Week 79 - Crete Part 1

Cruising around Crete… in an RV! As we wait on spring to start cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda.

Week 79 - Crete Part 1

Cruising around Crete… in an RV! As we wait on spring to start cruising the Mediterranean on our boat Matilda.

It was a successful stay in Athens, around 90 separate “to do” items completed ranging from “Flu Shots” to “Covid Boosters” to “Go see a movie”. Not on the list, but also accomplished — adding at least 5 kilos as I ate my way through all the foods we can’t easily get on the boat or the islands. There’s no doubt it’s been a much more sedentary life for the last 7 weeks since we returned from Egypt.

The last few days in Athens were really focussed on enjoying a few of our favourite things before hitting the road again. Whether it was a lemon tart from the best pie shop in Athens, one more coffee from Dope or just enjoying an Indian curry takeaway, we indulged while we could. Rosie had a haircut and we visited the new apartment one last time to see progress. Tuesday we headed back to Aegina to return all the things to Matilda that we wouldn’t need for the next two weeks and then on Wednesday it was a lovely lunch with the couple who run the Airbnb — Melina and Abel to say farewell. Wednesday night we were aboard the ferry to Crete.

It was actually a strange experience! We very rarely travel these days where we don’t know “how” things work. It doesn’t matter where you fly to, for example, the process is almost always the same. The overnight ferry was a mystery. Would they have sheets in the cabin we booked for example, how much food was available, how early do you need to board? All things we didn’t know. All day I’d tried to check in on line, just to be greeted with a mystery “System Error”. I rang the company helpline only to be told, “try again later” but also, “no worries, just go to the gate if it doesn’t work”.

We arrived at the gate around 8PM (for our 9PM Ferry), and the guy at the ticket booth simply said “yes, you can’t check in on line for these ferries, you have to collect tickets here”. Would have been good to know! Anyway…

The ferry terminal is a crazy, busy, bustling place. Although it obviously caters for foot traffic, it’s not really set up for it — you’re trying to cross a loading yard of 30 semi trailers reversing, turning and small cars going everywhere as people get lined up to board the ferry with their vehicles.

You board, they check your ticket and COVID certificate and then walk up a long corridor for easily 100 meters. These ferries are HUGE. You also head up several long sets of stairs and eventually we arrived in what’s basically like a hotel reception! Carpeted, people manning desks, porters in “fancy” uniforms. We’d booked a cabin (the ferry departs at 9PM and was scheduled to arrive around 6AM in Crete), so we checked in and they showed us to the room. We’d also booked a cabin that allowed pets, so Rosie was able to come with us and stay in the room too.

The room was basic, but clean and functional — everything we needed for a nights sleep while the ferry made it’s way from Athens to Crete. I think the only thing we did differently this time was to set an alarm to wake up about 30 minutes before the scheduled arrival, but frankly that was not needed — the ferry was late by over an hour and they rang all sorts of announcements anyway just before we arrived, so we probably could have just stayed in bed.

At Crete we were met by Nikos who works for the camper company. He drove us to the camper van and gave us a run down of how everything worked. It’s all very familiar as a boat owner, but a little more basic than what we’re used to — still we’re quite experienced at this sort of living now! Saving water, for example, is natural to us.

The van is a good size, it’s big enough for the two of us, although there’s a lot of shuffling past each other. Features we really appreciate are a toilet and a shower and enough room for a decent sized bed which can stay permanently made. I’ve been impressed with how manoeuvrable it actually is — it can be a little tight through villages etc, but even the small roads here are well maintained and have enough space for us to negotiate without too much problem.

We’ve heard a lot of great things about Crete and many people say it’s one of their favourite islands, so we had have some high expectations coming in without really being sure what to expect.

I think my first impression is that in many ways, it doesn’t really feel island like at all! It’s huge — it takes around 5 hours to drive from one end to the other . I think it’s more accurate to say Crete is a great PLACE to visit. While it is definitively an island, it’s not an island in the sense that most of the Greek islands we’ve experienced so far are. Typically the islands in Greece are fairly mono-cultured, you know that you’re on Kithnos and all parts of Kithnos (at least to an outsider) feel very similar. With Crete so far, we’ve already experienced three very different feeling regions that are all unique.

Our first night was at Potamos Beach, just outside of Malia on the north side of Crete. If I had to sum this up, it’s “Pismo Beach”, “The Gold Coast” or “Blackpool”. It’s a region that’s setup for package tourists. At the moment it’s a very strange place to visit — you’ll drive down a main street that’s full of tourist souvenir shops and restaurants, all still closed for winter. There are 1000’s of apartment units in big complexes overlooking the main street and the beach, all completely empty and closed up. Every second sign is in Russian or German. It’s the home of the package tour.

At this time of year however, stunning deserted beaches with great views, surrounded by the ghosts of the last tourist season. The only sound other than the sea is the noise of construction, the hammering and shouting of workers as they make repairs and put the new seasons coat of paint on to the tavernas in preparation for the return of the tourists. Greece is a country full of “seasons” driven by tourists — February is “building season” for sure.

The next morning we visited the ancient Minoan Palace of Malia which is about 4000 years old. It’s not well documented at the site, but it was a substantial complex and fun to wander around.

Crete is full of ruins. It was the heart of the Minoan civilisation (which lasted about 2,400 years from 3,500BC to 1,100BC) and it’s also where the famous mythical Labyrinth of the Minotaur is supposed to be. The Minoans were the first major European civilisation and also had extensive trade ties with the Egyptians.

Sometimes, the ruins are separate like the palace we visited, but more often, it’s all jumbled in together, each civilisation layered on top of each other. Because of its central location in the eastern Mediterranean, Crete was always in demand. Each civilisation left its mark and you’ll find Minoan, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman ruins spread throughout the island.

The next town we stayed at was Plaka, opposite Spinalonga island. One of the “Top 5” places to visit on Crete, the island is an old Venetian fort that was converted to a leper colony up until the 1950’s when it was abandoned. Of course at this time of year, the boats aren’t running so it’s not possible to visit it at all! But I did fly the drone overhead.

Plaka is a more “upscale” resort town — still lots of resorts, but more expensive and fancy looking. The heart of the town is a quaint waterfront lined with tavernas, all closed at the moment of course, with a killer view over Spinalonga island. There’s probably 5 people living there at the moment, but 1,000's during the heart of the season.

From Plaka we travelled into Agios Nikolas. This is the largest town on the eastern side of Crete. It was busy with locals out and about, enjoying coffee etc. With its striking cliffs surrounding lots of small bays, it really reminded us of Sydney’s eastern suburbs, a bit like Bronte where the buildings come right to the edge of the cliffs with small beaches surrounded by buildings and a path along the water.

Beyond Agios Nikolas, the Eastern side of Crete gets a lot more rural and less inhabited. There’s still tourist activity, but it’s more spread out and concentrated around specific beaches. Last night we stayed at Kouremenos Beach which has a big open beach that’s famous for wind surfing and one of the few locations in Greece that you’ll actually find surfable waves.

Overall it’s been a very smooth experience with one minor hiccup when the cassette toilet malfunctioned yesterday — the “plate” that covers the hole into the cassette was jammed and wouldn’t swing open. I tried a few things and then spoke to Nikos who told me about a screw that often shakes loose causing a gear to jam. He was going to drive out to fix it, but I said we could handle it and now I knew where to look it was fixed two minutes later. He was very impressed (and happy not to come out on his Saturday) — I told him you don’t get to own a boat without getting being willing to a) get your hands dirty and b) learn to fix the easy stuff quickly.

We’ll continue making our way down the eastern side of Crete and then back across the southern coast heading towards the west of the island. So far we’ve had a fantastic time and we can’t wait to see what’s next!

Until next time!

Tim & Karina