After five months on the road we were in desperate need of a bit of a break. Cheap flights booked through the infamous Ryanair, Greek Islands here we come! The Greek Islands has always been somewhere we had wanted to visit, so the excitement levels were high travelling to Crete. Toby joined us for most of our time here, and we arrived in Chania reasonably late in the day. We caught a couple of buses and a taxi to get to Rethymnon where our hotel was, having slightly underestimated the sheer size of the island. The next day was pretty cruisy, we went to the beach, checked out the old town including the ruins of a fort complete with mosque on the hill. The highlight was definitely coming across a restaurant down a little alley encased in flowering bougainvillea in the old part of town and eating sensational Greek food, and enjoying the complimentary shots afterwards. These shots of raki became a bit of a theme as the week went on, every restaurant wanted to get you drunk it seems. The bar had been set high. We had a pretty quiet afternoon swimming and eating some more.
We had been in touch with Kate and her partner Toby, who were staying on the opposite side of the island, and thought visiting them would be a good chance to explore a little (also Andrew was missing driving a little), so we rented a car and headed to Hora Sfakion. On the way we stopped in a little town where Toby and Andrew decided to get into their first Greek coffee. The lady looked at them a little strangely when they said they didn’t want any sugar, but went away and came back with what can only be described as coffee scented brown slop – half a cup of sandy coffee coloured grit in the bottom, with thick brown liquid on top, then a layer of sawdust on the top. The boys were not enthused, but I guess they got their caffeine fix…It was great to catch up with Kate and Toby. They had just been to Santorini so were able to give us some good tips about places to go, and things to do. We had a nice lunch then a swim at the beach. This side of the island was beautiful too, with steep hills straight down to the sea, but was more barren than the northern coast. The bargains of the day were the Pocahontas towel, spiderman towel and Justice League ball we got all for half price at one of the touristy stalls. We spent some time checking out the monument commemorating ANZACs on Crete, and watching the NZ flag flying.
Our time on Crete seemed to fly. It was an early start the next morning to get to Heraklion, the main ferry port in Crete. We caught the fast ferry to Santorini, which was about a 2 hour trip, and arrived to utter chaos at the port. There were people everywhere, trying to sell us everything from rental cars and hotel rooms, to day trips and restaurant meals. We managed to locate the bus to Perissa where we were staying without too much of an issue. We were struck by how dry the island was and how barren. The island is a cresent shape and most of the towns are on the cliffs facing into the caldera, which is still a dormant volcano. Our hotel was on the other side of the island, which is much less steep and has beaches.
Andrew was fascinated by the grapevines in Santorini. The vines grow basically on the ground, train the trunks in circles so that when the grapes grow they are inside the circle and protected from the wind. It must be really hard on the back come harvest time.
We had an incredible time on Santorini, with amazing weather. We spent our first full day around Perissa, had a swim at the beach, walked up to a little church dug into the cliff above Perissa, and had dinner in a local restaurant. There is a pretty good local bus system, but we worked out that by the time we bought bus tickets for 3 we were better off having the flexibility of a car, so we hired one to help us get around (more driving for Andrew).
We went to a delicious restaurant on the hill one night, and were treated to an amazing view and even better food.
We also went one day for a walk between Santorini’s two most famous towns, Fira and Oia, which was about 12km long – it was pretty hot going too since we left in the middle of the day. The path was pretty good, with not too many ups and downs. We must have passed at least 10 little churches on the way. Apparently there are about 370 churches on the island altogether, not bad for an island of only 15000 inhabitants.
Oia was the most beautiful little village in Santorini, and the one you see in the postcards. It is perched on the cliffs and all of the buildings are whitewashed with deep blue roofs. Oia is famous for having beautiful sunsets, so after our big walk we treated ourselves to a dinner out and watched the sun go down.
The following day Toby had to catch a ferry back to Crete so that he could go home, so in the morning we went with him to check out the lighthouse and Red Beach – a beach which you had to walk around the cliffs to get to and was set against beautiful red cliffs. Even though it was packed with tourists it still managed to remain beautiful. It was sad to see Toby go, and unbelievable how quickly the time went in Greece. We spent our last night on the islands going to the outdoor cinema to watch Chef, which wasn’t the greatest movie ever but it was such a cool setting and the movie had enough funny moments it didn’t matter.
Our last morning we spent going on a cruise to the volcano in the centre of the caldera. It was a really strange experience, there was no “welcome on the tour” speech at the start, and the first part was more like we had just caught the public ferry, but the staff got much more friendly as time went on. The walk up the volcano was pretty cool, and you could smell sulphur everywhere, then they took us to a bay where there was geothermal activity under the water. We all jumped off the boat and into the water, then swam across to the bay. The water didn’t really get hot but it was definitely a lot warmer in the bay.
Originally we had planned to catch ferries between the Greek Islands and end up in Istanbul, but the ferry service was reasonably expensive and some of the long ferry routes only operated once a week, so we opted to fly directly to Istanbul via Thessaloniki instead. We spent the night there in a hotel near the airport, and ended up walking for half an hour on the side of a busy road with no footpath getting to the nearest town for dinner. But it was definitely worth it, we had a huge and delicious meal for two including starters for 18 euros, then the restaurant owners dropped us back to the hotel when they found out the next bus wasn’t for an hour. Talk about service! Istanbul and Turkey had a lot to live up to!