After spending most of Day one either by the pool (or the bar) at Home Hotel, it was finally time to do some proper exploring on the island. As such, we rose at the crack of 11 a.m. Gordon greeted us on the patio and quickly served up a delicious Cretan breakfast of eggs and pesto on toast, plus fruit and Greek yogurt. Fueled and ready to hit the road, we drove East to Agios Nikalos before turning North to the small town of Plaka.
On the way, we stopped for a walk through Hersonissos and saw the signs of a village coming back to life after winter.Tavernas and hotels were hard at work cleaning and repairing furniture in preparation for the impending tourist throngs of summer. Workmen were driving fresh umbrella poles into the sand and applying new coats of paint. Stores were open and eager to sell to the handful of early birds like us roaming the neighborhood. No sooner had we set foot inside such an establishment, we were offered a tasting of several varieties of raki, olive oil, and candies. And then we were sprayed with cologne. My automatic verbal response to anything I don’t particularly care for is “that’s interesting.” I smiled at the saleswoman and told her that it was indeed a very interesting fragrance.
Now that we had secured gifts for our friends and family, we continued onward through the oddly familiar mountains of Crete towards Agios Nikalos & Plaka. Chris kept saying how much the landscape reminded him of the hills around Burbank, CA. And it’s true the the colors of the hillsides were a near perfect match, but the composition was vastly different. Olive trees were everywhere, with small villages tucked in amongst the groves in locations that felt impossibly steep. We even spotted a banana grove! Soon the mountains gave way to a bumpy coastline and we turned North on the narrow road leading to Plaka and Spinalonga island. We passed the occasional cyclist headed in the opposite direction as we climbed gently up and down to the stone-lined shores of Elounda bay. If you looked carefully, you could make out small cave openings dotting the facade of the low coastal mountains.
The small fishing villages of Elounda and Plaka sit across from the long-abandoned leper colony on Spinalonga island. Small numbers of tourists could be seen taking the ferry to its sun-drenched shores. While briefly tempted to join them for the low price of 3 Euros round-trip, we were more interested in putting some of the locally-fished octopus into our stomachs. After walking the length of the village, we decided to stop in at Delphini for our late lunch and sat at the taverna’s edge overlooking Plaka’s utterly placid waters. We started off with garlic bread and a hearty Cretan salad that included boiled eggs and potatoes in addition to the ingredients of a traditional Greek salad. Chris ordered half a grilled octopus for 13 Euro and I opted for the pork souvlaki, which came with French fries and rice because nobody loves carbs quite like the Cretans.
As we wrapped up our meal, one of the local cats decided to chill out our table and enjoy the sunshine with us. Our server brought over a small bottle of raki with strict instructions that we were to finish it off before we got up from the table. We felt the pressure to sit at our table longer, enjoy the Raki and the sight of the ferrymen taking tourists to and from Spinalonga. Did we have an agenda for the day? Probably. But Greece has a funny way of tossing agendas into the surf and encouraging you to just enjoy what’s in front of you for a little longer. Maybe it’s so you make sure to not forget it.
On our way back we drove through the port of Agios Nikolaos, past the lake in the city square where there is rumored to be a sunken military tank that nobody can find due to the depth of the waters. Then I got lost. But because the village is relatively small, it wasn’t to hard to find my way back to the main road. By the time we returned the hotel it was nearly dinner time, and after a brief check-in with our hosts, we decided to head back to David Vegera’s for another dinner.
Once sated, we finished off our evening back at the hotel bar with Ben and Gordon and their puppies, listening to music and talking well into the midnight hour. Over several drinks, we shared our “origin stories” and our dreams. Gordon broke out his impressive collection of high-heeled shoes while Ben showed us some of his YouTube videos of Gordon signing some epic diva tunes. By the time we were ready to crash into our bed, it felt like we were staying not at a hotel but at the home of friends we had known for years. I went to bed tired, less worried about how laughably firm the mattress was than I was over the fact we only had one more day on the island.