Crete and Athens trip

It was just too hard to keep up my posts while on vacation while the sun and fun were calling me.  So I decided to summarize the remaining week of my trip to Crete and Athens.  I’ve been home for over a week now and had time to look at my pics, reflect on my time there and take a stab at Greek cooking at home!

I always make sure to plan a couple adventurous things to do that get me to experience the place I’m going so I had booked a food walking tour and a kayak/snorkel/hike trip.  Laying on the beach or pool and hanging out at the resort are not my thing so having some things to do are what make the trip complete.  But some down time is nice too.

Crete

Heraklion Food Walking Tour

In my research for things to do near Heraklion I found a Food Walking Tour put on by Vintage Route Crete.  I love a good food walk!  This was an all day adventure!  We met our guide and small group in the morning to start our walk.  It was a perfect size group of 4 of us!  We started along the waterfront and headed into the central market area.  Luckily it was pedestrians only and full of shops for tourists and locals.

Our first stop was at a coffee roasterI was so excited about this one!  They showed us how to brew Greek coffee.  I thought it was very similar to Arabic and Turkish coffee.  Strong, finely ground, served in an espresso cup.  It can be sweetened or not.  I took mine unsweetened and a double.  This stop excited me because I really like coffee, especially the way coffee is prepared around the world.  I couldn’t leave this coffee roaster without buying any!  Good thing I brought a backpack for my 4 bags plus a bag of cacao.

Continuing on down the central market our guide, Caspar, explained how to identify good quality olive oil.  Caspar who is from Switzerland moved to Crete to marry a local girl a few years ago.

The second stop on our tour took us to a Cretan traditional bakery.  Oh wow was that delish – and hot!  It was mid morning by this point and it was getting pretty flipping hot out there.  Most of these places don’t have AC and they took us to the back where the ovens were so we could see the inner workings of this bakery while we sampled our small plate of amazing baked goods!

Right next door was our third stop, an artisan cheese shop.  The owners make their own Cretan cheeses.  They tasted so good!  All white cheeses, some soft, some a little firmer but not too hard.  On Crete they call feta Cretan White Cheese, according to our guide.

The end of the market square was a beautiful fountain built by a Turkish invader to provide drinking water to the people.  Nearby is a gorgeous Greek Orthodox church.

Meandering on down some side streets that one would assume to be only for pedestrians but then be almost side swiped by cars, we came upon our fourth stop on the food tour, an herb shop.  It was started many years ago by a lady who moved to Crete after spending time in the Red Cross.  Now it’s still run by her and now her son.  Her son continues on the love for herbs and was so passionate about explaining the health benefits of the various herbs.  They grow and gather most of the herbs in the shop.  It was so cool!  They have salves, tinctures, teas, elixers, soaps, and also cooking herbs.  The guy pointed out some salves that would be helpful for some of my skin problems, thanks guy, so I felt I needed to get those along with a big bag of cooking herbs including oregano which is popular in Greek cooking.  He threw in a free bar of soap.

Now it’s mid-day and it’s really heating up.  We continue meandering, listening to our guide, sweating, standing, getting crabby, wondering how long it will take to get to the GD final stop so we can sit down and have a drink for crying out loud.  They eat late in Greece.  Whether it’s lunch or dinner, it’s not the same time frame that we’re accustomed to at home.  So we finally got to our final stop mid afternoon.  At last!

Wine tasting and Seafood at the seashore – we’ve been waiting for this!  First things first was water while they were gathering our 3 bottles of Cretan white wines and preparing our starters.  Luckily we sat in the shade where there was a nice breeze.  The hostility was tempering.  The five of us drank 3 bottles of wine, sampled countless plates of Cretan foods and seafood, and of course in Cretan style they came out with glasses of raki and cherries.  The raki was hard to throw back though, I gotta tell ya.  I think the locals may be the only ones that like it.  The taste reminds me of Everclear.

 

Kali Limenes Kayak/Snorkeling/Hike Day

Another bright and early start to a hot and sunny day, I was prepared with sunscreen, hat, and lightweight long sleeve shirt.  Today was a kayak adventure to Agiofarango (don’t ask me how to say it) on the south side of Crete in the Libyan Sea.  Stelios and Anna of Enjoy Crete were our guides.  Only 2 of us with a guide each, you’d think I should feel safe, right?!

Well it was a breezy day, thankfully because of the heat but not thankfully because I was in a skinny ocean kayak that was really tippy.  I’m really scared of deep water and after a what felt like near death experience in the Chicago River in a kayak, I’m scared of tippy kayaks.  My kayak at home is a short and wide recreation kayak that I feel very secure in.  Not this one.  I was freaking out in my head.

It was absolutely beautiful though!  Here’s the link to a bunch of pics Stelios took that day.  Anna was such a great guide and was very helpful in making me feel better.  We paddled into a couple caves, along the cliffs, past some bee hives on the cliffs, and to a beautiful bay where we beached our kayaks.  I was so thankful!

The beach was rocky and beyond the beach was a gorge we would hike later on.  Cliffs surrounded the bay and close to the edge cast shade to protect ourselves from the strong sun when we got too hot.  We went for a swim to cool off and snorkeled for a bit but there wasn’t a whole lot of action down below.  The cool water just felt so good so we floated until Stelios came back and led us into the gorge for a short hike.  He pointed out some really old, like over 100 year old, olive trees, a carob tree, a couple big caves, a labyrinth around an old olive tree, and an old church.  It was a beautiful gorge hike and I was pretty happy with my decision to douse my long sleeve shirt with water for the hike.

We had lunch in a small cave on the beach that had just enough shade.  We ate, chatted, and watched a naked old couple go for a swim.  Stelios has quite a garden and brought along the makings for a Greek salad and shared with us.  He’s very proud of his tomatoes and was trying to get me to agree with him that his are the best I’ve ever had.  “They were very good tomatoes but we have some good ones too,” I pointed out.

We paddled back to our launch beach and I felt a little more confident in my kayak; although, the wind had picked up a little more.  Stelios thought it would be fun to practice tipping when we got back to the beach.  I think he wanted to see me freak out and to show off how to get back in the kayak in a tipping situation.  It was kind of fun actually.

The car ride to and from Heraklion to Kali Limenes beach was amazing!  Through the mountains, small villages, vineyards.  We stopped for a coffee on the way back.  Stelios and Anna got excited when they found out I liked coffee and wanted to introduce me to a caffe freddo which is iced espresso with crema on top.  It was a good treat!

Mili Gorge Hike

Our final day on Crete we had a night flight back to Athens so we wanted to spend the day doing something fun and adventurous that Jason could experience Crete after being cooped up inside at his conference all day.  I contacted Stelios to see if he had any excursions planned that we could go on and he offered Anna to lead the two of us on the Mili Gorge hike near Rethymno and drop us off at the airport when finished.  Perfect!

Have I mentioned how hot it is here?

We drove about 1 1/2 hours west along the coast to Rethymno to a gorge hike that had a bunch of old abandoned mills.  It was mostly shaded so that, they said, would be good.

The walk into the gorge was down hill and felt pretty good.  We walked to a cafe at the end of the trail and had a beverage.  I had a frappe and Jason had an iced tea of mountain herbs.  Then we headed back. up.  If it hadn’t been so flipping hot, the hike up would have been completely fine.  It was just too hot.  And there were plenty of unshaded parts on the trail suddenly.  Luckily we stopped in a shaded area for lunch.  Anna brought along all the fixings for a Greek salad and cut it up fresh with dried Cretan bread.  So delish!  Then back on up the hill we went.  We both said we’ve never sweat so much in our lives.

We had about 2 hours to spend in Rethymno before heading back to Heraklion airport so we walked around for a bit a came upon a frozen yogurt cafe run by a British woman who married a Cretan man many years ago.  She was such a nice lady and told us all about her three kids.  That was the best frozen yogurt I’ve ever had!  We went into a couple shops, I bought a summer dress and Jason bought a linen shirt.  It was so hot.

Athens

Archeological Museum and Plaka

Our first full day in Athens we started out at the amazing Archeological Museum where there are antiquities from 1500 BC!!  Sculptures, ancient tools, funeral masks, vases and pitchers, frescos, containers, jewelry, mummies….  It is jaw dropping.  I found it amazing that you can still see the brushstrokes in the painting on the vases and containers!  We spent several hours walking through the museum and really milked our time in there during the peak sun of the day.

Afterwards we took an Uber into the Plaka district near the Acropolis.  I came upon a fantastic gelato place and over indulged on a chocolate dipped sugar cone rolled in pistachios with a scoop of dark chocolate and a scoop of pistachio gelato.  Jason went for the frozen yogurt but it couldn’t be topped by the day before.

We meandered through the streets stopping at a couple shops, mainly to catch some AC.  That little move got me a pair of linen pants with a matching top!  Another stop I picked up some olive oil.  We had a glass of rose next to a fan until it was not too hot to keep walking.  We soon realized we were on the path that went around the Acropolis so decided to keep going.  It was finally tolerable and good people watching.  At one point there was a flashmob type situation where this group of all different ages of people, including a lady with a dog on a leash, were doing some strange interpretive dance that went on for quite awhile and drew a large crowd.  No music or singing, just really odd movements.  This was next to the entrance to the Acropolis.  Pretty cool.

To top off this awesome day we found a great place for dinner and had a Greek salad (of course), a wood fire pizza and more Greek Rose!

Acropolis, Museum, and pool time

We were at the entrance when the Acropolis opened at 8 am before it got too hot.  So glad we did that because we were able to beat the crowds and the heat and really enjoy walking around seeing the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, and other archeological remains as well as views of the city of Athens.  It was breathtaking!  We walked the trail around the top of the Acropolis just as it was starting to heat up.  It was a good time to head down the hill to the Acropolis Museum.

We were a little unsure about checking out another museum after spending most of the day before in one but this one was completely different and we were so glad we did!  This museum houses the finding from the Acropolis archeological site.  Sculptures and metopes or marble carvings from the Parthenon were amazing!

It was a hot mid afternoon when we venture back out onto the streets near the Acropolis so I thought as long as we were so close to the gelato place, let’s do that again.  When’s the next opportunity for a gelato THAT good?!  We hung out under the shade of a tree and enjoyed my last gelato for awhile, discussing what to do next.  Too hot to keep walking so we took an Uber back to the hotel and went to the pool for a couple hours and read.  

Jason found another fantastic Greek restaurant for our last night.  We had a Greek salad (just can’t get enough) I had moussaka (Greek lasagna) and Jason had kokkinisto (chicken in a tomato sauce), a couple bottles of wine, and then instead of a glass of mastic they brought over the bottle, along with a plate of a couple desserts!  We were too full to eat all the dessert so they asked if we didn’t like it so we had to explain we were full. hahaha  The food and service was awesome!

The Greek people that we met on Crete and in Athens were so friendly and welcoming.  They enjoyed speaking English and we never had a problem communicating once.  They seem to appreciate the visitors because it helps their economy.  Many of our tour guides and Uber drivers were affected by the economic crisis, they told us, and work hard to make ends meet.

I loved how ever place we ate brought out raki, ouzo, or mastic with fruit or dessert at no charge.  How cool is that!?

I would for sure go back to Greece.  In the Spring or Fall.  I’d love to see some of the other islands.  It’s just too hot for this gal during their peak tourist season in summer.

Please comment or ask any question you may have.  I could continue on but this is a really wordy post.

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