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Monday 8 December 2014

A rental car, Vai and Mochlos

After our disappointing experience with the bus we started looking at renting a car. After some research we found that Budget had the best deal and the most comprehensive insurance package. Now we had wheels for a week. A new Volkswagen Polo with AC. Yay! We drove the car to the hotel, just a few hundred meters away and checked the supplied map of Crete for destinations. Our first trip would go to Vai, on the east side of the island.

Quite a calm day at Vai

Rocky outcrops along the shore

The palm trees at Vai

A Vai goddess among the trees

With a full tank of gas we set off. Through town to the one and only major highway that traverses the island from east to west. Driving the winding highway is as easy as pie and when you come up to a slower moving vehicle they start driving on the shoulder to give you room to pass. 

We arrived in Vai, without any problems. The road signs are in Greek and English. Vai is not really a town but more a park. It was first made popular in the seventies by some British fellows, and soon became a hippy hangout with tents all over the place. The resulting mess caused the officials to declare the area a park and all the hippies were sent packing. Now it has become a very popular place to go from nearby towns and in the hight of summer it can be difficult and expensive to find a place to park. Even a toilet can cost you a couple of euros. There are some restaurants and vendors selling trinkets and ice cream. The menus posted at the restaurants looked uninspiring so we gave them a skip. Besides after a huge breakfast at the hotel, the thought of food did not really surface.


You wish these stones could talk

Carving detail

Vai has the only natural palm forest in the Mediterranean which produces a wonderful shade along the beach. It is no wonder that it is such an attraction for tourists and locals alike. When we were there in September it was relatively quiet and we spent some time exploring the area. We came upon an old ruin where we found stone carved pieces that were just lying around. They were once part of the building and I had no idea how old this ruin was. It sure looked like it was a nice place once upon a time.

Some more images from around Vai

We decided to return to the hotel along the north coastal road west bound. This used to be the only way to go, but with the new highway in place this old road is now for those with plenty of time on their hands, like us. We came upon a town called Sitia, which at the time looked a little sad and tired, hopefully since we were there someone has been kind to this place. It has an airstrip which was not in use. The town needed a shot in the arm, the location is great for a tourist mecca. Further along lies Mochlos, where we stopped for a beverage.

Choppy sea

Me wondering if I could live here

Fishing boats at anchor

This island was a swimmer's destination

It's wine o'clock


It's a cat's life


Dinghies on the shore

Pretty streets

The swimmers island

The view to the east

We drove down to the village and found a parking spot quite easily. Mochlos is a small village, just a few houses and a little shop that sells the essentials. A quaint, lazy place in the sun, great to while away a hour or two. Restaurants dot the waterfront and little fishing boats bop in the bay at anchor. A cool breeze flows from the sea and we found the perfect little terrace for a glass or two of chilled white wine, and some olives.

As we let the breeze flow along our faces we saw a young man get into the water and he swam to a small island just across the bay. It took him about 20 minutes and the sea was quite choppy from the wind. We were a bit worried at first, but it soon became clear that he had done this many times. His rhythm never slowed as he worked his way through the waves. Once on the island he walked along the beach and disappeared from view. There are a couple of little buildings on the island, I suppose they are used by farmers or goat herders sometime during the year.

Our hotel room "Lesbos" just below the umbrella

Me chillin'

And one of the locals getting a drink

Back at the hotel we got comfy in our bathing suits and went to the pool for happy hour. A swim, some wine and some new friends. Jan and Joni Verhees from Holland were at the pool and we had a great time. We are still in contact with them now. More about them later.

Saturday 29 November 2014


on the way to the bus stop in Agios Nikolaos

Just a short bus ride south of Agios Nikolaos lies the village of Kritsa. A typical Greek style town with narrow streets and white washed houses. Kritsa has been around for nearly 800 years. The village is built like an amphitheatre with the town centre plaza in the middle at the lowest point, and the rest going up hill. The village has seen a lot a re-builds over the centuries because whenever there was a revolution or conflict the place got sacked.

The narrow streets in Kritsa

No cars here

I loved this village, could live here

The local trade is weaving, fine crocheted table cloths and the like. After a failed attempt the day before we managed to catch the bus from the centre of the city, and rode for 15 minutes to the village. We wandered the narrow streets and looked through the shops but we were not in the market for any linen products. The local women stand at the entry to their shops and beckon you to come in to check out her wares. No need to buy, just come in and take a look. Once inside the sales pitch begins and you are on the hook while she explains how and where the fine products are made.

Some welcome shade


Walking back to the hotel this is the view from above the lake

It was a very warm day and we took a couple of breaks here and there for a nice refreshing beer. Just sitting on the terrace of a cafe with a beer in the shade looking at the ancient buildings around us was an amazing experience. Then it was lunch time and we enjoyed a table full of Greek meze, and a bottle of wine, naturally. The taverna had a wonderful outdoor area covered with an enormous tree that gave nice cool shade.

The bus to and from the village goes only once per hour, so you have to plan your day a bit. We planned our departure perfectly only to realize that we had left our camera behind. The bus driver let us off at the first available spot and we walked back to the place where we left the camera. It was still sitting there on the park bench, lucky, but then we realized that we were now in the only two hour, once a day, gap for bus service. Now if we were Greek we would have just bellied up to the nearest bar, but instead we kind of lost it and wallowed in our misery. It takes a few days to become part of the "Island Time" culture. Lesson learned, easy does it wins the race.

Upon our return to the hotel we changed and went to the pool for a cool dip and we felt much better. Then we started talking about renting a car for a week...

Sunday 16 November 2014

Crete, Greece

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

Lovely colours

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 lake

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.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Claude Monet

The estate of Claude Monet

Situated in Giverny, near Paris lies the Claude Monet house and garden. A large property beautifully landscaped with the famous lily pond and an abundance of flowers. It is a wonderful experience to walk the garden paths and take in the beauty and aroma of the many varieties of plants in bloom.

The large house is open to the public and wonderfully decorated. Each room has its own colour scheme. The kitchen is tiled in blue and white and the dining room is yellow. The living room is a calming light blue. Photography is not permitted in the house, but you may take pictures from Monet's bedroom window which offers great views of the garden. Everything inside the house was owned by Monet and is considered part of the museum. Touching or handling things is not permitted. There is a large gift shop where you can by prints of the many pantings by the artist as well as calendars and touristy memorabilia.

Claude Monet had his own personal bedroom but it is connected via the bathrooms to the bedroom of his wife Alice. The artists bedroom has a collection of paintings by other painters of his time, including Manet, C├ęsanne and Renoir. There is also a large collection of Japanese woodblock prints displayed in various areas if the house. Monet drew inspiration from them. Monet was one if the few artists who became famous and wealthy in his own time.

Strolling through the garden is a photographers dream, the pond with its Japanese bridge and lilies is probably the most photographed. And all the flowers scream for close-ups.

The best times to visit Monet's house in Giverny is spring and autumn. But anytime from May to September is good. The plants all bloom at different times, so there is always something to see and smell.

A holiday to France should definitely include a visit to this beautiful estate.