Finding E75, the two lane highway that runs the length of the island of Crete, I shifted through the gearbox of our little BMW, finding 5th gear sufficient for our speed and the occasional hills as we moved west. Light rain came and went as I weaved around slower cars, passing wherever I wanted or felt the need. I’ve decided that the traffic laws here are non-existent. Cars drive in the lane, breakdown lane, or halfway in between with no rhyme or reason. Some do 40km while others pass at well over 120, moving out into the oncoming lane and accelerating past as many cars and trucks as they can in a single go. While slightly unnerving at the start, I’ve grown more accustomed to it over the last week and have begun doing it more on my own. Today was no exception, and I was having fun navigating us down the road as Dani watched out the window and occasionally changed the song on the radio to suit her tastes.
Around lunchtime we made it to Rethimno, a vibrant and bustling city on the edge of the sea. We find free parking down on the water and began a few hours of exploration down the narrow streets, passing small shops and restaurants, taking photos regularly and enjoying the welcomed sun shining down from above. As luck would have it, there was a break in the rain for the duration of our time in town, a wonderful gift to us that made navigating the colorful streets overgrown with green vines and saturated blooming flowers so much more enjoyable. We stopped at one restaurant for a snack, choosing a gluten free crepe with chicken, sun dried tomato, and mozzarella cheese to share. The dish was huge, but the chicken was dry which left the entire meal to be disappointing. We paid the check and moved on, back towards the car and to our final destination, all in all walking just over 4 miles during our brief visit to town.
On the way out of town we took a twisty route up through the countryside past a small farm that Dani had read about. Their restaurant was closed, but we took some time to explore the stone courtyards that overlooked acres of vineyards and the ocean in the distance. Heavy rain plagued us the remaining 70km to Heraklion, but as we drove down the same coastal highway the storm clouds were beautiful in contrast to the blue grey sea they covered. Our Airbnb was nestled in the heart of the neighborhood nearest to the port, a key location given our early ferry ride to Ssantorini the following morning. The streets were so narrow and cars parked so closely together there were actually moments that our side view mirrors cleared only by half an inch on either side as I eased the clutch into first gear and crawled between the vehicle next to us and concrete buildings on the opposite sides. The apartment we rented was on the third floor of an older condo building, but had a nice view across a city park and windows protected from the rainfall outside, allowing us to leave them open and feel the cool breeze of the afternoon.
Dinner was found at a restaurant literally right outside our door, an almost-American place born and raised in the States some forty years ago. The fourth location owned by the family, Amalia’s Kitchen had an incredibly diverse menu, including a vast gluten free selection, and served our needs well for dinner. The owner and namesake, Amalia herself, came to visit or table and talked with us about her two decades living in the US, operating the restaurant started by her father in Houston back in the 70s, then moving it back to her hometown in Crete after he passed away. We talked about Boston, New York, Texas, and the restaurant itself before moving inadvertently to the more serious topics of Greece, the housing market, the government, and (lack of) police presence. The most hard hitting fact she gave us was in regards to the vacant mid-construction houses adorning every town, something she says is due to a $60,000 Euro permit fee to finish a home. Much alike a building permit in the US, maybe $125-1,000 depending on where you live, the $60k permit is required for construction but is something that nobody can afford to pay, causing these homes to be abandoned halfway through being built, left to deteriorate without much further action. The things Amalia told us really hit home just how reliant this country is on tourism, and leaves me with a lot to think about as we go into the final week of this adventure.
Making the exceptionally short walk back to the apartment we packed in preparation for the early ferry ride to Santorini. Crete has been beautiful and diverse, but I’m really quite excited to see what our next island has in store for us.