Greek Salad, and Mousaka

Crete. A gigantic Island that could almost be its own country. We flew into Chania and grabbed the airport bus into the city. I think we got lucky, the busses only run every hour and it was loading up when we walked out of the airport. I didn’t want to wait an hour for the next bus. You would think they would run more often than that from an airport. The main station in Chania is buried in the center of town. The streets are so narrow, I have no idea how they get busses in and out of there. Talk about threading a needle.

We kind of planned ahead and found a number of campsite on the island before we left Germany. So we had a general idea which direction we wanted to go and what to expect. If you’re in need and you fly to Chania, they have free wifi at the main bus station. I thought this was pretty surprising considering finding wifi anywhere else in the rest of Europe was almost impossible. Come to Greece and it is everywhere. They also have some pretty good sandwiches there too. As far as mass transportation, it is either bus, taxi or rent your own vehicle. The busses run only every hour or so and stop around 6pm or so. Plan accordingly. We grabbed the next bus out towards Kissamos a town about 46 kilometers west of Chania. Our campsite, Camping Nopigia, was about 7 kilometers short of town, away from anything hustle and bustle and directly on the water. We were ready for relaxation, and lazy in the sun.

One thing we did not expect, was how influenced business was by tourism in Greece. I understand the concept of high vs low season, but here in this area of Crete, it high season and no season. We wanted to stay at the campground for 3 nights, but had to cut it down to 2 because they were closing on that third day. And by close I mean, completely shut down until May of next year. So our relaxation in Crete was little shorter than we planned, but we still had the rest of the week in the greek isles so it wasn’t all that bad. On the bright side, we shared the entire campground with two other couples for the last three days they were open. It was like a ghost town, perfect.

The area was called Nopigia, in the eastern corner of a Kissamos bay. On either side of the bay were two giant peninsulas that jutted north. Both national parks. It was quiet and secluded. The rest of the first day, we took a walk along the coast up the peninsula, exploring and playing in the perfect crystal clear water. It was sunny and warm and exactly the change in weather we were looking forward to. We made our way back to the campground and used their community outdoor kitchen to cook some pasta for dinner; calling it an early night after.

The next day we decided we wanted to head into Kissamos to try to rent a car. We talked to the reception desk at the campgrounds and they suggested Autofun. A company that rents compacts for about 25eu a day, which is pretty cheap. We didn’t know where the bus stop was on the main highway so walked in trying to hitchhike. We got about 4 kilometers in and finally met a british family at a gas station that gave us a lift the rest of the way. We never saw a bus stop the entire way in. When we got into town we found the car rental place and they were closed for lunch or something. Apparently Greece is very similar to Spain in regards to the siesta. So while we waited we walked to the other side of the square and had lunch. Enter our greek salad binge (we’ve had worse binges).

I don’t remember the name of the restaurant we ate at but, it was the best meal we had the entire time we were in Greece. And we had some amazing food. We shared a giant greek salad and an entrée called Moussaka. The salad was simple: cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, green peppers, dried oregano, feta cheese, and obviously, olive oil. The feta was a giant square about a half an inch thick. It didn’t crumble apart, it kept its shape as you forked away a chunk, kind of like butter. It was crumbly and creamy at the same time. I liked feta before, but this was on a whole other level.

We wanted to make a point to only order an entrée item that we had never had before. Per the recommendation of the service, we ordered the Moussaka. Basically, the Greek take on lasagna, but this one was cooked in a stone pot as a single portion. This confused me when we ordered others later on and the looked like a typical lasagna cut. The bottom of the pot was lined with thinly sliced potatoes and topped with cheese baked to a crisp. In the middle it was stuffed with zucchini, eggplant and lamb and filled with a creamy béchamel sauce. The béchamel sauce on the top had thickened when it cooked, while the rest was still creamy. It was an amazing contrast of texture and consistency. I want to buy a stone pot just so I can make it the same way. I am afraid a lasagna pan wouldn’t do it justice, but then again, it could be that they had made it fresh. This meal definitely set the par for the remainder of our foodie experience in Greece.

Wine in Greece is also cheap and delicious. You can get if from the restaurant in a number of different ways: by the bottle, or opened by the liter or half liter. It is usually much cheaper if you buy the opened wine by the carafe. I like to try things mystery style. I think we shared a half carafe at every dinner because it was so reasonably priced.

After a most satisfying lunch, I walked back across the street when I saw the guy open the store back up and asked about a rental car. The rates were great and I was definitely ready to rent, but there was one small problem. This is basically how the conversation went:

me: Hi, I would like to rent a car.
him: You want today?
me: Yes, today, thank you.
him: We don’t have today. We only have one car available for tomorrow, but it is reserved.
me: Do you have anything available for rent today?
him: No, we have one car.
me: :/ Ok you have only one car, and it isn’t available. Do you have a scooter?
him: Yes, but only one.
me: Ok is it available, could we rent it?
him, No, it is too small. not worth renting.
me: :/ Ok, thank you…I think.

This is a prime example of high season and no season in this area. We tried another car rental, that was closed as well. They had cars available, but the only way you could rent was to call them by phone, then they would come down and open the store and run the paper work. This place was a bit more expensive than my last conversation, so we decided to not rent a car and just hang out along the water. Since the campground was closing we had to checkout and leave anyways. So we nixed the rental idea and went to the beach and played in the water for a bit.

We walked along the waterfront and made our way back into town and caught the bus back to Nopigia. The reason why we couldn’t find the bus stop on the way in to town was because the bus take a completely different route off of the highway. Good to know. We went back to the campground and relaxed by the pool for the rest of the day and watched the sun set from the tent. Yes, they have a pool there, and it is very nice. They also have wifi across the entire campground! Camping Nopigia was great. We made dinner again and walked down the street to a small restaurant. They had some live music playing so we sat and talked for a bit over some wine. They had brought a book about Kissamos over to our table and we thumbed through it learning about the food, the culture and the history of the region while we listened to music and enjoyed our wine. With the exception to the car, a great first day in Greece.

Hot Wings!

Thursday was a long day. We woke up early to explore our travel options for leaving Paris. Jonny is and was a gracious host, but we don’t want to out welcome our stay. That and his brother was coming in the same time we were leaving and family trumps friends in the battle for free places to stay. After a bit of discussion and a few more delicious pastries we worked out a plan to leave around 6pm that evening.

Neither Jonny nor Erika had to work and we decided a fun and chill thing to do was check out the famous pet cemetery. Apparently this cemetery has all sorts of famous pets from all over the world buried here, but when we got there they wanted to charge entry so we decided to look through the fence, imagine the stories behind those amazing animals and walk through the park next to it. We met up with one of Jonny’s coworkers and went to his place to make hot wings for dinner. It was a delicious surprise to find out he had a deep fryer. So good.

6pm came around and we planned to leave Paris and head to a smaller town in eastern France called Colmar. Our earlier discussion was about two concerns, the first being the immediate cost of travel through the rest of France, Switzerland, Germany and so on…and the second, determining our travel plans later in the trip with ferries and such once back to the Mediterranean. We had to figure out an alternative economical means of transportation other than the trains and boats.

Our original tour goes as such: Me in Spain and Kristin in Portugal, meet up Barcelona and fly to France, visit friends in Switzerland, Oktoberfest in Germany, a day in Austria and Italy on the way to the beaches and parties in Croatia, ferry down to Greece see some ruins and more island fun, then lastly over to Turkey buy some spices, see another friend, and fly home from Istanbul. 7 weeks touring Europe, but we discovered that once we left Munich we would end up spending 4-5 days just traveling from one city to the next and lose too much time and money in transit instead of visiting and exploring places.

The costs for ferries from northern Italy throught to Greece would end up costing much more than a flight as well so we nixed Croatia completely and planned to visit Berlin then fly out of Frankfurt directly to Crete. This allowed us to visit more friends, see more of Germany and relax on the beaches of Greece like we intended.

After we figured out this plan we still needed to figure out how the hell we were going to get from Paris to Colmar. The prices of the trains ran from 80 euro and up and we needed to save money where ever we can.

Enter Blablacar. Yep, Blahblahcar.

Blablacar.com is a ride share website. You create an account, enter your information and verify who you are: phone number, email, etc. Once your account is set up your free to message or call drivers who are offering rides for all over Europe. Thats really pretty much all there is to it.

It’s simple, search your starting city and your targeting destination like you would any flight on any airlines website. It shows the current rides offered with departure times, seats available and how much per person. The cost from Paris to Colmar was between 25 to 40euro depending on the drivers. We messaged 3 drivers, 2 had full cars and the third came through. We had our ride. Now to figure out how/where to meet up with them and head out.

Wait. Let me step back a second. To set up an account with blablacar it states you need a phone number from the EU. This introduces the issue of setting up a phone in Europe. Which is a pain in the butt. Basically there are 3 options, buy a prepaid phone, buy a sim and put it in an unlocked phone, or use your existing cell service and get raped with ridiculous fees, charges, and other BS they come up with.

Getting my phone unlocked from the EU is next to impossible with ATT. How do I express my utmost hatred for them. Woooooosaaah. I canceled my service before leaving the states but somehow still have to pay another month of service. Also, I didnt know they offer an official unlock service for those outside of a contract nor did the service rep mention this when I called them and explained why the cancelation and how long I was planning on being abroad. I even asked for my options for christ’s sake, seriously!

My recommendation for you is this: unlock your phone through their service and buy a prepaid sim here, done. How do you do this? Submit your information at ATT.com/deviceunlock, wait 2-6 days for their computers to warm up and send a telegraph, then get your response. Official from Apple. But for me, some stupid reason ATT says my iPhone never existed on their service and they can not unlock it unless I call them. When I called from France, they stated they do not offer the service over the phone and direct me to the same site. And finally finding an email address and contacting them like any other company is next to impossible. ATT can suck it. I never liked them as a company in the first place.

Ok enough with the ranting…since we do not officially have a phone, we fudged that part and used a useless sim we purchased for 5eu and simply told the drivers our phones do not work in that country. No problem. Drivers message back, give us a location and we meet them there at a given point and time telling them to look for the two backpackers with huge packs on their backs looking desperate for a ride out of town. Done.

As our first time trying this, it did make me a bit nervous and I had kristin take a picture of the license plate just in case, and Jonny knew where we intended to go and where we were meeting. But the driver showed up as promised and next thing you know we are in a complete strangers car heading east at 130kph towards Colmar. Yep, no problem. This casual attitude to ride sharing here further reinforces my idea of the ridiculous paranoias of America for me. Knowing my luck I just introduced a new ‘based on a true story’ horrible horror movie idea into the universe. Anyways.

5 hours later, a whole lot of bla bla bla and we arrive in Colmar at 2am. We hiked to our camp grounds and were nestled in our sleeping bags by 330am.  Im glad I found a spot under a tree because it rained a bit that night and any deterrence from direct rain is good. Exhausted from a very long day and only getting about 3 hours sleep in the last 48 hours we slept in till noon again. This time, I don’t care. Enter disgusting cute towns galore in beautiful Alsace.