As we prepared to say arrivederci to Italy, we set our sights on the islands of Greece for our next destination. Everyone raves about the rock bottom prices Ryanair offers to fly around Europe, and we figured it was time we give it a try for ourselves! The flights themselves are nothing to rave about. Everything costs a little extra: checking a bag, getting a snack, having a drink, entertainment, etc but when we saw that it was still way cheaper to fly from Rome to Chania than take the ferry, how could we resist? Greece here we come!
As most travel-savvy Europeans are well-aware, Ryanair and a handful of other budget airlines (Canada has a few now too!) service a variety of destinations around the continent for a fraction of the cost of traditional airlines. But there’s always a catch. Just about anything outside of your one carry-on will cost extra, that includes reprinting your boarding pass (€15), checking in at the airport instead of online (€45), bringing a baby on-board (yup, you read that right, €20), and even paying by credit card (extra 2% of transaction total) (prices circa February 2017). Ryanair also tends to fly into more out of the way airports too, rather than the typical hubs. When all is said and done though, these can still be a great option for travelling on a budget!
The Greek Islands
Sprinkled throughout the Ionian and Aegean seas Greece has 227 inhabited islands (and many more uninhabited) featuring everything from incredible sandy beaches to coastal wetlands to the remnants of volcanoes. Santorini is probably the most iconic of the Greek islands (picture those breathtaking cliffs topped with whitewashed, blue-roofed buildings), but many of the other islands share Santorini’s charms and all offer some of their own as well. Island-hopping packages are plentiful with a bit of research and guides to the islands are easy to find (check out Rick Steve’s, Nomadic Matt, and Lonely Planet to get started). Being on a tight budget and timeline, we opted to focus our exploring on the largest Greek Island, Crete. We arrived at a lovely airbnb in Chania later in the evening, and after a quick jaunt down the street for supplies (a.k.a. quick eats) we let the sea breeze lull us to sleep so we could start fresh in the morning.
People have been settled on the site of Chania since antiquity. Today, modern Greeks occupy Chania’s Venetian harbour but originally the ancient Minoan settlement of Kydonia (or Cydonia) occupied these Aegean shores. Early mention of Kydonia has been found on Linear B tablets found at Knossos (we’ll be writing more about this incredible ancient site in a later post!). In fact, evidence of human settlement dating all the way back to the Neolithic era has been found at Chania! This harbour has been in use for millennia, even today fishermen continue to bring in their daily catch and you can see fresh octopus laid out in the wharf.
Chania’s old town is considered to be one of the most beautiful areas on Crete, despite suffering damage during World War II. The old town is currently surrounded by two layers of fortifications, the inner walls having been built originally in antiquity before being rebuilt by the Byzantine Empire in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. The outer walls were built in the 16th century by the Republic of Venice. Portions of both walls remain today for you to see and are historically interesting, but I found the old town and harbour-front a little more scenic. One of Chania’s most prominent and famous features is its beautiful Venetian harbour. The port is dotted with Turkish features from a time of Ottoman rule that lend an exotic air to the area.
The Egyptian Lighthouse
The crowning feature in the old harbour is the Egyptian Lighthouse. First constructed by the Venetians in the 16th century, it gained its present state when it was reconstructed by the Egyptians in the 19th century, hence the name. We were visiting on an especially stormy day, and it was easy to see how useful such a landmark is to those coming in off the choppy sea.
As the rain slowly moved off and the sun began to peak out, we moved away from the lighthouse and wandered the freshly-washed streets of the old town. All was pretty quiet, tourist season wasn’t set to begin for a little while yet, and for just a little longer we could enjoy a more tranquil glimpse of Greek life. In the morning we would be off to our volunteer stay in Greece and hopefully a sample of traditional, small-town life in the little village of Mohos. For now, we enjoyed the smell of rain and fresh flowers of Chania’s narrow alleys, our first taste of Greece.