Monday, March 28, 2011

The Nicest Place I've Ever Been... by Barbara (Ruth)

On Mondays Angela and I each write a post on the same topic, and this week it is my turn to pick. I thought the idea of "the nicest place I've ever been" had great scope, given that I’ve traveled to 23 different countries and I have oodles of pictures. But then I started to think – are any of those places really nicer than the family cottage right here in Ontario? What to do, what to do…

So today I mentioned this week’s title to a colleague at work, and he looked at me and said, “you’re going to write about either Greece or the cottage.” I was nonplussed (GW)! Clearly I talk too much about my vacation time.

But he was bang on. I could write about the cottage, but I know I’ll have ample opportunity to do that this summer when I hear that first call of the loon. So for now, I will write about my favourite vacation destination, which is Greece, specifically, the island of Crete.

At 260 km long and with 600,000 people, Crete is the largest island in Greece, and the second largest in the Mediterranean (after Cyprus). Unlike the smaller but more popular island of Santorini (which is only 18 km long with 11,000 people), it has bustling cities and a robust economy based on agriculture rather than tourism.

Typical scrub and low trees
en route to Elounda
Five years ago I stayed in a small fishing town called Elounda. I had booked the hotel using Expedia and found a well recommended place with pretty photos and a great deal, but I really was “flying blind” and had no idea what to expect. On the ride from the aiport, the cab driver said “Oh, you’re staying where the rich people and celebrities stay.” Despite this remark I still didn’t have high hopes as the road traveled up hills and along winding trails bordered by low trees and lots of scrub. Not exactly picturesque.

 Then we rounded a corner and I was stunned by the bluest water and sky I had ever seen. The Elounda Bay Palace was indeed a luxury resort, and although we were staying in one of the cheaper rooms, we were treated like royalty. No matter where we went, the Cretans were gracious, friendly, and welcoming. The travel books said that the people in Greece are friendlier the farther away from Athens you get, and this was as far as I could get without being in Africa!

Looking out over Elounda Bay
I was only in Crete for 5 days, but in that short time I was charmed by the villages of Kritsa and Agios Nikolaos (which is known as the Saint-Tropez of Greece). Around every corner was a postcard photo waiting to be taken, the sun was warm, the food was amazing, and the water silky and inviting.

Kritsa town square - this gentleman made
us buy a lottery ticket from him before we
took his picture!
The town of Agios Nikolaos

This Kritsan villager sold peeled oranges for a euro
I’ve seen beautiful places in Estonia, France, Sicily, Uganda, and Russia. I think the difference for me in Crete was the richness of the colours, the contrast between vibrant bougainvillea, cracking whitewashed walls, and azure skies. Combine that with genuine warmth of the people there, and it just can’t be beat.

One of the workers at the hotel, a concierge of sorts, could not do enough for us and made a point every day of seeking us out and chatting with us about our plans. When she found out we were going to Santorini she gave us really helpful tips, made some arrangements for us, and then had to tell us why she loves that island and why we had to go to the town of Oia to see its most famous tourist attraction - the sunset. I will share her story with you – I found it so charming and warm:
“I went to Santorini with some girl friends, and we went to Oia to watch the sunset. I went for a walk alone because I was sad. (At this point she made the motion of wiping tears from her eyes.) I had boy trouble, and I walked and I was crying and I thought everything was bad and that no one loved me. But then I turned around and I saw the beautiful sunset, and I thought, ‘God loves me’.”

There's no Trevi Fountain in Crete, but no matter. I'll be back.


  1. Definitely on my list of places to visit one day!

  2. I've never been to Crete, but it's near the top of my list of 'have to go's. It sounds so beautiful and, judging from your photos, it is! I love the story your concierge shared. There's nothing like meeting the local people you meet when you travel.
    Believe it or not, the only time I was in Greece was when you and I were in Corfu! I have to get back someday!