Archive for September, 2007

Sep 30 2007

Faux-hawks and Dreadlocks

Published by under Crete,Greece

Between jetlag and work and not knowing what in the world we’re doing, besides a few feeble attempts at locating bars, Ben and I haven’t had much in the way of a nightlife while in Hania. So we vowed yesterday to go out last night in earnest.

The night began with the questionable decision to consume the entire complementary bottle of raki the waiter brought us after dinner. Having already drank a half liter of house wine, we sat on the restaurant patio taking painful shot after painful shot and discussing, for what I now realize was an irrationally long time, the best tactics for Ben to achieve his new desired hairstyle: the faux-hawk a la Maddox Jolie-Pitt.

“I’m fine! Raki ain’t nothin’!” Ben said, as we left the now-empty bottle on the table of the fish taverna and started walking towards the harbor. I was certainly woozy and thought he needed to stop posturing and I was quite sure that some sort of pomade would be the best styling implement for a faux-hawk – all of which I was relating to Ben when I suddenly realized he was no longer walking beside me. I turned on my heels to see Ben, a block back, in his only nice pair of pants, crouching on all fours, studying something on the ground.

“I think it’s a tree frog!” he whisper-yelled to me. A group of French people walking by looked at me piteously and scurried past Ben. It turned out to be a piece of trash.

Hania’s harbor-front bar scene is dominated by places touting themselves as “Scandinavian dance clubs.” We’ve yet to figure out their appeal, as most restaurants in Hania vie for the most “authentically Cretan” title. “Where IS Scandinavia anyway?” I asked as we walked past the thumping house music of clubs like “DANZA” and “Klik.”

“Uh, Norway.” Ben replied.

“Huh?” I said.

“I mean, Sweden.”

“Sweden is not Scandinavian.”

“Finland.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“You ask too many questions for a girl,” he said. And then I kicked him into the harbor, so that’s the last you’ll be hearing from Ben for a while.

The only people more annoying than the restaurant greeters (mentioned in a previous post of Ben’s) are the dance club greeters who accost and unrelentingly try to recruit you. We’re pretty good at ignoring them while collecting all the “Free shot!” coupons they hand out. It was strange, then, that the greeting of one such club employee made us simultaneously stop and turn around. “Hey guys,” he said, “Y’all should come in here!” We stared at the man: was his accent an American one? Did he just say “y’all”??

Let me explain: there are no Americans here. The overwhelming majority of tourists are French or German. English-speaking tourists are from the UK. We haven’t met a fellow American since arriving in Greece. It’s not as if I dislike European tourists or particularly care for American ones. But after constantly struggling to understand what everyone around me is saying and feeling isolated by the fact that I grew up on a different continent, I crave anything familiar. I miss the insta-bond of shared experiences, perspectives and geography. Ben and I rushed over to the greeter. “Where you guys from?” he said.

“The States!” we said, excitedly and in unison. “What about you??”

“Canada.”

Well, it wasn’t ideal, but close enough. He then added, “actually, an American girl just went upstairs, you guys should definitely…”

Sold! We ran upstairs without waiting for him to finish and were quickly introduced to a girl from New Jersey. Kathy was equally excited to meet us and we spent most of the next hour talking at each other and reveling in familiar sounds and names of places. I resisted the urge to hug her and declare Kathy to be my new best friend.

After a couple more drinks courtesy of Sasha, the doorman who enticed us into the bar, and his friend Mike, a Russian/Jewish/Canadian DJ, I excused myself to the bathroom. I was already elated to have met a Canadian and an American (an East Coaster, no less!) in the span of one hour when I heard the humming of a distinctly familiar song coming from the bathroom stall.

Ignoring all accepted rules of bathroom decorum, I yelled over the stall walls: “You’re singing Dave Matthews! I KNOW HIM!!!!” I was apparently disregarding the truth as well, as aside from a few fleeting glances of the singer, I do not know Dave Matthews. “I’m from Charlottesville!!” I continued, despite his lack of response.

“Ah, Virginia,” said the chubby American as he came out of the stall.

“YES!” I said, smiling like a crazy person.

“So are you a U.Va. or Virginia Tech fan?” he asked. I was beside myself with giddiness at the mention of my treasured back-home sports rivalry.

“UVA! I WENT TO UVA!!” I shouted, my voice reaching an excited crescendo rivaling that of a howler monkey.

“Well, at least you’re smart?” he said, backing away from me and returning to the bar. Despite my impulses to run after him and talk about my dear alma mater and how awesome Virginia is and how yes, I really am SO smart, my bladder reminded me that, in doing so, I’d probably pee my pants. When I returned to the bar to find the mystery man from home, he had, unfortunately, vanished. This did not stop me from scurrying over to Ben and doing some sort of raki-induced jumping dance as I related the entire experience. Our new friends looked on in bewilderment. I’m surprised we didn’t break out into the Good Old Song.

Apparently I had interrupted the first man-time Ben has enjoyed this trip. “Man-time” with Mike and Sasha involved Ben witnessing the following conversation:

Mike: You know what we need right now?

Sasha: Um… women?

Mike: No, not women.

Sasha: [pause] … Sandwiches?

Mike: No, Sasha, not sandwiches!

Sasha: [long pause] … Strippers?

Mike: No! No Sasha! Not strippers!

Ben never did find out what they needed. We may find out today, as they’ve invited us to an anti-racism festival in the city park and the subsequent Reggae after-party. I’m not sure exactly what sort of tolerance they’re promoting as, outside of tourists, Greece is homogeneously… Greek. I am looking forward to getting a souvenir Bob Marley poster, as well as to the possibility of spotting Greeks with dreadlocks.

2 responses so far

Sep 27 2007

The 5 Immutable Laws of Greek City Driving

Published by under Crete,Greece

Now that I have sufficiently recovered from the experience of driving in Hania, I can attempt to aid any other travelers who may attempt the harrowing feat of renting a car and driving in Greece. Since officers of the law seem to be ignored and/or nonexistent in these parts, consider these “the law of the land.”

1. There are no lanes whatsoever
If a road seems like it should accommodate a maximum of 2 cars, then it’s at least 5. (Not including the 2 outside lanes, sometimes called sidewalks.)

2. Traffic lights are disregarded
Pedestrians be alert: this also means that your crossing signals are meaningless. We came within inches of being run over by a man on a motorcycle while crossing a crosswalk. We had a green signal, he was turning left on a red light, and as he passed us he still saw fit to chastise us with a wagging finger and an “ah, ah, ahhh.”

3. Everything = road
This means you will find cars parked inside shops, on docked boats, and next to your bed when you get home at night. This rule holds especially true for motorcycles, whose riders believe that they have immunity to all laws. One evening last week, I saw two drunk men on a motorcycle crash into a dining table at a restaurant. While diners were seated there. The man on the back of the motorcycle managed to keep his ice cream cone perfectly balanced.

4. Motorists will politely let you out from a side street into the stream of traffic.
Haha! They would never do this. And there is never a natural break in traffic, so the only question is: how long are you willing to wait before taking the leap of faith and driving directly into oncoming traffic? You will be enraged at the other drivers who do this to you, up until the inevitable moment you find yourself forced into the same religious dilemma. It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.*

5. You are always wrong.
This holds especially true if you are legally right. The locals can see the rental sticker on your windshield, and the luggage in the back seat. This gives them the unchecked authority to honk at, and otherwise belittle, you and your passengers. The redeeming factor is that all the car horns sound like they came off of tiny clown cars, so each brush with death is brightened by the nostalgic sounds of the big top. Double bonus: If you happen to be driving near the harbor, roll down your window: now it smells like the big top too!

*The first of many Indiana Jones references. Sorry Brittany.

7 responses so far

Sep 25 2007

Road Trip: Part 2

Published by under Crete,Greece

Typically, I spend mountain drives in a panicked state: clutching my seat, refusing to look out of the window, and desperately trying to prevent any unnecessary gasping/screaming so as not to scare the dickens out of Ben. Despite my instincts, I couldn’t not stare out of the window when driving through the Lefka Ori — the scenery was truly awesome, and something I don’t think can be captured in photos. What most baffled and amazed me were the tiny villages and olive groves clinging to the sides of enormous mountains. I can’t comprehend how people live in such surroundings, where the next door neighbor’s roof is 50 feet below your patio. But the harsh landscape does not seem to phase the villagers. Farmers swerved down unpaved, treacherous mountain roads in their Toyota pick-ups, laden with crates of olives and grapes, speeding around Ben and I as we crept along at 20 kilometers per hour.

One such village was the next detour on our agenda. The village of Milia is so isolated (a 20-minute steep climb up a mountain on a terrifying dirt road), that the original farmers and shepherds abandoned the town nearly a century ago. Descendants have since returned and converted the place into a self-sufficient “eco-tourist” village touted in our guidebook as a place where you can participate in the farming, harvesting, and raki making. Although it wasn’t an “authentic” Cretan experience, it sounded fun enough to make the trek.

We arrived in Milia with high hopes, light headed from the altitude. After wandering around for a bit, not finding anyone to talk to and unnerved by the eerie silence, we stumbled upon a place labeled “reception.” Relieved, we approached a man inside the taverna, hoping to receive the hearty welcome our book had promised us. Instead, we received: “Yays, walk where you want. The farm, the houses, whatayver.” When we asked where these things were located, we got a grunt and a head nod in a vague direction as he continued to go about his work.

Thumbs down for Milia, Crete
Milia gets a thumbs down.

As we aimlessly walked around Milia, the few residents that were sitting outside looked up and stared as we passed. While I was warned that we might receive such stares as tourists in remote Cretan villages, I was not expecting creepy looks from residents of a place that operates as a tourist destination. After wandering around for a long time with the distinct impression that we must be missing something, we came across a place in the middle of the woods with shovels and pick axes strewn around. Between the strange stares and what looked like a makeshift burial ground, I was sufficiently disturbed enough to give up. Back in the car, we tried to figure out what in the world went wrong. I suggested that maybe, having come in the evening, we’d missed the majority of the tourist activities and everyone had turned in for the day.

“Yeah, that, or it’s the village of the damned,” Ben replied.

I’ll give Milia this: the place is extremely picturesque, with quaint stone houses overlooking a green valley. Otherwise, Milia gets a thumbs down.

The detour wasn’t all for naught. In fact, what may have been the highlight of the road trip came as we ascended the mountain: we spotted a kri-kri. That’s right, the rare and elusive wild mountain goat of Crete revealed himself to Ben and me. Despite telling Ben repeatedly that the existence of the kri-kri is fact, not fiction, he had it in his head that the kri-kri is thought by science to be a mythical creature and it was his job to prove its existence. We excitedly pulled over and took lots of pictures, while the kri-kri dumbly stared at us. I’m honestly surprised the kri-kri spotting wasn’t the first item Ben mentioned in his blog as he’s now billed his “discovery” as “100 times more rewarding than finding Nessie.” We also took a video:

Back on the road, we realized that we were, slowly but surely, descending out of the mountains. The only notable event that happened before arriving at Elafonisi was when we stopped at a taverna in the small town of Elos. At the end of the meal, the waitress brought over a small jar of raki and two shot glasses, and we were able to have our first taste of the infamous Cretan drink. Raki is a strong, clear liquor made in Crete from the grape skins leftover from wine making. It is the drink of choice among all Cretans, who pretty much drink it non-stop starting at 11:00 in the morning. Apparently, you do not refuse raki when it is offered to you. It tasted kind of like wine, but mostly like burning.

elafonisi beach creteThe next day was spent lazing in the Caribbean-esque paradise of Elafonisi. The waters are turquoise and crystal clear, the beach is long and wide, and, oddly enough, the sand is pink! I am not sure how this happens, but, according to the posted sign, the pink-tinted sand is one of the “specificities which compose the natural miracle” of Elafonisi and taking “the minimum amount of sand in your pockets” is a “disbain of this uniqueness.” Elafonisi gets four enthusiastic thumbs up from Ben and me; be sure to include it on your agenda if you’re ever on Crete. One final and hilarious detail I’d like to point out is that all European men wear speedos.

(PS: We uploaded additional videos of our mountain drive and Elafonisi to our YouTube channel!)

8 responses so far

Sep 23 2007

Road Trip: Part 1

Published by under Crete,Greece

One aspect of Hania that makes it such an attractive destination is its position on the western side of Crete. Attractions on Crete’s western half range from isolated, self-sufficient, villages to mountain caverns to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. And Hania makes an ideal base for exploring them all. Wanting to take in as much of Crete as possible, we rented a car for two days last week, bound for the island’s Southwest corner. We set our ultimate destination as Elafonisi Beach, and opted to take the “inland road” to get there. There is an alternative “coastal road” that is billed as more scenic, but the inland road offers some of the best chances to take in the more traditional Cretan way of life. With a picnic lunch and a map written in a language we can’t read, we hit the inload road on Thursday morning.

Our first destination was a village called Vouves, which would never have been on any tourist’s list until recently. Just a few years ago, scientists dated an olive tree in Vouves to be approximately 4,000 years old, and the village was suddenly on the map. I still don’t think I’m able to fully comprehend just hold old this tree really is. Chew on this: If Christ had visited Vouves, he would have been marvelling at a tree already 2,000 years old. That’s an old tree.

Brittany In 2004, the Olympics committee visited Vouves, and cut two branches off the olive tree. These were used to fashion wreaths, which were presented to the first and last gold-medal winners in the Games. This ceremony is slated to become a tradition going forward. The proprietor was pleased to show us photographs from the ceremony held at her home, and was also pleased to try to sell us soft drinks and/or novelty ice cream bars. The gnarled tree (which still bears olives!) is surrounded by a ring of bricks, and is the centerpiece of the property’s garden. We had read that before the tree became famous, a nearby neighbor was using it as a kennel for her dogs. This was possible because the tree has a large hollow interior, and it didn’t take Brittany long to climb inside the oldest tree in the universe.

Before getting back on the main road, we stopped to eat our picnic lunch in a nearby olive grove. We were joined by a chorus of tree frogs, but my attempts to capture a specimen continued to be met with failure.

Ayios Nikalaos Church Our next detour found us seeking one of Crete’s oldest churches, Ayios Nikolaos, noted to be somewhere within the mountain village of Mouri. We questioned why our directions would be so vague until we got to the village. I would have no way of accurately telling you how to find this church. The best directions I can think of sound like this: drive around Mouri until you see a sign written in Greek that looks something like “Nikalaos.” Follow the arrows on any such signs until you (hopefully) arrive at a roadside sign that seems to be pointing nowhere. Find a place to park your car on the cliffside, and start walking into the nearby olive grove. You can’t see it from the road, but there is indeed a church back there among the trees. Let me futher clarify: we went in expecting “church” to mean one of those big buildings with a steeple and pews, and maybe some Sunday school rooms. Not quite. Ayios Nikolaos is no bigger than a woodshed, and sort of looks like a woodshed tucked in among the trees. Open the unlocked door, and you’ll find one room with no seats, and standing room for probably fifteen people. What you’ll also find is an amazing collection of frescoes that adorn the walls and ceiling of the room, as well as several framed paintings and a large wooden cross. The frescoes depict different scenes from the Bible, and survive largely in fragments today. Ayios Nikolaos is tiny, hard to find, and definitely worth the detour.

Back on the inland road, we soon found ourselves winding higher and higher into Crete’s Lefka Ori Mountains (“White Mountains”). I typically don’t mind mountain driving (Brittany can’t stand it) but driving through the Lefka Ori Mountains is nothing like the Blue Ridge Mountain drives I’m accustomed to. The road circles you round and round up into the peaks, but you don’t realize how high you really are until you find yourself skirting the edge of a several-hundred foot ravine, on a a two-lane road only wide enough for one car, with no guard rail. Looking out the window is at once an awesome sight, and a terrifying one. In addition to the unsettling fact that the road is often only wide enough for one car, it also tends to takes blind curves around the mountainside. It’s very clear at these times that if another car is coming around the bend in the opposite direction, you will have no way of seeing each other until you’re hitting each other head-on, and subsequently tumbling into the ravine. The only preventive measure I could think of was to approach these blind curves slowly, honking like mad in hopes of announcing my presence to any unseen on-comers. Then it’s time to hold your breath, take the curve, hopefully breathe a sigh of relief upon finding yourself alive, and brace yourself for the next one. Of course, this routine is always accompanied by the question, “why did we take the inland road again?”

The highlight of the cliffside drive for me was a tunnel that cuts into the mountain, and is of course, the exact width of one car. The solution to this problem is a traffic light that lets you know when it’s your side’s turn to pass through the tunnel. I was the only car at the light when it turned green, and I proceeded to take us into the mountain. I hadn’t gone very far into the tunnel when I saw it: a tour bus, coming directly at me. Aside from a crushing death, I had one option: back up out of the tunnel and along the cliffside, until I could reach a point wide enough for both myself and a tour bus. My subconscious is preventing me from reliving much of this experience, but I do wish for the record to show that instead of receiving a friendly wave from the bus driver, I received some sort of Greek death stare.

Our reward for this harrowing journey was our next stop: the cave of Agias Sofias. The cave lies along one of the road’s deepest ravines, and can only be reached by parking your car and climbing a long set of stone steps that ascend the mountainside. Remains found in this cave date back to Neolithic times, but I marvel at whatever super powers evolution decided to deny us that allowed Neolithic people to reach this cave without its modern staircase. It’s easy to imagine a small society making a home of this cave, and it’s easier to imagine them abandoning it after the incessant dripping of water from stalactites drove them to madness. We managed to film a short video at the cave of Agias Sofias, so you can see it for yourself!

This does not conclude the story of our first Cretan road trip, but it does conclude Part 1. More pictures and videos to come in Part 2!

6 responses so far

Sep 22 2007

We’re back! + Vlogging, take 2

Published by under Crete,Greece

We arrived back in Hania last night from a two day road trip exploring southwest Crete. We took the inland road through the Lefka Ori mountains which allowed us to stop and visit some of Crete’s more traditional villages (besides a handful of cities and resort towns, Crete is largely made up of isolated farming villages). Our ultimate destination was Elafonissi, a beautiful beach on the Libyan Sea, where we spent the bulk of yesterday. Ben is spending today recovering from the harrowing one-lane, sometimes-paved drive through the mountains in a rental car. We’re also working on uploading the pictures and videos we took from our trip. We promise to blog all about it.

Until then, here’s a video we filmed last week before we left:

2 responses so far

Sep 19 2007

Three Dub: Where everybody knows your name

Published by under Crete,Greece

Pardon my absence on the blog the last few days. I have been laboring under a deadline for work in an effort to try and fund this venture of ours. Someone’s got to be the brains behind this operation. Please reference this picture to understand why the brains = me.

Because one of the few requirements of being a “web editor” is access to the web, I quickly became familiar with Hania’s limited internet-access options. I was flabbergasted when I realized that my laptop could not detect even the faintest signal of a wireless network from our apartment. Driving down any random highway in America I can usually pick up one connection within range. It was not a promising revelation.

I had originally set out to find a cheaper option than paying the hourly rate at the techno-music-loving internet café we discovered on our first morning here, but found translating “wireless hot spot” into Greek to be a bit tricky. Even our English-speaking landlord was no help on this front as he confessed to having never touched a computer in his life.

So after exploring the few internet-access points in Hania, the techno-music-loving café, named “Triple WWW: Surf and Play,” reluctantly became our preferred place to visit, more by process of elimination than anything else: it’s cheapest, closest to home, and stays open 24 hours a day. We not-so-affectionately call this place Three Dub.

Our time at Three Dub has unfortunately exposed us to a seamy demographic of the Cretan populace: the internet-café-dwelling Greek dweebs. I might be embarrassed about how much time I spend at Three Dub, but this crowd never leaves. Ben and I, however, are the only people in the café using the internet for anything other than:

1. gaming
2. porn


An uncharacteristically empty day at Three Dub

Young and old men alike sit for hours, chain-smoking and playing “Warcraft,” which apparently involves shooting at moving objects on the screen and yelling “malaka!” into large headsets.* “Malaka,” our guidebook informs me, translates literally into “wanker.”

Ben, thinking he’d found kindred spirits, has attempted to talk to the Warcraft-gamers on several occasions, but his overtures are met only with grunts and annoyed stares.

Women-gamers also frequent Three Dub. Their games of choice are more along the lines of Mahjong and Snood; however, the fervor with which they play such games matches that of their male counterparts. And they probably smoke more cigarettes.

The second faction of Three-Dub-dwellers is far more disturbing. I hesitate to write about them, but I cannot escape them, and so, dear blog readers, neither can you. They are the porn-watchers.

You must be thinking, “surely, she’s kidding. No one would seriously watch porn on a public computer.” Oh, how I wish that were true. Dull-eyed Greek men unabashedly watch filthy videos, cigarette in one hand, frappe in the other, in full view of the entire café and all passers-by. As you unavoidably walk by their computer station, they’ll turn and look at you, mouths slightly open, expressionless and unapologetic, before shamelessly pivoting back to their computer screens.

In an effort to escape the icky, we’ve recently discovered an upscale seaside restaurant that offers “free” wifi. So, I’ve opted to come here on many occasions, order a drink and sit for hours, enjoying the view. I think it may be an abuse of their intent to sit here for eight hours at a time, and I get strange looks from the staff, but I’m willing to endure such glances for a porn-free environment.

* I did not know that what they were playing was called Warcraft. I may know some computer languages but I’m not that nerdy. Ben told me. He is that nerdy.

6 responses so far

Next »