Addicted to happiness, a story about Crete

I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.” is what Nikos Kazantzakis was saying in Zorba the Greek. And if you read the words below from our friend Cristina Mihalachioiu we can’t promise you won’t fall in love with Crete and go searching for happiness…in the small details.

“First time I was in Grece, I went to Crete. I stayed in a tidy hotel with a sea view, located on the bar street of what I think to be the liveliest city in Crete: Hersonissos. I could smell the sea from the balcony and stare at the mountains from the window.

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The beaches are not the widest, to say the least, but the sun is welcoming and the waves are hugging you into a cameleonic embrace. There were many days, during my other visits in Crete, when the sea literally changed color from green to turquoise, from blue to black. It’s especially magic during the spring, as it is quiet and controlling. It has a life of its own this sea and it is simply surprising.

Now that I told you about my big love, the Aegean Sea, I’ll tell you also about my other love, eggplant burekakia. It’s an amazing dish – I don’t know if it’s Cretan or Greek, never cared – based on eggplants and feta cheese (I know the entire recipe, but I’m keeping it for myself 😊). This I discovered in a magnificent restaurant called Argo. I think it was there were I fell in love with Crete – they say: “there are people coming to holiday in Crete and there are people coming for holiday in Argo”. I’ve met a lot of the latter and became myself one of them.

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But this piece is about Crete and how amazing Crete is. You see, we’ve come to such a strong bond, that Crete has slowly became a part of me.

The sea is not what Crete or Hersonissos is all about; while the port side is better known for its tavernas, but especially for the bars and clubs along the sea, there is also Hersonissos village, up towards the mountains. It’s pretty traditional, there are special nights and tours organized for tourists. But what I recommend is for you to rent a motorbike and ride it up the mountains. And then stop. Stop to gaze at the sea from above. And now you’re addicted to happiness…

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Coming back to another type of happiness – nightlife in Hersonissos, I think even Greeks find it the best. You have to see it for yourself and not forget to stay responsible. You’ll see you’ll find it extremely difficult with all the joie de vivre around yourselves, but you have to. Otherwise, you risk staying on a bench in front of the hotel for three hours because your friend has the room key, she doesn’t answer her phone and the reception desk opens at 7:30 a.m. :p

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And if you get to Crete you must not miss Matala and Chania and for history lovers Knossos.

Matala is in Southern Crete and has this amazing silver beach, with weird pierced rocks around and used to be a place where the hippies would gather back in the days. You travel there through sloppy roads in the mountains, through olive trees plantations and red lands and it’s worth it every minute of the journey.

Chania is the second largest city in Crete (after Heraklion, the capital) and has this amazing old harbor area very well preserved which deserves at least one afternoon of doing nothing and just enjoing the food in the tavernas around.

Knossos is very well preserved and recommended to ancient ruins lovers only. Otherwise, it’s very hot in the summer and if are not a fan of the type, you would be annoyed.

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Bottom line – the sea, the sun, the food, the Cretans, just amazing and you can only see by yourselves.”

(Story and pictures: Cristina Mihalachioiu)

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Santorini or as close as it gets to heaven …

When planning the trip to Greece one of my friends told me that the phrase that best describes Greece is “belle view” because when you travel around this amazing country you just have to turn around and you will be for sure surrounded by a view that will still your heart away…well I have to admit that Greece was exactly like this with a cherry on top…
Sunset in Oia…
Our “to do list” in Greece included Santorini.  Frankly speaking I had no idea what we were supposed to visit or see or do.  All I knew about this island was that it took its name from Saint Irina (as given by the Venetians in the thirteen century), that it was somehow related to a volcano and that it should have some blue and white churches that seemed to appear on all the dreamy wallpapers.
Santorini (Thira) is a Greek island part of the Ciclades.  A small island (96 km long) with around 11,500 inhabitants, Santorini is annually the home away from home for around half million visitors.  How can such a small island fit so many tourists and so many dreams that it’s still a mystery to discover.
 
We arrived to Santorini by boat from Crete in a more than sunny August day.  First contact with the island started with jumping on a bus that was supposed to take us to our hotel and with the smallest van we have ever seen packed up with young tourists on their away to a local hostel.
In order to understand my first impression of Santorini I have to tell you that I am the type of traveler that likes busy trips with lots of sightseeing and jumping between planes, trains, buses and squeezing in as much as interesting places to see as possible.
Imagine my surprise when I got off the bus in Perissa and turned around and so nothing else than a few hidden houses, arid land, sand and green just enough not to be in the dessert.  What to do for six days stuck on an island?  The best thing to do while in Santorini is to give up all the sightseeing plans, chill out, lay down and experience the Greek island way of leaving life.
 
People
Like all Greeks, Santorini people are warm, polite and most than happy to welcome you in their hotels, restaurants or clubs.  What I mostly remember about them is that they seem to have their own timetable, they do things slowly, no rush, no fuss, nothing to worry about and nowhere to go where you can be late.  Santorini people have certainly upgraded the meaning of “dolce far niente” to a superior level.
Beaches
From red to black to white the beaches in Santorini are to die for.  Perivolos welcomed us with dark colored sand and the most transparent and clean water we have ever laid foot in.
 
The red volcano beach invited us to lie down on red sand and bathe in the Mediterranean sea with a view to the red rocks in front.
The white beach, reachable only by boat form Akrotiri or swimming from the red beach gave us the chance to experience getting down straight from the boat in the crystal clear waters and sun tanning amongst white rocks.
 
 Transportation
There are many ways you can move around in Santorini from renting a car, a motorbike, taking the local bus or jumping in a taxi all is affordable and reliable.  If you are the bus type forget about timetables and be patient, hours and minutes are there just an indication and you might have to wait 10-20 minutes longer.  Except for this the bus ride was the perfect way for us to get to know the island.
Food
Greek food is all you can dream of.  Light, tasteful, diverse.  You can try anything from sea food, fish, grilled cheese (haloumi), Tzatziki to Souvlaki and moussaka.
 
Our favorite food was all types of sea food we could find and the best moussaka ever tasted.  In terms  of drinks you can try wine, local beer or ouzo.

Ouzo is an anise-flavored aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus. Is traditionally mixed with and served with ice cubes in a small glass. Ouzo can also be drunk straight from a shot glass.

Parties
If you are planning to go party in Santorini than you should try Kamari and Fira.  Fira has an amazing nightlife.  You can jump from one club to the other, dance on the bar, drink ouzo shots and chilling cocktails.  The crowd is as good as it can get and the music is a combination of Greek and international music.

Must do!

  watch a sunset in Oia/Ia; everybody gathers on the roads near the sea to enjoy together the sunset and there is so much silence in the rumor all around and there is so much emotion when seeing the sun laying down in the Mediterranean sea that you just fell you grabbed happiness by its feet and you just can’t let go;
–  walk around the small streets of Ia and enjoy the white houses, the traditional churches and small shops and restaurants welcoming you at every corner;
 
         
 – try the huge pancakes in Fira;
    have dinner in the many restaurants facing the sea;
       swim, swim, swim;
      take a boat ride to the white beach with nothing else but a swimsuit and jump from the boat for a swim in a crystal clear water;
 –        go party in Fira, let go of all inhibitions and just let yourself go wild;
 –          propose to your girlfriend in the perfect place to propose marriage;


How would we describe the Santorini experience in just one phrase? Well Santorini is truly as close as it gets to heaven on earth :p