Sunday, September 2: In this post, you will find out just how lazy and impatient I am. You’ll also see what a poor planner I can be and you’ll wonder how on earth I manage to travel alone. In an earlier post, I wrote about how when I first arrive in a new city, I usually opt for the hotel pickup, no matter what the price, just because I don’t feel like negotiating unfamiliar metro or bus systems. I also am hesitant to take a taxi right off the street because I have no idea what the price should be and I fear I will be ripped off or taken someplace where con-men will try to swindle me. In India, especially, my friend and I were warned about this, and we ended up standing at a rat-infested train station at midnight in Jodhpur, waiting for a hotel pickup that never showed up but feeling too afraid to take a taxi off the street.
I also mentioned in an earlier post that I successfully navigated the Athens metro several times over the last few days and found it to be quite clean and easy to use.
Coming back from Kerameikos, I first take the Hop On Hop Off Bus back to my hotel; since I only bought the ticket yesterday, it is still good through today. So I arrive back at my hotel in plenty of time to take the metro to the airport for my flight to Crete.
This morning at breakfast, I also spoke at some length with a woman from Wisconsin whose husband is Greek-American. She and her husband have come to Greece every year for over 10 years. She told me in great detail what I needed to do to take the metro to the airport and then, even though I already knew where the metro stop was, they both insisted on walking with me to show me the way. It all seemed so simple, although it was quite a long walk over cobblestone sidewalks. Feeling totally confident, I had decided to take the metro to the airport and I left plenty of time to do just that.
However, once I get back to the hotel this afternoon, I am tired and sweaty. I see my big fat suitcase sitting there, bulging with all the new stuff I bought. I think of lugging it the 6 blocks or so, then carrying it through the metro, changing trains, and then walking some small distance from the metro to the airport. It seems too overwhelming when I actually think of doing it. I ask the hotel clerk how much it will be to take a taxi, knowing of course that the pickup FROM the airport was 55 euros. He tells me it’s 40 euros TO the airport.
I know I shouldn’t do it. For about 8 euros, and just a little hassle, I can get to the airport and I have time to do just that. I hesitate. And then I find myself telling the clerk to call the taxi.
I am so lazy sometimes!! It’s so ridiculous. Sometimes the act of traveling, the logistics of getting from one place to another, can be too much to deal with. The thing I always try to remind myself when I have to get from one place to another over seemingly insurmountable odds, is that travel is simply putting one foot in front of the other. One step at a time. Sometimes you just can’t let yourself think of the whole journey and how many hardships you might encounter along the way.
In this moment, I am thinking of the whole journey. If I had just put one foot in front of the other, I would have eventually made it there and I would have saved 32 euros. I would have also felt proud of myself for doing it. But I opt out. I take the lazy man’s route. And to be honest, it feels so good. Sitting in the back of the taxi, mindlessly watching the city go by. Yes. That’s what I’m talking about.
So, I get dropped off curbside at the airport with plenty of time to spare. In fact the drive is so short, I wonder how on earth the taxi drivers can justify charging 40 euros!! And this in a country on the verge of bankruptcy, where things should, logically speaking, be cheap. I know, yes, I know. It WOULD have been cheap if I had taken the metro.
Anyway, because I get to the airport so early, it’s quite a long wait for my 1 hour flight to Crete. The flight, which cost me $137, was also not the cheapest route to Crete, but the 12-hour boat ride that cost around 7o euros did not seem like a good option comparatively speaking. The flight I don’t regret. Not one bit.
Now. While I’m sitting on the plane, I pull out my Booking.com ticket for Barbara Studios, the charming hotel where I will be staying. I knew the hotel was in a place called Rethymno. But the plane was flying to the airport at Heraklion, otherwise known as Iraklio. (I’ll call it Heraklion). As I study the map of Crete for the first time (you’d think I would have figured this out earlier than NOW!), I see that Crete is quite a huge island. And I see that Heraklion is quite some distance from Rethymno. I ask someone on the plane about how long it will take me to get from Heraklion to Rethymno and they say about 1 1/2 hours by bus.
Hmmm. Well, that wasn’t very good planning, was it? We fly over Santorini, which looks quite small from the air, and I think, oh good, at least Santorini should be easy. But as we approach Crete, I am shocked to see it is like coming onto a mainland. This is not an island. This looks like a continent!! I’m thinking, what have I done? I feel kind of sick. Why didn’t I plan this better? Here I’m coming into this big island and I don’t even know how I’m going to get from place to place. And then I start to calculate. I’m arriving on Crete around 6 p.m., I will arrive in Rethymno no earlier than 8:00 this Sunday evening and then I stay three nights total. I will need to leave Rethymno at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, September 5 to get back to Heraklion for the 8:20 a.m. Sea Jets boat to Santorini, which I booked in the USA before leaving home.
What was I thinking?? I have boxed myself in and have only allotted myself two days (but 3 nights) in Crete. I can see by the large section on Crete in the Lonely Planet, which I haven’t even read yet, and by the size of the island from the airplane, two days is NOT enough.
Even now, writing about this and reliving the angst of this ridiculous discovery, I can still feel the disappointment. But what can I do? I’m the kind of person who books things ahead of time, so I am stuck. After Santorini, I haven’t booked a thing, but up through the 8th, I’m locked in to a schedule. I begin to curse my Type A personality. Not for the first time in my life, mind you.
When I disembark from the airplane, everyone seems to disburse as if they know where they’re going. This is a very small airport. There seems to be no information anywhere. I ask some uniformed men out front where to catch the bus to Rethymno. They tell me I have to walk somewhere (they wave randomly in the air) and catch a taxi to the bus terminal, and then take the bus from there. What?
I walk back inside the airport. There is a Budget Car office. Out of curiosity, I ask the price of a rental car for my time in Crete. He tells me 110 euros. I think that’s not a bad price at all for total freedom. I sign on and am out of there in a half hour.
The road from Heraklion to Rethymno is a good straight, but hilly, road and it’s impossible to get lost. I feel free, my windows open, my hair blowing in the wind. I feel like Easy Rider, or Jack Kerouac On the Road. The scenery is beautiful with the golden glow from the sunset and the darkening blue Mediterranean on my right.
It’s when I get to Rethymno that the trouble begins. The owners of Barbara Studios told me by email that they were a short walk from the port. I figure all I have to do is find the port and I will find Barbara Studios. Ha! Little do I know. I keep driving in the direction of the port, but I come to dead-end streets, one-way streets, police directing traffic away from the waterfront road. Pretty soon, I’m driving around in circles totally confused. At this point I still have not purchased a Greek SIM card for my phone, so I have no way to call the hotel.
I had also printed out a map which showed how to walk from the bus terminal. It takes me forever to find the bus terminal, but when I do and I try to drive following the map, I cannot do it. This is because the streets which I was told to walk on are one-way streets which don’t allow me to drive in the direction I need to go! Finally, over an hour after I arrive in Rethymno, I park in a parking lot as close to the port I can get. I leave my suitcase in the car and go in search of Barbara Studios on foot.
I come to a lovely little restaurant and I ask someone there if they know of Barbara Studios. Luckily, I am close!! They show me an alley and tell me to turn left on the next alley I encounter. I walk back and forth not seeing anything. I finally see a nondescript door that says “Rooms to Let ~ Barbara Dokimaki” I see a buzzer and I push it. Barbara answers the door and invites me into a compact but beautiful courtyard abloom with flowers and surrounded by three stories of rooms. She is kind and welcoming and shows me my room, but she doesn’t speak much English. She brings her husband Panos, who does. I tell him I’ve been lost driving around Rethymno for over an hour. He asks me why I didn’t call. I tell him I have no phone. I’ve never been so happy to find a place in my life. I’ve arrived at my home away from home.
It turns out, as this charming hotel is on an alley where no one can drive, I would have never found it had I stayed in the car. There is also no parking on the streets near the hotel and Panos advises me not to leave my car in the port parking lot as there is free parking about a 10 minute walk away. On his advice, I move the car to the free parking near the Rethymno Fort and trek down a straight street in the dark back to the hotel.
After taking care of all of this, it is almost 10:00. I ask Panos where I can eat, and he highly recommends Alana, whose back door is across the alley from Barbara’s front door. It’s a most lovely end to a stressful day. Alana: Mediterranean-Cretan Cuisine. I have a glass of red wine, accompanied by Ioli sparkling water, in an outdoor cafe filled with leafy plants.
I order Minoan Olive Leaf pasta with tomato, oregano, onion, green pepper, rocket, wild mushroom pesto, crumbled feta and mint leaves for 8.60 euros. Each bite is a taste of heaven.
Since it is late, the restaurant isn’t too busy, and the hostess has time to chat. She tells me she is studying medical ethics at the university in Rethymno. This topic is interesting to me as I worked for a brief time at a small think tank in Washington called Center for Ethical Solutions. I did research for the founder on the ethics of kidney transplant tourism. This young lady is studying whether embryos should be harvested for the purpose of curing diseases. We talk about this ethical dilemma for awhile. Then a nice handsome Greek-Australian waiter comes by and asks me where I’m from and since he’s spent time in America, we talk about his time there and what I’m doing in Greece and in Oman.
A slice of happiness. Perfect.