By Ignacio “Iggy” Rubalcava
U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder Public Affairs Office
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — If you love the sun and need a break from the often problematic German weather, then maybe a two-and-a-half - hour flight to the Greek island of Crete, in the rich blue waters of the Mediterranean is the answer to your suntanning dilemma.
Although now is the high season for summer travel, the fact that many Europeans are being more conservative with their finances makes it easier to book a last-minute summer getaway.
Your travel agency may also offer numerous day trips that can take you through one of the many gorges in Crete, or make your destination a pirate’s cove and explore the coast along the way from the rail side of your ship. Most cruises offer plenty of time to cool off in the turquoise waters off the many beaches or lagoons along the coast.
The majority of the sun worshipers congregate on Crete’s north shore. The largest concentration of hotels and sandy beaches are located on a stretch that starts from the coastal city of Rithiminon and stretches 15 kilometers to the east. Book yourself a hotel in this region and you’ll be in the middle of all the summer fun. If you’re looking for a more relaxing vacation, try booking a stay farther west near the harbor town of Georgioupolis. There is still plenty of action, but the beaches are not as crowded.
From the Georgioupolis area you are only a half hour drive away from Chania, Crete’s second largest city and former capital. The city is nestled at the base of the Akrotiri peninsula on Crete’s northern coast. The narrow streets in Chania’s old town are a souvenir hunter’s treasure trove. Numerous alleys are lined with shops offering various merchandise ranging from handcrafted leather goods to extraordinary novelty gifts. The city has a Venetian-like harbor that is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops.
Regardless of where you stay, there’s no need to waste away your time taking in the sun or chilling under an umbrella on the beach with a cold drink at your side, unless of course that is your objective. Beach-side locations offer numerous water sport activities such as parasailing or skiing, water skiing, wind surfing, banana boat rides, catamaran rides and the ever popular full throttle adrenaline rush of jet skiing.
No matter where in Crete your travels may take you, you’ll always find a great place to eat. Because Crete has become a popular tourist location, most restaurants or “tavernas” offer their menus in English so you won’t be too surprised when the waiter brings your food. The key to an enjoyable meal in Crete is to remain flexible. If you absolutely feel you have to order a burger and fries, don’t be surprised if the waiter returns with two large hamburger patties, a mountain of fries, a tomato and cucumber salad and a basket full of bread. Theoretically all the ingredients for a hamburger are there. They are just presented in a slightly different format.
Food and drink prices are very reasonable so they won’t put a large burden on your finances. The island’s currency is the Euro so it makes it easy to calculate what you spend.
One great way to experience more of Crete than what you see from under your beach-side umbrella is to rent a car. Using your hotel as a base station, you can drive off on a road trip into Crete’s mountainous countryside. At its narrowest point you can reach the south coast of the island from your north shore hotel in about one and a half to two hours.
Crete’s south coast, commonly referred to as the Libyan side of the island, because its waters extend to Libya on the African coast, is mostly rocky and dotted with fishing villages, but there are plenty of secluded beaches that will offer you a lifetime of memories.
If you do rent a car, there are a couple of things to remember. Crete’s National Road, which is the closest thing to an Autobahn, has a speed limit of about 80 kilometers per hour. Although the locals may push the envelope of this traffic ordinance, it’s recommended you drive conservatively and obey the law. The National Road is a two-lane road, one lane in each direction and the middle of the road is shared with oncoming traffic.
The National Road spans the entire length of the island from east to west, making it easy to get you to your destination in good time.
Crete’s back roads are, at best, one and a half lanes wide and can present some hazardous driving conditions, so drive defensively and go easy on the gas pedal. There are a few natural obstacles that will encourage you to drive defensively in Crete. Whereas most countries will use speed bumps and cameras to slow you down, Crete uses wild goats, landslides and old people to help control your speed. The wild goats and landslides are predominantly found in the mountainous regions and can surprise you around any curve. The old people are indigenous to the villages and can also surprise you. Because of their chronological “maturity, ” they tend to misjudge the speed of an oncoming vehicle to that of their ability to make it across the road safely.
A safety tip when on the beach — pay close attention to the lifeguards and the daily weather warnings. The conditions on the beach can change from day to day or from one moment to the next. They can vary from still water with tiny ripples washing up on the shore to turbulent waves crashing onto the beach.