One of my photos

Crete Uncovered

September 29th, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

Ruins of windmills on the hills above the Lasithi Plain.

As teachers used to say “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”. I’m sure nobody wants to read all about my holidays, and I’m not sure I want to write about them but it needs to be done so I can move on, so here are a few thoughts about Crete, EasyJet and other things.

The whole idea of the holiday was to just turn off and relax: no newspapers, TV, internet, work or worry. I left my mobile at home and even the big camera, travelling light with only the bare minimum of technology (compact camera, mp3 player, Flip video camera, e-book reader). It sort of worked, but I now regret not taking the EOS with me.

Everything started well when we found that our flight was from gate 103 which meant, as any aviation anorak will know, that we had to go over the bridge. I enjoyed that. I walked instead of using the moving pavement so I could linger long enough for a plane to go under it. It was just a shame that the plane at gate 103 was an EasyJet one. I can honestly say that I have never sat in a less comfortable airplane seat. I like to sleep through flights but it was impossible on this one.

Everything went quite smoothly though and we ended up at the hotel at about 11pm local time, dropped the bags in our room and looked for the bar where I had a pint followed by a pina colada. If nothing else, this holiday was going to do wonders for my resolution to drink more. By the end of the second day I must have drunk more than in the whole rest of the year so far, although admittedly that was not difficult to do.

About the hotel.

I thought it was fine. A lot of people were complaining about it and, in truth, it was easy to find things to complain about if you wanted to, but I thought it was fine. I think a lot of people were unhappy because they lost sight of two things:

  • “All inclusive” does not necessarily mean the same as “all you can eat or drink”
  • If the hotel is only costing you about £15 each per day you are not going to get 3 cordon bleu meals every day with loads of snacks and premium-brand drinks inbetween

Having seen a trailer for the Inbetweeners film after booking the holiday I had got a bit worried about staying in Malia and was half-expecting it to be like trying to holiday in the middle of a collision between a massive hen party and a massive stag party, but it was not like that. I’m sure Malia deserves its reputation as a maelstrom of debauchery during July/August but it had calmed down a bit in September, plus the hotel was not actually in Malia but nearly 2km outside the town, which was great for us.

For the first week we sat around drinking, reading, sunbathing, eating and taking a few walks along the beach up to the Minoan palace and into town. The first walk into town was during the day, which was really hot but the next day we took a stroll at night along a different road and ended up in the nightclub part of town at about 11pm where people were starting to get ready for a night out.


After about a week I noticed that the battery level on my e-book reader was down to two bars. By this time I had read Oliver Twist, PG Wodehouse’s first Psmith book, a Hary Harrison short story and halfway through an EE ‘Doc’ Smith book. I wasn’t entirely confident that it would last until the flight home so I put it on the charger I use for my mp3 player. It turns out that the Sony Reader doesn’t like them. Charging from a computer is OK but the charger just sucks the life out of the battery. The book was totally dead and my massive collection of USB cables was 1700 miles away.

Jayne astride the mighty Kymco 50cc quad

This was not as bad as it could have been because I wasn’t going to be stretched out by the pool reading for a day or two – we had rented a quad bike for a few days!

I know. Renting scooters and quads in Greece is the sort of thing I would be warning our kids against but I was about due a mid-life crisis. In mitigation, I did wear the helmet some of the time although that was more to protect my bald head from sunburn than anything else.

For our first little trip we headed for the Milatos caves as they were only about 5 miles away as the crow flies. Of course we were not flying and by road it must be more like 20 miles the way the roads bend round the mountains, and it was a lot more hilly than I expected, but well worth the trip.

During the Turkish invasion nearly 3000 people hid in the caves until the Turks finally forced them out, killing many and enslaving the rest, so I was expecting big caves. What I wasn’t expecting was that there are no lights, no paths, no handrails, no guides, in fact nothing but dark holes in the rock with bats flying around. Being without torches we couldn’t penetrate very far safely, but what little we saw was impressive and it rewarded the tortuous trek up there.

I wouldn’t mind going back with some torches and long trousers one day. The real shame is that we never visited these places when we first visited Crete with the kids. They would have loved it there, although I’m sure we would have lost Charlie. Even now I’m sure he would not be put off by the lack of lights, and as an early teen he would have been unstoppable.

The chapel in the Milatos caves.

In one cave there is a small chapel built into the rocks, with an ossuary containing the bones of some of the people who had hidden there. A very strange sight after climbing the long footpath up there.

After the caves we went down to the beach at Milatos, which is a charming little place, for a much-needed cold drink, then headed back to base the pretty way.

Even though the quad struggled a bit on some of the steeper roads it did manage to get us up there albeit at speeds below 10kph in places, so the next day we tried a more ambitious destination – the Lasithi plain.

The Lasithi plain is where the caves on a big mountain range all collapsed many centuries ago, creating a large crater. The crater might be high up, but it is flat and fertile and largely given over to agriculture. There are only two ways in through the mountain passes so it has often been a refuge during Crete’s many invasions.

The views all the way up are spectacular, as is the view of the plains when you finally get there. We did a complete circuit of the plains, stopping off in one small town which was very strange. While all the coastal areas of Crete are dominated by tourist-related shops, scooter-hire places and bars showing football and X-Factor, every shop in this town seemed to sell cloth.

We went to a taverna for a coffee and the chap there was very keen to point out that the only other customer was from France. I had noticed that most of the signs and notices around that were not in Greek were in French. Another couple came in and they were French. Then another French couple came in. In side the taverna were lots of pictures of Paris. It was like a little French enclave high up in the hills.

On a stroll round the town we got ambushed by a shopkeeper who was so good at high-pressure sales I felt it would be rude to not over-pay for a couple of traditional Greek shirts. It was a small reward for the entertainment.

Looking down at the Lasithi plain from the pass.

Having been fleeced by a local weaver we continued our circuit and stopped off at the top of the pass where you can look across the plains in one direction or out towards the coast in the other. There is a huge restaurant there with a limited menu. It caters mostly for coach parties I think, and most of them get served the speciality pork chops which were almost as spectacular as the views.

If I ever go back to Crete I am going to go back to Lasithi again, but with more than 50cc to get me up there. I filmed a bit of our journeys on the Flip but I don’t think I’ll put them on YouTube until I have dubbed in some Steppenwolf to cover the high-pitched motor and speeded it up a bit so it doesn’t look like we are crawling.

Actually we did manage to get over 50 a few times which was quite thrilling until I remembered that the display was in kph and not mph.

On the last day of our quad rental we popped along the coast to the village we stayed at in 2009. It was a little depressing. The place where we had breakfast every day had closed down, as had a couple of other places.

The hotel we stayed at was still there and was doing a bit better. Apparently 2010 was hard but this year has been better – mainly because the large hotel next door has stopped being all-inclusive, leading to a lot more custom for all the bars and tavernas around it.

After that it was back to Malia because I was on a mission – to find somewhere to buy a USB cable and to buy one of the head-sized doughnuts that the bakeries in Crete sell.

The next couple of days after returning the bike were a bit overcast to the point of being stormy. No problem. We had our cards and my book was all nicely re-charged. It probably saved us from getting too burned as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and the change of scenery. Jayne enjoyed early morning walks for exercise each day and we had quite a laugh as well. We made friends with a German girl with an extraordinary collection of tattoos who was ‘doing a Shirley Valentine’. The way we met was quite amusing in itself. Jayne had gone off to the bar or the ladies or somewhere and the bar was quite crowded at the time. While I was there on my own a young girl asked if the seat at the table was free so I said yes and waited to see what sort of look Jayne would give me when she returned to find that after leaving me for just a few minutes I was with young female company.

I wasn’t disappointed. If looks could kill she would have been regretting my failure to take out travel insurance, but soon they were chatting away about all sorts of stuff and comparing tattoos.

I would go back tomorrow if I could, even to the same hotel despite everyone there moaning about it. It may not have been 5-star but it was good for the price and the hot water supply was not just good by Greek standards, but a lot better than we have at home.

The trip home was better than expected. Heraklion airport was much less chaotic than on previous trips. The flight was delayed a couple of hours because of public sector strikes and working to rule but that was OK – neither of us were keen to get back in those dreadful EasyJet seats.

As far as I am concerned it was a great holiday and if I did it again the only thing I would change nothing. Except the airline if possible – plus I would have forked out for a beefier bike and packed a USB cable and the DSLR.

Right. Now that’s out of the way I can get back to bitching about the Tories, banging on about prog rock, and all the usual stuff.

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