Read Part 1, my January to June recap here.
This epic month involved two and a half glorious weeks in Greece, which has been my dream vacation for so long.
We explored the labyrinthine streets of Chania, hiked the gorges of Loutro, visited the Minoan palace of Knossos in Heraklion, saw the blue domed churches and whitewashed buildings of Santorini and took in ancient Greek culture at the archaeological sites of Athens.
Matt and I had our 4th wedding anniversary.
I had my champagne birthday – 27 on the 27th.
And for my birthday Matt and I went to Chicago to experience the best new restaurant in the US, Next, and their Sicily menu– 13 courses including this roasted pork shoulder, the most delicious piece of meat I’ve ever eaten.
I was an extra in a movie.
I’m ready for my close up!
I was inspired by the summer Olympics to start incorporate Olympic Weightlifting (Cleans, Jerks, & Snatches) into my workouts and I’ve been loving them ever since.
And I started a plan to lose 6cm from my waist, which is still in progress right now, but may have stalled a bit over the Christmas holidays. I’m tracking my progress in the right sidebar.
I cooked up a big batch of my favourite soup ever: Fire Roasted Corn Chowder.
My ciabatta bread won second place at the sham show otherwise known as the Harrow Fair. The judges must have taste buds in their eyes since they managed to pick a winner without even tasting the bread.
I kicked off the long and boring football season by going to the Detroit Lions home opener at Ford Field with my dad, his girlfriend Silvia, and Matt. I admit it was an exciting game with the Lions scoring the winning touchdown in the last 10 seconds.
I captained a team in the Run for the Cure for the 7th consecutive year in honour of my mom who passed away from breast cancer in 2006.
I went Apple Picking.
I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K race in downtown Chicago with Vicki and Tina that culminated with a hot chocolate and fondue party in Grant Park.
I got a personal record on my deadlift with a 225lb lift.
I watched Matt coach his football team to their first ever division victory.
I baked these amazing Filipino date & walnut bars appropriately named Food for the Gods.
I did 14 straight days of Moksha Hot Yoga.
I switched up my weightlifting routine to build strength in 2013 with Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 programme.
I finished the year with yet another wonderful Holiday Season where I cooked a lot, got together with my family, watched my stunning cousin marry her perfect match, and ate fondue with friends.
Read Part 1, my January to June recap here.5 Comments
Yes, I’m still recapping my 2012.
It was a good year in that it wasn’t a bad year and sometimes that’s the best we can hope for, right?
You can read Part 2, July through December here.
I start 2012 off with a bang in January by accomplishing my biggest goal for the year: a marathon. I never thought that running a marathon would be so much fun, but Disney knows how to plan an epic event, that’s for sure.
In spite of having a terrible bout of runner’s trots (naturally) and stopping at every mile for photo ops with Disney characters, I managed to finish in 5:15. Not too shabby!
You can read all about it here.
Of course the marathon also meant travel to Orlando where my friend Tina and I hit up Magic Kingdom, and both Universal Studios parks. I finally got to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but it was Seuss Landing that really captured my heart.
In February I started learning to play the guitar somewhat spontaneously after years and years of wanting to do it. The hobby stuck with me and I pick up my guitar to practice nearly every day.
I also went to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago while on a trip to visit my sister Vicki.
I also wrote a post about a poll indicating that Black Women are Heavier and Happier with their Bodies than White Women which got a lot of attention.
“F.A.T. means fabulous and thick, full and tasty, fluffy and tender.” – Mo’nique
I celebrated Easter with my favourite Lebanese foods.
I made my own Homemade Fig Newtons. . . multiple times. And ate them all.
And I wrote about how “Athletic” is a stupid way to describe female body types; my favourite body image post this year.
I started more seriously swapping out my steady state, moderate intensity cardio exercise for more Interval Based Conditioning exercises like Terrible Twenties and Gut Busters and Sled Push Substitutes. Later I also started doing more tabata sprints as well.
Matt and I went on a date to Colasanti’s a greenhouse/petting zoo/amusement park/banquet facility hybrid. (I know, the concept really doesn’t make much sense unless you’re from Essex County).
And I made Homemade Clotted Cream for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which I thought was a disaster but it actually tasted really good. I consulted Joe Pastry who called it a success, so I stopped worrying about it and enjoyed my tasty butterfat.
Of course I had to make cream scones to go with it.
I went to the Freedom Fest – one of the biggest fireworks displays in the world – which is right on the Detroit River.
And I actually didn’t fuck up a batch of granola for once! I baked this dangerously good granola and didn’t even burn it.
Read Part 2, July through December here 4 Comments
My 2012 posts with the most pageviews were really versatile and included everything from body image to recipes to travel to weightlifting. I’m a veritable Martha Stewart.
Turns out that in 2012 people really liked when I wrote about naked women and baking soda. . . but not necessarily together.
The post where I talk about naked women and how I appreciate the changing room’s token nude.
The more effort we put into covering up our imperfections by hiding our bodies from other women then the less real, unaltered images of female bodies we are exposed to.
The post where I declare Alton Brown’s soft pretzel recipe the best ever and talk a little about baking soda chemistry.
The key to making soft pretzels with a chewy interior and a crispy, deep brown crust is an alkaline bath.
Chania is a beautiful city. It’s old town area has really quaint winding alleys that are great for tourists to explore.
The post with a recipe for a delicious coconut curry with vegetables and dumplings. I’ve made this recipe several times and it is really good! I’m glad it made the top 10.
Oil Down is the national dish of Grenada and is usually made at a big party on the beach, or so I’ve read. I made this in my kitchen, so it’s not quite as fun, but it still tastes awesome.
The post where I offer up a workout plan with 3 strength exercises followed by a circuit of 3 exercises. This wasn’t my favourite routine from 2012, (this Olympic Routine was) but it was pretty popular with readers
With a circuit workout I think I need to change it up more often to keep myself motivated and excited.
The post where I bake Irish Soda Bread. Again I find myself talking about the chemistry of baking soda. Apparently alkalis are popular with the readers.
Matt said that this was the best soda bread he’s had, even though he didn’t like it. And didn’t want to eat it. Not exactly a raving review, but I’ll take it I suppose.
The post where I make a framed collage of my marathon medal, bib, and pictures.
So after a very minimal time commitment and minimal cost I ended up with a sweet homemade collection of my marathon memories. Fun times.
The post where I eat pizza out of the garbage build a wood fired oven in my backyard out of garbage can and a pile of dirt. True story.
Matt called me at the office, to ask me a very important question after spending much of the morning with Zack digging up our crab grass infested lawn:
“Umm… I got a whole bunch of dirt here, you want to make a garbage can pizza oven?”
DO I EVER!
The post where I talk about nudity—again—and how much I like seeing Lena Dunham naked. Although I think most people came to this post looking for Lena Dunham porn.
Lena Dunham isn’t terribly fat. Her body is imperfect, so basically she looks completely normal, like most of the women I know, and not at all like the stereotypical ‘perfect’ Hollywood body that we’re exposed to.
The post where I talk about how ‘inspiring’ images of fit women can be damaging to our body positivity.
Fitspo images aren’t any better for our self esteem than glossy magazine images of dangerously thin models. They’re photoshopped. They’re not attainable. And, quite frankly, they’re not all that healthy either.
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.
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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