Difference between revisions of "Crete"
Revision as of 17:33, 4 December 2012
Crete (Κρήτη / Kriti, occasionally spelled "Krete" in English) is the largest of the Greek islands and is in the Mediterranean Sea between the Sea of Crete and the Libyan Sea, south of the Peloponnese. Crete is approximately 260 km long and 60 km wide. Crete consists of four prefectures: Chania, Rethimno, Heraklion and Lasithi. If there was a beauty contest for Greek islands, Crete would surely be among the favorites. Indeed, some say there is no place on earth like Crete. This view is strongly supported by those fortunate enough to have visited the island. Crete, with a population of approximately 650,000, is not just sun, sea and sand; it is a quite distinct place full of vitality, warmth, hospitality, culture and of course an excellent infrastructure. Crete is well known for its seas and beaches but it has a very contrasting landscape. The island goes from fertile coastal plains to rugged mountains and from busy metropolitan cities to very peaceful hillside homes. If you travel throughout Crete you can clearly see remnants of Roman and Turkish aqueducts and architecture from when these people invaded the island long ago.
Crete is divided in four prefectures. From west to east:
Tourism is the basis of the Cretan economy. The island is partly very green despite only having around 60 days of rain per year.
Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization, a sophisticated Bronze Age culture from 2600-1150 B.C.: the island bears witness to their achievements in the form of palaces, tombs and sacred sites. This civilization was so sophisticated that they even had a large navy. The Minoan decline was likely initiated by a by tsunami waves from the eruption of a huge volcano in Santorini, Greece in 1450 B.C. Towards the end of the Late Bronze Age, the Minoans were superseded by Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland. Thereafter, Crete very much followed in the classical mainstream of Greece and - much later - Rome.
Crete was invaded by Romans from 69-330 A.C. and this period of time plus the Byzantine era actually brought much wealth to the Island. The beauty and wealth of this time can still be seen today by mosaics and monuments around the island.
Crete was the site of an airborne invasion by German troops, and a spirited resistance by Allied (mainly British, New Zealand and Australian) troops and the people of Crete during the 1941 Nazi invasion of Greece. During this invasion many Cretans were executed for initially resisting the Germans and the cities of Chania and Heraklio were bombed so heavily that you may still see the destruction even today.
Crete history is very much related to famous myths like when the King of Crete, Minos, refused to sacrifice a bull to the Greek gods. Poseidon in turn forced Minos's wife to fall in love with a bull which created the mythical beast, the Minotaur.
The language used in Crete is Greek, although in main cities and touristic areas people have no problem understanding English. Even in small villages you usually have no problem for basic things like shopping or eating.
The spoken dialect of Greek in Crete is similar to the one of the mainland Greece but it might have some small differences .
Although most people in Crete speak some form of Greek dialect, English is still spoken by a majority of the locals as well. Because tourism is so big in Crete, many of the people there understand and can speak the English language not as fast as Europeans, but still easily understood. If you stop to talk to one of the locals in Crete they will most likely respond in English and have a nice, long talk with foreigners.
The island has three significant airports:
There are daily flights from Athens airport by Olympic Air , Aegean Airlines  and Athens Airways (Which take about 45min.) to Heraklion and Chania. Sky Express operates flights from Athens airport to Sitia. During the months of July and August Astra Airlines  flies from Thessaloniki to Heraklion and Chania.
From April till early November charter airlines fly directly to [Heraklion] and [Chania] from many European airports.
Flights going from Heraklion and Chania to Thessalaniki take about 1 and a half. The airport at Heraklion also has daily flights to Rhodes which takes 1 hr.
Hiring a car is easy, as long as you have your driving license with you. Check, though, that the insurance is comprehensive, and make sure when you take the car that all previous marks on it are recorded so that you don't get charged for these! Insurance on hire cars doesn't usually cover the underside of the car, or damage to tires. Gas stations often close around 9PM, particularly in villages. Most gas stations expect you to pay cash - they serve you, so you can choose for them to fill the tank or put in gas to a cash value. On the National Highway, there are service stations, but they are often 30 miles or so apart - make sure you fill up with gas before bank holidays and Sundays when you may have more difficulty finding an open station. In Crete you will find most international car rental companies like
and some local like
Be careful when driving in Crete, as Cretans haven't got used yet as of driving in a more-than-one lane road (national roads were recently upgraded near Iraklion to two-lane roads) and will easily drive in the middle between the lanes, trespass the double-line or flash the headlights to drive you into safety lane for them to pass. Stop signs are rarely respected by locals, and the best way to avoid accidents is to reduce speed to the point that you could easily stop the car and avoid collision whenever you approach a crossroad. Stay on the safe side legally in order to maintain your rights in case of accident. Despite the fact that most roads are slippery, Cretans usually drive agressively. You certainly wouldn't have to follow their example.
Taxi services are another great way to get around Crete because they are very cheap throughout Greece. They are a very accessible and easy way to get around large cities like Heraklion and Chania. Greek taxis all work under the Greek State and the Taxi driver must always charge by the meter price which he must turn on as soon as you get into the cab.
There are 2 taxi tariffs in Greece: Tariff 1 is day hours ranging from 5:00am to midnight and Tariff 2 is night hours ranging from midnight to 5:00am.
Public transportation is fairly frequent and timetables  quite trustworthy. Bus drivers usually divert from their marked routes to enter little villages if asked to do so. Bus services along the north coast and towards the south coast are excellent, reliable, frequent and cheap.
Most of these Bus services are run by Kino Tamio Eisproxeon Leoforon, KTEL, which are groups of families which individually run their own bus companies. This, in turn, creates a much more homely environment for Cretans and tourists and these families provide excellent service and show off their great deal of pride.
Cretan buses stations are very simple for the most part except for in Heraklion which has two major Bus stations (one for buses going in town and one for KTEL run buses).
Crete has many ferry connections for example: You can go from Pireaus to Heraklion with Minoan Lines, to Chania with ANEK Lines or Hellenic Seaways, to Ayios Nikolaos and Sitia with LANE Lines. LANE also operates routes from Ayios Nikolaos/Sitia to Rhodes and other greek islands. In the summer, there are daily catmarans (hydrofoils) from Heraklion to Santorini. The trip takes about 2.5 hours. Hellenic Seaways and SeaJets offer these sailings. You can also go to Crete by ferry from the Peloponnese (Gytheio) and Kythira island. This ferry lands on the west part of Crete, in Kissamos port.
The main ports in Greece that ferries come into are in Heraklion, Chania, Rethymno, Sitia, and Kastelli-Kassamos. Since there are no roads along the southwest coast there is a ferry line, with connections between Paleochora, Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro and Hora Sfakion (Sfakia). There is also a connection with the islet of Gavdos, Europe's southernmost point (Cape Tripiti).
Crete is famous for its tasty and healthy cuisine. The Cretan Diet was the subject of study that revealed its great health benefits and nutritional value. Studies have actually shown that Cretan peoples' diets are so nutritious that it has prevented the population from having heart attacks and some cancers which are caused by unhealthy eating habits. This healthy diet relies heavily on fresh vegetables and fruits in season and fish, with meat served usually only once a week or on special occasions like weddings and festivals. Today, Cretans eat meat regularly.
A good tip is to join any of the hundreds of traditional festivals in villages which offer food like barbecued meat, fried potatoes, salad, stuffed grape leaves (dolmades), wine. There is usually live music and dancing.
Olives & Olive Oil
The island of Crete is covered with olive trees. Virtually every family has at least some trees. The olive harvest season occurs in November and December, and every single member of the family helps with the harvest. Most villages have an olive pressing factory. Some villages even have very old presses with huge stone wheels that have been preserved for cultural value. Today's olive press factories are modern, but it is still possible to stop into one during the season to see the liquid gold being produced.
Olive oil is used in copious amounts for cooking and in salads, although most restaurants use safflower or similar oil for cooking fried foods like french fried potatoes.
Olives themselves are commonly served as mezes with raki. They are an ingredient in many salads, and an olive paste is often served with bread.
Honey & Yogurt
There are also bee hives all over Crete, and many families make their own pure honey. Yogurt, much thicker and creamier than commercial yogurt in the Unites States, is often served as dessert with honey drizzled on it.
Feta cheese is a Greek product protected by a protected designation of origin in the EU. To qualify to be sold as true feta in the EU, the cheese must be made in a certain manner in a certain area (parts of mainland Greece and the island of Lesvos). However, it is produced and used extensively in Crete as it is elsewhere in Greece. It is served on salads, in particular the ubiquitous Greek salad. It is an ingredient in cheese pies and spinach pies, called "spanakopita." It is also and ingredient in the traditional Cretan "dakos," a hard bread rusk, soaked with olive oil and topped with crumbled feta, chopped tomatoes and olives. It is also served in bite sized portions drizzled with a bit of olive oil and served as one or more mezes (appetizers), usually servied with raki or tsikoudia.
You will also find a very good variety of delicious locally produced Cretan cheeses, such as:
Snails cooked in various ways (one of the most traditional dishes of Crete), Smoked ham (apaki) and smoked sausages (loukaniko), traditional mountain goat or lamb cooked in various ways, cretan pilaf (chicken and lamb risotto served with goat's butter), souvlaki (pork meat, lamb, chicken or fish on skewers).
Dakos (Greek: Ντάκος - Cretan rusk with tomato, feta cheese, olives, oregano and olive oil), Horta vrasta (boiled greens with olive oil and lemon juice). Xoriatiki Known as the Greek Salad, Sheperd's Salad Salad with a east style twist, Salata Marouli Romaine Lettuce Salad, and Lahano Salata A traditionally tart cabbage salad are other types of Cretan salads.
Kotosoupa A chicken based soup with a lemon sauce Fakkes Tomato soup in a lintel base Fasolatha A hearty been soup in a tomato base Nisiotiki A hearty seafood soup
The Cretans themselves eat out late, after 10 or 11 PM, and often in a group. They prefer dinner in a good taverna, a small local restaurant offering the local cuisine. Most dishes are fresh from that day. The menu is only for tourists, Cretans ask the waiter for specialties, and have a look in the kitchen or in a 'vitrine', glass display case. Dinner is usually outside during the warmer months.
Fresh fish becomes more and more rare, and is expensive, priced by its weight. Restaurants and tavernas by law have to display if the fish that they offer is fresh or frozen. Thus, always ask your waiter to show you the fish and weight it in front of you before you order.
Tsatziki Famous cucumber dip that can go well with almost anything Taramosalata Cod roe-based dip Kalamari Deep fried squid Skorthalia Greek garlic mashed potatoes Gigantes Lima beans in a tomato sauce (can be spicy or not)
Bifteki Greek hamburger patties Souvlaki Sticks of meat served in or without a pita bread Fricasse Lamb and garden beans in a creamy lemon sauce Pilafi Greek style rice Psari A way to prepare Black Grouper or other types of fish Moussaka Famous eggplant casserole Greek people seldom have breakfast. They do enjoy a copious lunch.
There are options of cheap Greek fast food Called "gyropitta" by Cretans (mainland Greeks call it "giros pitta" as two separate words, and their definition is somewhat different as a single mainland Greece "giros pitta" is usually too small to replace a decent meal, instead of Cretan Giropitta which is bigger by far, having almost a serving of french fries added and with bigger pitta). As always, there are tourist-traps among those. Prefer those that locals do.
Tsikoudia is the predominant alcohol drink produced and consumed by the locals. This drink is also known as Raki and is made from the left over distilled wine. Tsikoudia alcohol precentage varies a bit, usual average is 20%-45%. It has a grapey taste and is usually served with some "meze" (accompaniments) like hard cheese, olives, cucumber or cold cuts. While "raki" is Turkish in origin, this is what the Cretans call it, and you are apt to be looked at strangely if you ask for tsikoudia.
Tsikoudia usually is a "goodbye gift" from many restaurants, that serve it along with dessert or fruit right after you ask for the bill. Most restaurants and tavernas follow this tradition. The quality (and alcohol content) of raki varies quite a bit. If you find a restaurant or taverna with good raki, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the owner if he will sell you a liter to take home.
Tsikoudia and rakki production is strictly controlled by alcohol taxing laws, who permit production for a single 48-hour period each year, for which authorities issue licenses for distilleries operation. Many families make their own, but the majority is distilled in factories scattered across the island to which locals bring their grapes.
If you happen to fall within the period (August through November) and you are into local fiestas, try to visit a "rakokazano" which is local a tsikoudia distillery. This could be an experience to remember. Arrange for returning to hotel beforehand. Usually "rakokazano"'s are located away from tourist vacances, deep into the mainland near vineyards. Due to the nature of the event, tsikoudia production escalates to a fiesta, where freshly produced raki is tested, between feasts of unpeeled oven potatoes with oliveoil or lemon and salt, lamb meat and wine. You are not expected to be sober after visiting one of those, but usually a local has to invite you along (and drive you home afterwards).
Although not as popular as in the mainland or the North Aegean islands Cretans also enjoy drinking Ouzo which is an alcoholic drink made by distillation of grapes. It looks milky when water is poured in and mixed with, but it doesn't contain milk or derivates of milk! During the distilling process it is made with ginger, cinamon, aromatic seeds, plants, and fruits which give it a distinct taste.
Apart from local spirits, a great variety of wines are produced locally and sometimes from local ancient grape cultivars, and can escort supper or dinner. Most restaurants would serve varieties of local wines or even the restaurant owner's own production as "barrel wine."
Youth can enjoy their booze at dancing bars, which are open till late along the coast line near tourist places, like in Malia and Hersonissos (30km from Iraklion) or Platanias (25km from Chania).
Many package holidays in Crete are available, especially from the UK, but many visitors prefer to travel on their own, as the beauty of Crete is located at small hidden villages and not in the crowded/touristic places. Most package tours cater for those who want to go to Eastern Crete, which is very lively. One or two cater for Western Crete (much quieter) and Southern Crete (eg Paleochora).
There are many holiday specials for villas in Crete.