So here’s a commentary about bus and boat travel on Crete.
Before Kathy and I left on this little jaunt there were a few people who suggested that travelling by bus would be an exercise in frustration and futility. I did mention in an earlier blog that we had no trouble, but we’ve decided to provide a bit more enlightenment.
While I’d travelled by Cretan buses 10 years ago with no problem, I was a bit worried the austerity measures may have contributed to a decline in the high level of service I’d previously experienced.
To anyone considering buses as a main mode of transportation while visiting Crete – do not be dissuaded by nay sayers!
They run on regular printed schedules.
They run precisely on time.
They are spacious, very well maintained and comfortable. They are in fact tour busses which put our worn Canadian Grey Hound buses to shame.
They are very affordable.
They are pristine clean!
If a person isn’t interested in sitting back and letting the scenery unfold before them with frequent stops to let passengers off and on – the bus may seem a bit slow. However we found the people watching interesting. Buses are a normal way of travel in Crete, so local people use them daily to go shopping, to work, to visit friends etc.
Ticket checkers are fierce. They are usually very officious young woman. If one doesn’t have their ticket immediately available for frequent and random ticket checks – beware! We did always have our tickets at the ready for the inspections!
The ticket checkers’ other job is to sniff out illegal food or drink consumption on the bus. One of the reasons buses are so clean is that no food or drink is permitted to be enjoyed while riding! We witnessed a woman being refused boarding until she got rid of her fancy drink. Another couple were firmly chastised for eating and made to put everything away. Again – Kathy and I obeyed the mandate and so didn’t get ourselves into trouble.
Another anomaly about buses includes drivers. They generally seemed very competent but somewhat blind to stop signs. Busses it would appear don’t stop at them. They sort of slow down but, I guess being the biggest beast in the pack, they feel no need to actually obey the signs. Also drivers, having their own lives, tend to carry on with cell phone conversations and texting while driving. We took a picture of one of our drivers in full text mode as our bus rolled along a twisty road. We are reasonably sure he did in fact keep one eye on the road, however he was steering with an elbow, both hands being occupied with the phone.
Now about the ferries.
Here the story is a tad different.
They do have published schedules. But the adherence to these seems somewhat random give or take a few hours. Now to be fair we were riding, or attempting to ride, the ferries during a period of very inclement weather. We found it frustrating however that the ferry company would not advise the ports of call that ferries were either cancelled or running late.
The ferries are also getting a bit long in the tooth and some resemble rust buckets.
That said, ferry travel in Crete is part of the experience and some of the places we visited are only acceptable by ferry (or foot).
Ferries in and around Crete come in carrying sizes.,we were on an overnight boat on our return to the mainland. It was quite large and accommodated,a great number of trucks and cars. Bigger than our biggest BC ferries. The smallest one was a passenger only boat, accommodating about thirty passenges in a small cabin on very crowded bench seats.
The ferries, large and small come sliding into their births sideways or backwards or forwards with alarming speed and very little fan fare. They are barely stopped when gangways are dropped with enormous clatters. Immediately, people, and vehicles disgorge in all directions with no obvious direction. Some of the turn-arounds are amazingly short.
Ferry food and overnight berths. Hmm. What to say?
Well many readers of this blog are familiar with BC ferry food. Not very good. Kathy and I were looking forward to our first class cabin for our over night trip from Heraklion Crete to the mainland. We boarded with a good hunger on. We were shown to our stateroom with great formality by a very finely dressed gentleman. The door opened and what did we see but bunk beds. Oh my. Kathy took the top. She could sit up straight. In the bottom I could not but the bottom was cooler being closer to the ground. The cabin was very hot and stuffy. There was no window. If this was first class we wondered what second class might be like.
We sorted ourselves out as quickly as possible and went up to the launge. Very nice with good service, we had a couple of drinks. Finally 9pm, the ferry pulled away from its berth and the a-la-cart dining room opened. Nice white table cloths, comfortable seating. Lovely setting. We ordered our meal.
We are still not sure why we ate it. It was outstandingly awful. There was fish – battered – old and dry – from a freezer for sure. There were carrots, soggy and also boiled from frozen. Then there was the broccoli. We know it was broccoli becasue it looked like broccoli. But it was so soggy I’m not sure how it held together. It had a baby food sort of texture when smushed with a fork. We assuaged our disappointment with a bottle of inferior but drinkable wine.
The moral of this tale is don’t eat on either busses or ferries when travelling in or around Crete!
Pictures coming shortly in the next blog.
Today has been epic. Kathy and I decided to have a relaxed day. We’d hike one hour along the trail to the south of here then turn around and come back. We’d go to see the Minoan palace, visit the beach, paint, read…. That sort of thing. So at 9:30 we set off on the two hour hike. We returned rather the worse for wear at three. So much for a relaxed day!
What happened? You may well be asking. Well let me explain. We have a very fine topographical map which shows the trails. Yesterday we followed one of these to the cave. Very well marked, an obvious trail. The path we decided to follow today was marked on the map as a similar type of trail. It was not.
There were markings but very faded and often difficult to see. Small painted red dots. The footing was precarious as the markings simply led from one thorny thicket to the next. Sometimes the path was clear, often it was over jagged rocks. After a particularly difficult section we looked at the map again and decided to take an other trail that led up to the road above us. This would be easier than retracing our steps.
So we contined along, making slow and sometimes quite scratchy progress. Along and along. We crossed a couple of river gorges as marked on the map. We followed the coast keeeping an eye out for the trail markers that would indicate the intersection. Finally looking at the map more closely we realized we’d over shot the diverging trail. So back we went. This time examining the map every few minutes. Counting contour lines. Lining up various features (there were very few). Eventually we came to a place that should have been the intersection. There was a very faint bit of red paint. An arrow?
Kathy spotted a cairn! Yes this was the tail. Then another cairn. Happy as two hikers could be we clambered over thorny shrubs and rocky out crops following the sparse cairns. Up and up away from the coast. Checking the map frequently. Definately in the right location.
After some time the cairns disappeared, any pretence of a trail disappeared, so we were left with the map, a cliff on one side, a deap steep gorge on the other. Exactly as indicated on said map. The whole thing was very scratchy and a bit daunting. Eventually we rounded a corner and there exactly where it should be was a building that marked the end of the trail. Getting there was no easy task as we had to scramble up a last steep bit then negotiate a fence. They build good sturdy fences in this country.
Happy happy were we when we climed up onto the road. The three and a half klicks into town were a piece of cake! The beer we downed when we got back was much appreciated! When we told our hosts about our adventure they informed us that that trail isn’t in use any longer. Well no kidding! Seems it’s just used by locals seeking special herbs for cooking lamb.
We are really none the worse for wear except for very scratched up legs. I’ll send you some pictures of today’s adventure in a bit. This was our last hike in Crete. What a way to end our exploits on this wild and beautiful island. We’ll have the scars for sometime to come, but also a great story to tell!
Tomorrow is another bus day. We are returning to Heraklion. The next day we’ll do the urban tourist thing then take the overnight ferry to Athens then on to Kea.
As you will see from the pictures when I send them, the watcher has become warm and sunny and perfect! We are now off into town, across the ford, for dinner at the local taverna.
Kalespera from two tired hikers in Crete.
Yesterday we travelled from the south west end of Crete to the north east. As far as possible really. Our day began with an early wake up screach from the alarm. Dreadful racket. We walked over to the bus depot along a very windy harbour front. The sky was clear though, the last of the stars blinking out as the sun began to rise. Sitting
outside the depot awaiting our bus, we were greeted by a frolicking lamb. A tiny wee thing that came over to snif us before returning to its dog companions. The strangest thing. The lamb’s tiny hooves clicking on the sidewalk as it leapt about between us and playing with the dogs. The dogs were smaller than the lamb. Their owner finished his coffee, scooped up the lamb and popped the whole menagerie into his pick up truck and drove away with a smile. We’d of course been taking pictures and ohing and awing.
The bus arrived and left on time. It arrived in Hania on time. Once there, we ate some of our enormous packed breakfast that the owner of our hotel had made for us the evening before. The next bus left on time and a few hours later arrived in Heraklion on time.
We did a bit of grocery shopping before catching our third bus which also departed on time. The scenery became more agricultural as we travelled east. This is one of the most important olive growing areas in Greece. Perhaps the world? Besides olive trees there is rock and scrub land. The coast was dramatic as the storm of the last few days continues to blow furiously.
We arrived at our last bus stop – Sitia – on time and were met by our taxi driver. The last 46 Kms of the trip has no bus service at this time of year so our hotel host had booked us this ride.
There are at least three great doubters out there who were pretty sure it was not possible to make this trip by bus in one day. Well folks – Crete busses are clean and comfortable and seem to run on schedule.
The last few kilometres felt like we were travelling to the very ends of the earth. The road was however new and smooth (part of the Greek dept to the EU perhaps?) Soon we were rounding a corner high above the sea and there below us in a tiny green valley at the head of a beautiful bay lay Kato Zakros. The edge of the bay was frothing with huge waves and we could see the palm trees bending under the enslaught of the gale.
Down into the hamlet we went, then out again on a much smaller single lane track and eventually up to a treed courtyard – we had arrived. So far a 12 hour day.
We’re tired. We meet our lovely land lady, Stella. It’s bitterly cold. She shows us into our charming room, it’s freezing. There’s no power. It’s been out all day due to the storm. The wind is too strong for the crews to get it fixed any time soon. Maybe tonight but more likely not.
Kathy and I just have to laugh! This trip has presented so many weather related calamities, why not another!? We get changed and Stella drives us back down the hill into the hamlet so she can show us her recommended taverna for us to get dinner. She will meet us there later with candles and a lighter for our room. We have taken our head lamps so we’ll be able to find our way home in the dark after dinner. On the way we stop to put a few stepping stones across a large area of the road that is flooded by a creek rushing down the gorge we’ve come all this way to hike! Stella locates a bamboo pole and insists we bring it with us. Presumably it’s to be a walking stick, not a weapon.
Dinner is great. But when we are looking at the menue we notice sword fish and think that would be perfect. The owner hears us and comes over to explain that no one went fishing today or yesterday in the storm. Well don’t we feel a bit stupid! I think North Americans can sometimes be a bit disconnected from the immediacy of food sourcing that many people take for granted. Rough ocean, no fishing, no sword fish for dinner. We have souvlaki instead and it is delicious.
We also have a bit more wine than usual so our return journey in the pitch black, our way lit by the comparatively feeble glow of our head lamps, wind raging around us seems unduly hilarious. We negotiate the flooded road. Me with the aid of our bamboo stick. Kathy just scampering across in the water! We hadn’t noticed all the wee side roads previously and there are a few but we find our way. Passing by a huge archeological dig at an ancient Minoan palace and safely arriving at our dark little home.
We climb into beds warmed by hot water (propane stove) in our drinking bottles. And so ends a rather long but as usual very interesting day. We wonder what more surprises await us on this trip.
Seriously! The weather has gone absolutely nuts.
Yesterday’s return hike from Lissos to Sougia started out well enough, warm and sunny but as we climbed out of the valley onto a high plateau dark grey clouds boiled up and torrential driving rain soon had us soaked. Our jackets held up to the onslaught but we weren’t wearing rain pants so our legs got drenched. The red clay turned into a quagmire of sticky ooze making our shoes heavier and heavier with every step. As soon as we got back into Sougia we headed into the one taverna with a fire place and dried off while devouring bowls of hot soup.
Then the questions. Would the ferry run? Would the ferry run on time? How long would we have to stand outside on a shelterless dock in this cold windy rain waiting? We decided we didn’t like any of the possible scenarios so we got a taxi to take us on to Paleohora.
Up and over the snowing mountains we drove. Yes indeed snow on the peaks and snow beside the road. The temperature a balmy four degrees centigrade.
Today it has been mostly sunny but it is still pretty cold in the wind. That wind is blowing at storm force (a nine on the Beaufort scale). The mountains are looking very pretty and white. The sea is filled with white caps and water spouts and swirles. There was a regional power failure earlier and we’ve seen several large tree branches down. We walked up to a village above Paleochora but stayed on the road as the nearby gorge path is reported to possibly have too much water flowing through it to accommodate walking.
Despite the weather we’re enjoying other aspects of Crete. The food and the people. Both are wonderful. The coastal scenery is fabulous even on a windy day so life is good.