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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 20 Nov 2007

Location: CRETE, Greece

MapAfter Florence, Rimini was a complete let down. It was like Blackpool out of season, everything was shut. The town itself has a roman bridge, roman gate and a fort as its attractions and the shops sell designer shoes and clothes and there are numerous cafes. We were unable to find a restaurant so we ate in the hotel, the meal was not bad considering. The beach area was different from anything I have ever seen, the area adjacent to the road is blocked off by businesses offering food, changing facilities and games areas, beyond these compounds the beach is sectioned off right out to within 20 metres of the high tide mark. These are private beaches, our hotel had one, where you pay to use the beach and pay for the chairs and unbrellas. Postcards of the summer season show row upon row of deck chairs. Where jo public goes , who knows?

The journey from Rimini to Bari was a six hour marathon and we were surprised that the whole Aegean coastline was similar to Rimini. The rail line ran straight down the coast and if it was not apartments, it was holiday camps or beach.

Once in Bari we managed to negoiate the bus service down to the docks where a ship awaited us. Unfortunately it was a cruise liner, our smaller version was tucked around the corner. The ferry crossing is a 16 hour trip with a stop at dawn to let some trucks off. We elected for airline seats rather than a cabin and thank goodness the baot was empty. The seats were in a box with no windows, the lights did not switch off and there were about 50 seats, fortunately there were only 7 people for the trip. Sleep was fitful at best as the seats were a very poor cousin to your average airline seat. There was no entertainment in this section. Fortunately we shared the trip with an australian couple from the Murray River and we enjoyed there company. They are doing europe in 6 weeks by europass and are hell bent on seeing as much as posssible. The rest of the boat was very comfortable and the food and service very good and reasonably priced.

Whilst boarding the ferry we had to walkacross the lorry loading area in the dark, two very suspicious characters were also wandering around in the dark trying to get on the ferry, apparently without tickets! Then while we waited for the bus at Patras, the armed police arrived accompanied by a scuffy indivdual in handcuffs, obviously the illegal trade is flourishing.

Another surprise was the distance from Patras to Athens, 4 hours in either a train or bus. We thought it was about 50 km but its nearly 230km. Once in Athens we had to find the hotel, on the net it was shown as being close to the centre and airport, actually one hour by tram from the city! In all our travels this year this hotel would have to rank close to the worst we have stayed in. As we arrrived there were two drunken yanks in the reception playing some of their favourite music full blast, one apologised and then just carried on! The receptionist then gave us the best room(his words) as honoured guests, the main feature of the room was the washing machine full of dirty clothes, the outlet was stuck down the toilet bowl and the water supply was plumbed into the cistern and this was the best room! When we returned from dinner, which was very good, the yanks were even drunker and music louder and the owner appeared dressed as the local slob. As we were looking for a hotel for later in the week, these occurences did not put this establishment at the top of the list.

We flew to Crete and as we had no idea where the apartment was so caught a taxi. as we drove up this side street, dogs and rubbish everywhere our hopes fell, then we turned past a sports club with two soccer fields to see our apartment. A pristene concrete apartment block surrounded by over grown weeds, unsealed drive and pool seats and umbrellas lying everywhere. The view was quite good though!

We had decided to use local transport on this trip for a chnage, 'Cars for rent' is greek for no public transport! no that is not fair, there is a system and once you have figured it out it works well. Basically there are no signs on the bus stops to indicate which buses run where nor any timetables to be seen. Tickets can be bought from the driver though he is usually grumpy and they cost more, tickets should be bought from little kiosks or book shops dotted all over town and one ticket fits all. On entering the bus the ticket must be validated, ie date stamped to prevent reuse. We forgot on the bus to the airport in Athens and thought we were going to be fined 60 times the price of the tickets, about 420 euros. The inspector made us wait ten minutes before letting us off!

For the three days on Crete we took it reasonably quietly, visited Knossos on day 1, Xania on day 2 and moped around Iraklion on the third day.

Knossos was very interesting, the palace has been partially rebuilt but most of the remains date back to 1900BC and like Pompeii, the best pieces have been removed for safe keeping. The difference here was that where they have carried out restoration they have used different materials or have painted the particular items clearly showing the changes. In Pompeii it was difficult to differentiate between old and new.

Xania is a small town about three hours to the west of Iraklion and we had a very pleasant day there walking around the historical parts and having a decent greek lunch which was not tourist generated.

Our aim on the last day in Iraklion was to see the sites, of which there are few, and to have a long lunch, greek style. We had earlier earmarked a couple of restaurants that were off the beaten track and the only danger was them not being open on a Sunday. Fortunately one was open, full of locals and we had a wonderful lunch of salad, stuffed cabbage leaves, chicken kebabs (can't remember greek name) and local wine. At the end of the meal, the waiter filled our glasses again, and produced the local dessert together with some Raki (local firewater) and then we tottered back to the apartment.

The gravest danger we have been in to date is from the traffic on Crete. The scooters and motorbikes pay no attention to the traffic rules and pedestrians are in mortal danger at all times. These characters ride on the wrong side of the road, the wrong way up one way streets, along the pavements, through red lights etc. We were nearly taken out by one on a crossing after the cars had stopped to let us cross and he overtook the car!. Pedestrian crossings appear to have no meaning in Greece, they are ignored by everyone, even at traffic lights, the rule is stay where you are until all the traffic has stopped even if the little green man is flashing!

Car drivers are only marginally better, when you need to go into a shop etc and there is nowhere to park, put on the hazard lights and leave the car in the middle of the road and go about your business. The funny part of it is the following drivers get really irate and words and gestures are generally exchanged and then the aggrieved driver promptly pulls the same trick further down the road.

We are now back in Athens, the traffic is no different, the place is a mad house but there is lots to see.