Surprise – We’re in Crete

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Happy New Year from Crete!

Yes Crete!

About 20 minutes after I published our last post our friends contacted us to say they were heading to Crete in early January after all. We decided to get to Crete as quickly as possible so that we could spend three weeks there before needing to be back in Bulgaria.

The next problem was actually getting to Crete. With all the economic problems in Greece no international trains have been running into or out of Greece for the past year. The cheapest way was a 12 hour bus ride from Sofia to Athens followed by an overnight ferry. Or two six hour bus rides followed by the overnight ferry.

Neither sounded like a lot of fun with two young kids. Particularly since lately the kids seem to have the bladder of a 1 year old. On our three hour bus ride from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia we had to ask the driver to stop three times. There’s a sure way to stand out on a bus – be the only tourists, throw in two kids and then ask the bus to stop three times in a three hour trip.

So 12 hours on a bus … eeek!

Of course that’s when Colin came down with a stomach bug. Hmm now we’d be asking the bus driver to stop for him too!

Then Noah came down sick.

So we talked ourselves into the quickest way – and of course the much more expensive way – flying to Crete directly from Sofia with Aegean Airlines. Expensive but fast and a guaranteed toilet!

So here we are! In sunny Crete

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Well OK it’s been sunny some of the time. Winter is the wet season in Crete, which means you’ll get three-five +15 degrees Celsius glorious days in a row followed by several days of howling wind and rain. And I mean howling.

So it’s sunny Crete … some of the time.

Like the weather, our time in Crete has been a mixed bag.

The island is very beautiful. We love the mountains and the tiny villages lining the steep valleys. The beaches aren’t as beautiful as we imagined (growing up in Australia with white sand it’s hard to love anything else but white sand) but on a sunny day the water is so crystal clear and still it’s almost impossible.

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There’s definitely something magical about standing on a beach watching fish swim through rocks in glass-like water with snowy mountains in the background. We always joked about finding an island that had beaches for me and snow for Colin – I guess we’ve found it!

Yesterday we saw the ancient sunken city of Olous laying in just a few meters of clear water off the coast. Sadly no mermaids. Hayley was hoping to see mermaids in a sunken city.

But then there’s the bad.

Everything is so much more expensive than Eastern Europe. Eating out isn’t an option, at least not every day. Which is kind of nice – it’s been a long time since we’ve had family dinners and breakfasts at home. Of course the kitchen in our apartment is pretty lacking in … well everything … so meals haven’t been all that imaginative!

The apartment we are staying in Gouves, 20km from Heraklion, is less than ideal. A hundred little problems. Like plugs not fitting sinks, lots of mosquitoes and not enough saucepans. Tiny things that by themselves wouldn’t be an issue. But then add in the fact that the heating doesn’t really work, the hot water isn’t anything resembling ‘hot’, the Internet is more unreliable than we’ve seen anywhere else in two years of travel and the fact that we can’t do washing unless the manager is on-site to open the laundry room and then it takes three days to dry thanks to the heating … and that’s just some of the problems. Being in these apartments just isn’t enjoyable.

Everything around us in this village is shut down. We were expecting most things to be shut down considering it’s a summer resort town but we thought there would still be things open for locals. I guess they all have cars and are happy to drive 20 minutes to facilities. It’s more like ghost town that was abandoned years ago than a place shut down for winter. The next town towards Crete is larger and more things are open – we’ve learned that a place this small in winter in Crete isn’t ideal unless you have a car.

Still it’s lovely being 50m to beaches that we have all to ourselves and streets quiet enough for the children to explore without supervision … but it’s also frustrating to have to walk twenty minutes to reach even a small grocery store that doesn’t really have what we need.

We’ve rented a car and that’s made a huge difference. We’ve seen some lovely villages and scenery. We can now get to the shops if the weather is bad and have easy access larger supermarkets in the next town.  But I doubt we’ll last the full three weeks.

So … Crete in Winter … is it a good place for a longer stay?

Absolutely. IF you choose your location carefully. Location and apartment!

Crete really is a place that you should come here first, rent a hostel for a night or two and hire a car so that you can explore the island to find the right location. It’s hard to find anything for rent online and if you do find something, it’s hard to judge how quiet/remote a location is until you are there. In many small towns we’ve visited almost everything has been shut – corner stores, petrol stations, restaurants, museums.

If you can’t come first rent a place in a larger town. Heraklion and Chania are cities with a large enough local population that everything is still open. If you want somewhere a little quieter try Agio Nikolaos. We really liked Agios Nikolaos. Enough life that we could find kids to play with, lots of restaurants and stores open, but quiet enough that you can still escape it all. Having a crystal clear harbour and lake, as well as several beaches within a short walk of the city centre made it pretty attractive too!

Most holiday apartments are in summer resorts so things like heating and hot water aren’t guaranteed. Do your research. Ask if you can test out the heating first. Hot water is often solar power. Check if they have the option of electric water for the days when it’s not sunny, and find out how much extra that might cost you.

There’s a lot to recommend Crete in winter. When the sun is out it’s glorious. 15+ degrees and sunshine all day. The kids have loved not being in jackets. The water is clear and it’s warm enough to play on the beaches. Which are almost always deserted. Then just a few hours drive and you can be in the snow.

When the weather turns bad though, which seems to happen for at least a few days every week, it’s cold, windy and wet. With the strong winds off the ocean it can feel colder here than where we were in Bulgaria and Serbia. Crete doesn’t have a lot of ‘indoor’ things to do so you need to be content to either be out exploring in the less than ideal weather or tucked up indoors with boardgames and books. There are a few museums open in winter in the larger cities and malls of course that you can make the most of during the off days.

Apartment: Being winter, holiday apartment and villa rental prices are heavily discounted. We are paying 600 euros per month for a two bedroom ‘villa’ … although it’s older style villa. Certainly no lap pools and stainless steel kitchens! I think you could get a much better deal if you came here and rented in person. Even better if you can find a local apartment not a ‘resort’ – of course those are harder to find on a short term lease. Yearly rental prices on local apartments are quite reasonable so it’s worth looking into if you are staying for several months.

Car: We’ve also rented a car for 100 euros per week. With a bit of negotiation you could get a much better monthly rate.

Food: Eating out isn’t cheap. We’re averaging 20-25 euros for a simple meal out such as two pizzas, water and one large beer. Self catering is the only option if you are on a strict budget. A loaf of bread is less than 1 euro, 1L of milk 1.30 euros. 10-20 euros per day will feed a family of four if you are eating in, depending on your meals and snacks.

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