Of course, I saved the best for last. Out of all the places we visited in Greece, Crete is the one that left the deepest impression on my heart.
Crete doesn’t receive as much attention in tourism as it should as the island itself contains a surprising diversity in landscapes and energy.
We first started out in the bustling Old Port of Chania, to the intricate monasteries in Agia Triada, then we made our way out to the small town of Stavros filled with locals quietly living out their lives, and finally we ventured into the lazy beach town of Agia Marina.
Crete really did feel like a collision of 5 different countries all into one island. Just as I started to become familiar with the lines and curves of one place, the dialogue and way the people poised themselves, I was forced to abandon all my preconceived notions as we moved to a whole new world only 30 minutes away. I found my mind constantly bending and widening, learning and accepting new norms and ways of life, becoming more malleable as I was placed in continually changing surroundings and energy.
Our first stop in Crete, the Venetian Port, was reminiscent of if you somehow mashed Italy and Nova Scotia all together in one place -from the architecture of the buildings, the shutter windows and balconies right by the water overlooking a central lighthouse, to the quiet harbour speckled with boats and boats galore.
Something that I wasn’t aware of prior to was that grapes are widely grown and cultivated in the island of Crete as a whole so we found grapevines growing just about everywhere (The photo found below was taken as I looked up from where I was sitting eating my breakfast and found vines upon vines of grapes growing on the roof of the building).
Oftentimes during travel, a hotel is booked as almost an afterthought, a task that functions only so that you can get to the real reason of why you came to a destination: to explore the city, maybe see some of the famous tourist spots. However, within the first few minutes of arriving to our first hotel in Chania (Alcanea Boutique Hotel), I could quickly sense that this beautiful building would become the main destination for the rest of our time in Crete. The temptation to stay in our hotel room all day long, even if it meant not being able to go out and explore the city, was very, very real.
A cross between a hotel and an Airbnb, our place was situated right by the port with extremely spacious rooms colourfully decorated with market finds that the owners brought back from their own travels. What I loved about Alcanea was that it didn’t boast any elaborate or excessive details. It’s actually quite a small “hotel” with very simple and quaint touches that made you feel like you were staying over at a local Cretian’s home. The building itself was so pleasantly historical and old that the floor of our room was very uneven..and not to mention, the best part of our room was that it had the balcony of my dreams.
There were a few too many mornings spent here on that balcony where I would have with me a cup of tea and a good book, sitting there for hours on end. To add to it all, there were enough vines and greenery reminiscent to that of a tale told from the Brothers Grimm.
We spent the day trekking through the streets and markets of Chania, buying olive oil by the pound. Pictured below is Raki, an alcoholic spirit that is consumed ubiquitously by all Chania residents. More on this later, but many laughs and joy came out of this beloved beverage at the end of our trip so that raki will always hold a dear place in my heart.
Our second last day in Crete was my favourite through the entire trip. We last-minute decided to visit a monastery and beach but didn’t know what transportation to use in order to get there. The wonderful hotel manager at our hotel contacted one of her friends, Roussos, who was a local from Crete to take us around. The day felt like one big unconventional road trip with friends. Because he was born and raised in Crete, he drove around and showed us his personal favourite spots on the island, the hidden gems of Crete that not many tourists know about. We even took a quick stop to visit his family and said hello to them, who were harvesting watermelons they grew themselves.
Crete is known for its stunning beaches and I see why now. Maraki Beach was the first of many beaches we stopped over at on our “roadtrip” and just looking at this photo brings me back to that day being surrounded by the mountains and taking a swim in the cool waters. Because the Mediterranean Sea constitutes the waters of Maraki Beach, the water was extra salty and buoyant. Is there a better feeling than being able to fully float amongst the waves, buoyant, feeling light as a feather?
I don’t remember the name of this beach pictured below that Roussos showed us, but he says this is his “secret spot”. Other beaches in Crete are often full of people both tourists and locals alike, which is why he loves coming to this beach specifically because it’s so quiet and you can enjoy the beautiful blue waters all to yourself. Indeed, when we stopped over at this beach, we were the only ones there and all you could hear were the waves crashing against the rocks. As mentioned in my previous blog post, if Santorini feels slightly commercial and touristic, Crete felt like an untouched, authentic reflection of Greece.
Standing on these volcanic rocks, watching the intensely blue waves move predictably against the shore is a feeling I can’t describe. There is something about water itself that immediately incites a sense of calmness. In the juxtaposition of the stillness and movement of the waves, in the warmth of the blue hues to the vast, dark roaring depths found underneath, I found rest simply by watching as a secondary observer.
Later on in the day, we visited the Agia Triada Monastery where we walked around and learned about the years of history packed into this wondrous monument of art.
Fun fact: this particular monastery owns vast amounts of land and vineyards, producing their own olive oil and wine. Roussos brought us down to the basement floor of the monastery where we were able to walk around and tour the wine cellars and taste the endless varieties of olive oil and wine handmade with lots of love from the monks that live there.
On our last evening, we decided to go out to eat at a local restaurant as our last hurrah in Greece. What would have been a typical dinner out became a very memorable night because of our waiter, Agelaki. In Crete, raki is served free-of-charge in all restaurants so that with every meal we had thus far in Crete, we had to partake in this tradition and had our fill of raki.
However on this particular night, Agelaki had such a warm and jolly spirit about her, unexpectedly jumping into conversation with us, telling us of her life in Crete and asking us about ours and next thing we knew, we were all talking to no end, drinking through an extra abundance of raki together. I don’t remember too much about this night but that there was a lot of laughing about nothing! You know those certain people you meet who are so joyful that when they laugh, you immediately start laughing with them, even if what you were talking about didn’t really warrant much laughter? Yes, we all left dinner that night with our stomachs hurting from all the senseless laughing that had incurred just moments before.
And this was the essence of Crete I found most endearing. It kept you on your toes, constantly feeling out of your element. It kept you as a sponge, wringing away the cynicism, the judgments, and the bad, leaving you porous and hungry to absorb new ways, new thoughts, and new truths.
Leaving Crete was a difficult goodbye, but I left for the airport back to Toronto with a heart full of gladness (and stomach full of gyros) knowing that this is the joy of travelling. Whether you’re a student or working in your home city, it’s easy to get into a fixed routine where you do tasks so repetitively that you start to believe that such are the only way to do things. But, immersing yourself in a new culture with an open mind and heart helps you step back and gain a wider perspective of how life is lived. That there are people out there living their lives their own way outside of my own, who would’ve imagined that?!
That through the simplest of things whether it be watching turquoise waters move slowly but surely at their own rhythm to being merry and endlessly laughing even when it doesn’t make sense…there is always a thing to be learned from someone or something apart from ourselves.
And with that, this concludes my blog post series on my Greece travels. Found above are some photos I took at the airport en route back to Toronto, where I found out what my name looks like in Greek! Writing these blog posts have been such a great way for me to reflect back on my time travelling, an outlet for me to ruminate, solidify and express the thoughts and feelings I had through each experience into words. Keep a lookout for future travel posts down the road!