Monday, July 29, 2013

Friday, June 14th ~ Chania, Crete!

Today we docked in Chania, Crete. After many months of trying to figure out what to do here, it wasn’t until right before the trip, that I found out that the name of the town was actually pronounced as “Hania”!

The ship actually docks in Souda. Our time in port is a very odd time – 6:30 am – 3:00 pm. I’m not sure why this is since the next day is a Sea Day. You would think they could stretch our time in town a bit later so we could really enjoy this town instead of having to rush to get a bus back to the ship by maybe 1:30 to be back on board by a 2:30 on last on board time. Not to mention that docking at 6:30, there wasn’t much to really “do” in town that early!

So, that’s my only real complaint at this point about the itinerary at all. But that being said. Chania is relatively new in the cruise ship world. Finding independent excursions here was much more difficult than in other ports. Also, by this point in the trip I was looking for that “something fun” for the kids that maybe was a bit different from the ruins and history that we had done for the past few days with such intensity. This was also a bit of a challenge with the timing that we were in port.

However, I was lucky to stumble upon a small company called Sea Star who runs private small boat tours around Thodorou Island, just off the coast of Platanias Beach. They got great reviews on Trip Advisor and their website showed a few different options that would fit into our short time in port. Since their boat only holds 8 passengers plus their crew of 2, we knew we’d be able to customize our day. Elise emailed us promptly once I found them and we set up a 2 hour boat tour with a stop for snorkeling. This sounded like a perfectly relaxing way to spend the day!

Although when I told Keith about our plans for the day and how we’d be doing something different – he just laughed – and said “um, Shelley – how different is going out on a boat? You do realize we’re on a cruise?” Well, I meant a small boat, where you can feel the sea, swim in the Mediterranean! Snorkel! A different type of day from the walking and inundation of facts that we’d had! And as you’ve probably figured out I LOVE that type of day! But by now we all needed a bit of a break from it I think.

So – the time came and we met Elise at the port. Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy morning. As we drove to Platanias Beach she told us how she, a woman from France, came to be here in Crete, and we enjoyed getting to know one another. This is another thing we really enjoy about private tours. Getting to know the people who live where we visit and getting to know about the cultures of the towns. We also told Elise what time we had to be back to the ship and that we’d like to have lunch in Chania. She suggested that instead of a 2 hour boat tour, we make it 1 hour – we’d still have plenty of time on the boat, plenty of time to snorkel and she’d arrange for a taxi to take us to the Old Town. She thought if we did the 2 hour boat tour we wouldn't have enough time to visit the town and have lunch. We'd be too rushed. It was settled! This would be our plan!

We got on our boat, and off we went!

Thodorou Island is a National Park Sanctuary and no one is allowed on the island, other than the care taker. He shows up each morning and cares for the wildlife and island then goes home. Also, once a year there is a pilgrimage allowed to the ruins of a small church that is on the island.

The main “inhabitants” of the island are the Kri-Kri goats! They were brought here to protect them. They are fed and cared for and now they number in the 80s. We saw several of them on the mountain side. We also saw a few falcons while boating around the island. Elise told us all about the history, geology and biology as we toured. There’s even a Venetian fort that remains at the top of the island from the 1500s!

We stopped for about 20 minutes or so to snorkel. It was the perfect amount of time. My mom doesn’t snorkel, or swim actually. She stayed on the boat and chatted with the captain. While we were in the water, Elise would dive down and bring up marine specimens to show us – starfish, shells, urchins, sponges – all kinds of things. Then she’d bring them over to the boat so the captain could show them to my mom. 

We all thoroughly enjoyed this few hours. It was great to be in the water and out on the water on the boat. I enjoyed talking to Elise – she was a fascinating person and had a lot to share. 

When we got back to their dock, she had their assistant call a taxi. This is where things got a bit confusing, on our end – not so much from them. Since we were a group of six, they sent two taxis. The person at Sea Star told the drivers where to take us. I assume they told us to Chania, Old Town. Now – remember, no one else in my family really had a clue about this trip – as far as planning or where we would be going or what we were doing! I was the lead!

So how do we split up the six of us with drivers who don’t speak much English at all? Well, for some reason I put Keith and the two kids in one taxi with a 20 Euro bill and off they went. I didn’t even know if Keith had his wallet! They left so quickly! After they left, I realized I had our bag with everything in it, including his wallet. We asked in advance how much the taxi would cost, so at least I knew he had enough money to cover the taxi!

The other taxi eventually arrived and my parents and I piled in. We never thought about the fact that we’d have to find Keith and the kids! Don’t all cruise passengers go to the same place?  Well we weren't coming from a cruise central area.  These taxi drivers could have taken them anywhere! 

Well luckily our driver drove through an area and Keith and the kids happened to be sitting on a wall and they flagged us down. Keith told us after they left he got to thinking how he had no ID, didn’t have his Sea Pass card and had pretty much no money! Only Megan had her Sea Pass card! He had no idea where to go, nothing! But luckily we all met up and all was well.

Sort of – we definitely were not in the “Old Town” tourist area – we were in a very busy area. But I knew we were close! Since we didn’t come here with the cruise people earlier we had no maps, we had no idea where to get the bus back to the ship… 

No problem – we’ll figure it out! How hard can it be?  I love a good adventure! Although maybe some of the others, read that "MIMI" doesn't so much!

Well we did it! We found a security guard, asked him where the Harbor was and he pointed and said something that sort of sounded like directions. After wandering around a bit, we found the Old Town!

And as luck would have it, as we were walking down to the Harbor and looking for a place for lunch, we bumped into Catherine and Ger! Our new friends from Ireland – imagine that! Of the thousands of people in this town, we find people we know! And thankfully they did have a map and they showed us where to go to find the bus when we would be ready to go back to the ship. Feeling a bit more comfortable now, we wandered down the mobbed tourist area looking for a place for lunch. 

Now here, we had probably the worst of our in port lunches. Probably our fault. We just stopped somewhere instead of looking around for something that really looked good. We were hungry and knew we didn’t have a lot of time. It did have a nice view of the water though! But probably the biggest clue that it would be bad was that the menu choices were American food. So, when Megan ordered a cheeseburger and it came out as clearly not beef, we wondered just what it was? Once the waiter translated to another waiter and so on, they finally told us “Pork” of course as if we should be shocked!   It's no wonder Megan didn't like it - pork is one of her least favorite meats!

After lunch we had a bit of time to walk along the shops and take in the view.

The Old Harbor area was really a lovely and very colorful area that we would have loved spending more time in.  But we also wouldn't have traded in our time out in the Mediterranean!  We did get in our time shopping for our typical souvenirs so all was good!

Then we had to fight the crowds to walk back up the busy street to catch what seemed to be a city bus designated as one to go directly to the port. We had to figure out where buy tickets – got that! And off we went.

While we had a great day on the boat, the time in Chania was definitely rushed and crowded. Again, I wish the time in port could have been extended.

But getting back to the ship early meant we had an entire afternoon left to enjoy the wonderful Navigator of the Seas!  Up next - our bonus afternoon at Sea!

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