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November 20, 2022

School closed for two weeks, so we took the opportunity to head south to Greece during a not-sweltering time of year. I took too many photos, so I’m going to try to sum it up in 10 images. Interested parties can look through the whole album here.

1. Ferry to Crete

We spent the first week on the island of Crete, based in Iraklio on the northern coast. We took an overnight ferry to get there – I had a dream of sailing between islands but that was kind of impractical for the amount of time we had. So, we got a cabin with a window and slept our way to Crete, home of the myth of the Minotaur and as we soon learned, a lot more!

2. Cats

Upon arrival at our rental place, the two most striking things were the gorgeous view of the Mediterranean and the pack of feral cats that immediately started hanging out with us. Of course this was not a problem for our poor, pet-deprived children, who spent hours hanging out with the cats. I was kind of worried that the kitten pictured here was going to come home with us. (Fun fact: one of the cats I grew up with was captured as a kitten from a feral cat pack in Old Lyme, CT, so I have some nostalgia for street kitties.) Everywhere we went, there were cats – the beach, the ruins, the cafes, etc. As a result, this is the first time I have ever bought cat food on vacation. Fruitbat made a whole photo album of “Cretan Cats” that is available on request.

3. Ruins

Of course the initial draw to Greece was driven by Fruitbat and my interest in mythology, and Crete in particular to go to Knossos, where the mythical King Minos had housed the Minotaur. Knossos was neat, but later in the week we went to Phaestos on the south side of the island, and that was even more impressive to us. This is a photo of one of the three great plazas in the middle of this palace complex, which has a view of Mt. Psiloritis, the highest mountain on the island. Certain members of our party were not impressed, but generally we followed ruins with beach time and that helped.

4. Hiking

Did you know that the longest gorge in Europe is on Crete? This is Samaria Gorge, a national park with an 18km hike from the head of the gorge south to the sea. We joined a tour bus to be able to do the one-way as a day trip, but after the first few kilometers we had a lot of trail to ourselves. It kind of felt like being in Yosemite. Normally the park closes down mid-October, but thanks to the drought, it was open longer this year. There are so many other cool gorge hikes – we did one other short one – and then mountains to climb that we didn’t even attempt – I don’t know if I’ll ever get back here but I could easily spend several vacations hiking here. Just not in summer!

5. Beaches

We swam in the Mediterranean Sea! After a rough start that involved surprising contact with a defensive (we think) octopus, we found swimmable places that were free from invertebrate hugs. This shot is from our last day on Crete, in the Libyan Sea on the south shore. Despite warnings from locals that “you can’t swim, it’s winter” we found the climate – air temps in the high 70s and water temps in the low 70s – to be quite hospitable. I was extra nervous of wildlife after our octopus encounter so I only got in one real open water swim, but again, I could spend weeks swimming around here. Even moreso in the summer!

6. Food

We are not usually restaurant people when traveling, but we had a fancy meal at a Cretan-cuisine restaurant that was amazing. And we splurged on a cooking class that ended up being private for just our family. We made two stews, cheese pies, and the dessert above, called Loukomades, which are deep fried dough balls coated in honey. Yum! And on our way to our return ferry, Google sent us to a really un-fancy but delicious neighborhood restaurant where we discovered that our picky eater Schatzi will gladly eat Tsatsiki, although her avowed goal for the two-week trip was to eat ice cream 5 times. (She succeeded.) Also, everywhere we ate, whether we ordered dessert or not, we were served dessert and shots of Raki, the Cretan distilled liquor. It felt like we were not allowed to refuse dessert! So, even if we were stuffed, we ate the dessert. And I liked the Raki so I brought a bottle home as my souvenir – although I think maybe what I really liked was the ritual of it?

7. Athens

After a week in island adventureland, we returned to Athens and landed in the Thesio neighborhood just north of the Acropolis. Urban Athens by foot was a very different experience from Crete, with street art (above: modernist Medusa) and narrow old streets and fancy coffee places and abstract paintings to see…but the themes of our visit remained the same…

8. More ruins

There were more ruins than we could visit – such as the Roman Agora above, at dawn with the Acropolis behind it, that I jogged by on a morning run – and basically every time we left our rental place we had a view of the Parthenon. I thought this was awesome but the kids were less impressed, especially since we couldn’t just zip to a beach after every forced historical experience. Finally, on our last day, I figured out that I could play an audiotour on my phone for them as we walked through the Ancient Agora, and that made a huge difference. Thank you Rick Steves!! Unfortunately, that was only after they complained their way through the Parthenon, the Temple of Poseidon at Soucio, and other world heritage sites. Now I know.

9. More cats

The cats of Athens were just as numerous as on Crete, if not more – but definitely not as cuddly. So after a few days of failed attempts to pet the street cats, the kids started counting cats. I think they counted over 70 on our last day out and about. Peter and I were most amused by the cats lounging on scooter seats.

10. More food

Food in Athens was harder to suss out since we were in the heart of central, aka tourist, Athens. We tried a place recommended by Lonely Planet that turned out to be mostly grilled meat – which worked for Fruitbat, but not as much for the rest of us – and then on our last day just went to one of the places down the street from where were staying. Jackpot! I do not know what they did to those mushrooms, but they were incredible, and the fava dip was also a surprise hit. Eating a large midday meal is still odd to me, but this one I was glad to enjoy twice in the same day. Athens restaurants did not, however, provide gratis dessert or after-meal liquor, which was probably healthier for us but after Crete I was spoiled. Luckily we were a few blocks from a fantastic bakery so we tried a bunch of sweets from there instead, in addition to meeting Schatzi’s ice cream quota. (Okay, maybe it was good we didn’t get free dessert everywhere.)

Bonus heritage photo

While enjoying ice cream cone #4 or #5 (I can’t remember – we definitely hit six), we noticed that we were on Flessa street. Flessa is Peter’s mom’s family’s surname. While they’re not entirely sure, one possible origin story is that their family name comes from a Greek immigrant to Germany. Also, the letter Φ (phi) is one of my favorite Greek letters. So, here is evidence of the possibility of a Flessa connection to Greece.

That concludes my recap of Greece. It is nice to remember the warmth of Cretan winter, now that Berlin winter has started in earnest…but more on that in another post.

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