I wanted to see the countries around the Mediterranean and started with Crete as it had a climate which fringed on the North African as well as the Mediterranean type. I was not very interested with the modern resorts that had sprouted up there but wanted to get to know the culture and the people there particularly. So I planned my vacation during the non-season period when there are few tourists around. I took a plane to Athens and then onto Heraklion, also known as Iraklion or Candia, which is the capital city of the country, by a ferry from Athens. I wanted to make Heraklion my base as it was situated almost in the middle of the northern coast off the Sea of Crete which separates it from the Greek mainland in the north.
On reaching the bus stand near the market place I looked around for a place to stay which was neither too far from the bus stand nor was it too expensive. I left my backpack at the hotel and went out to find a simple place to have some food. I avoided going to the restaurants which catered to the tourists especially as I wanted a taste of the local food. I found out a tavern which served tasty food at a very reasonable price and after having it went for a stroll around the town.
As the city is built on a mountainside I was always literally going up some street or other. The food in my stomach got digested very quick as I went around trying to chat up the local people and finding about their way of life. As I climbed up the streets I suddenly came across an open place from where I could look down upon the harbour with its myriad of ferries and boats. It was a marvellous sight and I stood there for some time absorbing the wonderful view and after some time I decided to go down to my hotel as the day was coming to an end.
As night descended on the island the night life came alive with people flocking to the bars and restaurants for a drink or two. I chose one bar where there was a band playing local music, ordered a drink and settled down to enjoy the drink and the music. After a couple of drinks I had some food and decided to turn in for the night as I was feeling tired after walking up and down the streets.
The next day I got up early and took a bus to the ruins of the Venetian fort of Knossos which served also as the King’s palace who ruled the country at that time. There were taxis available also and I could get a car for rent but decided to take a bus instead to get a feel of the transport used by the Cretans. This fortress was one of the seven other Venetian fortresses that had been built by the Venetians to ward off attacks from other people especially the Turks. As I had chosen the later part of the year to spend my vacation on Crete the weather was not that hot at all. I spent the whole day roaming among the extensive ruins and the portions which had been renovated to attract the tourists. Minoan frescos which had been restored dotted the ruins and made my visit to the ruins worthwhile.
I rented a car to take me to Chania the next day and was delighted to see the Cretan country which is mostly mountainous. The drive took me through beautiful valleys with Cretan houses and the simple Cretan people were everywhere. Wherever I went I found them very simple and helpful always in guiding me on my jaunts. The Cretans are a proud people who are normally found dressed in black which is the traditional form of dressing. It seemed that they are continuously in mourning for some distant relative or other as all Cretans seemed to be members of one big family.
After leaving Heraklion and before I reached Rethymnon I came upon the Arkadiou Monastery. This monastery was built during the 5th century but became famous because of the Cretan resistance against the invading Turks in 1866. It is said that on 9th November of that year large groups of Cretan revolutionaries and refugees took shelter there from the Turkish troops. When they found themselves outnumbered they decided to blow themselves up with the gunpowder which had been stored there instead of surrendering to the Turkish troops. The monastery was rebuilt later and is a very good tourist spot.
After leaving the Arkadiou Monastery I came to Rethymnon. Though the city was not as famous as Heraklion it boasted of a Venetian fort which also was quite interesting to see. The town is a modern tourist spot with a mixture of modern buildings and old traditional houses.
I reached Chania at last which is a modern city located on the same northern coast of the island and is the main city in western Crete. The port of Chania is situated on the Souda Bay and you can get a taxi or a bus to take you to the centre of the city. I reached the centre of the city and after leaving the car there I went for an exploration trip towards the harbour on foot. I found that most of the hotels which the tourists mainly frequented were situated overlooking the harbour. The more nondescript ones were tucked into the side alleys. As I wandered about the streets I came across a small restaurant where I had some of the local cuisine. I found the food highly satisfying and quite cheap. I booked myself into a small hotel overlooking the harbour as night was falling. As the lights came on in the houses and hotels around the waterfront the night sprang into life with people coming out on the streets crowding into bars and having a good time generally with drinks and bands playing traditional Greek music though it was sometimes a bit too noisy for comfort.
The following morning I got up very early and went on tour to the beaches near the city which were quite long and completely deserted at some places. The beaches are located on the west side of the city and I took a short walk from one beach to another beach for savouring the sea breeze and the salty sea spray. After coming back from I had a quick lunch and took a bus to Omalos to see the Samarian Gorge. The walk through this gorge is all the way downhill to the beach for about 15 kilometres. Though I was a bit hesitant to attempt it I ultimately decided to do it as it was all the way down and I had plenty of time in hand. On my way down, I walked through scenic terrains, passed the village called Sammaria and reached the village called Agia Roumeli. Here I took some snacks and tea as I was feeling very hungry after the long trek and also needed a bit of rest before boarding a boat from Chora Sfakion. From Chora Sfakion I took a bus back to Chania.
I stayed the night in Chania and started for Heraklion early next morning. After stopping at Heraklion for the night for a quick lunch I pushed onto Sitia which is also situated on the northern coast of the country but on the eastern side. The olive groves which grew on the slopes of the mountains on the road between Agia Nikolaos and Sitia were the most picturesque ones I came across. The city had the same type of cafes and restaurants as the other Cretan towns though Sitia was comparatively smaller. The beach outside Sitia was famous because it seemed that whatever plastic was thrown into the sea around the island seemed to wash up at the beach.
I spent most of the time on the beach and the night in Sitia before returning to Heraklion. The next day and took a ferry to Athens and a flight back home with the images of Crete firmly ingrained in my mind.