So it’s 6:30pm here in Greece, and we’re drinking champagne and eating peanut M&Ms. That’s been the theme of the day – slow and casual. We started the day with no clear plans, but not for a lack of trying.
We started the morning playing in the yard, swinging on the swings and appreciating the small gifts from Mother Nature. There are tons of snails and millipedes here at Villa Irene. Amir was drying out his bathing suit yesterday,and when I shook it to bring it inside, 4 millipedes fell out. Ooopfff.
We drove a short way to nearby Keramoti Beach easily visible from Villa Irene. It’s a pebble beach, consisting of rocks ranging in size from sand to boulders. I thought of the rock tumbler I’d begged my parents to buy when I was twelve. Here I was standing on the biggest crop of polished quartz, marble, slate and other gems. A natural rainbow.
#1 Toddler enjoyed the tactile experience of picking up and throwing the rocks into the water then watching for a splash. Many of hers fell short, but her dad staved off her disappointment by skipping rocks for a solid meter.
There was one Kandylaki on the shore at this beach. Atop a large boulder, I couldn’t see inside to appreciate its inspiration.
She loved throwing rocks a tad too much and ended up getting soaked. Amazingly she wasn’t cold or pouty given that it was only 60 degrees out.
On the drive down to the beach, we spotted a small cave with a trickling stream. It was the cave that initially caught my attention and beckoned my camera, but as I approached, I realized there was a Kandylaki here in this special place.
After the beach, we headed home for a change of clothes since some of us were soaked. We looked online briefly for an alternative lunch spot, but ultimately we returned to Kochilas since we’d had such an amazing meal there two days ago.
After lunch we hopped back in the car to explore the nearby Monastery. Unfortunately the interior closes from 1-5pm daily, so we were limited to the exterior tour.
While the monastery being closed was certainly a disappointment, it did satisfy one desire for the day – to see more sheep or goats.
On the drive home, we stopped at the Church Agios Theodoros to take a closer look. We drove past it two days ago on our drive to Elafonissi Beach but didn’t stop.
After returning home, I had the sudden urge to go swimming in our heated pool. Tomorrow’s forecast is for 100% chance of rain, so we may just enjoy the storm from inside the comfort of Villa Irene, or if the roads aren’t too bad, we might check out the Archaeology Museum in Kissamos.
This morning we awoke to #1 toddler attempting to catapult out of her crib. She still sleeps in a baby crib at home since she seems perfectly happy there. I’m thinking it’s about time to pull the toddler conversion kit down from the attic when we get home.
Amir did some research last night and selected today’s destination. Paleochora, a seaside town featuring Salino Kastelo (Castle Salino), was just a 1.5 hour drive from Villa Irene in Livadia. The only catch, zigzagging the roads that traverse the many mountains in between.
As we’ve been driving these narrow roads in Crete, I’ve noticed all these little roadside shrines, which I now know are called Kandylakia. Most are small shrines dedicated to different saints that serve as street signs to denote that an Greek Orthodox Church is close by, as most are not visible from the road. There are also no street names, so these little landmarks are helpful signposts.
A Google search also incorrectly stated that most are dedicated to lost loved ones, but this is just a false assumption by tourists. There are certainly some that serve this purpose, but most are signposts for larger churches.
We reached Paleochora (Pah-leh-oh-hor-ah) with little difficulty. We parked easily, strapped #1 toddler into the Baby Boba, and climbed a trail of stairs to reach the top of Salino Kastelo.
There wasn’t any signage to guide you through Salino Kastelo, so we weren’t quite sure what was what when we were there. After reading at home, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times since 1257 AD, which explains why it seemed to be composed of every natural material imaginable. Marble, granite, limestone, gravel, terra cotta – it’s all there.
It’s worth a trip for the views alone, but I recommend reading up on its history before you go.
There’s a vast selection of seaside taverns and cafes in Paleochora. We opted for Olympus Pizzeria for a change of pace, plus we knew pizza would satisfy everyone.
After pizza, as if we weren’t stuffed, we headed to a nearby family café for dessert. Baklava and vanilla gelato called our names, along with a cappuccino for me and a latte for Amir.
After the drive home from Paleochora, somehow we were all there filled with energy. Mind you at this same time yesterday my co-travelers were both taking 3 hour naps.
We opted for a brief walk from our house towards the sea. The first night we arrived, there were goats grazing throughout this area. Yesterday they had completely vanished, but today they returned. We went for a visit.
Before we made it 20 feet, #1 Toddler was fast asleep in the Boba carrier. She didn’t miss any great encounters with goats or sheep. We could see them in the distance and hear their bells, but with the sun silhouetting them, there wasn’t much to see or photograph.
While we didn’t find many goats, we did find a hidden gem carved into the seaside cliffs, St Anthony Chapel. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get closer to it, not for a lack of desire, but because we are not rock climbers. There’s no clear path. I’m still desperately wondering what’s inside. A Google Maps search did provide a close up photo from a much more adventurous traveler than I.
We made it home in time to watch the sunset from our Villa while enjoying a glass of local red wine. We still need to plan tomorrow. So I’m off to search Google Maps via satellite view to see what hidden places we can explore.
This morning we awoke around 8am and slowly started our day. We’d stopped at a small market yesterday on our drive here to get some essentials for the house. As I mentioned, Villa Irene is beautiful but remote, with only a few restaurants nearby that are open since it’s off-season.
We spent a bit more time this morning playing in the swing set while Amir planned navigation for our drive to Elafonissi Beach. We’ve learned to take screenshots of Google Maps and save them to your smart phone to ensure you have a map even without internet or cellular service.
Along the way we met some sheep. #1 Toddler was happy to place the “bahhhh” sound with the real thing.
Elafonissi Beach is world famous, a usual player on those infamous Top Beaches in the World lists. Its pink sand and crystal clear water are unique. In the summer it’s quite crowded, but today it was just us and the kite surfers.
The beach was warm but super windy. I can’t imagine it’s this windy year round or you’d never be able to keep your beach blanket in one place.
After watching the kite surfers do some flips, we walked the beach and collected a few shells. The wind was getting the best of us and threatening to knock over #1 Toddler, so we decided to wrap up. We took a last survey of our private beach and headed to the car in search of lunch.
Our AirBnB hostess, Maria, gave us lunch recommendations. We opted for Kochilas Tavern due to its proximity to Elafonissi and robust menu of fresh seafood.
We picked a table near the window. There’s a lovely patio open during the high season. The waitress greeted us and was immediately smitten with #1 Toddler. She brought her a toy truck and a high chair. Everywhere we’ve gone, the people have been so welcoming to a toddler. We’ve not once felt put out, even when she’s spilled or dropped things.
Amir and I always like to divide and conquer a menu. He selected the fresh fish, while I opted for the grilled octopus. We knew chicken souvlaki would be a hit with you know who. We went 3 for 3. Winning.
To drink, I ordered a Fix beer and Amir a Greek soda called Gazoza – think Sprite meets bubblegum flavor.
We ate everything on our plates, but I was craving just a little something sweet. We asked our waitress (who by the way turns out to also be the chef and owner) about dessert. She mentioned something about yogurt and glaze, and returned 5 minutes later with 3 plates – Greek yogurt with sour orange topping and Kataïfi, a straw-like filo pasty with walnuts, honey and spices. Oh, and two shots of raki. This woman was my new best friend.
We settled up and headed back to Villa Irene. The drive back was beautiful but uneventful. My two other travelers both took 3 hour naps while I caught up and wrote yesterday’s post. We had planned to take an afternoon walk to explore the area right around Villa Irene, but the day got ahead of us, and the sun was soon setting.
I skipped writing yesterday because my eyes were closing as I tried to type last night. Yesterday was also a travel day, which is a guarantee for exhaustion, even when traveling without a toddler. And of course, WordPress has opted to change its entire editing process mid-trip. Hurray! Forgive any misalignment – I hope you know me better.
We flew from Athens on a short flight to Chania airport in Crete. The service on the flight was impeccable. While only a 50 minute flight, we were on a large plane with plenty of leg room and served not only a beverage but also cookies and mints. Aegean and Olympic Airlines have a special check-in lines for families (no wait), and bump you to the head of airport security screening. What’s usually our most stressful part of travel was a breeze.
Porto Veneziano, Chania, Crete
Our first stop in Chania was to see the Porto Veneziano (Venetian Port) where there are 17 dry docks dating back to 1597 when the Venetians occupied this part of Crete. Three of the original docks have been renovated and converted into a museum and cafe. We stopped to enjoy a cappuchino to offset our early start to the morning. They even made a steamed milk just for our daughter, which of course she spilled all over the stone floor.
After our coffee, we went for a leisurely walk along the harbor with the goal of finding a nice spot for lunch. The water is crystal clear despite the harbour being filled with active fishing boats and other commercial enterprise. We saw a few men fishing and others feeding the pigeons. It’s a warm and slow way of life here. Just what we’ve been looking for given the chaos of our past year.
The Maritime Museum of Chania is located on the west side of the harbor, an easy walk from the free, public parking lot. At only €3/person, it’s worth paying the fee just to gain access to the elevated view of the port and lighthouse. If you have the time, there is an indoor portion to the museum with displays explaining the history of the Venetian occupation, shipbuilding process and artifacts discovered during recent renovations.
After the Maritime Museum, we walked through the alleys of old Chania, just to make sure we didn’t miss any better lunch options. It’s cliche, but we always like “going off-road” in other countries because you can get away from the Tourist traps and see more local life. I often find this is where the photographic gems hide, too.
We’d spent the morning exploring what we wanted to see, so we knew our daughter would need to run around and let out some energy. Fortunately, along the walk from the parking lot to Porto Veneziano, there’s a small but scenic playground perfect for kids age 2-10 years.
Driving Southwest to Villa Irene in Livadia, Crete
After the playground, we packed ourselves back into our rental car for the adventurous drive to our AirBbB in Livadia, Crete. Amir has researched the drive well in advance of our trip, so he knew to expect winding, at times, trecherous roads. It’s definitely an adventure for daylight, and also requires an SUV.
The road is narrow, requiring one car to yield to another when two approach at the same time. Similar to our drive in Cornwall, England, there are many hairpin turns and near-misses involving livestock – in this case goats and sheep.
While the drive was heart-stopping, it was also breathtaking, with small moments of beauty revealing themselves with each turn. It’s most comparable to driving the Pacific Coast Highway in California, but with small villages, livestock and weathered townspeople dotting the way.
Villa Irene in Livadia, Crete
Our AirBnB was difficult to find given there are no street names or house numbers. Restaurants and homes are known only by their name, which is feasible when the villages and population are small. Our AirBnB host, Maria, had given us an address for our GPS, but unfortunately that plan failed as we rented a TomTom with our car, and she had meant Google Maps via a smart phone. We solved the problem by calling her on the phone the old fashioned way and reading aloud the limited signage and landmarks we could identify. Despite our navigational issues, we arrived without our projected one hour window, before sunset, and with time to relax.
We found Villa Irene though a simple search on AirBnB. The listing had an icon identifying it as “usually booked” – it caught my attention. At just $164/night off-season, it’s a bargain. You can check out the details here. The only negative mentioned about the place is its remote location. But, after just one day here I can say that while it is remote, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do. If you want extensive shopping and nightlife, this is not it. If you want nature, amazing views and authenticity, Villa Irene is your spot.
At the risk of sounding like a promo for the place, here are a few more photos from around the property.
When we went to Florence, Italy last summer, one of our favorite experiences was a market tour and cooking class through In Tavola . If you’ve never done one, they are an affordable way to get a taste of a wide variety of local meats, veggies, cheeses and other products. You have a local guide who knows the sellers and restauranteurs who will prepare you samples and small plates of their best dishes.
For $58/person, we booked a 3 hour tour with Marina through AirBnb. This was dollar for dollar, money well spent. No charge for kids under 2 despite the fact that she sampled everything.
We met Marina at 10am in a City Square just a few blocks from our hotel. Unlike our tour in Florence (10-12 people), this tour was private. I’m not sure if that’s the case because it’s off season or if it’s private year round, but it worked to our advantage as many of the places we visited were small with tables for only 3-4 people each.
Stop 1: Creme Royale
Our first stop was to learn about the process of making filo pastry dough by sampling different savory pies. At this shop, they offer pies featuring 3 different kinds of filo. We enjoyed cheese pie with a flaky filo and a spinach and leek pie with a thicker filo.
My urge was to eat every delicious scrap in front of me, but I know we had at least 5 more stops ahead of us. We took the leftovers with us in a small paper takeaway box.
Stop 2: Zarkadian Meat & Cheese Market
I should have taken notes here because we tried more new things than any other stop. The butcher was friendly and generous. We sampled a feta and a goat cheese along with cured olives, spiced meat and salted and seasoned camel. Yes, camel.
The butcher put together a generous cheese and charcuterie plate served with basil seasoned toasted bread pieces, white wine and water. Our daughter devoured the cheese.
The plate was so generous we were only able to finish a little over half of it. Our daughter started to grow restless, so I took my last swig of the simple dry white table wine, and we moved on to our next destination.
Stop 3: Mocca Coffee Shop
Through our Netflix travel show binge, we’d also identified “sand coffee” as a must try while in Athens. We were delighted to discover our next stop was to experience exactly that.
First, the coffee is ground to the finest setting and added to the small pot. Water is added, and the mixture stirred. Unlike filtered coffee, the grounds remain directly in the drink. The pot is placed in hot sand that is over 200 degrees Celsius until the water boils. It’s stirred just once to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom. Just before it boils over, it’s removed from the sand and placed on a tray, ready to serve.
In the traditional Greek fashion, we sat, slowed down and savored our coffee as we watched others in the cafe chat politics and catch up with old friends. Mocca is the place where locals meet to catch up and unwind.
Stop 4: Varvakios Market
Wherever you travel, if you decide to do a food tour, always pick the one with a market tour. You’ll always find the freshest and most exotic local ingredients, plus if you enjoy photography, there’s plenty of inspiration.
We didn’t sample anything at the meat market, mainly because everything was fresh and nothing cooked. In Florence we tasted raw sausage and were scolded by an Infectious Disease colleague the week after. At least we can avoid the epidemiological doghouse this time.
The central portion of market is meat and seafood, while fruit and veggie stands fill the outer ring.
As we walked through the market, I was again reminded just how much Greek people love little kids. So far since we’ve been here, our daughter has been offered (read handed) chocolate, lollipops, pastries and today in the market, a banana, oranges and a strawberry. All for free. The people, more-so elderly men, just love to see the face of a little one light up. The people are generous.
It pays to be cute
Stop 5: Της θεάτρου το στεκι
For our main meal, we walked just a few blocks to Της θεάτρου το στεκι (Tis theatrou to steki). Marina worked with the chef to select a few dishes to best represent what they had to offer. We dined on roasted eggplant, muscles, feta spread, butter beans and sardines.
Stop 6: Serbetia
We finished off the day with dessert at Serbetia, a small dessert shop specializing in both traditional Greek and more modern pastries, tarts and cookies.
Marina gave us a choice between traditional baklava and a cream filled baklava. We opted for the latter. It did not disappoint.
As we finished dessert, we knew our tour was coming to a close. Wrap up was easy – everything was paid in advance on AirBnB, so no awkward pauses waiting for extra tips or hassle of trying to make change.
After the food tour we headed back to our hotel for a siesta. We had hoped to catch the Archeology Museum this afternoon, but we learned the hard way that it closes at 3pm during the off season. Make sure you check your times if you plan to go.
Instead I searched Google for a rooftop bar with great views of the Acropolis. My favorite thing about the European lifestyle is slowing down, sitting on a patio, people watching and enjoying cocktails and good conversation. A for Athens had great reviews and was open. We set out to find it.
We are turning in early this evening as we have an early flight to Crete tomorrow morning.