the island, we saw remnants of these periods in the architecture. We also visited some of the sites from the ancient Minoan times and were very impressed with finds in the Archeological Museum of Heraklion, one of the best in the world.
One of the displays included figurine's of the Minoan "poppy goddess," a 1400 - 100 BC terracotta figurine found throughout Crete, with raised hands and seeds of opium poppies on her head.
In addition to exceptional archeological sites Crete has it all: stunning scenery, wonderful beaches, delicious and unique food, wonderful wine, excellent hiking, interesting towns, and did we mention the roads? Greece must have spent most of the money lent to them by the European Union on the roads in Crete. The mountain network was better than any we had seen on other Greek islands, and the new national road was a superhighway, with only two lanes but shoulders wide enough for cars to pull aside to allow for faster vehicles to pass. This made for very fast travel, as long as there were no cars stopped in the shoulder lane.
Cretan food is truly distinct from other Greek dishes. The essential ingredient, olive oil, is grown everywhere on the island. In fact, 30% of Greece's olive oil comes from Crete. It is organic and pressed at the monasteries. The freshness of the other ingredients, fish, snails, fruits or vegetables, makes simply prepared dishes taste outstanding. And then there are the herbs; Cretan recipes use more fresh herbs than we have found in any of the other Greek islands. We had some great and unique meals, including one of fajitas, from a Mexican restaurant in Herkilion.
From the palm beach in Vai (surrounded by the largest palm tree forest in Europe consisting of 5,000 trees); to the throwback, hippy-vibe beach of Matala; to the massive white sand beach at Elafonisi on the south west corner of the island, Crete had some of the most unique and beautiful beaches in Greece.
The "Abduction of Europa" statue on the harbor in Ayios Nikolaos represent the Greek Myth of Zeus and Europa. Europa was the beautiful daughter of King of Phoenicia. Once, while playing with her friends on the beach, Zeus saw her and fell in love with her. He transformed into a beautiful, burly and powerful white bull. Europa saw the bull grazing, approached and started to caress him, fascinated by its power. Then she decided to ride the bull, but when she climb up he started running with lightning speed. He crossed the Libyan Sea, until he arrived in Crete.
Larry scratching his head wondering what he had gotten himself into
We decided to hike the Samaria Gorge, the most visited of the 36 gorges in the Crete hiking guide. Our 10-mile hike descended 5,000 feet from the White Mountains to the sea, giving new meaning to "its all downhill from here." We started out with jackets and ended at the ocean in swimsuits.
The most famous part of the gorge is the stretch known as the Iron Gates where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only 12 feet and soar up to a height of almost 1,000 feet.
Berkeley East at the town dock in Chania. The Port authority told us he had the best berth available, and it was, if you wanted to be part of the bar scene that stated around 8:00 and finished about 4:00 in the morning. From the bench just off our stern, people could order drinks and admire BE. At times it was like being in a fish bowl, but at least the walk to dinner was short.
Followers of this blog have heard this before, and won't be surprised: we founds some very nice wineries and wines in Crete. Every family in Crete grows their own grapes and makes a barrel of wine for personal consumption, so the wines here are more for visitors, restaurants and export. We found good whites, reds and even a rose (from a winemaker trained in France). Crete has some unique local grapes (Vilana. Vidiano. Dafni, Thrapsathiri. Kotsifali), as well as popular international varieties (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). Once again, BE is sitting a little lower in the water. At one winery we meet two Americans who were working there. One was a Greek American from Boston who has made Crete her home, the other was a Texas lawyer who is living there while her husband, a JAG lawyer, is serving the USA in Crete, tough duty.
We have been trying to get to the Greek island of Santorini for three years. During our first year cruising in Greece, we planned to sail there. But after some investigation, we learned that the only marina in Santorini was not deep enough for Berkeley East, and the water surrounding the island was too deep for us to anchor.
So we decided to take a ferry there, from Naxos, in August. Then we sat at anchor on BE and watched the thousands of people boarding each and every ferry, and we began to try and book hotels, only to discover most were unavailable. August was the busiest time of year in Santorini.
Then we made a plan to go at the end of the season, fly from Turkey after we put BE up for the winter. It was set, late October would be the perfect time. Not really. As we started making plans, we discovered that many things would already be closed and the weather would be chilly.
How about a trip in April before going back to the boat in year two of cruising Greece? Nope, too much to do at the boat and not everything was open there yet anyway. And so it went, every possible option that we could come up with simply did not work.
When we arrived in Crete in June of our third and final season in Greece, we finally found the right combination: a marina to leave BE in, not too far from a short ferry ride to the island of Santorini, at a time when it was less crowded, everything was open and the weather was good!
Crescent-shaped Santorini (or Thíra) is actually a group of islands within an active volcano. The islands that form Santorini came into existence as a result of intensive volcanic activity; twelve huge eruptions in the 16th century BC that caused the collapse of the volcano's central part, creating a large crater in the sea (caldera). The edge of the crater is now fringed with small whitewashed, cube houses and hotels that hang off the cliffs of the towns of Fira, Oia and Imervogili.
Relaxing by the pool. It has been a busy sailing season, so time for a break.
Great lunch with a view!
Great view from the rim down to the thousands of people on cruise ships.
What started out as a casual stroll to dinner on a rock walkway quickly turned into a 10 mile hike along the crater rim in pumice/lava stones followed by 300+ steps down to a sunset dinner.
Night skyline across the rim and pool
Santorini is considered to be the most sought after places for a romantic getaway, where couples can gaze at crystal clear waters while perched on the rim of a massive active volcano in the middle of the sea! It was a great place to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary a few weeks early.
I am sure most of you have recognized that the blog hasn't been updated in a while. And those of you that follow us on Marine Traffic know that we are nowhere near our last blog entry.
The explanation for this is that we are having too much fun to blog about it. Don't worry we will get around to is sometime.