Santorini Travel Tips:
Getting To Santorini
We came in by ferry from Herklion Crete on a Wednesday morning. We took the Sea Jet’s MegaJet, which had an open deck that I could stand out on when I was feeling motion sickness. The ride from Heraklion to Santorini’s port, Athinios, only took a few hours and was relatively smooth.
As a gateway to arguably the most beautiful island in the Cyclades, Athinios port is a disappointment. It really is just a handful of tavernas for travellers and a place to rent a car. Though the port has beautiful views of the sea and caldera and cliff sides, it’s not particularly striking, so my initial reaction when arriving in Santorini was: “Well, this is not so special.” I felt like my life’s dream of seeing the island was crushed.
We sought out the local buses right away to take us to the main city, Fira, and then another 30 minutes to Oia, the town at the Northern tip of the island where I had booked a villa for Matt and I. As we drove across the island things were starting to look up.
Oia, Santorini at Night
Tips for Getting There:
Check out ferry times on www.gtp.gr. The official times for summer aren’t posted until May or even June for some lines, but you won’t have trouble booking a ticket even a couple of days in advance for most ferries.
Greek ferries run on Greek time, i.e. they’re notoriously late.
From the port:
Ferries dock at the port of Athinios unlike cruise ships which dock in Fira.Your best bet is to take the local KTEL bus out of Athinios for less than 2 Euro because a cab will cost you an arm and a leg. Look for the green coach buses with a sign in the front that says “local bus” and pay for tickets on the bus. They run every 20 minutes or so during the day on the 25 minute route from Athinios to Fira.
All Roads Lead to Fira:
From Fira you can take a KTEL bus to virtually anywhere on the island. The bus system is pretty stellar in Santorini. It is cheap, reliable, and comfortable.
You can get fast and relatively cheap flights out of Athens throughout the Greek Isles with Olympic Airlines and Aegean Airlines. Aegean doesn’t have as many connecting flights with other major airlines as Olympic does, so be sure to check their website for trips and fares separately.
Where to Stay
Oia. Hands down, no other choice.
When we arrived I didn’t see anything that I was expecting to see. No cliff packed with white-washed house. No blue-domed Orthodox churches. No donkeys shitting all over the endless stairs to sea level. Nothing.
. . . until we got to Oia, which is the picture perfect idea of Santorini and incomparable in its charm. If you only have enough time to see one thing in Santorini, make it Oia. Walk through the alleys and don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path a bit, you can find some really great photo-ops this way.
We stayed in the studio room at Villa Kallisti, a shoebox-sized bedroom carved out of the pumice cliff in the traditional Santorini style. Matt thought that our little private cave with the grand views was the just coolest thing, and until the power went out and the A/C shut off in the unseasonably hot and humid 40*C weather I was inclined to agree.
I called the manager first thing in the morning to complain about the lack of hydro as well as the terrible mouldy smell that kept me awake all night long. She quickly moved us into the downstairs apartment/cave which was about three times the size of our shoebox and even had its own kitchen, a bonus on an island where dining out is pricey.
We used the kitchen in the apartment to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for ourselves. It was like fine dining on our own private terrace with the best view on the island.
Homemade Pasta Carbonara for our anniversary on the terrace at Villa Kallisti
View from the terrace at Villa Kallisti
- If you have to pick between Oia and Fira, stay in Oia. Unless you’re staying at a really nice resort.
- If you want to stay at Villa Kallisti know that it’s not a hotel. It doesn’t have a front desk or a concierge to help you if you need it. You can use the tourist information office in Oia as your concierge but if you need help with your stay you’ll need a cellphone with a sim card that works in Europe to contact the manager. Otherwise you can buy a phone card from the grocery store to use in the pay phones.
What to Do:
Once you’ve wandered and explored Oia you’ll be wondering what else there is to do in Santorini. Here are a few options:
Rent an ATV of Scooter
There are several places to rent ATV and scooters in the major towns on the island. It’s a great way for travellers to get around, to see the sights on their own time, and to avoid worrying about parking (you can park those things anywhere). The island is quite small so you could cover it at a leisurely pace in a day.
- keep in mind that the roads in Santorini are narrow, winding, and Greek drivers can be a little crazy. If none of these things scare you then renting an ATV or scooter isn’t such a bad idea. I mean, I saw parents with small children on them so they can’t be that dangerous, right?
Take a Winery Tour
Vineyards at Boutari Winery. The vines are woven into basket shapes so the grapes can grow on the ground and be protected from strong winds.
We fully intended to rent an ATV to tour the island and stop at the many wineries along our route. Once we realized that neither of us wanted to drink and drive an unenclosed vehicle in a foreign country on winding roads shared with risk-taking Greek motorists we nixed that plan.
Instead we opted for a trip to Boutari Winery which included transportation, a winery tour, and a tasting of 8 wines that left us more than a little drunk all for just 35 Euro. It was a pretty sweet deal.
Most of the wineries in Santorini are located in Megalachori in the central part of the island. The island only grows assyrtiko grapes, a white variety that is indigenous to the island and grows well in Santorini’s dry environment and lava soil.
Matt was brave enough to ask whether they ever want to try growing other grape varieties and he was met with a scoff and a “Why?? When we have these beeootifool assyrtiko grapes indeeegenoos to the island for THOUSANDS of years?” . . . so, um, yeah. They take the assyrtiko grapes seriously.
- Definitely save room to try the VinSanto, a delicious dessert wine.
- Ask at your hotel or visit the tourist information centre in Oia or Fira to book the Boutari tour.
- The tours begin at 4pm and last about 3 hours.
Hike between Fira and Oia
The main city: Fira, Santorini
Due to the fact that the weather was unseasonably hot and humid when we were in Santorini we opted to cut this 10km, 2-3 hour hike out of our itinerary. I’ve heard that it is beautiful and I don’t doubt it.
Matt and I only spent about an hour or so exploring Fira, which was plenty. It isn’t nearly as charming as Oia. I would have been content had we only seen the bus terminal.
- There is no shade on this hike so bring a hat, sunscreen, and water.
- Fira is nice, but not amazing, unless cruise tour groups crowding narrow streets lined with endless jewellery shops are your thing. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t miss it.
How lucky were we that the archaeological site of Akrotiri finally re-opened this spring after being closed for 7 years? The answer is incredibly.
Akrotiri is the site of the excavations of an ancient Minoan village that was buried by the Thera Eruption in the 1500s BCE. The town was buried under deep layers of volcanic ash which kept it perfectly preserved; you can see pottery, roads, and three storey buildings all in tact and 3500 years old. It’s incredible.
What you can’t see however is preserved bodies (the way you do in Pompeii) because the Minoans were actually able to flee their villages during the eruption. No one is quite sure where they went. Cool, right?
I loved this site particularly because documented effects of the Thera Eruption can be found worldwide (it was that big!) and it’s effects have even been linked to the plagues of Egypt from the Book of Exodus.
Another very cool thing about this excavation site is that, unlike most archaeological site, it is completely indoors. You can visit the site comfortably any time of the day.
What I didn’t like about Akrotiri was the lack of any sort of plaques describing what you were looking at. I didn’t have a tour book and a podcast to guide me so Matt and I had to glean information by standing within earshot of a tour group, much to the chagrin of the tour guide. I think having a tour guide would have taken this site from very cool to unquestionably epic. …but I’m a huge history nerd.
-Like everywhere else on Santorini you can get to Akrotiri by KTEL bus from Fira for a couple of Euro. The ride is about 25 minutes and buses come every 20 minutes.
- If you can, get a tour guide for this site. If not, then a tour book or at the very least some advanced knowledge about what the site is all about would be really helpful. Like I said, there is NOTHING that offers information on it at the site itself.
Go to the Beach
Santorini’s geography as a volcanic island means that it has several remarkable beaches. The most popular are Kamari Beach and Red Beach, but there are many others scattered along the coast.
Kamari Beach is located on the Eastern coast of the island (on the opposite side of the island as the caldera). It’s beautiful black sands make it very popular with beach goers so it is well serviced with bars and restaurants.
Red Beach is located on the Southern part of the island near Akrotiri. Like the name suggests it has red lava rock sands and it is surrounded by red cliffs. It is a beautiful place for a relaxing beach day.
- If you have a car/ATV/scooter then you can stop at any number of beaches along your route
- The popular beaches are easily accessed by KTEL bus from Fira
Swim in Amoudi Bay
Since we had our fair share of beaches in Loutro, Crete we decided to head down the 230 steps from Oia down to sea level where Amoudi Bay lies.
Amoudi Bay is a rocky shoreline made up of just a handful of seafood restaurants on the water with beautiful views of the caldera and the sunset.
When you come down the stairs from Oia head left through the patios of two restaurants. Disregard the signs to Stop! Go no further! and the giant boulders which betray the real dangers of rock slides in the area (disclaimer: you probably really should pay attention to these signs, but if you’re like me and all the other tourists then you won’t). You’ll have to scramble over the boulders and a path that has been destroyed by fallen rock until you get to a flat area where you can put down your towel and jump into the cool salty water.
Just watch out for sea urchins. Matt accidently kicked one on his way into the water and got the spikes embedded into his toes. After limping up the 230 steps back to Oia, we went to the medical clinic where the practitioner told us to just “put some olive oil on it” which was a comically stereotypical Greek answer that made me think maybe I should spray some windex on it too. The pharmacist set us straight though by telling us to wrap it in medical tape and put an anti-microbial on it so it wouldn’t get infected.
Ride a Donkey
Donkeys are available at the bottom of the steps at Amoudi Bay, below Oia, and the cruise port Skala below Fira to bring travellers and their luggage up the hundreds of steps to the top of the cliff side. It’s an alternative to walking the donkey-poop-covered steps or taking the funicular (in the case of Fira).
For some reason there were never any donkeys available when we needed to go up so we never got to ride one, although I don’t know if I would have if I had the chance. I can’t really tell you much about this aside from a lot of people do it.
What to Eat
Santorini is a bit on the pricey side when it comes to food so if you’re like me (read: cheap and love cooking) then having a kitchen in your hotel or apartment is a bonus. Aside from the obvious Greek Frappe coffee, here are a couple of other things you shouldn’t miss.
Fish and Seafood
Your on an island on the sea, it would be silly to miss out on the fresh seafood. If you’re in Oia head down to one of the restaurants down on Amoudi Bay where you can literally see coming from the sea and onto your plate.
We decided to dine on delicious seafood pasta and calamari at Dimitri’s (the second restaurant on the left as you come down the stairs from Oia) which is located in a former captain’s house. Our winery tour guide confirmed that our choice of Dimitri’s is the best on the bay.
Amoudi Bay also has the benefit of having excellent views of the sunset which is supposed to be remarkable. It was a nice sunset to be sure but I’ve seen a lot of nicer sunsets in my life (including one in Chania Crete)
- If you’re going to eat in Amoudi Bay it might be a good idea to make reservations. We were able to snag the only unreserved table at Dimitri’s when we went down there and that’s probably because tourism was down this summer.
Coconut Honey Cake
On the main road into Oia next to the grocery store there is a small bakery run by an old Greek woman who barely speaks English. It offers numerous delicious Greek desserts and Matt and I decided to pick this coconut honey cake for our anniversary dinner. It. was. amazing. If you like honey and you like coconut, you’ll be in heaven. I want to know how to recreate this one at home.6 Comments
After 3 great nights of beaches and hikes in Loutro, Matt and I set off for a quick stop in Heraklion, Crete’s largest city on the Northern coast.
I didn’t have much of an interest in staying in Heraklion. Aside from access to the ferry docks which would take us to our next destination, Santorini, all I wanted from Heraklion was to see the Minoan palace of Knossos.
So we actually stayed outside of Heraklion in Hotel Arolithos that was made to resemble a traditional Cretan village.
Aside from the fact that the buses to the bus stop in front of Arolithos were unreliable and that half of our cab drivers were unscrupulous, I was pretty happy with our hotel choice (it would have been much more convenient if we had a car though). Arolithos had a taverna, a stellar pool, and a few artisan shops on site.
What made it even more awesome were the views from our balcony of the olive groves scattered about the Cretan countryside, and the cool breezes that were a welcome relief from the heat we were feeling in Southern Crete.
On our one full day in Heraklion we started by heading over to Knossos. After waiting for a bus that never showed, we took the 30 euro cab ride to Knossos. Being first thing in the morning, the place was pretty busy with tour groups but not busy enough to drive me crazy.
If you’re not familiar with the history of ancient Mediterranean civilizations, then Knossos doesn’t mean much to you. It is a palace that was built almost 4000 years ago by the Minoan people who dominated the Greek Islands in the Bronze age. The conquesting Myceneans took over Knossos at some point before it mysteriously was abandoned . . . some say as a result of the effects of the massive volcano that obliterated Santorini.
There’s lots of mythology surrounding the palace which makes it particularly cool. Legend has it that Knossos was the site of the labyrinth where King Minos sent seven men and women to be eaten by his son the Minotaur.
I’ve always wanted to visit Knossos. I knew that a lot of it was reconstructed and a lot of assumptions were made on the part of archaeologist Arthur Evans when the site was excavated but I really didn’t realize the extent to which Evans’ visions differed from the original excavation. I actually started to get annoyed as we wandered through reading the placards throughout the site that basically told us things like:
“This is a bedroom, or so Evans assumed. It really could be anything; we don’t have a clue. Oh, and all those paintings in there have been moved from different parts of the palace. Evans felt like redecorating the place since it didn’t look much like the palaces he was used to seeing from Renaissance Europe.”
So in the end, Knossos bummed me out. I don’t mind archaelogical reconstructions but they have to be done right and based on known facts not assumptions.
We did have fun taking pictures there with the self-timer though.
Natural History Museum
After Knossos we headed into Heraklion and did a quick walking tour ofthe city. I wasn’t too impressed by the city while we were there– I preferred the charm of Chania– but looking back Heraklion is about a million times nicer than Athens (you’ll find out why in my Athens post . . . eventually). It has a nice waterfront with a beautiful view of the Cretan sea, it is relatively clean, and is alive with people yet not overly busy.
We decided to skip the popular Archaeological Museum since it’s undergoing renovations and the collections on display have been reduced. Instead we went to the Natural History Museum of Crete. It’s not a huge museum but we spent a good chunk of time there checking out the dioramas of European flora and fauna and the pretty impressive and informative temproary exhibition of dinosaurs of Patagonia. I actually felt bad for liking this museum more than Knossos.
We were a little tired of eating Cretan food by this point so we went to the pan-Asian restaurant Noodle Bar, which is like the Greek version of Spring Rolls, before heading back to Arolithos for some pool time.
The Ferry Ride Out
The next morning we waited impatiently for a cab to arrive to take us to the port. Our ferry for Santorini was leaving in 10 minutes and our cab was no where to be seen. We started to make contingency plans since we were most definitely going to miss the boat.
Lucky for us, when our cab driver finally arrived he happened to be driving a time machine because he practically turned back the clock and managed to get us to the ferry right before it lifted anchor. Phew! Best cabbie ever.
Stay tuned for our adventures in Santorini.6 Comments
Visiting Loutro, a small town on the southern coast of Crete accessed only by boat or foot, was the part of our Greek vacation that I would most want to do again . . . preferably, when the temperatures are less than 40*C.
I’m a huge fan of hiking and, luckily for me, Matt is too so we try to incorporate hiking into our vacations whenever we can (like we did in New Hampshire and Tobermory) and Loutro is the perfect place to stay for easy access to lots of gorgeous hiking trails unlike any I’d ever seen before.
Because of the heat and the complete lack of any shade anywhere, Matt and I didn’t hike quite as much as I would have liked (only about 2-4 hours a day) we actually spent most of our time on the beach. Now, I’m not much of a beach person but relaxing on the stone beaches on the Libyan Sea felt much more rewarding after a hot and sweaty hike so I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent reading and swimming.
Top Things to Do in Loutro Crete
Rent a Boat
Since Loutro can only be accessed by boat or foot, to get to the small towns or beaches in the area you have to hike or take a ferry. Renting a boat is a good alternative option for flexibility in visiting beaches in the area or just for seeing the beautiful Southern coast of Crete.
A boat rental for the day should cost under 100Euros (more info)
Hike the Aradena Gorge
I wanted to hike a gorge in Crete but I didn’t want to fight the crowds at Samaria. There were definitely no crowds here, we only encountered one goat farmer in the entire 2.5 hours. We had the entire hike to ourselves.
The Aradena Gorge is within hiking distance of Loutro and is worth the strenuous climb up to walk back down to sea level between towering walls of red stone. It is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done and nothing like I’ve ever seen. The hike ends at Marmara Beach, the most beautiful in the area (in my opinion). You can take the coastal trail back to Loutro from here.
How to Get There:
From Loutro find the trailhead just to the left of Sofia’s Mini Market. You will hike up past the Venetian Castle, as you approach the town of Phoenix don’t go into the town but stay right on the path toward Livaniana instead. When you reach Livaniana you will follow the blue spray-painted rocks pointing toward Marmara. This will take you down the lower half of the Aradena Gorge to Marmara Beach.
Alternately you can hike up to the village of Anapoli and then over to the village of Aradena and descend the entire gorge.
There is very little shade on this trail until you reach the Aradena Gorge.
The hike is very rocky and requires at least a pair of running shoes if not hiking shoes. I imagine it would be extremely slippery when wet.
We encountered a LOT of bees on this trail collecting pollen from the wildflowers.
Bring water. The only stop along the way is a small taverna in Livaniana.
Watch out for goats, especially if they’re kicking rocks down on you from the cliffsides.
Visit Marmara Beach
You can access Marmara Beach by boat but the hike between Loutro and Marmara Beach was one of my favourites. It seemed a little dangerous at times and I spent more time watching my footing than anything else. The path is narrow and is right on a cliffside that descends hundreds of metres down to the jagged rocks on the Libyan Sea. It was scary, but very, very cool!
Marmara Beach itself was awesome. It is a stone beach lined with lounge chairs and umbrellas that you can rent for 6 Euro on the crystal clear Libyan Sea. You can’t really tell from the land, but if you swim out you’ll find numerous marble caves on the left side of the beach cut out by the sea. You can swim in the caves and even find little passages between them! It was by far the best swimming experience in Crete.
The little taverna at Marmara shouldn’t be overlooked. The food is cooked fresh and is very tasty and is actually quite inexpensive considering they have a monopoly on food service at the beach. I wish we had eaten dinner there!
How to Get There:
Walking: You can do the Aradena Gorge hike which ends at Marmara beach or you can just take the coastal trail there and back. This route starts at the same trailhead to the left of Sofia’s Mini Market. Follow the yellow and black markers past Phoenix. The trail will take you right through tavernas in the small town of Likkos, and then continue along the footpath on the cliffside, ending at Marmara. ~1 hour.
By boat: A small boat leaves Loutro from the ferry dock to take visitors to Marmara beach at 11:00am. The boat picks up visitors at 5:00pm.
Don’t do the hike if it is raining or has recently rained.
Good shoes are a must.
Explore the Venetian Castle
I love how you can just climb the ruins of this old Venetian Castle like a goat. It’s just another of the many remnants of Crete’s Venetian past. It’s a quick hike to get up here so if you don’t have the endurance for one of the more challenging hikes in the area, then this one is a good one. Plus, it’s fun to hang out in an old castle!
The castle offers great views of Loutro, the sea, and the neighbouring towns.
How to Get There:
From Loutro take the trailhead just to the left of Sofia’s Mini Market. Hike up, east toward the Venetian castle.~10 minutes.
Visit Sweetwater Beach
I’ll be honest that this wasn’t my favourite beach, or hike for that matter. The hike felt safer and didn’t have the same excitment of the trail between Loutro and Marmara. The beach is similar to Marmara (stone beach, clear & refreshing water) but larger and slightly busier (so there must be something to it!). I included Sweetwater Beach here because of it’s popularity but I wish we would have gone back to Marmara!
How to Get There:
Walking: Catch the trailhead near Kostas Cafe taking the trail east along the cliffside, ending at Sweetwater. ~45 min.
By boat: A small boat leaves Loutro from the ferry dock to take visitors to Sweetwater beach at 11:00am. The boat picks up visitors at 4:30pm. Ask at the taverna to ensure the correct departure time.
Eat Fresh Seafood
I had the most delicious swordfish souvlaki at Pavlo’s. The fresh raw souvlakis were on display so you know you’re eating fish straight out of the sea. But if seafood isn’t your thing, you can find whole lambs roasting all day on a spit.
Try out one of the restaurants that displays the fresh fish so you know what you’re getting.
Hike UP the Samaria Gorge
I mentioned the Samaria Gorge in my last post about Chania. Click over for more details. Like I said, Matt and I skipped this hike because of the heat but it is really popular with tourists.
Most tourists hike down from Omalos but since, from Loutro, you’re closer to the sea level endpoint of Agia Roumeli you can spend the day hiking upward instead, getting a better workout, and avoiding some of the crowds.
How to Get There:
The logistics of this are a bit more difficult. You can take the 10:30AM ferry from Loutro to Agia Roumeli
but buses from Omalos, the end point of the hike, only run in the morning so you’d have to catch a cab back to Chora Sfakia and then the ferry to Loutro.
While Matt and I were in Greece I noticed that everyone was drinking some iced coffee beverage with a thick layer of what, from far away, looked like whipped cream on top. In spite of the fact that I hate whipped cream, I had to try one of these immediately because: 1) I like iced coffee. 2) I like to try new things. 3) I’m a lemming and do whatever everyone else is doing.
While practicing my Greek literacy on a menu at a beachside taverna, I deduced that the mystery drink was called a frappe since that was the only coffee beverage offered.
A Greek frappe is iced coffee with a layer of foam on top. It is made with instant coffee (a fact I learned later) and is usually served sweetened and sometimes with milk.
My mind was boggled, wondering aloud How do they DO this? to Matt every time I drank one which was, admittedly, pretty often.
Of course I had to replicate this beverage as soon as I got home. Turns out it’s extremely easy to make- just takes a little shaking. It’s made with instant coffee which turns into a foam when mixed with a bit of water and agitated.
How to make a Greek Frappe
1) Put 2 heaped teaspoons of instant coffee and 2 teaspoons of sugar (or to taste) in a 500mL jar.
2) Add 30mL (~1 oz) of cold water.
3) Cover the jar with a lid and shake vigorously until the water started to foam up.
It will look something like this.
4) Add ice and top the jar up with cold water. A splash of milk is optional. Drink with a straw on a Cretan beach.
2 tsp instant coffee
2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
500mL cold water
ice and a splash of milk for serving.
Put the coffee and sugar in a 500mL jar.
Add 30mL of the cold water.
Put a lid on the jar and shake vigorously until the water starts to creat a foam.
Add ice and top the jar up with the remaining cold water. A splash of milk is optional for serving.
We started our Grecian vacation in Crete, an island so large that it feels like a country all its own. With so much to discover on Crete I allotted half of our 2 weeks vacation to this island. The itinerary for Crete was 2 nights in Chania, 3 nights in Loutro, and 2 nights just outside Heraklion.
Crete has a beautiful rocky landscape with massive red stone gorges and mountains covered in thyme bushes and wildflowers where their amazing honey (seriously, the best I’ve ever had) comes from. It the foothills, huge olive groves grow and the island is surrounded by the turquoise blue Cretan and Libyan seas. It’s really like no place I had ever seen before.
On Renting A Car in Crete:
Many people will suggest you rent a car to explore Crete. This will help get you to where you want to go on a flexible schedule. If you’re not comfortable sharing winding roads with maniacal drivers the KTEL Buses are reliable and cheap and will take you all over the island. If you choose the public transit route then it might be a good idea to stay closer to town/city centres, since taxi drivers seem to determine their fares based on how well you can pronounce efcharisto (ie. thank you in Greek). We took the same cab ride to Heraklion three different times for three significantly different rates.
My thoughts on Chania:
Chania is a beautiful city. It’s old town area has really quaint winding alleys that are great for tourists to explore. Truthfully there isn’t a whole lot to do here. Even at a slow pace you can cover most of the attractions in city in a day. That said, it’s much much more charming than Heraklion and is worth staying here at least a night if you’re visiting Crete.
Top 5 Things To Do in Chania Crete
1) Get Lost in Old Town
Even with a map it is easy to become completely lost in the small, winding pedestrian streets of Old Town Chania. Squeeze your way through the narrow “streets” that are more like alleys and discover shops, restaurants, and churches that date back hundreds of years.
The old town has the feel of being in Venice, which is no surprise since it was established by the Venetians.
How to Get There:
Take a cab or the bus from Souda (the port for large ferry vessels) or the Chania airport. Buses run regularly.
If you can find it the Etz Hayyim Synagogue is worth a visit. Look for a small alley halfway up Kondylaki. The small Jewish community in this section of Chania were rounded up in 1944 and deported to concentration camps but the entire community perished when the ship taking them to mainland Europe was mistakenly sunken by an Allied torpedo. The Etz Hayyim synagogue was rebuilt in the 1990s after being placed on the 100 Most Endangered Monuments List due to the ransacking of the Ghetto after the deportation of the Jews.
2) The Lighthouse
The oldest lighthouse in Greece is located in Chania’s old harbour. Originally constructed by the Venetians in the sixteenth century, part of it collapsed and was rebuilt in the 1800s in an Islamic style by the Egyptians to whom the Turks ceded rule over Crete at the time.
How to Get There:
Walk east along the old harbour toward the breakwater. Climb the wall all the way out to the lighthouse for some great photos of the sea and the harbour.
3) Minoan Ship Replica
Located in one of the old arsenals that is part of the Nautical Museum of Crete, there is an exact replica of a Minoan ship (built with replica Minoan tools) that was actually rowed all the way to Athens for the 2004 Olympics.
How to Get There:
Walk to the the far end of the harbour, on the way to the breakwall and the lighthouse. Peek your head into the open arsenals – you’ll see the ship right away- or look for a small sign beside the entrance indicating “Nautical Museum”.
4) Eat at To Karnagio
One of our favourite meals in Greece was from this restaurant located in a “square” (actually it’s a parking lot). You can get a better view at many restaurants on the Old Harbour, but the traditional Cretan food here is fantastic. We had tender oven-roasted lamb, delicious octopus, and stuffed zucchini flowers which were the best thing I ate the whole trip!
The complimentary 4oz bottle of ice cold raki (Cretan moonshine) is a great way to finish off this delicious meal.
How to Get There:
There are multiple restaurants lining the old harbour walk past them all in the direction of the new harbour. To Karnagio is nestled in a square that serves as a parking lot, just past the old harbour.
Order the oven roasted lamb. It is tender and delicious. If stuffed zucchini flowers are available then get those too!
5) Hike the Samaria Gorge
Matt and I skipped this one in favour of hiking some loops near Loutro, but the Samaria Gorge is extremely popular with tourists.
The 16km, 6-hour descent from Omalos at 1250 meters to Agia Roumeli at sea level takes visitors through a narrow and steep-sided gorge that provides spectacular natural scenery. The hike can also be done in the reverse direction (ie. uphill) but the last 3km to Omalos are very strenuous.
How to Get There:
Buses run daily from Chania to Omalos (about 1h trip)
Hike down to Agia Roumeli and take the ferry from here to Chora Sfakion. A bus will take you back to Chania from Chora Sfakion.
Good running shoes or hiking boots are required.
If you’re going the more common all-downhill route from Omalos, it may be prudent to bring hiking poles if you have bad knees.
The entrance fee to Samaria Gorge National Park is €5.
The gorge is extremely popular with tourists in the summer. If you go, you may be fighting crowds.5 Comments
You probably haven’t even noticed, but I’ve been MIA for, oh, about 2 weeks or so now.
Matt and I have been gallivanting from Crete to Santorini to Athens. It was a pretty stellar vacation. I can’t wait to tell you more about it. . . once this jetlag subsides.4 Comments
On our honeymoon, Matt and I castled ourselves out with day trips from Paris to both Versailles and then 4 different chateaux in the Loire Valley. As for England, I’ve been to London once and only visited Windsor Castle but there were so many that I missed out on (and I’m not even looking at the ones in other parts of the UK!). Here are a few that I would hit up next time I find myself within their vicinity. (So, you know, in a looooong time)
Highclere Castle because it’s the site of the most amazing TV show in the world: Downton Abbey. Aside from being able to pretend that I`m Lady Crawley I would really want to come here just to tour the Estate.
The entire estate is 600 acres with three lakes on the grounds and 56 century old Lebanese cedars and of course the gorgeous Gothic revival castle itself. When the estate is open to the public during the summer you can take tours of the house and gardens and the Egyption exhibition on display there.
Bodium Castle is a picturebook example of a quadrangular moated castle from the Middle Ages. Even though Medieval castles can tend to be a bit boring because they have less of the opulence of Renaissance castles, I think this one would be a good one to see for its architecture. Plus you can get a good sense of castle life in the Middle Ages which was much harsher than it is made out to be in books and movies.
Can you even mention UK castles without talking about Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the monarchy with its famously photographed balcony for greeting crowds of people in both celebration and crisis? I guess you can, since it’s a Palace and not a castle, but let’s just go with it. If you go you can see the changing of the guard (which, if we’re being honest, is not as cool as the one on Parliament Hill in Ottawa) and tour the state rooms and gardens.
This summer, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee, the diamond diadem (or crown) that the Queen is shown wearing in Commonwealth stamps, bills, and coins is going to be on display at the palace.
Warwick Castle is cool because it’s a party castle. It was built by the infamous William the Conqueror in 1068 and was expanded over the centuries. Today there are tonnes of fun things to do there. They put on regular jousting matches, ghost tours, and there’s a haunted house in the castle dungeon. And you can see the world’s largest trebuchet. Okay, so the whole thing is kind of a hokey amusement park more than a historic castle and definitely for kids. . . no wonder I want to go!3 Comments
I’m really, really into planning dream vacations. I may have missed my calling as a Travel Agent. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about different vacation destinations that I would love to see sometime in my life so I figured I’d start to share some on the blog.
I was reading about Resort Ranches in Montana recently and was pretty impressed. Any destination that includes mountains, hiking, clean air, and wide open spaces is my kind of vacation. I love doing lots of different outdoor activities whenever I travel. I think these ranches were made for me.
Here’s a peak at what you can find at ranches in Montana.
The Ranch at Rock Creek is a high class all-inclusive resort ranch with several activities available like horseback riding, clay shooting, hiking, and mountain biking. You can even camp there, woops, I mean “glamp”, yeah that’s glamorous camping. They have canvas cabins with all the amenities of a 5 star hotel inside. Sound luxurious!
For the bargain basement rate of only $950 pp/night you get your meals, lodging, and all activities. I’ll be able to afford this once that lottery tickets pulls through.
Triple Creek Ranch is located in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. It’s also an all inclusive resort ranch with lots of activities like horseback riding, hiking, and guided nature tours of the moose, elk, big horn sheep, and other wildlife in the area. They also have various winter activities like skiing (alpine and xcountry) and snowshoeing available.
It’s not ‘glam’, but it is definitely quality accomodations and a little more reasonably priced at $1150 per couple/night including meals, lodging, and activities.
Or more realisitically, I could visit the Covered Wagon Ranch in the Gallatin National Forest for $955/3 nights. This ranch is for horseback riding primarily. The rate is inclusive of meals and lodging as well as your own horse for 3 days plus and riding lessons.
For an extra $40 per night you can take a guided Pack Trip. Load your horse up with all your camp equipment and travel on horseback throuogh mountain ridges, rivers, and meadows to a campsite under the stars in Big Sky country. That’s my kind of camping.1 Comment
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On Saturday, Matt and I went on our Date of the Month for April, a self-guided Downtown Detroit Walking Tour, focusing on the history and architecture of the downtown core, that I came across on the VisitDetroit.com website. It was supposed to be a podcast, but it wouldn’t download properly so instead I printed out the script and we read it as we went along.
Being from the area, I know a bit about Detroit’s history as a French fort founded at the beginning of the 18th century and the city’s role as the last stop in the underground railroad, but I haven’t spent much time wandering around the downtown area and I knew nothing about the architecture in the city.
One of my favourite parts of the tour was an arch sculpture called Transcending, located in Hart Plaza on the riverfront The sculpture included a path with quotes and bronze reliefs representing the landmark events in the history of the Labour Movement.
I also enjoyed getting a view of the Windsor skyline from Hart Plaza since I rarely get to see Windsor from the other side of the river. Unfortunately Detroit gets the shit end of the stick when it comes to skyline views since their skyline viewed from Windsor is much more pleasing to the eye than the reverse.
My favourite work of architecture, the best in my ignorant-about-architecture opinion, is the colourful art deco Guardian Building with its painted murals, intricate mosaics, stained glass, and varieties of marble.
The whole tour took us about 3 hours which was much longer than I expected.
Following our tour we drove up Woodward Ave to the Cass Corridor for dinner at the eclectic diner Traffic Jam and Snug on Canfield, but not before picking up a couple of very tart loaves of sourdough bread at the organic bakery Avalon just a block over on Willis. I am always drawn to scoping out a 3 things when I travel: churches, cemeteries, and bakeries.
If you go:
You can download several different walking tours from VisitDetroit.com
- The iconic Spirit of Detroit bronze statue
- Transcending, the art installation in Hart Plaza representing the Labor Movement with famous labour quotes and images representing workers’ and human rights.
- The Beaux-Arts Classicism of the Wayne County Building
- The opulent Siamese-Byzantine style interior of the Fox Theatre
- The Guardian Building‘s bright, multi-coloured Pewabic tile on the exterior and the gorgeous interior lobby featuring a mosaic of Michigan’s State Tree, the White Pine, back-lit stained glass, a Tiffany clock and a five story mural of Michigan.
- The tour took us into a very, very shady section of the downtown area to show us the birthplace of the first Ford automobile where we ran into some heavily inebriated individuals.
- We saw a person doing hard drugs in the middle of Grand Circus Park
- Downtown Detroit on a Saturday is a very lonely place when there are no sporting events going on. I see more pedestrians in my suburban neighbourhood. Tourists were even harder to spot though we managed to see one other couple posing for a photo-op with the Spirit of Detroit and what looked like a bicycle tour in Hart Plaza. That was it.
- In spite of the city’s efforts, there are still lots of abandoned, formerly beautiful buildings
- Campus Martius Park is Detroit’s point of origin and one of the best public squares in North America
- The city’s motto, established after the 1805 fire, is “We hope for better things. It will arise from the ashes.” which is still very applicable today
- Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time at Cobo Hall in Detroit.
- The Marriott at the Renaissance Centre is the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.
- The building at One Woodward Ave was designed by the same designer of the World Trade Centre and was inspiration for the twin towers
- With 13,000 theatre seats, the Detroit has the second largest Theatre District in the US
- Detroit was the original capitol of Michigan and the state’s first governor was only 22 years old
- Detroit is the only American city ever to have been occupied by a foreign power, the British, during a 13 month period of the War of 1812
Date of the Month Club
Check out other posts in the Date of the Month club, where Matt and I go on one special date every month of 2012:8 Comments
I talked about visiting Islands of Adventure when I was in Orlando for the marathon in January, for the impressive-but-overhyped Wizarding World of Harry Potter and they fun and under-hyped Seuss Landing.
While we were in Orlando we also visited the main park at Universal Studios (not as fun as Islands, if you have to pick between the two) and the classic Disney Park, Magic Kingdom.
We chose to save money on the hotel by staying off of Disney property and that was a good decision. Our hotel, the Radisson Lake Buena Vista, was on the Lynx Bus line with direct access to and from the airport as well as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.
We took the 111 Lynx Bus from our hotel and $2 and 20 minutes later we were at the Walt Disney World Transportation and Ticketing Centre. It’s the transportation hub for all of Disney World where you’ll catch the monorail or buses to all the Disney parks and hotels.
Hot Tip: Our hotel had a shuttle but it’s schedule didn’t always jive with our plans. There are a few hotels in Lake Buena Vista that are on Disney property but are not Disney resort hotels (like the Best Western or the Holiday Inn) that have a more regular shuttle schedule. These hotels are walking distance from the Radisson, so you can catch one of those and save yourself $2.
We skipped out on the souvenir shopping on Main Street and the carnival-type rides that we can do anywhere– like the Magic Carpets, Dumbo, and the Teacups– and limited our time to the good stuff.
Granted this is Disney World, not Cedar Point we’re talking about here, so the rides are very tame so that kids of any size can ride them. None of the attractions provide major thrills, but they are entertaining and they have the nostalgic effect of re-connecting you with your favourite characters again.
We didn’t hit up all the attractions, but here are the ones that we did.
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Main Street USA
When we arrived at the park there was a parade on Main Street USA with floats and load music and Disney characters waving to the crowds that lined the parade route which ended in front of Cinderella’s castle.
Local parades have got nothing on Disney; the Magic Kingdom parade is really quite impressive and they have 3 or 4 of them each day.
Pirates of the Caribbean
I liked this boat ride through the land of pirates. You can tell that it’s a newer ride and I think they did a good job with this one.
Swiss Family Treehouse
This is a walk-through replica of the treehouse that the Swiss Family Robinson lived in. It made me want to move into a treehouse on a desserted island. The treehouse wasn’t very busy so it was worth seeing, but I wouldn’t line up for it.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
We skipped Splash Mountain, to avoid getting wet, and got some fast passes for Big Thunder Mountain. It’s probably the most thrilling ride in Magic Kingdom.
Tina was most excited to go on dark and spooky this ride. I really liked this ride’s optical tricks. it was one of my favourite rides.
The obvious disappointment with this castle is that it’s just a passageway. I’m sure countless Cinderella lovers wish it were at least a walk through exhibit if not a Cinderella themed ride.
It’s a Small World
This might be the most famous ride and it is still as sickeningly cheerful and more than slightly creepy as you remember from when you were a kid.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
This is a newer ride so they’ve done a good job with making the waiting area for it full of fun stuff to see and play with. Also the characters and the animatronics were a lot better than the older rides in the park.
We went to this show by mistake thinking we were going into the Winnie the Pooh ride. I’m glad we did because if I knew it were a show I would have probably skipped it. It’s a 3D movie that features the best songs from all the best Disney movies. It was awesome and made me curious about visiting Hollywood Studios park (which is, as I understand it, mostly shows)
Peter Pan’s Flight
This ride is in desperate need of a face lift. I don’t think it has changed at all since the last time I was there in the ’80s.
Snow White’s Scary Adventures
This ride has definitely changed since I was last at Magic Kingdom. I was convinced that it was much scarier when I was a kid (and the witch actually scared me to tears), but I figured it was just because I was a kid. I just wiki’d the ride and apparently the ride was changed in ’94 to be less scary. I knew it!
They’re taking the ride out of the park when they open the new Fantasyland expansion in 2013.
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
This was an animated stand-up comedy show with monsters from Monsters, Inc. It was much funnier than I expected because there are live voice actors behind the scenes that pick on the audience!
Stitch’s Great Escape!
This is a show, not a ride. I found it boring and a waste of time.
Space Mountain broke down while we were in line so we missed out, unfortunately. I was excited for this one.
I wish it were actual go-karts and not carts on a track. I drove and I sucked at it. I came in last.
There’s not a lot of selection at Magic Kingdom. I was much more impressed by Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, foodwise. Basically you can get chicken sandwiches, burgers, pizza, soup, or salad.
I had soup for lunch and a pretzel for dinner. Nothing to impressive. Except that the noodles are shaped like Mickey Mouse.11 Comments
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