Crete, July 6-10

Our first impression of Crete was that it's surprisingly modern and prosperous compared to the other islands we'd visited. Services, stores, cars (though maybe not the driving), and general infrastructure are nearly on par with the U.S. We knew we weren't in a backwater when one of our hotel owners was familiar with Jennifer's database textbook! We also hadn't realized just how tourist-oriented Crete is. A full 25% of visitors to Greece make Crete their destination. During our time there we came to understand why: It's much greener than the smaller islands; highly varied with its history, mountains, small villages, and beaches; beautiful; and an easy place to travel.

But let's back up to the day we moved from Santorini to Crete. Things took a small turn for the worse with a rental car return snafu, but that alone was no big deal. Even the 1½ hour ferry delay waiting in a crowded holding pen wasn't a disaster, although all of our previous ferries had been punctual. But those winds we keep mentioning hadn't abated entirely, and it's unprotected waters down to Crete. Only on the southern tip of New Zealand have we experienced a boat ride in which such a vast majority of the passengers were spectacularly seasick. Miraculously nobody in our family lost it, although Emily and Jennifer spent two hours with their eyes glued to the horizon, and Tim spent the entire time with his nose in a curtain, which he reports smelled vastly better than the aromas emanating from the surrounding passengers. Alex, who has the strongest sea legs of the family, spent the ride chatting with the only two other people on the boat who were feeling chipper.

Shore was welcome, as was the nice rental car (in contrast to previous somewhat clunky ones), however the nice rental car guy sent us off in entirely the wrong direction. By the time we realized our mistake it was past 10pm, we were far out of town, and nerves were beginning to fray. We finally arrived at our hotel to discover a boisterous wedding with loud music and plenty of good cheer. Under normal circumstances we'd have considered ourselves incredibly fortunate to stumble upon a Greek wedding up-close. We did check it out, but by that time the kids were ready for quiet and bed. The next morning, rested, Tim and Emily were performing accurate renditions of Greek dancing by drunken guests, so the event wasn't entirely lost on them.

The highlight of our stay in Crete is unsurprising given our inclinations: hiking the famous Samaria Gorge (photos 2 and 3). It's a stunning hike in a region that combines the terrain of the Sierras, Utah canyonlands, and Big Sur. There's convenient bus service to the mouth of the gorge, and boats returning from the roadless beach town where the hike ends. It's hard to think of a better all-day activity, although we could have done with a lot fewer people on the trail. We visited the famous 3500 year-old ruins at Knossos (photo 1), stopped into Crete's three biggest towns, and hit a number of museums, villages, and smaller ruins. We also made the obligatory excursion to the local water-slide park, which was significantly larger and more "American" than those on the smaller islands.

A few more observations about our time in Greece:
  1. We learned almost no Greek. English is incredibly prevalent, and it was all we could do to spit out a Greek thank-you once in a while (which was appreciated). Perhaps in Italy we can do better with language.
  2. Tim's fascination with history and archeology intensified significantly, making him great company for Alex in that respect. Even the smallest of ruins or dinkiest of museums are magnets for the two of them. They've also developed a particular fondness for windmills, ancient and not quite as ancient (photos 4 and 5).
  3. Our dinners got later and later. We hoped to keep a relatively early schedule, especially so we could get some activities in before the hottest time of day. But our tendency to do as much as possible (see previous travelogs and more discussion below), the long hours of daylight, and the Greek custom of extremely late meals by American standards, meant we often didn't even think about dinner until 8:30pm or later. Late dinners propagated to late bedtimes, late getting up, and so on. Perhaps we can '"reset" in Italy.
We  continue to give a lot of thought, and not much action, to our pace of travel. As mentioned in a previous travelog, we've been packing in the activities because there's so much to do, and we seem to feel a need to do everything. There's also a lot of overhead to traveling and being in new places, so the hours slip by remarkably quickly. Daily pace aside, traveling for a year should be giving us the luxury of really settling into a place and getting to know it. Crete would have been perfect for that, but in our four days there we never really got off the tourist trail. If we want to make a real change, we'll need to bite the bullet and cut back on the number of destinations between now and Morocco in September -- consciously stay places longer than we normally would. Let's see what we decide.

When the pace slows down every night after the kids go to bed, the adults set about their "daily chores": downloading and pruning the day's photos, writing a short journal of what we did that day, rinsing clothes in the sink, recharging our myriad electronic devices, planning upcoming activities and travel, preparing for the next day be it an excursion or a move, and of course contemplating the contents of the next travelog. At home Alex and Jennifer have always done a lot of work after the kids go to bed (real work, in that case). It seems things haven't changed all that much on the road.

If you've read this far, it's time to brave the "challenges" section of the travelog.

The plane tickets from Crete to Naples ended up a complete disaster. We had numerous communications with Travelocity, mostly dissatisfying. We've now seen a wide swath of the pre-fabricated email responses Travelocity keeps handy for tickets-in-trouble. For a brief period we were quite optimistic: Travelocity actually called our hotel and left a message that was conveyed to us as "Your tickets will be at the Aegean Airlines counter." Unfortunately the actual message was probably "You should go to the Aegean Airlines counter to talk about your tickets," because no tickets were there, or anywhere. (The situation was complicated by the fact that our tickets were on a code-share airline with no presence in Crete.) In the end, the only way to get on the plane was to buy new tickets on the spot to the tune of $1650. One of the Travelocity email pat-responses suggested this might happen and we would be refunded, but we feel sure it's not going to be a simple or pleasant task.

We had our first mildly serious injury. Jennifer smashed the end of her index finger closing a heavy iron gate. It promptly swelled up impressively and turned a deep purple. She must have been an unusual sight walking around town with her finger stuck in a bag of frozen vegetables. Later on we realized we could email graphic finger photographs to Jennifer's M.D. sister for an opinion. The diagnosis: unlikely to be a fracture; no need to see a Greek doctor; biggest effect will probably be a lost nail that should be completely regrown about the time our year of travel ends.

We also had our first real episodes of "traveler's tummy," which isn't bad considering we'd already been traveling for three weeks. Alex, Tim, and Emily were all hit about the same time. Together with Jennifer's finger, our family was a sorry sight for a day. Fortunately it was a day of mostly driving and sight-seeing anyway, so even injuries and illnesses didn't force much of a slowdown in our planned activities. Emily was particularly delighted that being under the weather provided sufficient leverage for another donkey ride, this time up a path to the second cave we've visited professing to be the birthplace of Zeus. (Rumor has it there's at least one more.) Our conclusion is that Greek Gods can be born as many times as the current Greeks find convenient.

Next stop: Vesuvius, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast

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