06 May Crete, enjoying the Island life
We were told: it is impossible to travel through Greece without visiting at least one island! Well, since we finally have nice, warm weather and we really like waking up in shorts and T-shirts, we made a split decision to take a ferry to one of the many Greek islands. What else do we have going on!?
However, we wanted to go to one that is not overrun by tourists at this time of year and that offers a few things to do besides just lounging around at the beach.
Crete seemed to be the answer to enjoy the Island life for a while. It is big enough and has lots of mountains and gorges to keep us busy hiking. It has several ancient Minoan sites to visit and there are lots of beautiful beaches. It is the most southern island to keep us nice and toasty, and the eastern side of Crete is less touristy than most other islands…perfect! Also, it was only 29 Euros each for the ferry.
Unfortunately, the ferry is an overnight ferry and does not depart until late in the day. That meant we had to hang out a couple of extra hours at the campground, before riding criss-cross through Athens during rush hour traffic before arriving at the port in Piraeus. To top it off, our GPS loves sending us up or down long staircases and into a few dead end streets, which does not help the stress factor, when cycling through a big foreign city.
Eventually, we made it to the port. We bought our ferry tickets and had enough time to spare to enjoy a cup of ice coffee before boarding.
We got our usual “deck-space” tickets, which means, bring your own mat, sleeping bag liner, food, and entertainment, and find a semi comfortable spot to crash anywhere on board. We found a small couch and plenty of floor space in a quiet area of the ship and claimed it to be our home for the night.
After a night of little sleep, thanks to an overworked air-conditioning system, we arrived in Heraklion. We retrieved our bikes from the belly of the ship and cycled to our first campsite on Crete. It didn’t take us long to realize, that Crete is a big mountainous island. Actually the whole island is nothing but mountain ranges…and is very, very beautiful.
Once at the campground, we set up camp and fell asleep in our nice, warm, comfy tent for a couple of hours.
For the next few days we relax at the water, and go for short rides along the beach.
We catch the bus to Heraklion and to the ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos. Sadly we expected to see a little more at Knossos and were a little disappointed not to be able to see the mosaics or a few of the inside rooms, which apparently used to be part of the exhibit. Also, some of the early restoration efforts by Evans, like the paintings, made the place seem a little too unreal for us.
We still had a good time walking all over place and checking out the site, anyway.
We stopped in Heraklion on our way back, to sight-see the old Venetian harbor and town. It was also a good time to resupply at the store for the next few days.
The following day, we decided to tear down camp and to explore more of the eastern side of Crete. We have read about a wonderfully sounding place, called Lassithi Plateau, or “Plateau of the 10 000 windmills”. It is located at an height of over 800 m, (2600 ft), there are supposed to be nice little traditional villages, and of course lots of windmills. Excited to see the place we take off with our fully loaded bikes. Initially, we reached a few very long (2km long) gradual switchbacks. Soon they turned into shorter switchbacks, and before we knew it, the road turned into a narrow, steep, twisty road. After almost 5 hours of climbing, we reached the top. It was cold enough to see our breath, we were sweaty, tired, and cold, but we finally got to see our windmills…or what was left of a couple of windmills.
Unfortunately, the description of the plateau was very misleading. There were only a couple bases of the old stone windmills left to see. As we continue riding through the high plateau, we see several small water pumping windmills, of which most had broken sails. The villages on the plateau were cute, but mostly deserted. The scenery was beautiful, but not very special compared to the rest of the island. Most of all it was cold, windy, and it looked like it was ready to rain at any moment. There were no campgrounds or wild camp spots on the plateau. We were tired and it was soon getting dark. It did not take us long to decide that we needed to ride back down to the beach, where it was much warmer.
We put on our rain jackets and gloves and blasted back down the mountain. Well, initially we were not so “blastering” fast, because it was just simply too blistering cold. The further we went down, the more it warmed up, and the faster we cycled down the curvy, twisty road. Once on the bottom, we looked a little out of place, all bundled up in our jackets. Quickly we took all the extra layers off and rode to our next campground. After riding and climbing all day, we managed to arrive, tired and worn out, only 30 km (18 miles) more east from our last camping spot…but we did over 80km (50 miles) of riding. Go figure!
The next few days we decided to park our bikes and hike the beautiful mountains and gorges of Crete instead.
Apparently, the natural attractions, we happen to come by, are much more enjoyable to us than the so called touristy sites.
We just happen to stumble by the sign for this serene place on eastern Crete. The hike was not very long, but the views and the waterfall were like a little piece of paradise and luckily not being overrun by dozens of tourist buses.
Between the hiking, we had a great relaxing time at the campsite. We loved watching the sunrises with a cup of Joe (coffee) and sunsets over a glass of wine. We also made a few new friends which we shared dinner and a glasses of local wine with.
George, aka “Jeff Lacola”, aka “the Dude”, is another bicycle tourer from Romania and we hit it off right away. He has been to Crete before, when he only planned to stay 2 weeks and ended up staying for 3 months. Now he rode from Romania through Turkey, did a little bit of island hopping back to Crete to take a picture of a special place. Who knows how long he’ll stay this time around? He is even contemplating to find any odd job to stay a while.
Although we warned him, he decided to see the Lassithi Plateau and possibly spend the night up there… and just like us, he rode up there and showed back up after nightfall in the campground… right on time for dinner and a glass of wine with us. It was nice having him back for another evening of chatting and exchanging stories.
Initially, we wanted to hike the famous Samaria Gorge. Yet, the logistics of getting there and back were absolutely crazy and it would have cost a fortune to basically just go on another walk. But we found Richtis Gorge, which was much closer and easier to get to. It had jungle like, lush vegetation, another gorgeous waterfall, and to top it of it lead to a very beautiful, almost deserted beach. Along the way we had many small water crossings, we explored an old ruined water mill, we climbed over all kinds of rocks and and had to go up and down a crazy, steep, twisty stairway.
The weather was perfect to dip in the cool water. Actually, it was the first time of the year, that we finally got to use our swimwear. Walking on the rocks in the water was a little bit tricky, but well worth the effort.
Not only are there great hiking paths on Crete, the whole scenery, whether along the coast or more inland is absolutely stunning. No matter where we turn, there is always something else to see.
Before leaving Crete, we had to go on another hike. This one was very different from the first two. The Pervolakia Gorge is very dry, with rugged, jagged mountains all around. There are hardly any trees, but instead we had to climb over many rocks and we could see numerous caves. There were a few very different and rare plant species to see, one of them which smelled like rotten meat. We usually could smell those before we were able to see the pretty flowers.
What surprised us most on this hike was how much climbing over rocks it involved, and how unbelievably steep some of the descends and ascends were…after all, the information kiosk at the beginning of the hike said this was “a fairly easy hike”. Funny how difficulty ratings can be in different parts of the world.