Greece 9-’07

Stay tuned.  Lou and I are going to Greece about the middle of September.  This will be a part business and part pleasure trip.  We will do some “land cruising”.  We will upload photos as we have internet connections.

Please note:  By putting your cursor on the pictures, a title or comment will pop up. 
 We left Atlanta at noon on Sunday, Sept. 16.  The route was Continental Airlines to Newark, NJ.  Then it was Continental to Milan, Italy where we changed to Alitallia for the flight to Athens.  We flew Aegian Airlines from Athens to Chania (pronounced Hania’ with the accent on the last sylable).  We arrived Monday at 10:00pm Crete time.

 

Believe it or not, we were given a little time to freshen up.  We then all went out to dinner to a local Taverna, Irene’s (pronounced Elenie’s).  John and Donna went with us along with our hosts for the evening, Nichos and Stella Tzanakakis, the owners of  Creta Vitalis the place we were staying.  It was 11:00pm, but they phoned ahead to see if they would stay open for us.  It was a great meal that was finished after midnight.

After sleeping late Tuesday morning we went into Chania with John (Yanni) Moursourikis and his wife Donna.  Lou and I rented a car for the week so we had transportation.  We stayed at Kalathas (pronounced Kalatha’ with the accent on the last sylable) at the Creta Vitalis Hotel and Villas.  The village is located on the beautiful Acrotiri Peninsula.  This is the area that the movie ZORBA THE GREEK was made.

An archway at Creta Vitalis

Creta Vitalis Pool Entrance

Our Villa

View from our Villa window

Creta Vitalis Sunset

Creta Vitalis is about 5 or 6 miles from Chania on a lovely bay.  It is within walking distance of the beach.  The weather was superb, and the humidity was usually low.  We never ran heat or a/c in the villa.  The view from the large casement window in the sitting room was stunning.

The city of Chania is bustling.  There are narrow streets with cars and motor scooters and cycles everywhere.  I’m sure that they must have some traffic laws, but I couldn’t really figure them out.  There is alot of cutting in and out with horn tooting.  Parking is erratic.  They put their flashers on and park anywhere they like even in the traffic lane.

However, at the same time it is very charming.  The people are mostly courteous and gracious (except while driving).  They are very friendly, but few speak English.  We were among the Greeks and other nationalities.  Somehow you can always communicate.  It is really not a big problem to get around.

Venetian Harbor at Chania

The Venetian Harbor

Chania passageway

Greek Orthodox Church in Chania

Venetion Harbor Light House

Doorway looking onto harbor

Harbor surrounded by tavernas

We ate the Greek way for lunch.  That is about 2:00pm at a harbor front taverna for an hour or two.  Usually lunch is the big meal of the day.  Many dishes are ordered, and each takes some of all.  There is always the wonderful Greek bread and wine served.  They drink wine with lunch and dinner, but they very seldom drink without eating even if it is only an appetizer.  The food is wonderful, and they use copious amounts of olive oil (extra virgin of course).

On the second day there was a little work to do.  We were evaluating a possible hotel site near the city hall of Chania.  The site is owned by Georgis, a wonderful gentleman, who does not speak English.  Georgis owned and operated the best private school in Greece on the site.  Many of his graduates are movers and shakers in Greece.  He insisted that we eat lunch with him and his wife.  Now, the Cretan way is to take care of everything for a guest.  This even included the parking.  It was a wonderful lunch lasting about two hours.

Lunch with Georgis and his wife.  She is on the far right nearest the front.

They are truly wonderful and gracious people.  We hated to leave them.

The next day was adventure day.  Lou and I decided to go on our own about 90 miles to see the antiquities site of the Minoan Palace of King Knossos.  This was built in between 2700 and 1400BC.  Can you imagine nearly 5000 years ago?  It would be an accomplishment to build it today.

Palace of King Knossos

Inside the palace

Palace of King Knossos

We went into Iraklion the capital city of Crete.  It is larger and more commercialized than Chania.  We didn’t spend alot of time there, but the harbor was nice.

Harbor of Iraklion

We ate a sandwich on the harbor wall, and then started back.  This brings up a little bit about open road driving.  There is only one road that could be called a highway on Crete.  It is the National Road, and it runs from east to west the entire one hundred mile length of the island.  It is two lanes with a double line down the center.  Now, here is where it gets interesting.  The Greeks use this as a three lane.  Everyone drives on the far right.  The shoulders have a little wider paving than ours.  The car overtaking flashes his headlights at the overtaken car, turns on his left turn signal, then busts down through the middle even with oncoming traffic.  It seems to work.  I even got the hang of it.  The speed limit was 90 Kilometers per hour.  To keep up with the fast crowd you had to drive 130 to 160. You have just got to see it!

By the way, fuel cost about $1.60 US.  Now, that is not a gallon but per liter.  That puts it about $6.20 per US gallon.  They don’t drive big cars and SUVs.

The following are scenes along the road from Chania to Iraklion.  This one shows one of the beautiful almost private beaches, but at the same time it shows about the ever present goats and sheep in the countryside.  The coast line is mostly rugged but beautiful with the mountains diving into the azure blue waters.

Beach along the National Road

Looking at harbor across

Highway Scene

Rugged coast line with beach

After returning to our Villa, we rested up and continued the adventure by driving into Chania (on the road signs it could be spelled Chania, Hania, or Xavia).  We got around quite well and did some shopping.

At 2:00pm the stores and shops start closing down.  They remain closed until about 5 or 5:30pm when they again open.  They then stay opened until late into the night.  Even the small rural grocery store near the hotel was open at midnight.

Chania Public Market--Don & Donna

Chania Alley Scene

Chania Street Scene, many of the shops are very sophisticated.

Motor scooters are a main form of transportation.  You will see all kinds of people on them.  Many are driven by women from the stylish younger set to the matronly grandmotherly types.  High heels are no barrier to this.  You can also see many older women on bicycles.  The funniest one I saw was a dignified old gentlemen with a suit and tie on his antique BMW motorcycle with a side car.

Lady on Motor Scooter

We just had to put some photos of biker chics for the enjoyment of Don Wallis.

We picked up some bread, wine, and cheese for a little gathering at our villa with Donna and Yanni along with Stella and Nichos.  Donna brought some really good Greek olives, and Nichos brought some of his 10 year old red wine.  Of course it was a long dinner after that.

Stella, Donna, and Lou at our Villa

We went into Chania to get some dollars converted to Euros.  Not a satisfying experience.  Upon entering the National Bank of Greece it was noon time, and we took a number to wait.  The number was 566.  Lou asked a lady that was waiting.  She looked at our ticket and shook her head.  Her number was 218, and she had been there since 9:00am.  We finally found a window that would do currency exchange without a waiting number.  It was not a simple transaction.

Between all this, Yanni and I were actually working.  We evaluated a large site on the peninsula that the Greek government wants to be a 5 star hotel with golf course, spa, beach club, marina and housing.  It will take some time for me to really get my arms around all the possibilities of the site.  We did get a start and enough information to take back to the States to work on.

The next day was play day.  Yanni and Donna decided to go with us to the beautiful western end of the island.  Yanni is a native of Crete that lives in the states.  He is fluent in three languages.  They are great company, and the scenery is awesome.  Yanni had snorkled and spear fished this area in his youth.

We had rented a car with a 5 speed transmission.  Unless we were on the National Road (which was seldom) it hardly got above third gear because of mountain curves and traffic.  I enjoyed driving the manual  transmission, but sometimes gears were changed so often that it felt as if I were rowing a boat.

Beach at Noplgia

Beach at Elafonissi

Lou at Chryssoskalitissa Monastary

Taverna at Elos.  Directly in front of the rock wall is the road's edge.

We had an extremely local Greek lunch at this Taverna in the small mountain village of Elos.  Yanni went into the kitchen and selected the food.  He and Donna then, in the Cretan way, treated us to lunch.  Talk about fresh!  Everything was local, and they even picked the greens wild in the mountains.  It was wonderful.

We then went over the mountains (again) to Palechora which is a great little resort village with a really nice beach.  We did some shopping at the local vegetable market and picked up some things including some locally made cheese at the super market. 

Street scene from Palechora

Palechora Alley scene

Paleochora Beach

We stopped in the evening at a Taverna overlooking Chania.  It was just a beautiful sight with the lights of the city spread out below.  Nichos and Stella joined us for coffee and desert.  Greek deserts are quite large, but very good.  Yanni ordered a dish that the waitress described as a fafla with ice cream.  Even the locals weren’t really sure of what that is.  When it came out it was a waffle with 3 scoops of different kinds of ice cream.  The Greek alphabet has no “W” so the Greeks can’t say a wa or we sound.  Le is la——thus fafla!  I couldn’t wait to get back home and open a Fafla House Restaurant.  It ought to go over really big.

Donna and John ( Greek name Yanni)

Nichos and Stella

Sunday we drove up a beautiful mountain gorge to a Greek Stak (steak) House that the locals like to go to on Sunday.  It is not a steak house in the sense we know it.  It is more of a meat house with alot of goat and sheep dishes.  If you want to know what goat tastes like, it is
g o o o o d.  Corny, huh?

Donna and Yanni at the Steak House in the mountains.  That is our rental car behind them.

The next day Lou and I were on our own to take care of some business and see about the rental car return in Souda.  Lou got out of the car on the square in Souda while I parked when she heard someone she did not recognize say “Lou, come with me”.  Was she surprised!  It was the man who had delivered the rental car to us.  They said that they would pick up the car the next evening at Creta Vitalis.  The catch was that they did not take credit cards.  So, when we got back to Chania, we were on a search for an ATM.  We did not want to go back to the bank.  The ATM worked like a charm.

We went back into Chania where Lou found a Russian sailor ( she always seems to go for the sailor boys).  A Russian Navy ship was in at the NATO Base at Souda Bay, and a couple of bus loads of them were on leave in Chania.

Lou with her Russian Sailor Boy

Lou with a piece of octopus (Surprise---she didn't eat it)

Lou really wasn’t eating octopus, but I was.  It is really pretty good.  This dish it was in pasta with red sauce.

Garden Coffee Shop

Chania Flea Market

The flea market behind city hall has just about everything.  The vegetables and fruits are local and of very good quality.  There was much clothing and bolts of fabric.

Chania Building

Many girls on motor scooters

Lady shopping on her motor scooter

Our last night for dinner we were again treated as guests of Nichos and Stella.  They took us to a local Taverna that the name translated to Sunset.  Again it was a dinner of many dishes selected from the kitchen.  The food was great, and Maria one of the owners is the author of a cook book on Cretan cooking.  Stella gave Lou a book, and Maria graciously signed it in Greek.

At this restaurant they grow their own vegetables and press the olive oil from their own trees.  Everything is so fresh!

Maria

Nichos

Stella

Dinner the last night.  Nichos particularily enjoyed the evening

This was Nichos’ night.  The waiter, when much younger, had been a desk clerk for him and Stella.  Nichos started telling stories (in Greek of course) about some of the happenings at the hotel.  It was all pretty hilarious with much laughing.  It was most enjoyable.

I told them that when they come to the States that we would treat them to our Tennessee native food——–cat fish!  When that was translated to Greek we got some unusual facial expressions.  Nichos said that he would skewer the cat.  Stella nearly got sick on that.

It is just impossible to share it all on this website.  We were not on a typical tourist junket.  We were among local people who spoke limited English if at all.  Nichos did not speak English, but we managed to communicate quite well, and we consider both him and Stella friends.  Georgis and his lovely wife are wonderful people that anyone would be proud to know.  Yanni and Donna have become our new good friends, and we hope to see much more of them.

We left Chania  on Aegian Airlines and arrived in Athens about midnight to wait for a 6:55am departure to Rome, Italy on Alitallia.  Athens is the cross roads of the Mediterranean.  People from Northern Europe, Scandanavia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East were sleeping all over the seats and the floor.  It was hard to even find a place for a few hours.  No one spoke English, nor we their language.  We changed planes in Rome for the leg to Paris.  The Italians with all their efficiency were late leaving Rome and lost our luggage.  This caused a missed connection in Paris.  However, the Italians made up for their lack of efficiency with indifference.

Air France was a little more understanding and gave us a business class flight upgrade on the next day.  We were upstairs on a 747.  The food and wine were just great, and there was much room to stretch out for the 9 hour flight.  The luggage was shipped to Chattanooga the next day.  All it really hurt was a night in a $400.00 hotel room.  After being up for 36 hours, we were ready for that.  I don’t think that I have really figured out Charles DeGaule Airport.

To Home in business class on "Big Bird"

Lou’s comments

It seems cliche to repeat, “the trip of a lifetime”, however, the trip to Greece truly was this. Don made all the arrangements…the flight schedules (which was a feat in itself with so many connections) and hotel accommodations. It is wonderful to have someone willing to do all this, but who included me in planning the fun stuff.

From the moment we left Atlanta til the plane landed on the return trip, Don and I were busy….and speaking for myself, I was filled with excitement. I had no idea what to expect, since this was my first trip to Greece. Don’s friend, Norm Blinn, had given us some information which was very helpful. It told about Greek customs that I was unaware of.

Upon arrival in Chania, we were met by John and Nichos and taken to our hotel. There, we met Donna and Stella. From that moment on, we were either eating, shopping, touring sites or just visiting with interesting people. I can truthfully say, not a dull moment during the entire trip.

I don’t think we have words to thank John, Donna, Nichos and Stella for all they did to make this trip so exciting. We could have visited Greece, as other tourists have, but couldn’t have had a “Greece experience” like this. John provided so much background knowledge on the Greek culture, history of the religion and of his family. His explanation of the tending of the olive tree to the processing of the oil, was so interesting. I will never look at nor think of olive oil in the same way again. I enjoyed talking with and getting to know Donna, Stella and Nichos, too. I enjoyed all we did, but probably what I enjoyed most was getting to know these four people along with Georgis, John’s schoolmaster and his wife.

In thinking back over the trip, I cannot think of anything I could add that would make the experience more complete nor enjoyable. From meeting the people, learning about the Greek culture, eating at the Greek tavernas, shopping at the local markets to staying in a villa on a hillside, this was truly the trip of a lifetime.

 

Lou

Don’s comments:

Lou is just a great travelling companion.  Not only is she pleasant when things are going well, but she never complains when they don’t.  Because of the connections and lost baggage at one point we were up 36 hours straight.  She handled it like a seasoned traveler.

With her Canon camera at the ready, she makes great photos.  Her insights and close ups of the people are just great.  Thanks for her valuable contributions to this website.

Don

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