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The Odyssey (2): To Heraklion (Crete)
First, though, I'd like to bitch about the insanely massively long stupid queue at the check-in counter. I erroneously thought that the flight was 3.45, so we only left our nice little budget hotel in Athens sometime close to 1. The Metro ride from Omonia to the airport took over an hour, during which we both almost died, and reached the airport at 2-something. When I went to check the time of our flight and found that it was actually 3.25, I almost freaked. When we proceeded to the check-in counters and saw the never-ending queue, I freaked.
It was seriously long. The airlines was a Greek domestic airline and it was like EasyJet, with ONE counter (or one group of like, 3 counters) checking in ALL flights - which was insane. There were at least five lines of people queuing to check in, and we were at the very end, and we were supposed in board in like, twenty minutes?
So yes, it was quite shit. Along the way the airport staff at the counters shouted something to the passengers in Greek-accented English, which we totally didn't understand. This happened a few times. It was only until we got nearer to the counter that we realised that the staff was calling for passengers on board OUR FLIGHT to check in first, since it was about to take off.
Yeah we were quite freaked. We queued for at least 15 minutes, and if we hadn't realised that we could've got in front wayyyy earlier, we probably would've missed our flight. And that would have REALLY SUCKED.
One other thing that really sucked was this little hilarious-on-hindsight brickbat we encountered at the boarding area's security check. They required us to remove all accessories and sweaters and basically strip ourselves bare of everything except our clothes before stepping through the metal detectors. In front of us was this old ang moh/Greek/don't know man, who took off like ten million pieces of accessories. He had a watch, a pair of shades, his handphone, necklaces, a bunch of stuff. All well and good, right?
After he stepped through the detectors and his stuff passed through the x-ray whatever thingy without a problem, he proceeded to hold up the whole fucking queue (which was really really long) by standing at the x-ray machine, the tray containing his stuff still on the moving cloth bit (I really don't know what these things are called), and putting his stuff back on - one by freaking one. His necklaces, his watch, his fat, his freaking JACKET, his sunglasses. And the best part? The airport staff merely paused the machine so that his tray wouldn't roll off the film or whatever, and the whole freaking airport waited for this old man to put on his junk.
Okay, so he was an old man, but he wasn't really super old, and I get that we should respect our elderly...but the airport staff could've told him nicely to step aside and collect his things instead of holding up the entire queue! It didn't help that I was carrying this bag full of heavy-shit souvenirs and my arm was dying, and it was a new bag and I didn't want to put it on the floor too much (I'm anal about not dirtying my bags so I tend not to put my bag on the floor), so I was holding the stupid thing, watching in disbelief as the old man took two years to put his things back on.
Grahhhh. One major difference between Greece and the other cities I visited - hell, between Greece and SINGAPORE - is that the Greeks seem to be very relaxed about things (that is, sans the Syntagma woman, whom I called Stumpy Woman in my Athens post). To put it colloquially, they are damn slack and damn nua. It was even more apparent in Crete where I genuinely wondered what these people did with their lives. It's definitely a good thing for a holiday; the pace in Greece, even in Athens, is noticeably slower than London, Paris, Singapore, Taipei. People there don't seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere and they take their time with things, so Greece is a great place to go for a relaxing, stress-free holiday.
But if I were to live there? I'd freaking die. The nasty air aside, I'd take their slowness as inefficiency, and the country would soon lose its charm. There's also the problem of language: although Greeks can speak English, more often than not their command of English is rudimentary at best. Take the Syntagma woman for example. If she'd spoken better English, we probably would've understood her sooner. (She still would've pissed the shit out of me though, with that shit attitude of hers.)
Having said all that though, Greece is really quite an ideal holiday destination. The very, very first thing that Mag and I both noticed when we arrived in Crete was the unbelievably blue sea. It was such a deep, rich shade of dark blue that it looked so unreal. I'd never, EVER seen anything like that before in my life (pictures don't count, of course). I don't even remember the Australian waters to be of such a rich blue; the only thing I remember, besides the cute surfers, is that the sand in Australia is very, very fine. But the waters in Greece? So beautiful that it literally took my breath away.
Our first sight of Crete was the blue, blue sea, and it got us really excited. Initially we wanted to hit the beach ASAP, and I even changed into my swim suit at the hotel (which we got to via taxi, our first and only cab ride in Europe. It was ten euros which seemed okay until the stupid lazy cab driver dropped us in at the side of the main road, in the middle of the lane, and told us that the hotel was inside a cluster of low-rise buildings across the road. THANKS VERY MUCH. He didn't even pull over to the side; he just stopped in the middle of the lane. Amazing. Lugging my heavy bags - one trolley bag and one hand-carry, both of which were damn heavy - to the hotel was not fun at all), until we realised it was approaching six and we wouldn't have much time at the beach.
Ergo, we settled for walking around the city centre called Lion Square, where our hotel was located.
This area seemed to be the heart of the city centre.
The building on the right - it looked like a church. Inside was a small art gallery. Notice the colour of the sky - this picture is not Photoshopped (save for the resizing of the image and the 2pixel border that I added). That's how blue the sky is in Greece. Beautiful, isn't it?
Some photographs on display in the gallery.
The obligatory Zara shot. Heraklion is actually very super commercialised and full of tourists, and Zara is EVERYWHERE in Europe.
I was - gasp - wearing flip-flops because I thought we were going to the beach. I NEVER wear flip-flops, ever. I don't even own a pair. (I threw away the pair in the picture on my last day in London. It was excess baggage to me. I bought it at a random stall in Portobello Market, Notting Hill, London, for like, 1.50 pounds or something, because I realised I needed slippers in the hostel room and subsequently, in our hotel rooms. Because we weren't staying in 4-star hotels that provided bath slippers.)
More of the city centre. We identified the place by that thing extending into the air.
Approaching sunset. What hit me immediately was how the sky was made of four different colours, at least. It's most obvious in this picture, but no pictures - at least not mine - can ever capture how beautiful it was.
We had dinner at a random restaurant and I ordered grilled salmon. I specifically asked the waitress if the slap of salmon had bones and she said no, so I happily ordered it. Imagine my horror when I dug into the fish and discovered BONES. See what I mean about rudimentary English? ARGHH. If it'd been Singapore, I would've sent the damn thing back. But since it was Greece, and they didn't really speak fantastic English, I just grinned and beared it and ate really slowly.
One thing I noticed about Greece - more in Crete than Athens - is that EVERY SINGLE FUCKING PERSON SMOKED. Unlike England/Britain/UK that has a non-smoking policy in pubs and restaurants, in Greece (and Paris), nobody gives a shit. It would've been nice to have dinner outdoors against the sun set, but everyone was smoking, so we sat indoors. Ten seconds later some guy sat down at the bar, which was in front of our table, and started smoking. Basically don't bother looking for smoke-free dining spots in Greece; no matter what, you'll have to bear with the annoying second-hand smoke.
We spent the rest of the night walking around, and we stopped at a gelato stand and had some gelato. I chose the flavour I wanted in the Athens restaurant, Kinder. It was pretty good. At the counter we stood beside two Asian men and started talking to them. It turned out they were from Burma! So exciting, oh my god. I'd never met anyone from Burma before! (I think?)
Back at the hotel, Mag took unglam photos of me lying on the bed with my bangs parted in the centre. In fact, she took so many unglam photos of me during the whole trip that if I were to upload them onto Facebook (which I won't, ever), they'd fill up one entire album. Thanks a lot!
On to Day 2: We had breakfast at this healthy Greek food place we saw the day before while walking around the city centre.
Mag really liked her sandwich. I didn't really like mine. The bread was really good, but it had olive paste. And I hate olives. We first encountered the olive paste in the restaurant where we had lunch on Day 2 in Athens and I thought it was kind of gross. Imagine my disgust when I found my sandwich choked with the stuff!
The waitress at the restaurant was really nice though. My latte came with whipped cream, and when I saw it the horror was quite evident on my face. She caught my expression and started laughing at me!
We sat outside originally until some guy sat next to us and started smoking, so we moved inside. 15 minutes later this group of women came in, sat next to us, and started smoking. Like I said, don't even bother. Just grin and bear it.
Also, one thing about Greek coffee: It pretty much sucks. I take my lattes without sugar, so my bitterness tolerance is quite high. But I found the coffee in Greece to be so bitter that it was repulsive. The latte I had that morning wasn't too bad, but the iced Greek coffee I had in Lunch Restaurant on Day 2 in Athens was really, really bitter. The iced cappucino I had in the cafe with the nice manager, also on Day 2 Athens, was really bitter as well. But I just cannot take coffee with sugar, much less SUGAR SYRUP (I've grown really sensitive to the taste. I don't know why), so reducing the bitterness and the acidity was quite out of the question. Oh well.
After breakfast, we took the bus to Knossos, which contains the ruins of the Minoan people. I'd never really heard of this civilisation prior to the trip, but I have a weird thing for ruins, and there was really nothing else to see around Heraklion, so we decided to check it out.
It was um. Let's just say that it really defined and underscored the meaning of the word 'ruins'. In fact, calling the site 'ruins' is probably an understatement. There was nothing much left there except a couple of fragments of palaces still (miraculously) intact, and everything else was stones and rocks and sand. Seriously. I was half-expecting to see something like the ruins in Athens so I was completely unprepared for the sprawling expanses of rocks and stones that awaited me.
To be fair, there were also small little ruins amidst the bigger archaeological sites in Athens that were pretty much rocks and stones and nothing else but a sign telling you that it used to be a Roman bath or whatever bath. But there were still other things to see in Athens, like the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, and of course the Parthenon. There was not much to see in Knossos, and it was really just for a quick look-see, to say that you'd seen it.
There were guides at the entrances offering guided tours for like 10 euros, which we didn't want to pay. We probably wouldn't have listened to the guide anyway; when we went on that free walking tour in Paris, we ended up camwhoring and taking pictures by ourselves and not listening to what the guide said. So yep, 10 euros saved!
I didn't freaking bring my matric card to Europe with me though, so I had to pay the entrance fee. HOW SHITTY.
The bus to Knossos.
Inside Knossos. See the rocks and stones behind me? That was pretty much what we looked at in Knossos.
The crumbling remains of some ancient palace. (I think the Minoans lived in the 1200s.) Very nice terrains in the background though. That, if anything, was quite worth seeing.
Small collage of stuff.
Some wall art. I don't even know what it's about.
(Clockwise) Some weird horn structure; the remains of an entrance to somewhere, maybe; more remains; dandelion (I think?) we saw on our way out; ruins ruins ruins; I don't even know what that hole was. Mag do you know?
It was really hot that day, and there was really not much to see, so we left after about an hour and a half or so, or less, I don't know. We had lunch - or rather, I had lunch 'cause I was really hungry - at one of the tourist-oriented restaurants opposite the site. I ordered some fish and it was nice! Traditional Greek food, being very meaty, isn't Yelen-friendly, so that was quite a bummer.
Mag and I both ordered iced coffee, but mine was a latte (I think?) and it came with a scoop of ice-cream, which freaked me out. Thankfully Mag didn't like her coffee at all because it was really bitter, so we swapped. I liked mine, of course, and it'd been forever since I last had coffee with ice-cream, but I was quite okay with swapping 'cause the guilt, oh the guilt, would've killed me!
We went back to our hotel to get our beach gear, and along the way, we saw this:
Same graffiti in two different places! I wonder what it was.
The area we stayed in. Pretty quaint.
There was a grand total of one bus to the beach. We reached the bus stop in time to see the bus pulling away from the stop. Great. We proceeded to wait.
I SWEAR, the damn bus took ONE WHOLE HOUR to arrive. Maybe it was just the bus to the beach, 'cause during the hour we saw a few buses coming quite regularly. But still! It was ONE. HOUR. Imagine if we'd gone on the first day. We might have reached the beach at eight! What would we have seen then?
Also, on the bus, a group of teenaged boys got on at some stop and sat behind us, and proceeded to irritate. They sprouted Japanese phrases like 'ohaiyo', talked about some Japanese anime, and it's great that these Greek boys liked the Japanese culture - but what the fuck, I didn't give a shit, we're not Japanese, thanks. I think at one point they started sprouting Chinese phrases.
It was simultaneously annoying and hilarious. They were kind of endearingly obnoxious. They were kids so it was harmless, but it was a group of like, six of them, and the bus got really noisy. Thankfully they got off the bus before we did so we had SOME beach and quiet for a while.
And finally, we reached the beach!!1!11!one!1!one!
There was a mountain in the distance!!!!
Deck chairs that you can use - for a price. (2 euros, was it? Can't remember. Anyway, Mag was the one that paid.) The sea, varying shades of blue, growing richer and deeper the further you went. AMAZING.
(A very small selection of) My beach shots!
(A very very VERY small selection of) Mag's beach shots! I really like hers, 'cause the pink of her top matches the blue of the sea really well. SO PRETTY!
Us! We were self-taking helplessly, until a very nice girl came over and offered her help.
We spent about...two, three hours there. It was utter perfection. The sun was out - the sun seems to be always out in Greece - and the beach was not very crowded, if at all, and the water was clear and clean. No ships in the distance, no flattened cans and plastic bags floating around, and that intense deep blue. And the rich blue of the sky. And the occasional plane languidly flying by.
Utter. Perfection. I could stay there all day long and not do a thing and life would be perfect. It was the most relaxed I felt on the trip, and in quite a long time. I literally thought about nothing but the moment and how I was going to cherish it for life. And I do, because I remember those few hours as if they just happened yesterday. It was really amazing.
The water was surprisingly cold though, and after a while I actually felt cold. Mag spent her time lounging on the deck chair, tanning her back, listening to her iPod, sleeping, and camwhoring. I'll just leave the camwhoring part at that.
The Greek guy who manned those deck chairs was like, super amazingly hot. There were two guys actually, both of whom were hot, but the one that collected money for the chairs for Mag was hotter. After I was done splashing around in the sea, I wanted a shower room or whatever so that I could wash off the dirt and dry myself and change into proper clothes, so I went to ask Hot Deck Chairs Guy if there was a toilet with a shower. I expected there to be since, you know, Sentosa has them, but...it was Greece. They are damn slack. All around me I saw restaurants and restaurants, but not a single toilet. (There were toilets in restaurants, one of which I used halfway through when I needed to pee really bad - and no I couldn't have peed in the sea - and they let me in through the back door after I hesitated to go in by the front because I was all sandy.) And since it was Greece, Hot Deck Chairs Guy didn't speak very good English. I asked if there was a place where I could shower and he pointed me to the lone shower head, completely uncovered, between the beach and the restaurants.
Oh well. I made do and tolerated the wet shorts. I looked like I peed my pants which was quite gross but oh well.
We had dinner at the restaurant whose toilet I borrowed. I ordered fried cheese which was yummmm but so oily. Mag ordered steak burger without the burger HAHAHA. Quite funny.
We wanted to bus back, but the bus stop was completely deserted. We waited for like, ten minutes, didn't see no buses, and when a cab careened towards us (and I mean, CAREENED), we flagged it down and got back to Heraklion for 10 euros.
Then we went to the airport where we boarded our plane to Manchester.
All in all, two days in Crete was, again, too short. It's quite a huge island and it has another capital or whatever, which I only found out when I read the Lonely Planet pages on Crete that I photocopied out of boredom on the plane to Manchester. Amazing, right? Next time, I really ought to do some real research. Heraklion is the more modernised of the two and if we had the time, we could have gone around the island more.
Still, I've no complaints. We saw Knossos (and will never see it again), we bathed in Aegean waters, it was amazing. Amazing amazing amazing. Mag and I both loved Greece and for good reason - it's a beautiful country with beautiful landscapes and beautiful natural resources and beautiful historical remains. It's definitely a place that I'd go back to (yes, I'd climb up the Acropolis again, and no, there's no way I'd go up 400 steps to the top of the Notre Dame ever again) because it's so rich in culture and beauty. I loved every moment of Greece.