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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Final Days in Sunny Greece

July 8, 2011

Mmm the bed was soo comfortable! We woke up early and took advantage of the breakfast buffet where I crushed an omelette, a mimosa and some assorted fruit and pastries. Then we were off to the Palace of Knossos by car.

A quick side note about Crete. You HAVE to rent a car. It takes about five hours to cross the island so you are pretty much stuck going to stuff near your hotel. For us, this was a bummer because the nightlife is in Malia which 120 Euros round-trip from Elounda. The highlight of Crete, the Samaria Gorge is also about three hours away by car so I sadly had to cross it off the list...

It was pretty easy to navigate our way to the Palace of Knossos which is about an hour away right near the airport. A quick note - the map says "Heraklion" for the airport but all the road signs say "Iraklion" or "Irakleio" so don't think you are heading to the wrong city. Every destination is either towards Irakleio or away from it so it makes navigating fairly easy.

The Palace of Knossos is a sizable set of ruins
thought to be the epicenter of the Minoan civilization. It is a site steeped in myth, thought to have once housed the Labyrinth of King Minos of Crete. The Labyrinth of myth was designed by the legendary Daedalus to cage the Minotaur that Theseus would later slay.

There really isn't any proof of this at all though. Either way for something that sounds so mythical and enchanting it was kind of boring. Maybe I'm just jaded from my previous travels but it kind of annoyed me that they had clearly rebuilt parts of the ruins to look new. It didn't feel very ancient thanks to that. We spent about an hour there and then stopped in Agios Nikalous for lunch.

Agios Nikalous is the larger neighboring town to Elounda featuring a small nightlife, a beautiful lake ringed with seafood restaurants, and cheap ice cream. We stopped at one of the lakeside restaurants, Okeanos. The waiter was a doll but the food could've been better. My fried cod was so salty it made me sick and the salmon pasta was bland. We made quick work of it before driving back to the Blue Palace to spend the remainder of the day working on our tans.

Upon arrival at the hotel I was greeted with AMAZING news. Our long lost bags had finally made their way back to Oregon! My mom was beside herself to have all her favorite clothes back and I told her to just leave my bag there since I'd already equipped myself with new stuff. I do have to extend a massive amount of gratitude to Cindy Rogin and Juan Murillo of Mansour Travel for their tireless efforts to retrieve our bags. My mom and I spent two weeks with no results and Cindy and Juan managed to get our bags back within a week. A huge shout out to them and their company which I was recommend forever!

The BF and I wanted to go out in Agios Nikalous (20 Euro cab each way from the hotel) so we convinced the rest of the crew to go back into the town for dinner. We climbed to a restaurant, Migomis, that looked out over the lake. It was a beautiful night scene below. While we waited for our food we were served bread with three toppings. Without thinking I asked "What are these?" pointing at the sauces. The waiter replied, "This one is butter" and pointed to the first of the three. Well that's embarrassing... A closer look and I realized the other two were olive paste and sun dried tomato without his help. I look like an idiot and I haven't even started drinking yet. Glad I could contribute to the "dumb American" sentiment. My lamb was delicious as was the wine.

From there we ventured down the street to Puerto Bar which was the only bar/club with any activity. It was after midnight (we timed dinner perfectly) so we immediately started dancing. This is a constant frustration going out in Greece. NO ONE dances. You feel like an idiot being the one person shakin' it on the dance floor. Why else do the bars HAVE DANCE FLOORS? Riddle me that. We were having an amazing time until a guy decided to put his cigarette out on my bare back. After a massive yelp and some tears we decided to leave.

We were debating heading back to the hotel when a man dressed as Batman approached us. Batman's birthname was Alex and he was a rip roaring drunk Englishman tailed by two other drunk Englishman dressed as the construction workers from the Village People. When asked, why the costumes, they said that they were the only costumes they could find. Not really the answer we were looking for but we went with it. We spent the next hour learning how to speak with an English accent. Alex was utterly convinced that I was Canadian despite my vehement denials. He told my BF that his accent "was shit." My BF responded by yelling "Fookin' Prawns!" over and over again because it was the only line from District 9 he could remember.

After we watched one construction worker massacre a giant sandwich and the other dump two chairs into the lake we decided it was time to move on. Alex invited us to another bar just down the street. I went to use the toilet and was washing my hands when my BF came in announcing that we needed to leave immediately. We ran for the door and as we got into a taxi he informed me that Alex had ordered five beers, started drinking them, and then announced he had no money and looked expectantly at my BF. The bartender was starting to glower so my BF decided it was time to go because he certainly wasn't paying for Batman's beers. We made it home and fell asleep shortly after 6am.

July 9, 2011

After our ridiculous night last night we spent today doing absolutely nothing. Around 2pm we wandered down to Isola hoping to eat another of those great salads from our first night. Unfortunately, they offer another menu during lunch that was sans the salad so we got a burger instead. I know the cow is already dead and cooked when it is but in the hamburger. But this meat was the dead meat had died again. It tasted AWFUL and left me with an immediate stomachache. The food here is TERRIBLE.

We spent yet another afternoon baking by the pool before heading to dinner at the hotel's Polynesian restaurant, Asia Blue. Since we booked the trip through Mansour Travel we got one all-you-can-eat dinner at the restaurant for free (excluding drinks). So please believe we made good use of it. We ordered close to twelve plates of food but my favorites were the steamed chicken dumplings, the roast duck with plum sauce, mint creme brulee and fried ice cream.

Afterwards, we wandered into Elounda to pillage the liquor store so that we'd have cheap wine to drink while we spent the remainder of the night watching Source Code with Jake G. It was a completely ridiculous movie concept but I still enjoyed it.

July 10, 2011

We got up in time for breakfast today and then walked down to the private hotel beach to rent a speedboat (29 Euros for 4 people) to take us across the water to Spinalonga Island. The boat ride was super fun and I was bummed it was only five minutes long.

In order to fully understand the rich history of Spinalonga Island, I have to start at the very beginning. Where Elounda currently sits, an ancient city called Olous once did. Since then it has sunk into the sea and the only remains are a couple city wall ruins that you can snorkel around in Elounda Bay.

In the 7th century the original inhabitants of Olous were depopulated by Arab pirates who would raid the town as they passed along the Mediterrean. In the 15th century, the Venetians took over the area for commerce and to protect the city they decided to build fortifications.

At the time, the current area of Spinalonga was part of the mainland but the Venetians carved away the land until only an island remained on which they built their fort. Remnants of the fort can still be seen today. I don't think I've ever looked through one of the notches in the wall used to arrows but it was so narrow! I don't see how anyone back then had any hope of taking down the fort. Turns out that the fortress atop Spinalonga
made the island into on the the most formidable fortresses in the Mediterranean basin.

The island then passed along to the Ottomans in the early 1700s. It became on of the final places that the Ottomans ran to during the Cretan revolt in the 1800s until the Turks finally left Crete all together.

Finally the island was converted into a leper colony from the early 1900s until as late as 1957 (one of the last in Europe). Today you can still see many of the structures that housed these inhabitants from stores to homes, churches, and municipal buildings.

It was by far the hottest day in Greece so far so after our island excursion we spent the remainder of the day by the pool. We then spent about two hours doing a driving photo tour of the coast and Agios Nikalous.

As a quick side note, we were walking down the street and one of the restaurant guys handed us their menu flyer. I noticed that it said they will pay for the taxi from your hotel to the restaurant for dinner. This is a GREAT deal if you are planning on eating dinner in Agios Nikalous before going out. The restaurant is called La Strada and their phone number is 28410-25841. The menu looked pretty good but alas we had the BF's famiy with us so for dinner, we ventured out to Zorbas in Elounda for fried cod, penne with salmon and an amazing minestrone soup.

The BF and I decided to give going out one last try so later that night we returned to
Agios Nikalous. It was totally lame. We spent some time at Puerto and even at the "touristy" Aquarius but there was just no one out. The most fun we had was playing "I'm Just Saying" over beers and a sparkling sundae. It was actually my Mom on this very trip that brought to my attention that the BF and I say "I'm just saying" so much that she and my Dad mock us behind our backs. I was willing to agree that I probably said it more than the average person but not that much! So we did what we do best and made a drinking game out of it. Anytime one of us said "I'm just saying" they had to take a large gulp of beer. Twenty minutes later my massive beer was empty and my BF's was half full. Okay, so maybe we say it more than we thought.

Regardless it was the only eventful thing that happened that night so we surrendered ourselves to some street pizza and a taxi ride home.

July 11, 2011

Today was short and sweet. We woke up late and packed up for our afternoon flight to Athens. On the drive to the airport we stopped in Malia for a quick lunch of gyros which were the best food I've had in Greece outside of the dinner in Oia. Seriously. That good.

The flight to Athens was easy and we walked across the street to the airport Sofitel. Our room looked like a cabin on a giant cruise liner with curved wood and cabinets. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, Mesoghaia, which turned out to be quite tasty! We had lamb knuckle, rice stirfry, pesto spinach ravioli and orange-flavored creme brulee. It was a satisfying end to the second leg of my European adventure.

In a quick glance back at my time in Greece, I would say that Athens exceeded my expectations, I fell in love with Santorini, and Crete I probably don't need to visit again. In terms of time I thought two full days in Athens was perfect. I could've done one more day in Santorini (four full days) and Crete, well, you need at least a week to take in the whole island. The people were so friendly especially the staff of the Aigialos Hotel. The Grande Bretagne was your average ritzy hotel which I liked well enough but the Blue Palace I need never visit again. The surest way to win me over is with good food of which the Blue Palace had ZERO. I will definitely return to this magical country where gorgeous sunsets, blazing blue water and good cheer are plenty.

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