Adventures in Greece: Part 3

These Greece posts are reminding me of my grandpa’s old slide shows – which were everything from their recent travels to Hawaii to our birthday parties from years passed. He’d load the round tray of slides just right, set up the screen, turn off all the lights, and narrate as we laughed or ooohhhed and aaahhhhed. He called them “cartoons.”  That was his trick for getting us interested in his show…”Want to watch some cartoons?”

Agia Roumeli, Crete – More on this below!

So, thanks for watching my cartoons, guys. Pretty sure I inherited the show-and-tell gene from my Poppy, and it’s been fun to share these adventures with you.

(Pretty sure I inherited the adventure gene from him, too.)

We stayed three floors up from where this photo was taken. Though you can’t see it, that paved walkway leads right to the sea.

Our last three days in Greece may have been my favorite? Hard to say. Definitely different and definitely more of a true adventure.

Probably THE best breakfast I’ve ever tasted. Something about the flavor/spice/ingredient combinations made it so delicious.

To our great disappointment, we lost a whole day in Crete due to missing our early morning flight there from Athens. We waited standby for an afternoon flight, but did not get on. Then we waited standby for a 10pm flight, but figured we’d probably be sleeping in the airport, because it was also a full flight and all passengers had checked in. We were booked on a 5am flight the following morning, hence the plan to sleep in the airport. There aren’t really any hotels near the Athens airport, and it didn’t seem worth it to Uber ($) back to the city, pay more $$ for a hotel, sleep there for 3-4 hours, and then Uber ($) back to the airport at 3am to catch a 5am flight.

We prayed for mercy, especially when a construction crew pulled out nail guns and jack hammers to begin overnight construction in our terminal. Sitting right next to the gate agent desk, we watched the passengers walk out and board the bus that would take them to the plane. After a while the gate agents started paging two passengers who had not yet boarded. More paging. More paging…

Then we started to get winks and nods from those gate agents. Then they told us we could board! I had been corresponding with our Airbnb hosts the whole time, so I sent one last message that we had boarded and would be there around 11:30pm. They left us a key, and we were never so thankful for a bed.We spent our first day in Crete walking around Old Town Chania (built under Venetian rule), sitting on the nearby beach with iced cappuccinos, swimming, and going for a glass bottom boat tour that included more swimming along the way. Swimming and a boat trip were two things I really wanted to do while we were in Greece, but we were glad we only did the 1.5 hour boat trip with one swimming stop rather than the 3 hour boat trip with three swimming stops. No octopodes, though. Those were on the 3 hour trip.

Oh well.

Greece is one of the world’s main exporters of sea sponges
Even Chania, Crete has a Starbucks. All we did there was take this photo.

After the beach and boat, we spent the evening shopping for a few last souvenirs as well as snacks for our next adventure, and then ate dinner overlooking the harbor.We set our alarms for 4:15am that night in order to catch an early morning bus for the Samaria Gorge National Park. The 1.5 hour bus ride was pretty amazing, and I wondered if I ought to awaken the German students across the aisle from us so they wouldn’t miss the gorgeous views. (I didn’t)
Most people hike the ten mile gorge (the longest one Europe) from top to bottom, which is why our bus dropped us at the top of the park’s mountainous range. This is what the first several miles of the trail looked like.
Thyme grows wild all along the gorge, and it is the main plant used by honeybees for pollen and nectar. (The honey is delicious!) Oregano grows in wild abundance in Greece as well.

The hike took us just over 6 hours, and midway through we were in desperate need of more fuel. It was nearly 100 degrees that day. Fortunately there are clean mountain spring water stops along the way.(Rustic, squatty-potty toilets, too.) The nectarines and rice cakes are missing from this photo, but here’s our semi-Greek trail lunch: grapes, olives, trail mix, dried/cured camel meat, and cheese – all from Chania’s Agora Marketplace. 

Blooming where it was planted

It was a fairly challenging hike and we kept being surprised by the footwear some people chose for the 10+ mile journey – Tom’s, flip flops, sparkly sandals. We wore our running shoes, and were still very sore three days later.

When we finally made it to the 13k (10 mile) mark, there were vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice. We passed up the first one, ready to get to our final destination – the beach and rural village we’d be staying in that night – but we stopped at the second one, as it sounded so refreshing. And it was! Oranges also grow in abundance there, and our two glasses of juice took about 10 oranges to make. Such a nice treat as we walked the last few kilometers to the sea.
The beach at Agia Roumeli is every Samaria Gorge hiker’s reward. The trail leads right to this spot, and it is just what your sweaty, sunburned, and sore self needs at that moment. We found two vacant lounge chairs under umbrellas, put on our bathing suits in the nearby changing booth, and dipped ourselves immediately into that clear and refreshing water.As we did a little research online about the hike, we read several recommendations regarding staying overnight in Agia Roumeli, rather that taking the ferry back to the bus station that same day. Agia Roumeli is not accessible by car, and the thought of staying there after all the hikers/tourists left sounded so wonderful.

And it was wonderful. We even got to see a full moon rise over the gorge as we walked the abandoned beach all alone (unlike the sunset on Mars Hill!) that evening and went for a moonlight swim.

How will I ever settle for a restaurant that doesn’t serve iced cappuccinos and include a Mediterranean view from now on?

Our Airbnb hosts suggested that, since we were staying the night in Agia Roumeli, we should take the 11:30am ferry and get off at the village of Loutro, the stop before the village where we would catch our bus back to the city. We really had no idea the incredibly beautiful and historical sites we were about to see.

Goodbye, Samaria Gorge and Agia Roumeli.
Loutro, just beside Ancient Phoenix

Turns out Loutro is also ancient Phoenix where Paul hoped “somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.” (Acts 27:12) We had no real recollection of this until we pulled up the Bible App and searched “Crete.” Paul never quite made it to Phoenix, because “a moderate south wind came up, (and) supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.” (v. 13) This is how he ended up shipwrecked on Malta. 

Anyway, we knew Paul had been in Crete and left Titus there to pastor the church, but we didn’t realize we were sailing along the same course he eventually sailed. We could see both the new village of Loutro and the ruins of ancient Phoenix as we sat on this hillside cafe. And the views from the ferry we took to get there were just unbelievable.

And someone was dreaming out loud about what it would take to stay here three months for a sabbatical someday as we sailed along.

Robert was also Snapchatting all along the way……though I’m not sure his Snapchat friends (mostly our children) were as super-impressed as we were!

Watching the ferry leave

Okay ~ end of show-and-tell. End of slide show cartoons. Thanks for indulging me.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and we loved every minute of celebrating 25 years of marriage on this Greece Adventure!