An unplanned holiday...
We like to holiday in September. July and August are for families with children. So in September of 2006 we decided to go to Holland for three weeks and find a last minute vacation from a local travel agent. We stayed at our usual Dutch haunt, my brother's house in Utrecht. The following day we walked to the travel agent a asked for a last minute trip to anywhere in the EU. The lady seeing to us showed an interesting place in Sicily, and we agreed it would be nice, so she went to book it for us. Just then the deal was gone, someone else had snapped it up, back to the drawing board. Then a two week stay on the island of Crete showed up and we jumped on it. We were booked into the Mare hotel in Aghios Nikolaos, Crete. Departing two days later from Amsterdam at the un-godly hour of 6:00 AM. We booked a taxi to drive us to the airport.
|The Mare Hotel is the building with the light yellow colour|
|The beach across the street|
|Our little balcony, perfect for afternoon street life watching...|
I was surprised at the time it took to fly from Amsterdam to Crete. Living in Canada, where distances are staggering, I figured we would be in Crete much sooner. The EU is bigger than you think. The flight was over four hours with a stop at Santorini, with its micro airport. Due to circumstances beyond our control Shelagh and I ended up in different rows on the plane, but she got a nice window seat. As we were descending for our landing on Santorini she noticed the tiny airstrip just as the pilot announced that we should brace ourselves for a landing with full reverse thrusters and hard braking, he was not kidding. A little later we took off from this little airstrip, they taxi to the end if the runway, turn the plane around, apply the brakes, push to full throttle and let the brakes off, catapulting the plane forward like a ride at the summer fair. Not much later we arrived at the airport in Heraklion, Crete. We were greeted by a holiday travel representative who ushered us to our waiting taxi. Another couple joined us since their hotel was along the way in Malia. Their hotel looked very posh, but a bit quiet, a good place to just relax and let the Mediterranean sun do its thing. We continued on to Aghios Nikolaos. Entering the city felt great, a lot of hustle and bustle, little restaurants, party clubs and bars. Just the way we like it. We knew right away that we were in the right place.
Once at the hotel we went to check in but found no one at the counter, just a sign saying that the counter would re-open at 3:00 PM. Shelagh checked her watch and said, "It's noon, what will we do for three hours!?" Just then a couple entered the lobby, "New arrivals?" I nodded and pointed at the sign, "No problem" he said and hollered up the stairs for Maria. Maria came down and checked us in. We thanked this enterprising fellow, knowing we would meet again soon. The laid back lifestyle of Crete was the first this I noticed. All the hotel rooms were named after Greek islands, and since we were a last minute booking we were given the last remaining room in the place with the promise that we would be moved as soon as a better room became available. Our room's name you ask? "LESBOS"! Why not. The Mare hotel is right across the street from the beach and every room has a view. We settled in right away and got comfy. The following two weeks were a life changing experience.
|The inner harbour or "lake" where the small boats moor|
|climbing down the steps to the inner harbour|
|Plenty of photo opps|
|the posh hotels and restaurants around the lake|
Our first afternoon in Aghios Nikolaos was spent just exploring the area along the water front. The small inner harbour with its small fishing boats and the large outer harbour where the ferry landing is located. There is a nice walkway along the water lined with clubs and restaurants. The ones around the inner harbour charge premium prices. Farther from the city centre prices become more affordable, like anywhere really. We were quite peckish and felt like having some lunch at the water's edge. Right in the centre of the action we found an Italian restaurant with a good looking menu. We found a table outside under the large market umbrellas and we were soon welcomed by our waiter, Hercules, a handsome young man with a great personality. We ordered a pizza and wine and let the breeze flow by us.
|Cats everywhere, most of them feral looking for food scraps|
The restaurant was located right on the harbour with nice views of the fishing boats and people walking by. After lunch we wandered through town and got acquainted with the layout of the streets. Up the hill, past the hospital, along the higher streets and shops, then down again to the lagoon, or as the locals say, "The Lake", where all the small fishing vessels are moored. Along the lake's edge are the upper scale restaurants, with premium views and premium prices. The Maitre D's are outside trying to sell their menu to passers by. We had a look at several of them and decided to keep this for later, maybe a special last supper kind of thing. Instead we kept walking and made our way along the seawall towards Elounda.
We found a quaint restaurant and sat down to an early dinner of Meze, or appetizers "Greek Style". We filled the table with little tastes of Greece. And a nice bottle of Boutari. The sun was out over the Mediterranean sea leaving the water so very blue. The air was warm with a cooling breeze, I completely relaxed and felt as if I had found my paradise. The menu was printed in the five most popular tourist languages. Greek, English, French, Dutch and German. We were looking at the Greek page and ordered all our food from there. Calamari, Saganaki, Keftedes, Spanakopita and Dolmades along with Pita bread. The waiter was pleased. We enjoyed ourselves for a couple of hours as the sun set and night fell. Then in the dark we walked along the seawall back to the hotel and got our room organized for a well deserved rest.