For my birthday this year, really all I wanted to do was to get out of town. Get out. I said – months and months ago – that I really wanted to go to Greece, so when the time was closer we planned the trip… slightly out of order. First bought flights, then dreamed about how we were going to divvy up those 10 days (Crete, Santorini and Naxos), then booked accommodation.
If you are ever thinking about doing the same thing, there are a few things to be conscious of:
- Ferries between islands are fairly expensive, and have a fixed rate (dictated by the government), so you should really try to minimize the number of ferries you need.
- Really an extension of the above: try to fly open jaw (onto the first island you’ll stay at and then off the last island you’ll leave from).
Although we probably could have saved a few hundred pounds if we’d known this in advance, I still had the most incredible birthday escape.
We flew in first to Heraklion – a kind of run-down, port city which is also the capital of Crete. Not to say it’s not lively and welcoming – we actually really enjoyed ourselves there – but it’s not a destination.
We had two nights and one day to explore before our first ferry, so we got up early to take the bus to the Palace of Knossos at the start of the wine country.
Knossos isn’t far from Heraklion – 30 or 40 minutes on the bus (if that) – but the buses are infrequent so to make the best use of your time you’d be best to plan your trip around the bus schedule.
The Palace of Knossos is the old Minoan palace where, legend has it, the minotaur was kept in a labyrinth. There’s no actual evidence of a labyrinth, but the ruins are really intersting nonetheless. We started off waiting for an English tour of the ruins, but got impatient and walked the grounds on our own. If you do ever find yourself in this part of the world: be patient and wait for a guided tour. We would have gotten much more out of our visit with a little context, but instead blew through the guided reading in our Lonely Planet guide and probably barely scratched the surface.
After the Palace, we went to a little town called Skalani to seek out a Cretan restaurant that we’d read great things about: Elia & Diosmos. Really, wonderful food. And huge portions. You think because the mezzes are cheap that they’ll be small, but that’s not usually the case. The man we met there, who said he was Pakistani, was great. We had the most refreshing, cold, golden white wine – much sweeter than white wine I’ve had elsewhere, but common for the Cretan wine country. The bus back from Skalani is really infrequent, and we timed it poorly so we had hours to wait. To tide us over, he insisted on giving us a feast of grapes and wine.
Back in Heraklion, we meandered from snack bar to snack bar (whenever you order drinks, free, salty, bottomless snacks come with them) and found the town squares and hidden intersections absolutely heaving. The nightlife in Heraklion is both energetic and laid back at once – definitely a good start to the trip! The next morning, we took the ferry to Santorini… (next day!)
They’re huge jack pieces!