20 May 2015
We left our hotel at 2100, 19th May, west coast time. We will arrive in Portland at 0030 on 21 May, and then there is an hour's drive to McMinnville. Bill us 28+ hours in transit. Right now we're sitting in Athens airport waiting for the United/Air Canada check-in to open.
We were able, thanks to some very persistent check-in clerks in Heraklion, to check our bags all the way through. However, Air Aegean can't print boarding passes for Star Alliance partners. So we check in again, get my passport number fixed (Bob thinks he put in the wrong one when checking in online), and go through security once more. Fortunately we have lots of time.
So what you get today are a few reflections on the past month on the move.
We didn't really see Crete – we saw the larger cities on the north coast of Crete. Most of the people we met are in the tourist business. Next trip here we stay inland and rent an apartment and a car. We expected to be able to do trips like Samaria Gorge from Heraklion. We could have done a tour, but not an independent trip. Too many people.
Nonetheless, the stay was pleasant and we enjoyed the Minoan antiquities very much. The food was also good – seafood, seafood, seafood. I ate my favorite fried calamari several times, tentacles and all. Our two-star hotel, the Kronos, was fine – a bit noisy since it is on the main street going west (not north as I previously wrote) through town. The room was fine, the service good, the breakfast adequate if predictably lacking in variety – same every day.
Our room on the 4th floor was accessible by stairs or elevator. The elevator was a tiny thing – think two people and luggage being a tight fit. One opens an exterior door and walks into a small stainless steel box, into which music is piped through a small speaker. The music plays only in the elevator, not in the lobby or public areas – truly elevator music. The inner door, a bi-fold, operates automatically. Quite a space saver.
The Mermaids and Mermen (or something like that) restaurant just across the street was a plus. Almost-outdoor dining on the sea front, with views of the Venetian fort and the sunset. And good seafood, wine, and bonus raki with dessert included in the meal.
Being a pedestrian is challenging. In Heraklion walking in the street is the norm. The real reason for sidewalks in Greece is, of course, to provide space for cafe tables or for parking motor scooters, which are legion.
On weekends especially, there are buskers here and there. We run across one young man playing an amplified mandolin at Rethymno. He is quite, quite good. On the other hand there are the little children, boys and girls, running around town with their small accordions. When they can get past the gatekeepers, they will come to your restaurant table looking to collect coins in return for their performances. Some adult players busk in the shopping streets, and they can really make their squeeze boxes sing.
We did go looking for the Priouli Fountain once again last evening before dinner. We didn't find it, but we did find a fountain built in 1615 with a Roman inscription on the back. This predates Priouli by some 50 years.
Traveling in Third World Countries
Third world countries are interesting. Chores like keeping the streets swept clean are done by people, not machines. The same is true of jobs like building a sidewalk or digging a ditch. In Rethymno we saw this. The crew did have a small motorized concrete mixer, but all the rest is done by hand – wheelbarrow to shovel to form, then hand-finished.
Sewer systems aren't universal, and there are different rules. You don't flush the toilet paper here. This takes some retraining. In fact, you have to pay to get the paper in the first place (except in Greece)!
The middle-east countries did one thing better than Greece; by each toilet is a short flexible hose with a sprayer. Spray yourself clean, then blot dry and toss. Much nicer.
Electricity is almost everywhere, but sometimes the wiring is iffy. And water – we stuck to bottled water everywhere but in Greece. Even with those precautions, you might still get the trots. Thank goodness for immodium.
Agriculture is important everywhere in this region, but again most chores are done by hand or using animals. Donkeys are everywhere in the middle east. People ride them, use them to transport goods, and hitch them to carts and plows. Fields are generally small. We saw no big ag at all on this trip.
Markets are the order of the day. Although there are supermarkets in the cities, most residents shop at the daily market. The variety of produce is outstanding. One curious thing we noticed in supermarkets in the mideast – there is usually a separate room in the market for butchering and buying pork.
Bread is an important part of the diet, whether unleavened or yeasted. We ate lots of flatbreads in Egypt, and lots of little toasts or rusks in Greece. And I think we must have been at peak season for fava beans; soups, dips – all delicious.
The Trip as a Whole
We did have a good time but then we usually do. I compare this, however, to our small group trip to Morocco with Outdoor Adventure Travel (OAT). I much prefer the smaller group, the opportunities to talk to real citizens of the country, and the exposure to the foods of the country. We are not good sunbathers or beach-goers, and so not good cruisers. We'd rather be on the go.