Crete, Greece: an independent traveller's review...
Years ago, I went to the beautiful island of Crete. I was about to start a new job and thought it'd be good to treat myself to a holiday before I started. It was the first time I'd ever been on holiday on my own so I was a bit nervous, but I was really excited and there was no way I wasn't gonna go.
My Crete holiday was in a place called Rethymnon. I booked 7 nights through lastminute.com. It was quite cheap too as I only coughed up £216 for it. Included return flights, a coach to and from Heraklion Airport and accommodation. Can you believe it?! I really did book it at the very last last minute so maybe that's why it was such a bargain.
As the plane came in to land, Crete's beauty struck me as I could see an amazing view of the island. Awe-inspiring to say the least. It felt like I was peeping behind an angel's shoulder and seeing what they see when they look down.
The place I stayed at was Hotel Elida. It was located close to a long street of shops, restaurants, tour operators and places for foreign exchange.
When I entered my studio, I was totally taken back. 3 single beds, a kitchenette, bathroom and a balcony, all for MOI! Very minimalistic. There wasn't a TV and I thought I'd miss it but I didn't. Didn't have time for it.
When I woke up the following day, I passed by the grocery store to grab some fruit and vegetables. They were so so affordable and looked really healthy and bigger than your average fruit/veg. It felt really good lounging in my balcony, eating good stuff for breakfast, smelling the good air, hearing people splash around in the hotel's pool.
I found out the beach was very close by - about a minute away on foot. I'm surprised I didn't hear it from my hotel. It was that close. I was fascinated by how the sea and the horizon touched. It looked like there was nothing seperating them. I wanted to get to the edge of the sea and see the stitches that held it and the horizon together.
I sat on the beach just watching, listening to the voice of the waves. I felt like a poet. Nature makes you feel like a poet.
I was able to afford two separate group excursions. The first one was to a beach known as Elafonissi.
I sometimes feel that words can be a bit stifling. What one's eyes see and recall can sometimes be wider than words can ever express. Therefore, what one ends up with is a narrower paler version of what they truly saw regardless of how many words they have in their vocab.
I will explain what I saw as well as I can.
You see, the sea was a shade of blue that humans can never remake, only admired. We copy birds by making planes and helicopters. We copy fish by making boats and submarines. But the shade of blue I saw: I was convinced it couldn't be replicated by humans. Neither should it be. It remains sacred that way. I had never seen a shade of blue like that before then. The colour was ...alive, vibrant, brilliant. The sands along the beach were pink which was another thing I'd never seen. I was told it was that colour because of the crystallisation of delicate shells that had washed up onto the beach.
The water was so transparent. It wasn't deep either which made it great for families with kids and, ahem, me, 'cos I can't swim. I looked in the water and saw 'lil fish. I even came across see-through jellyfish (of the non-stinging variety!). Blink and you'd miss them 'cos they were ghost-like.
The second tour covered a handful of places. I visited a very old Minoan burial ground. We weren't allowed to go in, so we stood at the gates as the tour guide told us about its history. From there, we were taken to several small old churches that housed some really old relics. I didn't have any prior interest in churches and relics, but visiting those old churches, I did develop a respect for it. Things were kept as is - no renovations or modernisations were evident. I liked that. Some of the churches were very much in a state of disrepair, but I felt that that merely enhanced its beauty and history.
We also went to a charming little village with cherry trees littered about the place. We were allowed to help our taste buds to a few and they tasted guuuuuud.
From there, we trailed up a hill within the village for close to 30 minutes (exhausted my thighs no end, but in a good way). When we reached the top, the view was breathtaking. We were surrounded by grand grand mountains, the type you'd normally see in a picture postcard. I couldn't believe I was seeing it for real. The weather was very hot and yet you could see the ice on the mountain peaks. I was fascinated by how hot the weather was and yet there were snow-peaked mountains around us.
We had lunch at the hilltop, sat under some tall trees for shade. There was a fresh-water stream running beside us as we listened to Greek music and inhaled the glorious smell of freshly-made chicken kofte (kebab) and salad. Later, we were invited to dance to Greek music. Shaped in a circle, we put our arms around each other's shoulders and moved clockwise then anti-clockwise, shouting 'hey' intermittedly! Goofy. But so much fun!
I found the local people very friendly. They were friendly towards tourists and to their fellow locals as well. Drivers would wave out of their cars and say hello to other drivers (that SO wouldn't happen in London!). As you walked, people would impart a smile as you passed them by. Everyone just seemed really friendly and laid back.
Can't comment too much on the food as I didn't really have a whole lot of it. When it's hot, I tend to go for fruit, veg and nuts. Those were fab. I went to a few restaurants - quite tasty, but I found them a bit salty. (p.s.: I don't eat that much salt anyway so maybe I've developed a sensitivity to it).
I travelled with £200 in my pocket which was enough to cover food, the excursions I went on and gifts for friends and family. I actually came back with change.
If you're thinking of going:
- Going solo? You’ll make friends with the locals and other tourists. So if you're
thinking of going on your own, go. I actually ended up wanting some
'me' time at times 'cos people were that friendly. (Talking about, erm,
friendly, on my last day, there was some Greek guy that wanted to kiss
me 'cos he liked black women. Go figure! I smiled and got out there,
- When you're there, do shop around for good deals on excursions. The first one I went on was with the same travel company I'd booked my holiday with. I did kick myself a bit as I realised I could have gotten it cheaper by at least £15 with the local tour operators. My 2nd excursion was with a local tour operator close to the hotel I was staying at and I found them to be much better. Ah well, you live and learn, don't you?
- There are loads of beautiful, locally-crafted carvings and ceramics you can buy. If artwork is your thing, then you'll have a blast.
- You're not allowed to flush toilet roll down the toilets (at the time I went - in 2000 - that was the case)
- Visit Platanias if you can - the market is a good enough reason
for that. It has its own energy/personality. Age-old cheese, age-old
leather, you got it. There are
also two war fortresses if you're into historical warfare architecture
as well as several fish restaurants dotted along the gorgeous harbour.
CRETE, CRETE, COME OUT, COME OUT, WHEREVER YOU ARE...
I wonder if Crete knows just how beautiful it is. Hmm. I'll have to ask it when I go next time!
I think it's an utterly stunning island. I’d recommend it to most people (apart from my enemy - why should they have fun on holiday? - grrrrr). It's not just the mountains, the beaches or the old churches that define Crete - it's also the people.