Crete 2009: Day-by-day

 
Tuesday, April 7th

At YVR

Blake was kind enough to drive us to Vancouver airport; hardly anybody at the desk when we checked in; three of four security people were sitting around waiting for us at the security gate...where's the panic and rush to tell us we're on vacation? Lyn went shopping at the duty-free to get whiffed with perfumes.

Lovely day here: 21C outside. Apparently UK starting to get socked in but never mind, same predicted here tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 8th

Northampton

Uneventful flight but glitches on arrival: the powers-that-be forgot to provide a crew to let us off the plane when we got to the gate then lost a cart of baggage (including ours) for 30 minutes. So had to wait an hour for the next National Express coash to Northampton, but it may have been worth the wait. "Fred", our driver, provided a running commentary that included observations about the idiots driving the cars passing the bus who weren't(because of cellphones, makeup, coffee etc) paying full attention to the road...apparently unaware of the irony that he was spending more time watching what other drivers were doing than watching the road.

Northampton: Bingo! there were Max and Di waiting at the bus stop for us. Walked 100m to their house, had a cup of tea and were ready to rumble.

We met Max and Di on our holiday in Nepal in 2000. They're both retired and very active in the National Trust. The NT is a British organization that, largely through volunteers, does grunt work like repairing trails, clearing rhododendren weed that plagues some areas, repairing fences and so on (wonderful job; wish we had a program like this). Max is now a paid administrator; Di leads groups.

Thursday, April 9th

Northampton Safari

Our anniversary: married for 16 years!

Would have had a good night's sleep if our damn Palm Pilot hadn't kept waking us up with bogus alarms. Had breakfast and set out into the burbs around Northampton. What's marvellous about England is that almost from the middle of town we could do a 12km hike through greenery and beside waterways, with only the occasional intrusion of a housing estate or a motorway.

We travelled along public footpaths and were quickly out into protected woods and marshland, through buried remnants of ancient enforcements, alongside a small canal (barges, locks and all), and then turned back (through the aforementioned housing estate) within view of the tower where they test elevators. We passed a pond where we saw a variety of birds, including a Hobby. At this time of year in England this habitat is filled with plenty of flitting twittering things. The smaller ones kept out of sight but we could hear no end of their lust-filled songs. Swans and Canada Geese a-plenty.

Rambling mostly beside the river we made our way back into central Northampton. Stopped for lunch in town, in a café in St. John's church [did you know that Northampton was briefly the capital of England under King John's rule?]. The young lady behind the counter turned out to be from Calgary of all places and was overjoyed to hear a Canadian accent (felt quite proud of myself). Then went on to the Shoe Museum (Northampton is/was famous for its shoemaking), and Delapre Abbey (tea again). Spot of rain on the way but a spiffing day.

Friday, April 10, 2009

→Knaresborough

Last day in Northhampton: Nora and Brian are scheduled to pick us up on their way back home from Birmingham [We met N&B on the same trip to Nepal so they of course know Max and Di] but we have time to take a short walk around the corner to Max and Di's favourite garden shop for a quick look. N&B show up in perfect time. Spot of lunch, and then we leave Max and Di and head north to Knaresborough. Traffic on the M1 is terrible but we get to Nora and Brian's after about 3 hours driving.

Saturday, April 10, 2009

Kettering→Arncliffe

Gearing up Saturday, N&B had organized a hike for us, but kindly adjusted plans to better suit our jet-lagged condition; we headed out around 10am for a less ambitious walk than originally planned. Drove West then North from Knaresborough, passing through the village where Guy Fawkes was born, down increasingly narrow roads, until we reached Kettering, a small village in the Yorkshire Dales.

Beginning the hike We park in a lane, gear up and join a steady trail of walkers heading up a steep trail going over a ridge. Lovely day; slight breeze but nothing like the chill winds that can make a walk in these parts an endurance test. Turned out to be an 800' elevation gain (according to my watch) and a walk of about 2+ miles over the hill. The nice thing about hiking around here is that the hillsides are clear of trees so that we have views of the surrounding countryside all the way up. Going down the other side, we walk past scattered Primulas and Violets and once again hear but do not see all kinds of birds.

Down into the village of Arnscliffe, past a knock-you-over pungency emanating from a farmyard in the village square, and across to the Falcon pub. We ordered pie and mushy peas for lunch. Brian had warned me about the proprietor and true to form, the old gentlemen, with a pub jammed with Easter hikers, moved with ponderous majesty to fill our orders. Never mind; gave us time to admire the bric-a-brac on the walls celebrating the Queen's (1953) Coronation.

Arnsecliffe belowStill a bit under the weather, I stayed in Arnscliffe while the others hiked the 4 miles back to the car then drove back to pick me up. While I waited a Greater Spotted Woodpecker started a racket in a nearby tree, drumming for a mate on a hollowed snag. Colorful fella.

Relaxed drive back to Knaresborough; quick change, and then out for a walk into Knaresborough (20 minutes) and a bite to eat at a very nice brasserie in town. Back by about 10:30pm. Brian was chuffed that Newcastle United had played to a draw against Stoke.

Sunday, Apr 12 2009

Simon's Seat

Another great day: sunny, clear and warm; weather really helps with choice of hikes. Nora and Brian decide to take us to Simon's Seat: it's not far from the hike the day before and similar terrain.

We park in a country lane and head out over a much more level course than Red Grouseyesterday. To begin we're on a rough road of sorts, out through heathered moorland with peaceful views down to the farms and villages below. The heather on either side is the source of a variety of bird calls but the callers are lying low; however, there are many raptors overhead—too high to identify.

We can see the distant crag of Simon's Seat a long way off ahead and to our left and as traverse it, we began to stir up the Red Grouse that account for the many shooting hides scattered about (season thankfully, not until Fall).

We take a sudden turn left, down a dip and up again and come up just behind Simon's Seat, walking the last section along a rock-paved path to join a large Easter crowd for lunch up on the rocks, looking out over the valley below.

Headed back down along a different route but unfortunately took a wrong turn. Mixed blessing: added a couple of miles to our trip for the day but the walk along the river (eventually past Bolton Abbey and the hordes gathered there on Easter weekend) was brilliant. Lots of pheasant in the fields and the walk through the woods above the river took us past a continual carpet of garlic (thankfully not yet at full fragrance) with the occasional patch of bluebells. Welcome stop for an ice cream cone about two miles from the end.

Sore when we got back though. About 12 miles and 1200' up and down. Not a lot when we're in good shape but apparently we're not! Dinner at Nora and Brian's.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gatwick

Knaresborough to Gatwick

Thankfully uneventful. Woke to another bright sunny day;breakfast; pack and set off. Brian and Nora dropped us off at the Leeds bus station well in time for our 11am National Express bus to Gatwick. Counter to our fears that on Easter Monday roads would be choked and we'd be late into London, we arrived in Victoria bus station in time to transfer to an earlier-than-planned bus to Gatwick. Checked into our hotel; had dinner and a beer; went to bed early and were up in plenty of time to catch our flight to Crete.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Crete!

We cruised into Crete over the blue Mediterranean and were surprised (which says something about our lack of advance reading) to see how mountainous the island is: snow-capped peaks forming a backdrop to Chania. Through customs, the two Ramblers groups on the plane boarded the waiting bus; we dropped the "1 week" group at their hotel in Chania (Hannia) and our "2 week" group continued an extra 40 miles on to the small town of Kastelli further along the coast.

Nice hotel room overlooking the (not yet open—too cold) swimming pool; the sea only a couple of hundred meters away. Excellent dinner out in a taverna and then back and bed by 10pm.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Polyrrinia and environs

Slept well (finally caught up on jet lag) and up at 8am today. Sunny with threatening clouds though and quite chilly this morning. Out of the hotel by around 9:30 and pile into taxis; drive up into the mountains—or perhaps foothills of the larger peaks behind: our first walk.

We've been dropped in the village of Polyrrinia. We make our way up through the houses and then up a trail to the ruins of the Acropolis, on the hillside above. But this a wildflower holiday and our focus is the carpets of wildflowers around us. The immediate picture is mostly yellow and white, with the occasional red poppy but we quickly find plenty of interest for the experts: orchids, anenomes, and the occasional thick bush of fennel.

It quickly becomes evident that the two bird enthusiasts—"Barry" and I—are outnumbered by the flower enthusiasts (which isn't surprising). The florists are getting on their knees, murmuring to each other in latin and photographing exciting finds from prone positions. We stop every two minutes to talk about this orchid or that photos or notes. The flowers are beautiful.

And about the birds too. We haven't seen a lot but Barry is a real whiz at this and can tell a bird by just a flicker or a twitter, which is great because we don't get more than a slight glimpse of most nearby. However, high up we can see large birds of interest.

We climb to a small hilltop with fabulous views back into Kastelli and out to the White mountains in the distance. The terrain below us (and all around actually) is of olive groves and small farms. We've climbed maybe 500 feet. Then we ramble down back into Polyrrinia and the Odysseus Taverna for lunch: cheese and spinach patties for me and a delicious omelette for Lynda. We passed on the wine but some didn't. We amble the 8km back into town, town, mostly through olive groves, stopping briefly at the church of many feast days and the hamlet of Kounoupitsa.

It's been cool all day but actual rain has held off. Back in town here, Lyn and I buy some excellent local beer and retire to our hotel room for a read and a brew before we head out in the evening for another taverna and another great dinner.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day 2: Platanos→Kalvia

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Woke to a clear blue sky and a cool but not cold morning; only a slight hangover from too much wine last night with the swordfish. Breakfast and half an hour of reading before we march out of the hotel, round the corner and catch this magnificent coach-cum-local bus—with safety belts and everything—to our destination of Platanos.

It's just out along the headland to the east and over to the next peninsular bay. We're out of the bus (my altimeter-watch reads about 500 feet), cross the road and hiking along an open road. It's all olive groves or small farms—no trees of any size so we always have great views everywhere. Go up over a hill and we have a panoramic view over a bay with brilliant Mediterranean blues. On the flat land immediately below is the somewhat disappointing intrusion of a large greenhouse development—an increasingly common eyesore around the Med apparently.

We make our way along the ridge and down for lunch into the Sunset taverna in Falassana. I have the bean soup; Lyn tries the Greek salad with the aubergine dip. Mmmm!

Then out along the peninsular to look at some old Minoan ruins—including the remains of an old fortified port dating back to 800BC. Back to the taverna via the beach; some go for a dip in the sea while we have refreshments.

Some of the group return from here by taxi. A few of us opt for a last two hour hike back over the ridge and down the other side. The hike up wasn't too bad but our planned route down, it turns out, has been thwarted by a farmer's insertion of a row of beehives. Never mind: our group leader finds a diversion (read: bushwacks our way) through ploughed olive groves and hitherto unwalked gorse and bracken...and we eventually emerged, somewhat scratched up, into our destination village of Kaliviani. Of course we "stop at a taverna for refreshments", which will be a recurring and welcome theme for our trip. Taxi back to the hotel from there.

Friday April 17, 2009

Kera→Pervolakia

We wake to another bright day: cool morning but not a cloud in the sky.

A five minute walk to the square in town where we took a local bus to the east of Kissamos. After a 20 minute ride, we disembus in the village of Koleni. From here we made our way down then up to the nearby village of Roka, climbing (at one point, clambering) up through the standard vegetation around here: olive groves. Roka has splendid views all around but we were particularly interested in the Minoan ruin just a little further up and the deep valley spread out in front of it. Griffon Vultures are known to nest on the cliff faces opposite and we scan the pockmarked cliffs until Barry finally sees as nest. But there certainly aren't many about.

From here we made our way down through Kera, past an abandoned water mill, down to Kotsiana (several of us politely decline the raki offered at the obligatory stop), up over ridges, for a picnic lunch under some shelter; then down through the groves to the cave church of Agia Irini—a Long-legged Buzzard overhead. We see the ritual flowers for Easter (Epitaphis) at Drakanias church, and take the local bus back into town.

Log: Today: 7.5 miles, about 800 feet up and down. It got quite warm during the day but thankfully it is a pleasant rather than scorching heat.

Gory postscript: I think this was the day that we opted for a trail that took us initially up through overgrown gorse. Betty, our 84 year-old, suffered a few scratches that she only noticed when someone else saw the blood all over her leg. She was able to clean up without much problem but unfortunately, others who had been following her also began to notice they had picked up her blood from the undergrowth as well!

Saturday, April 18th 2009

Kolymbari (Lynda)

Lyn's report of the hike [John took day off]: We went to the west part of the bay of Kissamos for the start of the walk and did a circle over the ridge and then back into town for a beachfront lunch. We start in the village of Kolymbari and after a short climb had great vistas of the Bay of Chania and Maleme (Battle of Crete), with small villages up the hillside. As usual, the flower experts found more unusual flowers—French Lavendar and Cretan Cistus—slow business as they set up the cameras for a shoot.

We passed the large monastery of Gonia that is tended by one monk... apparently no one wants to be a monk any more. As we approached the waterfront we passed an empty marina build at great expense (EU money) meant to attract tourist boaters but so far hasn't caught on. Arrived at Sofia's taverna for an excellent lunch - calamari for me and various other fish dishes!

That evening, returning from yet another dinner in a taverna (expect enormous portions when the proprietor is enormous), we found ourselves in the midst of the Easter procession as one of the church congregations made its way through the streets towards the gathering place further along. Interesting to see the mix of gowned church dignitaries and cell-phone chatting young people. We have yet another night of sometimes thunderous firecrackers!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Polyrrinia Gorge

Fabulous hike. Started with a bus drive into the mountains (well, to 1,800 feet) to the village of Sirikari. We climbed to about 2000 feet then came down in a loop into the Gorge of Sirikari (or of Polyrrinia if you live in the village at the other end). Great hike along the bottom of the gorge, beside a river for a lot of the way. As we came out of the mouth of the gorge, the river mysteriously dried up! We couldn't figure out where it went.

From here, a walk around the corner and up to the village of Polyrinia where, for those of you who have been paying attention, we started our hike the other day. Had dinner on the terrace of the Odysseus taverna and then cabbed it back into town. Bit of a challenge here as it was Greek Easter Sunday so there was only one taxi that shuttled back and forward picking up bits of the group as we walked back towards town and the last of us were walking along in the dark!


Figured about 7 miles before dinner; 2 miles after. 1000 feet drop and 5 feet climb total.

Easter Monday, April 20, 2009

Melissourgio→Nopigeia

Another fabulous hike (the last two have been the best). Started at about 1000 feet up in the hills on the peninsular to the west of Kissamos.

Hiked up to the top of a ridge through the olive groves and had views over the Bay of Kastelli; descended to a small village for a snack in a small cafe and then walked around a hillside at out along the coast. At first we were high up over a fairly steep and rocky hillside (covered with flowers) overlooking the mediterranean with all shades of blue below us. Then gradually made our way down until at last we were hiking along the shoreline, into the village/resort of Nopigea. "Dragon Arun" here in Cath's notes but I don't know what that means.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We're in Chania

20 minute walk along the East road last night for dinner at a taverna just out of town. Then up and out of the hotel in Kissamos this morning by 10 am for our transfer to Chania. Only took an hour to coach here, disembark and walk 10 minutes along the sea-front for a bit then 50m up a quaint street in the old city to our hotel.

view the mountains up the street and 100m from the harbour down the street From our hotel room, we can see down the street to the sea, less than 100m away, and North over the city to the snow-capped peaks of the White Mountains. Of course, it helps that the weather—continuing our good luck—has been brilliant after our cloudy day here.

We've been for a quick tour of the old city and we're right in the middle of everything. The tourist season proper isn't under way yet: we passed a lot of restaurants without too many people in them but this place will be jammed with people in a month's time and prices will be higher so we've timed our holiday perfectly!

It's expensive here though: prices about double what they were in Kastelli/Kissamos only 40 minutes from here. We're also getting a lightly hassled here by restaurant owners anxious to herd us in. But it's tame stuff that doesn't make much impression on anyone hardened by travel to Egypt and Nepal!

The Maritime museum has an impressive reconstruction of an ancient Cretan boat which, after construction was actually sailed on a circuit of mainland ports. Had a quick visit to the cathedral here in town.

Chania—or at least the old town where we are staying—is quite charming. For dinner, we take a five minute walk down to the harbour and dine at one of the dozens of restaurants along the seawall. Ate our usual banquet almost out in the open. Went home in our usual bloated and semi-inebriated state. Lovely evening; great dinner.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Zourva the Crete

Up for breakfast around 8am and out in taxis for our first hike from Chania. This time we headed straight for the White Mountains. We didn't actually hike there (at 6000 feet that would be a bit more hilly and chilly than we're equipped for—we have two 80 year olds in the group—but in the foothills at around 2,000 feet. Made our way there through the spectacular Theriso Gorge.

Different terrain today (as you might expect). More pine and rocky hillside. We started out on road but then stepped off for a shortcut up through gorse and coarse undergrowth, ending on a road into the village of Zourva. Good bit of bird spotting along this bit of road: Jackdaw, Peregrine Falcon, Chuff, Blue Tit, Goldfinch, Griffon Vulture, Stone Chat, Kestrel and later on, Grey Wagtail.

Had lunch at a Emilia's taverna here with great views down the valleys towards Chania. Did get the yoghurt and honey dessert here and it was fabulous! Then a long walk back into the village of from the different direction. Had a beer and then took a taxi back into Chania.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Agya

Got up this morning and found the laundry I'd so carefully laid out on the balcony outside our room was soaking wet: rain overnight! We still had grey skies when we set off this morning for a hike past Agia Lake to the East of Chania. 10 minutes walk to the bus station; 15 minute bus ride; 15 minute walk to the lake and there we were.

Agya Lake under grey skiesT he "lake" was only about 100m long and 50m across but nice enough and with plenty of birds. Barry identifies most of the following.

  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Squacco Heron
  • Coot
  • Moorhen
  • Lesser Grebe
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Pallid Swift
  • Little Crake
  • and heard but not seen:
    a Bittern (once Bittern twice shy?)
  • Turtles also
  • the deluge Serious rain had held off but the skies were looking a bit ominous so we decided Alexander the Great's sister to wait 15 minutes in the coffee shop to see what happened. We'd no sooner got inside when the heavens opened and a torrential downpour kept up for about 20 minutes; if we'd been out in it we'd have been absolutely drenched even with raingear. But it stopped as quickly as it started, and we decided to keep going...nervously.

    We had a bit more rain as we slogged our way up about 500 feet of hill to Monodendri hill/ridge. We made our way over the top and then out onto a lookout with splendid views to the coast and Goat Island.

    Lunch here, as the weather cleared and we had blue sky and watery sun for the rest of the day. From the ridge we made our way down (about 4 miles) to Platanias village by the coast...and of course to a taverna that served chocolate ice cream.

    Bus back into town.

    Friday, April 24th

    Knowing Knossos

    OK up early; traipse across to the bus depot and hop on the 9:30am bus to Heraklion. No problems finding and getting on the public bus. These are supposed to be non-smoking but the driver lights up as we leave the bus station and chain smokes all the way to Heraklion! We note that the "no smoking" signs have been removed from this bus but thankfully nobody else follows the driver's example.

    Dark clouds overhead as we set out and there's a light spattering of rain so the White Mountains are obscured in cloud as we head South. Our first pass over the heights take us up into barren, rocky terrain—only about 2,000 feet up—nice views; inland. Then down again into the usual orchards, valleys etc as we approach Erythmion (damn, I can never get the name of this town right). We are surprised as we hit town. We've come down out of the mountains and are hammering along sandy beaches, so the resort atmosphere that begins to spring up is no surprise but the extent of it is. It seems that this town is about 30,000 strong but looks bigger than Chania (50,000): it's certainly more flush with tourists. Then back up into mountainous now along the coasts with the sea 1000 feet some below us before we descend finally into Heraklion.

    Now this is a city! The capital city of Crete, about 100,000 strong. pecting. No problem finding the bus to the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos—2.60€ return.

    Very interesting the ruinswhich are only about a 20 minutes bus ride to the outskirts of town. (I've provided a link to an informed description rather than repeat the blurb on our brochures). Best of all, the sun finally breaks out as we enjoy the walk around in sunshine. Excellent washrooms should you be dithering over your decision to make the trip.

    Then back into town for a look around the museum. Regretabbly the museum was under renovations and had only a temporary exhibit on view. However, this was impressive enough and we spent an hour here. We walked back from here to the bus station and just got into the bus back to Chania when the rain started again. Perfect timing.

    Saturday, April 25, 2009

    Imbros Gorge

    Brilliant sunshine when we got up this morning, which is just what we are hoping for, for we're headed for the heights today: travelling East along the north coast then turning south and driving up the flanks of the white mountains. We're not going all the way up: our destination is a little beyond the town of Imbros: we're hiking the Imbros gorge, starting at a point at about 2500' in the middle of the island.

    After a bus ride—a steady climb—of about an hour we pull off next to, of course, a taverna; a quick bathroom break and then we're off down the trail into the Imbros Gorge. It's not too deep at this point: a quick 100m down a hillside and we're on the trail winding in more leisurely descent deeper into the gorge. We have about 8km ahead of us but 3 hours or more to do it in so there's no rush ...and the flower people are already wandering here and there on the slopes. We move ahead.

    It's a great trail, following what is likely a stream bed for a few short weeks of rainy season. Although it's a bit rocky the walking is not at all difficult, a steady gradual descent of about 1200 feet over the 8km length. The gorge is narrow in places and the walls close in at one point so that you can touch both sides with outstretched hands; but most of the time we can look up steep hillsides to peaks the top of the gorge a few hundred feet above us.

    It's green at this time of year; mostly grass and shrubs on the hillside but the bottom of the gorge is more varied, with stubby trees and even the occasional more lush wooded copse, reflecting perhaps a more abundant water supply. There's plenty of color from the wildflowers and we wonder if the florists will find 3 hours enough. Lynda and our hiking partner Jenny, are busy looking at this and that orchid or iris. I'm looking for birds—mostly without success although I can hear plenty. But I do spot what appears to be a Red Kite high up, and then later and closer by, a carefree wren entertains passers-by from the top of a tree next to the trail.

    Time (and the occasional speedier hiker) passes easily. One couple seem to be looking for and gathering some sort of plant; we find out later that they're official harvesters of a particular kind of dandelion that we'll taste during a meal later in the week. Goats—both tethered and roaming loose—abound.

    We arrive at the end of the trail well ahead of the others and stop for lunch under some shade. We see a a Blue Rock Thrush—a bird that Barry has seen several times but I haven't seen until now. We finish the hike at the Komitades taverna with the now almost obligatory expresso with the yoghurt and honey dessert—Yum! Then back in the bus and headed down to the seaside village of Hora Sfakion. We hang around there for a pleasant hour or so; dip our feet in the sea and follow that with an ice cream. We board the bus for the ride back and begin an adrenaline climb up 2700 feet of steep hillside —coated with grass and wildflowers. Whoa!

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    The Wood Walk:Kalyves

    Easy day today. We drove up into the village of Kalyves just East of Chania (on the local bus). Followed easy tracks and an overgrown donkey path to Tsivaras with a view of Aptera (sirens); then Souda Bay and then to Doulania. Nice walk through woodland to John The Baptist's cave church. At one point Lyn was worried about the ominous and very loud buzzing of bees along a particular stretch...then 50m down the trail she walked past 20 beehives and didn't even notice them (too busy looking at the wildflowers along here).

    Ended in a Gavalohori taverna for a great dinner.

    Samaria Gorge...not!

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    An out-of-the-ordinary excursion for our final hike: heading for the mountains and what would be the start of the hike down the famed Samaria Gorge. We're not sure how this is going to work out as the weather has been iffy over the last day or so and we awake to dark clouds cloaking the mountains to the east. We might find ourselves in rain or mist, but oh well!

    We've chartered a bus, so take a quick walk to the bus station, board our bus and head southwest towards the White Mountains, passing the sign to Agya Lake (the walk we did a few days ago) then miles of orange groves.  After 30 minutes or so we begin another of those hair-raising ascents up a steep mountainside with olive groves following us up from the valley far below. By the altimeter on my watch we level out at about 2,000 feet and trundle through a small pass into a high valley and see the village of Laki perched on a ridge in front of us. Then through Laki, we begin another climb of some 1,600 feet and emerge onto the Omalos plateau, a flat green plain a couple of miles across in each direction. We cross the plateau and after a very brief climb, stop at Xiloscalou, the start of the famed Samaria Gorge hike. The clouds are holding off just above us and we have sunshine so far!

    The start of the trail (2 Euros) We're surprised to find the Gorge is open! Normally it's closed until May; the spring melt from the snow we can see on the slopes above causes flash floods down the gorge and a few years ago a group of hikers died. Apparently there has been an early melt and without any big announcement they have opened the gorge. A few groups kitted out with helmets have come prepared and are having a last coffee at the café.

    The Gorge hike is a trip of about 15km, ending in a boat ride to Hora Sfakos (where we were after the Imbros Gorge hike the other day). However, we're not prepared so we take off on our planned walk in the opposite direction: up the hillside.

    It's a nice ramble, climbing steadily up around the hillside going up the gorge: quite different from our other hikes. Behind us are two gaunt peaks of bare rock reaching about 6,000 feet with plenty of snow still on them. Our hillside has the gorse and brush we've seen all over Crete, but it is more sparse here, with only the occasional item of interest for the flower-people.

    After an hour of some 500 feet of altitude gain (and we've heard a Cuckoo) we hit a road heading up and the group splits: some head down to where the bus is waiting, and a small group of five of us head up.

    It's a dull trudge up the road but turns out to be worth it when we get to the top. We're still in sunshine although some low cloud is pressing nearby peaks. The florists find crocuses near a patch of snow melt and we birders are beginning to see several "items" of interest: Griffon Vultures, a Lesser Grey Shrike and some Wheatears. We have lunch at 5,000 feet with fabulous views down into the Samaria gorge. There's actual a unique toilet at the edge of a steep drop where… well perhaps we won't go into that.

    Crocuses in the melt, a mile up Enough lolly-gagging: we boot-march down the road to the plateau (1,200 feet drop) where the bus is waiting. But we masochists opt for a final slog of 3 extra miles across to the meeting point at the café: we have our reasons: plenty of (wild) tulips out in the fields and yet more bird sightings. But the cloud has dropped with us and we end our grind in the gloom of low cloud and evening. Wild tulips Waiting for at the cafe is the now standard plate of yoghurt and honey to make up for everything all our whinges. 

    Yet we're all looking out at the foggy darkness and thinking about that ride back down, out of the mountains...in limited visibility. We board the bus quietly...but fortunately a local bus got in front of us and the driver must be either more nervous than we were or have been ahead of schedule because we proceed very slowly in the fog to Laki, where he allows us to pass. But our driver is not much less cautious and we have an uneventful ride back to the hotel.

    Roaming S. England

    Tues-Wed-Thu, April 28-30th

    Tuesday am: we have a late plane out of Chania so time for a last shop for Lyn and a last walk along the beach to look for birds by a creek for me.

    One small niggling worry: we've been trying without success throughout the trip to contact our hotel in London to let them know we would be arriving late and shouldn't give away our hotel room (we didn't want our Lima experience where the hotel had lost our booking); phone and email hadn't worked and still had no luck on Tuesday morning, so we were wondering if our budget hotel had closed its doors!

    So we arrived at Gatwick, took the Express and tube and walked to where we hoped the hotel was…to find a warm, respectable hotel…with a reservation just for us. Bingo! And a pint in the no-smoking pub around the corner.

    Wednesday: took a train to Canterbury and had a delightful Audrey and I, almost 50 years on lunch in a tea-room opposite the Cathedral with Audrey, the wife of my old housemaster. Then on to Folkestone by bus where, with the help of half the other occupants of the bus, we got off at the right stop (I couldn't remember) and walked through the housing The house that Dad built estate to the house on Wear Bay Road where I'd spent my first seven years (and, incidentally, my father had built). The weather again is on our side, dark clouds dissipating at just the right time for us to be able to see the coast of France and the White Cliffs of Folkestone (some say Dover). However, the nearby rail station that I remembered from my youth was gone when we got there so had to hike another 5km across town, guided now and then by White Cliffs of Folkestone helpful local youth (really!)—Lyn with a sore foot and all—to get the train back to London. Indian meal at a very nice restaurant around the corner from the hotel and bed.

    [We experienced an unusual example of excellent customer service at, of all places, the rail ticket office in Victoria Station. A lovely West Indian lady, (judging by the exotic accoutrements and the faint accent) and a middle-aged man teamed up to spend about 15 minutes looking for the cheapest way for us to make our trip for the day--and succeeded. After checking five or six options they finally came up with an outstanding deal.] Inside the Victoria and Albert

    Thursday: fitted in a quick visit to the excellent Victoria and Albert Museum in the morning (5pm flight), and then uneventful flight back to YVR to finish our Totally Excellent Vacation.