It drizzled, blew cold winds and for a moment we wondered where summer had gone. We were in Aarhus, Malene’s home town which is half way up Jutland on Denmark’s mainland, we only had four days to catch up with Malene’s mum and friends Tine and Soeren and we are now heading back to Greece.
The meeting point was planned to be at Athens airport below the illuminated sign that says “Meeting Point” in the arrivals hall.
Allow me to explain, this is not some romantic blind date or a new TV show, we are coordinating to meet up and spend a month with Mon who was one of my best friends in our late teens and about a week later we will be joined by Maria also from Cyprus and a good friend of Mon’s. We timed our arrivals in Athens to be within a few minutes of each other, Mon flew in from Larnaca, Cyprus and us from Billund, Denmark.
It worked we were there just a few minutes ahead of Mon who strolled up in her usual laidback way, it was good to see her and we had big long-lost hugs despite having spent lots of time together a month earlier in Cyprus. We hired a car, got lost in Athens as usual, then drove to Rafina, took the ferry and landed on Evoia (pronounced Evia, the “oi” in Greek makes the “i” sound). Evoia although the second largest Island after Crete is often not recognized as such because of its proximity to the mainland, it’s also not frequented by as many foreign tourists as other islands.
We want to see the southern end of Evoia, a bit of Crete and a couple of Greek islands in the next few weeks so we checked into a hotel in Marmari, Evoia. The next day at breakfast we listened out for any voices that were not Greek, we wanted to test our assumptions that this is a local destination and I think we got it right, no other gobledigoop but ours.
We spent three days exploring beaches and sampling the food. Marmari being the port has a port feel about it, so we drove to the nearby town of Karisto a 15 minute gentle drive away and that was picture perfect. Here we found the best beaches and some of the tastiest food we’ve had in all of our Greek travels so far.
Mon had been to Evoia years ago but to the northern end of the island a good few hours drive away so this was new territory for all of us. Being from Cyprus I don’t associate Greece with having particularly warm seas so imagine my surprise when I felt the water and it was not cold, it had a lovely wallow temperature and the sea was calm.
We travel with a little red ball and spent hours in the shallow waters throwing and catching it in various ways which is great for de-stressing from the rigor of taverna choosing. Mon’s weapons of choice for unraveling are the sun bed and the beach umbrella but we are trained in both, the ball and the beachbed, so bring it on!
The great thing about beaches in Greece is you don’t need to be in a plush resort to get service on your sun lounger, cocktails, cool drinks, food you name it arrive after catching the eye of the beach waiter. In many cases the umbrella and beds come free if you exert yourself enough and manage a waive to the waiter to bring you a cocktail.
This whole lifestyle was unbearable! We could stand it no longer and besides we had tickets for Crete, so we drove to Athens, found the airport and soon we were landing in Chania, Crete.
Al Hanim (the Inn) is the name the Arabs gave the city of Chania which is the second biggest town in Crete and like many places in Greece it goes back over 3,000 years to when it was called Kythonia which is Greek for the fruit quince. One thing is or sure you can be certain of finding an inn or a tavern in Chania, there are enough to go round and more. We stayed in a small village a half hour drive from Chania called Gavalohori, it has three taverns by the square and a road with an almost vertical climb up to our lodgings. The apartment complex belongs to Aris whom Mon and I knew back in our teens and the fact he had one free at this high season was our luck.
Crete is far more rugged than any other parts of Greece we’ve seen on our travels. The mountains seem void of soil and as a result vegetation too, lower down you can see the boulders that cover the landscape, the locals have a reputation for being tough and a bit wild something that is definitely necessary if you are to tame the hard land, otherwise forget the hard work and just go to a taverna.
The thing that struck me about Crete is the number of little villages, it seems there is one round every hair-pin bend and there are more bends that goats on Crete (NY’s unofficial stats). The villages are laid out beautifully each with a little square, a church and a big shady tree, and a few tavernas, do your math and tavernas outnumber goats at least by ten to one (also using my stats).
Stats aside most of the tavernas are super charming and with their own unique character. Once seated under a tree with a glass of the local wine you are hooked – the cats, the mottled light, the small tables, the old fashioned chairs – everything makes them the ideal relaxation haunt. Crete gets a big thumbs up if anything for this alone. Unfortunately this is one area we slipped up badly when it came to photos.
The day Maria joined us we drove to Hiraklion to greet her at the airport and also visited the ruins at Knossos, a civilization going back 3,000 years. The Bull King Minos according to mythology once ruled over all the Greek states.
Part of the ruins were reconstructed by Evans who led the excavations a century ago but there is controversy today as to its authenticity. It seems Evans used some of his own creative interpretation during the reconstructions and materials not suited for the job.
Despite possible inaccuracies we found it fascinating and a pleasant change to see something reconstructed (even if not totally correct), it filled in the gaps because as non-archaeologists envisaging how ruins originally looked is near impossible.
The day after picking up Maria we embarked on the 90km / 2.5 hour drive to Elafonisi, one of Crete’s most beautiful beaches. Am used to long drives but combine it with the speed of Greek drivers and the way the Cretans manoeuvre the narrow, windy and steep roads and you have a completely new motoring experience. I could hear the girls gasping at every bend, if you remember my stats then that’s about one gasp every 20 seconds, there were even bigger gasps for the 360 hair-pins which were at least once a minute. I shared their unease but it was a challenge for which I was eventually rewarded with an excellent nights sleep.
Aris the ever gracious host took the time to give us a tour of Chania and the surrounding area.
Its huge “little” harbor attracts yachts from all over the world but they still don’t outnumber the little local fishing boats strewn with drying nets from the day’s catch. Behind the harbor is a town of narrow laneways filled with shops, guest houses and places to eat. Loads of tourists but thanks to its size plenty of space in the harbor for a meal.
Now as a team of 4 M’s plus Ari, we spent a fair amount of time in tavernas indulging in lamb cutlets, (not Mon who eats fish and greens only) frequenting the local beaches, visiting sights, towns and old ruins and our week flew by. On our last night we met Ari’s daughter Penny and his recently acquired son in law Doug, we also met his friend and business-partner Georgio, they were funny, lovely and charming people, in true Greek tradition we celebrated the night in a Taverna.