Crete: Dangerous driving and sights galore

Greece is a country of many islands, so we knew we wanted to visit at least one of them. We settled on the largest one, Crete, figuring if some of it was disappointing, it’d be large enough to find something interesting.

Definitely not a cretin, or Cretan.

Of course, I was originally going to make a joke with the word “cretin,” but thought I’d look it up first. It comes from the French crétin, originally meaning “Christian.” and was used to mean “human being,” apparently as a reminder that, though deformed, cretins were human and not beasts. I thought that was more interesting than a joke.

Of course, being a Cretan simply means you’re a resident of Crete. So being a cretinous Cretan means you’re a bit of a Greek asshole. We didn’t encounter any of those, I don’t think.

Anyway, Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediter-ranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica.

It’s an ancient part of the world: excavations have revealed stone tools that are at least 130,000 years old.

IMG_0477Driving in Crete was a minor challenge since we couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the signs.

IMG_0581Especially the ones that were all shot up. We learned there was at least one village that became uninhabited after an all-out war between another village due to some sort of revenge feud. I’m not sure Cretans should own very many guns.

IMG_0492Some of the signs direct you to crappy places.

IMG_0701While others direct you… everywhere.

IMG_0555The many canyons and ridges make for some interesting roads.

IMG_1616We occasionally ended up on dirt roads with no guardrails, often with drops up to, I don’t know, I’m estimating here, about a million meters straight down? One dirt road the GPS took us down was so narrow and dangerous we carefully backed up and went back the way we came.

IMG_0893I’m not sure if this sign means be cautious about the cliff or the guy with the gun.

IMG_1476Many of the towns have two-way roads that aren’t any bigger than a one-lane. You just have to wait your turn (or sometimes back up… or maybe sacrifice your side mirrors) if you spot a car down the road.

IMG_0792Even on the highways, they are a bit creative. This two-lane highway essentially functions as a three or four lane highway because everyone who isn’t passing rides the shoulder.

IMG_0580I’d hate to be the guy who dented that guardrail: on the other side is a drop straight down to death. Many of the roads would have done the Road Runner cartoon proud. I could imagine something plunging off the side… and then I’d hear a long, fading whistle… and then a distant poof! as Wile E. Coyote meets his temporary doom.

This bridge would have been perfect for that cartoon. We approached it with a bit of trepidation since any fall would have made a pancake out of the car. As we rolled across it anyway, it sounded creaky and groan-y like some of the boards were going to give out at any moment. The thing that gave us confidence was the crowd of people on the other side, sitting around a small roadside refreshment stand. Of course, they could have been gathered just to watch hapless travelers plunge through the bridge, but we took our chances and made it to the other side, to a bunch of hollerin’ and applause. Not really. But it sure seemed scary.

IMG_1489Sometimes it was better to just sit by the side of the road. But the many sightseeing areas also have huge drop offs, sometimes with no barriers. If she would’ve fallen over this one, she just would have just rolled downhill like a snowball in an avalanche instead of a straight plunge to instant death. So it’s possible she could’ve survived. I’m happy to report she didn’t test the situation.

Meantime, there are goats everywhere. They love to watch how ba-a-a-a-d the drivers drive. Especially since they can climb pretty much wherever they want and we’re stuck with only where four wheels can take us.

There are interesting churches galore, as well as a bunch of small memorial churches, including a number of small church-like memorial structures by the side of the road, often with just enough room for one candle.

The island also has a castle, and you know we love castles! This one is called Frangokastello. It was built by the Venetians in 1374. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as so many castles we’ve seen in Europe. I guess we’re getting kinda castle-jaded!

IMG_1428Even in ancient Crete, hobbits obviously built their own castles.

IMG_0865There are two interesting beaches we wanted to see: Balos Lagoon and Elefonsi Beach. They are both quite out of the way, with lots of tiny towns and narrow roads, including this one-way tunnel.

IMG_0855When you get behind a truck like that, you ain’t gonna pass him anytime soon.

IMG_0935The road to Balos Lagoon is one of the most treacherous roads we’ve ever been on… on an island with a lot of treacherous roads.

IMG_0906There are no guardrails next to a cliff called, “And we’ll never hear from you again.”

I think that’s a meteor streaking over the road into the water below. Oh, actually it’s just the dust from the windshield wiper. It was mighty hot and dusty on that day.

IMG_0883A few natural barriers might help if you find yourself wrestling control of your vehicle with a madman. Carolyn rarely has to do that.

IMG_0900Here it looks like a two-lane road, but there were long stretches were two cars couldn’t pass without one of them having its wheels halfway over the cliff.

IMG_0886The goats keep a lookout to make sure everyone drives safely.

IMG_0931They even man (goat?) the roadside stands selling the ubiquitous Cretan honey.

IMG_0939We just had to pay the occasional goat toll to be granted passage.

IMG_0937There’s one lane, and then a goat lane. I guess it helps to be a little sheepish when navigating that road.

IMG_0881It went on for a good number of miles. I’d guess it took us about a half an hour to get all the way there.

IMG_1650This gives you some idea why.

IMG_0912This looks like a traffic jam, but is actually just cars parked ahead of the actual parking lot. It was our first clue that the place was gonna be packed.

IMG_1647Note that for the most part, only one line of cars could move, so there could be a bit of a wait as you watch the cars going the opposite way roll by. I really didn’t want to have to back up on that road.

IMG_1646One foot from Pancakeville.

IMG_0921Upon our arrival at Balos, we were of course greeted by the Welcoming Goat.

IMG_0919Now he’s off to greet the other new arrivals.

IMG_1644Time for a cigarette break.

IMG_1625Once in the parking lot, we discovered it was going to be a long walk just to get to the beach. So, while we didn’t have a lot of time owing to our impending flight that afternoon, these intrepid explorers made the trek.

IMG_1627The path was marked for us by the considerate goats.

IMG_1633Once we crested the final hill, we were greeted with a sight that elicited oohs and ahs.

IMG_1636I think we’re mostly happy here that we actually made it, risking life and limb as well as a long, hot walk.

IMG_1631Of course, the other thing we discovered was that the already-long walk was just to a vista of the lagoon. You have to walk all the way down there if you want to get to the beach.

IMG_1638We encountered a few people returning, all of whom were desperately out of breath after making the long, arduous climb.

IMG_1629So we settled for the gorgeous views of one of the most beautiful lagoons we’ve ever seen.

IMG_1634The smart people take a boat to the beach instead.

IMG_1639Everyone else just admires the views and laments the fact that they’re not twenty-years-old anymore. This twenty-something is simply a wimp.

IMG_0821The other beach we wanted to see is called Elefonsi Beach. Not long ago, Elafonisi Beach was a secret known only to some locals on Crete. Then, in 2014, TripAdvisor named it one of the world’s top 25 beaches, and all tourist hell broke loose.

It’s known for having pink sand beaches… and we wanted to see the pink sand!

Pink beachWe thought we were going to see something like this beach in the Philippines.

IMG_1611 (1)Instead, all we got was this.

IMG_0842It’s really just a little tinge of red on the edge of the water. I think we were sold a bill of goods!

IMG_1606I mean, it is a nice beach and all…

IMG_1609Appropriate for a selfie or two…

And other touristy shots…

IMG_1608And they have some nice flags.

IMG_0839And truthfully, it is a pretty beach, and well worth spending a day there. We were only there to take a quick look because we didn’t want to miss our flight.

IMG_0836And then the busses started arriving. Thanks TripAdvisor! I’m sure the locals love that site now. Not.

Otherwise, we’ll finish up this lengthy entry and just let you take a gander at the beautiful scenery of Crete before we head off to other parts unknown:



IMG_1419After all that sightseeing, lunch is a welcome respite! Like the Portuguese, the Greeks are warm and gracious restaurant hosts. We had several lively conversations with our waiters.

IMG_1656We gotta finish up with a kiss… because you gotta kiss-a-mo’ if they tell you to!

IMG_1410…and then we drove off into the sunset.

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