I've now spent some decent time in the three largest, most popular towns in Crete that are all conveniently situated up here in the north and relatively close to each other. If the idea of visiting a popular Greek island for a week or two interests you, and exploring several other cities is also on high on your itinerary, please know that Crete ticks all these boxes with the the bus/coach service at your disposal.
Whilst I'm content that my two weeks here qualifies as sufficient exploration for the final island of the five, I know there is so much more to see on this wonderful island. Unsurprisingly then, and similarly to all the other islands I've visited, a bigger budget, permanent hire car and some travel companions are three key formulae for further extensive geographic coverage of the island which will invariably result in increased experiential fulfilment.
Speaking of the five island challenge, do you remember which of the five I discovered to be 'backpacker friendly' and which I didn't? Why not test yourself quickly before I reveal the answers? To recap, the five islands were: Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, Corsica and Crete.
I discovered that only two of five were setup for backpackers (as of 2015). This was the largest island - Sicily and the fifth largest island - Crete.
Many travellers from Chania had informed me that the island's capital, Heraklion, didn't provide much to see and so a single night's stay was plenty. However, not only did I end up staying three nights here, I stayed these three nights in the most basic accommodation I'd ever stayed in these last seven months.
You know once upon a time I would have swiftly departed the premises that looked like that.
And the reason I stayed longer? People; the very essence of travelling. That's why you should always take with a pinch of salt the opinion of those who do not factor this in to the 'how long to stay' question.
I wish I had more photos with my now good friend, Mangel, but instead only seemingly snapped him whilst rather cold of a morning. Lol.
This gifted Spaniard not only spoke incredible English but spoke several other languages too. Oh, he also plays the flute rather wonderfully and he dedicated a tune to me on departure day.
Mangel, 'I'll see you soon...'
One evening we strolled past this beautifully lit building. With many people walking in and out we were intrigued so had a closer look only to discover we were gatecrashing a Greek wedding! Wow. Seemingly the hospitable culture of the Greeks extends to allowing strangers to share their big day. Lol. God, I love this country...
Of course I could would not leave Heraklion without seeing the number 1 attraction; the Palace of Knossos. How's this for a statistic; it's considered Europe's oldest city. Observe the lack of tourists too. Yay :-)
There's plenty of history associated with this place (and the museum) as you'd imagine but instead this post will steer clear of that as I want the majority of it to be focused primarily towards the essence of travelling. And you'll get that for sure later on...
From prior research and discussions with travellers, I knew that Rethymnon would be a pleasant town and more resemblant of Chania than Heraklion. With friendships successfully formed in the two past Cretan hostels, finding companionship at the third hostel in Rethymnon was less important because I had arranged to meet an English couple whom I met in Florence two months back and would hang with them.
As shown on my 'friends along the way' page, here were Damian and Emily then:
And here they are now with longer hair and a better sun-tan.
Damian (Damo) is a self-employed painter/decorater and Emily is a care assistant. They are 26 and 24 respectively. They're also only 90 minutes drive away from my neck of the woods back home hailing from Devon and I from North Somerset. Speaking of back home where I spent 25 of my 30-summit years, if you have literally two minutes spare, please see the YouTube video below as it shows Clevedon's famous landmark and shoreline.
Also, not discounting the fact that footage was taken this week by youngest brother who has recently purchased one of those super cool drone things! The clip comes with some light background music too if you prefer audio with your video...
Back to Damian and Emily, they saved £5000 GBP which has seen them through three months of travel. Remember that 5K GBP is over 7000 euros and also that budget is for two persons although they spent a couple of weeks working on a farm to preserve cash. They return to the UK next week really quite depressed at the thought and of course, I can understand that. You don't need to have travelled for seven months to appreciate that sentiment.
You also need to understand that for a lot of travellers, the money they set out with is everything that they have to their names. I know for sure that's the case with these two and also the single reason they're going home! It's important that I highlight their financial circumstance as I'll refer back to it later on.
Tell me, would you use every penny you had to your name for the opportunity to travel; the opportunity to experience freedom and prolonged experiences like never before?
This period of time away hasn't inherently changed who I am so the answer to that would probably be no but I'm aware that doesn't necessarily make it the right decision. Still, you'd be surprised just how many travellers would answer 'yes' to that question without much doubt.
I'll give you three guesses as to what the next plan for Damo and Emily is over the next few months: Work. Save. Travel.
They plan to be back on the road by as early as April which I firmly believe and wish them the best of luck for their future endeavours.
I spent pretty much two full days with Damo and Emily which, excluding eating and drinking, consisted of exploring the Fortezza (a Venetian fortress), wandering the old town and some beach time. A week away from December and down by the sea; a paradoxical reality for me at present.
For the evening they invited me round to their small but decent apartment for supper where they prepared a glorious 'Spag Bol' and purchased Creme Brulee for desert, along with a concoction of alcohol ranging from beer, wine and Metaxa - a Greek brandy-based liqueur. Where's the darn plant pot when you need one :-)
Yes lads, all three were mine! :-)
This expense came to 20 euros which doesn't sound a lot to feed three but as I touched on earlier, these people are down to the very end of their savings and have even relied on a small loan from Damo's Mother to extend their time so they can reach December. Considering their circumstances, such actions of such overwhelming generosity continue to amaze me but those that know me well will know that I can't let something this like go unreturned...
During our evening I was able to abstract from them their last restaurant meal over six weeks ago; only the second instance in these three months of theirs. I knew then at that very moment how I would return their kindness the following evening, Sami-style...
Before living as Kings and Queen:
After as satisfied slobs:
My normal disciplined-self often comes out second best when deserved-others are concerned. Besides, for everything else there's Mastercard, right? :-)
Needless to say we walked for at least 30 minutes to attempt to walk off a tiny portion of the excessive calories consumed. It was during this walk and my penultimate night in Crete that I saw my first Christmas tree and what a beauty it was lit up under both artificial light and natural light high up in the distant sky...
Damo/Emily, 'I'll see you soon...'
As my time in Crete comes to an end and mainland Greece beckons, I reflect on these last two weeks extremely positively knowing I couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable stay. Meeting new friends and enjoying the company of old travel friends have provided me the perfect experience whilst again re-affirming the very essence of travel: 'friends along the way'.
Thanks for reading folks, hope it was an enjoyably different post. See you on the mainland for the final stint...