In June 2017 Chas and I had the absolute joy of attending Kevin and Angeliki’s wedding inside and outside of Heraklion on the island of Crete, Greece. Not only are Chas’s friends from college among my favorite people on the planet, we had a reason to go to Greece. I had been to Athens for a weekend and a smattering of islands on a day trip in college. During that weekend, Mary and I stayed in a dicey red light district hostel and someone stole my wallet. That was not how it was supposed to be according to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (books and films). Kev and Liki’s wedding was a chance to right that.
Here’s that trip.
We flew into Heraklion using Jet2 which was a budget airline that flew there for reasonable prices. I can no longer find Jet2’s website which indicates to me that it may no longer exist. Kind of a bummer but there must be other ways to get to Crete. We flew through Reykjavik, Iceland then Manchester, England then onto Heraklion. Not a short journey but…
We stayed outside of Agia Pelagia which was about 30 minutes away from the airport, and extraordinarily fun to say aloud. We stayed in this villa which overlooked the Aegean Sea. The villa was huge (there were about a thousand of us) but I am sure there are smaller options with similar accommodations. A few groups we were with rented cars. That seemed to be maybe the best thing to do.
The Heraklion airport is kind of a mess but it’s fine. You can take a short cab into Heraklion or take a longer ride to one of the nearby villages. You can drive down to the town of Agia Pelagia and visit the beach and the town cats. There are plenty of grocery stores around down there to load up on everything you need up top, which frankly, is everything. The rental car places allow you to park in their lots while you are in the town–quite useful. We only went to the town once, because honestly, we were our own town within our villa, but it was a cute little place and then it was nice to go back up top and leave it behind.
There was also a bus to travel down to Heraklion from Agia Pelagia which I remember being reasonably priced and more like a charter bus situation than regular public bus. This was helpful for us because we were rolling so deep and cabs were long and pricey.
Goats scale the cliffs–you just have to look closely.
Heraklion is pretty cool. It has a European feel including all the drinking, eating, and grunginess. It’s actually a decently big city but the center of it is manageable on foot and the surrounding areas aren’t necessarily something one would want to visit (from what I saw). The harbor has a fort and some ancient sites. We didn’t see them because we spent so little time in Heraklion but they were a neat backdrop and I am certain, historically valuable, etc.
You cannot drink the water in Crete and we just didn’t drink it in any of the Greek islands out of caution. Big bottles are reasonably priced. I’d recommend just buying a 6 pack of 2 liters and carrying them around. Apparently, the tap water is safe for our systems but tastes salty because of their de-salination process. It also contains more minerals than we are accustomed to so it could bother a gringo tummy.
From the harbor in Heraklion, we took a two-night sail on a chartered boat with Greg, Beth, and a captain. It included all meals and really just cost as much as a “normal people” hotel would have. There are plenty of charter boat situations in the harbor in Heraklion. The idea is that you participate in the sailing. Our skipper Jiannis taught us different aspects of sailing and included us in the process. (Most were very gender specific and assumptive in terms of what a woman can/cannot do.) Jiannis also prepared our meals with foods he had brought on board. We had fresh fish, Greek salads, oregano from the island we visited, yogurt and fruit, and just beautiful Greek foods. Also wine.
We sailed into the Aegean Sea and around the island of Dia. Dia is covered in oregano plants and is completely uninhabited by humans. There are thousands of seagulls who are constantly making noise. Such a unique thing. It’s like a sensory bombardment in the middle of the sea where there are zero other people.
We stayed a night docked off the coast of Dia. This was a gorgeous experience in terms of stars, solitude, sounds. We walked around Dia during the day, went to the abandoned tavern, the church. We got to swim, relax on the boat. We spent the second night sleeping in the harbor in Heraklion. We were able to walk around Heraklion. The boat that night was really hot and I found it difficult to sleep. That said, I took 4 naps that day and I might have had a hard time sleeping because of that. I would think you could take a cruise like this from many of the islands and I would recommend it. These were among the most peaceful days of my life. It was cleansing, relaxing, and just really special.
This is essentially what we did but I can’t remember the company. The organizer was great and very responsive. His name is Nicos. Our skipper was Jiannis and we loved him.
We woke up the next morning in the harbor and took the ferry to Santorini. The ferry is within walking distance of the spot where we docked the boat. I was extremely impressed with the timeliness and reliability of the Greek ferries. Way to go, Greece!
The ferry between Heraklion and Santorini wasn’t cheap but it was very comfortable. If you have the choice I would take Hellenic Seaways. It’s the same price as the rest but it was much better than Blue Star. It was only a little over an hour.
Santorini is stupidly gorgeous immediately from the time you arrive. It is an island created by the remnants of a volcanic caldera. You can see this imprint, in a way, from above.
Do not take a cab or private bus company from the port. Walk a little to the left of the boat and grab the public bus. It’s really nice and about 2.50 euro. It will take you to the top and variety of towns. We stayed in Imerovigli. It was after Fera which was the main bus hub at the top. Weirdly, the port down low is also called Fera or sometimes Thera. This is confusing but they seem to have it under control.
If you stay in Imerovigli you take the bus to Fera and then transfer to a bus in Imerovigli. I would highly recommend Imerovigli. It’s absolutely gorgeous and well-positioned for the view, height, walkability to everything you want to see, visit, purchase on that side of the island, etc. We stayed in this stupidly fantastic Air BnB and loved it. It was one of those houses that’s been carved into the volcanic rock which helps with climate control. Our patio which lead out from our bright blue doors was next level. We didn’t eat out, just got the amazing provisions from the grocery store and sat on the patio where we could see the view of the volcanic harbor. From what we understood restaurants could be pretty expensive. We just loved the cheeses, breads, olives, and spreads so much that the grocery store was perfect for us.
There’s an urban “hike” from Imerovigli to Fera which you should do. You can see everything including the town. It’s touristy in most parts but so breathtaking. That night we went to Oia (pronounced Ia) to see the sunset. It’s crowded but it’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. I’d concur. You can take the bus to and from Oia to Imerovigli. It’s cheap too. I’d go a little early because from the bus stop there’s some confusing navigation to get to the top of Oia to see the sunset and a trillion tourists.
From Santorini, we took another Hellenic Seaways ferry to Naxos. This was a little longer—maybe 3 hours? Our hotel (Chas found it on Hostelworld) was ideal for us. It was the Korali Garden Hotel. The owner, George, picked us up for free from the port. He wouldn’t even accept a tip. It was really cheap per night (around 30 euro) but had everything we needed and George was like the best human. We had about a 1 km walk to the center of the town from Korali Garden. We ate that night at Maro which was awesome and so reasonable. Try the grilled octopus and moussaka. A liter of house wine in a metal pitcher is around 6 euro.
Also walk to the Temple of Apollo. We missed the main museum because it was closed already but heard it is cool. The center of town where the museum is located is remarkably confusing. But, if you’re not pressed for time, just wander it and get lost. It’s gorgeous. Also, gelato.
The next day, George called a rental car company for us and we rented a car for 30 euro for the day–this felt really reasonable. It was a stick so make sure you ask if you can’t drive stick. The car was perfectly shitty. We drove around the center, saw the Kouros which are massive ancient sculptures of human bodies, and walked some of the ancient paths. Chas really loved the marble mines which you can very clearly see. We took some marble with us as well–don’t tell customs.
We also visited to a town in the center of the island, called Apiranthos, and walked around during the day. I really liked this. I bought stamps at their “post office” which was just two old ladies in a living room who spoke no English. The streets which are entirely made of white marble are super confusing, but in a good way. We wandered the streets, got lost, it’s just a very different life and I think this was the perfect town in which to see that. There were goats and a raised cemetery and just an entire life that exists here in the very center of this Greek island.
After driving around the center, we drove to a few beaches and relaxed. You can have your pick of beaches. (The beach in Naxos Town is pretty lame, very shallow water and crowded so renting the car was a good idea if only to see the other beaches.) It’s really pretty small so you can drive the whole island in a day. Chas burned the soles of his feet on one beach. Beware!
Toplessness and total nudity are all over these less dense beaches. If you need an escape from the sun, be prepared to pay for an umbrella.
Naxos is an incredibly diverse island. They do have buses that take the same trips with similar stops that we made but it was great to have control with the car. One party-party-looking beach town where we had a drink was Agia Anna. It looked like a fun enough place to stay but maybe not for more than a night or two. Another one (can’t recall the name but it might have been Mikri Vigla) didn’t have much going on, but not in a good way, in my opinion. The beach was absolutely gorgeous but the surroundings in terms of amenities were a snooze, and not necessarily in a charming way. Just research your beaches first before choosing. The second night we ate at Kastro which was a neat place. The table was on a patio with an excellent view. The whole dorado was great, as was our lamb meal—some type of pot that they cook in the oven along with the food. I’d definitely recommend Kastro. This is also the night we visited the fish spa and did a 15 minute foot treatment—neat thing to do just once.
The next morning George took us for free again to the port. We had a ferry to Athens booked on Blue Star. Wifi costs and there are far less seats than Hellenic. Since it was a 5-hour ferry, you actually want some comfort. Upon arriving in Athens, there was immediate chaos.
You should know that I hate Athens and I know it’s not fair. We found our way to the subway and almost immediately, there was a guy trying to pickpocket. Keep your eyes peeled, for sure. We took one of their 3 subway lines to our hostel and wandered around until we found it. The Acropolis was closed because it was 108 degrees Fahrenheit. I was really glad I’d already been because it is an incredible historic site, but I was sad that Chas didn’t get to wander it. We had to settle for seeing the Acrop from a distance and spending our time in the air conditioned museum which is pretty impressive and was not there at all the first time I went. Budget some time for it for sure. It is also air conditioned AF which was a necessity considering the temperature outside.
We then met some friends for dinner which was fun and got the hell out of there in the morning. We flew from Athens to Brussels early the next day. We flew Aegean Air which surprisingly fed us. Their lines are a pain in the ass though so I’d recommend getting to the airport earlier than usual. They’re kind in the customer service sort of way but extremely inefficient.
I was pleasantly surprised by how “together” Greece was. The last time I went there I perceived it as a mess. And, from what you hear in the news, it seems like it’d be struggling in terms of timeliness, reliability, etc. I know they’re struggling financially. Anyway, aside from Athens being the worst place ever, everything was on time. Everyone was friendly and helpful. We walked away with an incredible impression of the islands. It seems like Greece knows that its tourism is its bread and butter and it’s got its head on straight. In addition, prices seemed reliable everywhere and I never felt duped. I’m happy for Greece! The ferries are a really incredible way of getting around–can’t say that enough.
Giasou – hello
Kalimera – good morning
Kalispera – good afternoon
And that’s the limit of my Greek!
This is Chas’s Google sheet that guided the more logistical parts of our trip. (It’s also a great example of differently our brains work.)
In sum, go to Greece.