A Travellerspoint blog

First Gear is the Hardest

sunny 86 °F
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We met our rental car at 10am back at the port, and after a quick detour to the airport to drop off the person who met us, we were on our way to a town on the West edge of the island, Chania. In Greece, and maybe in all of Europe, when you get a rental of any sort it comes with an empty gas tank. You then have to race to the nearest station to fill it up – this is a little unfair to a person new to the city, and in our case, new to driving a stick shift vehicle. The very nice gentleman gave us directions to Chania, and told us 11 km down the road is a gas station, “you will make it, it is easy” he says and waves us off, smiling. Well, we turned off a little before our station (he didn’t tell us what the name of the gas station was) and ended up on some random roads with crazy traffic. In Greece, there isn’t much for rules on the roads. You drive two people to a lane (or if you are daring, we have seen three), motor bikes dart in and out of everyone, streets don’t really have names, and if someone is too slow on a turn – you just go in front of them. And as a reminder, we have a driver that is not comfortable yet with a stick shift. Needless to say, it was a high tension situation – gas light blinking, narrow streets, chaotic traffic…you get the point. We stop off at some random home finishing store and the man was nice enough to point us to the gas station, which thankfully was only a quarter of a mile down the road. I am glad Nate asked, as we were just about to turn back as we were in a very industrial part of town and who knows what would have happened then.

Once the tank was full, we now had the challenge of figuring out how to get back on the highway. Again, signs are pretty minimal and the roads narrow and windy. Let’s just say that after a couple of stalls, Nate getting honked at immensely twice, almost crashing once and four or five turn arounds, we were able to get on the highway in the opposite direction. That was at least a start. We went up to the next exit, which had a nice on/off system and were finally on our way to Chania, which was a much smoother 2 hour drive through the mountains. The highway, although still a little nuts to drive on, was a lot easier to navigate as all we had to worry about were the cars darting in and out and not the whole stop and go, shifting in and out of first gear.
Driving through island of Crete. Much more green than we expected.

Driving through island of Crete. Much more green than we expected.

Chania is an old Venetian port, where the remnants of a fortress still remain. They have a lot of little shops and restaurants (like almost every other town we have visited on this trip) but they also have a market with fresh fruits, veggies, cheese, meats and of course, fish. As we didn’t yet know our kitchen situation in our new hotel, we didn’t buy anything but would have love to. After a stop for the cheapest gelato we have seen (which doesn’t mean it is very good), we decided we should head back towards our hotel so we could try and check-in by 4pm.
Chania port town

Chania port town


Lighthouse in Chania

Lighthouse in Chania

Old guys fishing, and they are probably out there everyday

Old guys fishing, and they are probably out there everyday

Old Venetian fort in Chania

Old Venetian fort in Chania

Chania Market

Chania Market

Upon arriving at our hotel, we found it somewhat deserted which was concerning as we had pre-paid for three nights. Two of the balconies had swim wear hanging to dry, so we knew it couldn’t be out of business, but we couldn’t find anyone around. We stopped up at the big grocery store to try calling, but weren’t able to use the pay phone and they didn’t sell the phone cards we needed. We then headed back to the hotel, as they are supposed to have free wi-fi, so we could try calling them via skype, but of course that wasn’t working either. Nate then went to a smaller grocery store up the road, and the very nice lady allowed him to use her phone for free. He has a way with grocery store ladies; this is the second one that has allowed him to use her phone. Eventually, we got it all figured out, got our room threw on our suits and went for a dip in the pool. This is the first pool we have had on our trip, but since it is maybe 50 yards from the beach we felt a little bad being in the pool instead of the ocean (since the sun was setting, the pool felt warmer).

As neither of us slept well the night before, we made our pasta dinner and headed to bed to make it an early night. Nothing like the beach party at the resort down the street, but since neither of us are 21 any longer and our purpose of the trip is a little more laid back, we are very happy to be at our peaceful beach villa.

Posted by sellnow 20:59 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Hurry Up and Wait

semi-overcast 75 °F
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We had a leisurely day of sitting around and waiting, as we had a ferry to catch to the Greek island of Crete. I woke up early to fog or low clouds rolling in (we still aren’t sure which) and it seemed to stay that way for most of the day. The clouds would roll in, and then out and then again. At one point you couldn’t see a few feet in front of you, we were a little worried that our boat later than day wouldn’t be leaving but it eventually all burned off.
Moring fog or clouds...not quite sure which one it was

Moring fog or clouds...not quite sure which one it was

Our boat wasn’t until 5:55pm but because we had to check out of our place around 1pm, and the last bus went to the port at 4pm, we pretty much just sat around all afternoon in downtown Fira waiting. We found a nice, shady spot and people watched, and took turns walking the streets so the other could watch our luggage. Eventually we walked to meet our bus, and in true Greek fashion, nothing is labeled so you have a bunch of people asking the one guy in the stand the same question over and over to figure out which bus is the one to the port. The easy fix would be to put signs up noting which bus was which, but that just seems too easy. Once we got to the port, again nothing was labeled, so we just sat for a while waiting to see what to do next. At one point some lady comes out and announces that the superjet will leave from terminal 4 at the building. No one really knows what that means so everyone heads inside to terminal 4. You hear whispers back and forth on “is this the boat to Crete” and “no, I think it goes to Athens...” as there were two boats that were supposed to leave right about the same time. Finally the man taking the tickets yells loud enough, “this boat is not going to Crete” which helped immensely with the chaos – why didn’t someone do that earlier or just put up a sign? By the time they left, our ship should have sailed but had not yet arrived, so we waited some more. Finally about 6:20 (25 minutes late) our boat shows up, we board and away we go to Crete. It is only about a 2 hour boat ride as we were on a much faster (thus more expensive) boat than the one we took to Santorini.
Windy road to the port is not really made for busses

Windy road to the port is not really made for busses


Not everything translates well into English. We've noticed a lot of mis-use of the, is, of, and its. At least they try!

Not everything translates well into English. We've noticed a lot of mis-use of the, is, of, and its. At least they try!

We arrived finally, walked the 5-6 blocks to our hotel and enjoyed a little MTV (the only station in English, but it plays videos the entire time instead of other junk) and turned in for the evening. Seems like a perfectly good day that was wasted, but I guess that has to happen sometimes.

Posted by sellnow 11:52 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Crusing the Island in Style

sunny 73 °F
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While out and about on our first day, we decided we needed to get a vehicle in order to really see the rest of the island. Santorini has a bus system that goes to the major towns but they run every 30-45 minutes and overall, it is a very poor system that easily would add up to more than it was worth. We decided a moped would be just right for us (and it was relatively cheap) so we headed to the rental place by our apartment. Apparently in Europe though, in order to have a motor bike of any size, you must have a special license which Nate did not have. So instead, our next option was a 4-wheeler. We picked out our helmets and were on our way cruising along in our ATV. Although this sounds a little bizarre, you have to know that most of the tourists end up with these, so we were not the only ones on the road.
Our wheels for the next two days

Our wheels for the next two days

We headed to the northern most town of Oia, which again was filled with shops and we got several more beautiful photos. It isn’t worth buying the expensive photo prints on the island, as pretty much anyone can take a breathtaking photo as long as you hold the camera still and zoom past a few power lines. From there we set out in search of a beach, as I was in need of a little sun. Santorini is known for its different beaches as the sand varies because of the volcanic surface – you can find white beaches, black beaches and red beaches. The first one we came across was a bit rocky, so after a short distance we found a sandier black beach. We swam a little and when we were good and sunburned, we headed back as we had decided on doing dinner out.
Cave dug into the side of the road

Cave dug into the side of the road


Colorful houses in Oia

Colorful houses in Oia


Field of windmills

Field of windmills


Cliffs in Oia, I love the different layers of sediment

Cliffs in Oia, I love the different layers of sediment


Black beach

Black beach

One of Nate’s food goals (beyond gyros, of course) was to try grilled octopus. Even though we had had our amateur version the night before, Nate wanted to compare it with the “professionals” and to taste it on the grill. I ordered grilled swordfish (thank you Uncle Kevin for introducing me to swordfish, as it is one of my favorites) and we also tried saganaki for an appetizer. Saganaki is basically a square of a romano type cheese that is dipped in flour and then fried in olive oil. It is then served with a lemon wedge to drizzle over it. The Greek version of a giant cheese curd, I suppose. While the first bite was good, the cheese used was a little salty for me, so by the end I decided I didn’t need to try that one again. Finally, out came the octopus. Nate was disappointed at first, as all you get is one small tentacle and the night before he had had four tentacles to himself. It was however, unbelievable. The octopus picks up the charcoal flavor from the grill to really season the meat nicely. Although it was smaller than he would have liked, it was quite amazing. I can bet that if octopus is available in Portland at all, that might be one of Nate’s specialties once we have a house and a grill.
Grilled Octopus & Swordfish, served with fries of course like everything else here

Grilled Octopus & Swordfish, served with fries of course like everything else here

At the end of the meal, we were served small glasses of ouzo with orange juice, which is customary at many Greek restaurants. After our first taste test of the liquor in Athens, I had more than enough, so Nate was left to finish off both of our glasses. Even he isn’t a fan of the black licorice flavor, and orange juice mixed with it doesn’t help, he was still a good sport so as not to offend the restaurant. From there we headed back for a dessert of baklava on the patio and watch the last of the cruise ships exit.
Only Nate could handle another dose of Ouzo

Only Nate could handle another dose of Ouzo

Posted by sellnow 21:36 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

What has 8 legs and is better than you'd expect?

sunny 72 °F
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Our first day in Santorini was a relaxing one – after sleeping in, we made eggs for breakfast and ate on the patio overlooking the beautiful caldera view. Nate and I love big breakfasts, and this is the closest we have come to one since we left. It was wonderful! We also had orange juice and even though it was from a carton, because it didn’t have any added sugars or preservatives, it was the best juice I have ever had. From there we set out for Fira, the largest town on Santorini which was just a 20 minute walk along the cliff from our place. The path is peppered with restaurants and little gift shops, so it was slow going as I wanted to do a little shopping as well. Nate gave in early on and said Santorini was my place to shop and get in a little beach time, so I had to take full advantage of it.
The white houses almost look like snow on top of the hills

The white houses almost look like snow on top of the hills


Taking a break on the cliff walk to Fira

Taking a break on the cliff walk to Fira


I think this was set up for a perfect picture

I think this was set up for a perfect picture


Nice view

Nice view

Late afternoon, we started to get hungry so we stopped for a Greek salad. I am not quite sure why we hadn’t had one yet (I think we were too busy eating gyros), but it sounded perfect. The greek salads here include tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, capers, olives and feta cheese, all tossed with some herbs, olive oil and a little vinegar. It was heavenly. I think it was a combination of a refreshing salad on a warm day along with the fact that we hadn’t really had much for fruits and veggies since we left.
Hearty greek salad

Hearty greek salad


Take a burro ride down to the old port and back up, only 588 steps

Take a burro ride down to the old port and back up, only 588 steps


They even count the steps for you, so you can keep track

They even count the steps for you, so you can keep track


Everyone uses local stones for sidewalk mosaics

Everyone uses local stones for sidewalk mosaics

Before we left that morning, Nate had asked our apartment owner about cooking octopus. She grew up on Santorini and is the nicest, most hospitable person we have ever met. She gave Nate directions on how to cook Octopus, and if you know Nate, you know that was enough to make him want to try making it himself. While in town, we found a larger grocery store and sure enough they had frozen octopus. We were told that the frozen is actually better as the fresh is often very chewy because usually a few days old by the time it gets to the grocery store. So we bought ourselves an octopus to try out for dinner.

While it thawed, we sipped local wine and ate a few olives. Unless you enjoy really sweet wines (both red and white), Santorini wines are absolutely terrible. I am not sure what it is, it says dry on the label but it was far from. The directions we were given, and I confirmed online, are to let the octopus cook in a covered pot for 1-2 hours and that is it. If you over cook it, it gets really chewy, so you have to be careful. We sipped our terrible wine while it stewed and because we made it on a one burner hot plate; we didn’t have any side dishes beyond the olives we snacked on. Soon enough, it was done – and it actually wasn’t too bad. I was a little hesitant but said I would try it, and the texture was much better than I thought. It is actually very meaty, not too chewy and besides it being a little salty for me (a result of letting it cook out its juices and then re-absorb them) it was actually quite good. We finished off the meal with a slice of baklava, and as the sun went it down the breeze got chilly so it was off to bed.
Before the octopus heads into the pot

Before the octopus heads into the pot


Bon Apetit!

Bon Apetit!

Posted by sellnow 21:15 Archived in Greece Tagged santorini octopus fira Comments (0)

Paradise with a hint of Minnesota

overcast 76 °F
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The day started out VERY early, we got up at 4:30am in order to make our way to the port and catch our ferry to Santorini. Even though it doesn’t look like we had that far to go, it was going to take six hours to get us there as there were two stops at other islands along the way. We made it to our ship and were escorted to our “air seats” which simply mean we had airline type seats instead of caffetira chairs which were situated throughout the ship. We were very glad we had paid the extra 5 Euros each for the assigned seats as by the time we got to the ship most of the economy seats were taken, meaning we would have had to sit on benches outside - and it was chilly.

Our ferry was pretty uninteresting, and I slept for the first hour and a half. We watched a few “telenovela” or soap opera type shows on the main TV, which were quite amusing and read our books to pass the time. It was a pretty foggy day, which was fine because once we got to the island and took the bus to the main town, we really had no idea where to go to find our apartment. We booked through a “vacation rentals by owner” site which allowed us to get a place with a fabulous view for much less than others were paying, but it also meant it was very challenging to find. After hiking in the area for about 20 minutes, Nate left me with the packs and he headed to try and find a phone to call the owner. Once we met up, our owner was the nicest lady – she wanted to help carry our things and offered us tea and juice to help cool us down. She was one of the most hospitable people we have met in Greece, and although our apartment is very small, the view is fabulous and it has just what we need.

After soaking in the fabulous view, we headed out for groceries and we made spaghetti with shrimp. It was one of the best meals we have made so far – partly because we were so hungry as we hadn't had much to eat for the day. We ate on the patio and found that paradise does not come without evils. The mosquitos here are sneaky buggers; you don’t really know they are there until the next day when you wake up with itchy spots – and man do they itch! There aren’t millions like Minnesota, but we walked away with a dozen or so bites between the two of us. Since we are missing out on the cabin this year for Memorial Weekend, I guess this is our slice of MN while away. Once dinner was done, we then walked a few blocks over to enjoy the sunset. Later in the summer, you can see the sunset from our patio but we are a little early for the tourist season, so the sunset is a little out of our view. It was still enjoyable and a nice way to welcome us to Santorini.
View from our private balcony - not too bad!

View from our private balcony - not too bad!

Valcano cliffs on Santorini

Valcano cliffs on Santorini

Enjoying a shimp & spaghetti dinner on the patio

Enjoying a shimp & spaghetti dinner on the patio

Famous blue domed church on Santorini

Famous blue domed church on Santorini

Gaggle of strey dogs barking at a motorbike

Gaggle of strey dogs barking at a motorbike

Sunset over the caldera

Sunset over the caldera

Posted by sellnow 21:25 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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