As we sit here on the cusp of our ferry back to Greece mainland, I’m feeling very reflective about our month on this real Treasure Island. I have a fancy that it will stay in our hearts and memories, evoking every sense as we recall it.
I’m finding it strangley hard to encapsulate all that we have experienced here, such has been the diversity of the miles we’ve covered and the sights our eyes have been privileged to witness. How do I put all this in words? I don’t normally struggle!
Crete has not been just another country ticked off in our passion for exploring new lands. It somehow feels more significant than that. Not sure I can put my finger on exactly what that means just yet, although something has been birthed here.
Frangokasteli – 1371
Amidst a land that is claimed solely by history and nature and not, as we might think – tourism, I feel a huge sense of pride to have found so much essence on this fair isle. Don’t get me wrong, we are part of a huge number of people who visit here, many who come for a very much shorter space of time than us and who are very happy to simply have the sun and sand.
Yet if you are willing, Crete invites you to look beyond the crowds, coach tours and the touristy northern coast and search deep into its soul. As there you will find an intriguing trilogy between Mother Nature, modern and ancient history and mythology; who blend together to create a Cretan adventure that will leave its mark on your heart.
Zeus’ Birthplace – Psychro Cave
Neither of us are great historians, although I defy you to be left untouched by the mythogical legends of Zeus, the Minotaur and Poseidon as their stories create the very fabric of Greek culture. And then there’s the ancient history that have left this amazing legacy for us to explore; the Minoans, who are said to be the earliest of European civilisation, a truth which is being increasingly unveiled by findings at ancient sites like Knossos. And let’s not forget that we’re talking up to 2000BC. This is almost beyond comprehension and yet demands a deep respect as you tread in ancient footprints. More recent history has also left indelible scars on this land and the current generation as WW2 invasions, massacres and German occupation influences their memories. Yet the Cretans are, like Greeks across the water, the most warm, engaging and generous of people. In the older generation you can see history etched into the lines on their faces and, as they walk by, they seem to carry the world on their shoulders like Atlas in mythology. What must their treasured island feel like with this throng of visitors passing by their simple homes, let alone a 7.5 metre motorhome? Strange times indeed and we are grateful for their sharing and community spirit.
Crete is a complex partnership of mountains, that form the island’s backbone, and the forces of the sea and wind who together, continue to shape its landscape. No matter where on Crete you travel, you always pass in a mountain’s shadow, which is strangley comforting. And then in a whisper, you are drawn to the sparkling aqua and azure seas, as if in some futile competition. As you approach the sea’s domain, it’s almost as if the mountains have slid gracefully in surrender, creating secret coves and stunning beaches to amaze and enthral. The south offers most of these secret treasures, many only accessible on foot. And so it is a haven for naturists who bare all without fear of intrusion. Lagoons, long strands of sand, dunes and bays of curvaceous beauty, all with the backdrop of the magestic mountains, covered in a greenery that will surprise and delight you.
Crocodile Rocks, Agia Pavlos
Yet look a little deeper and you will uncover a different Crete, one carved millions of years ago. Whichever compass point you look, Crete gives you a different geology lesson; uniquely shaped rock formations that tell you a tale, if you unsdertand its language. From the crocodile rocks in Agios Pavlos in the south, to the pink sands at Elafonisi and the 50 gorges that clearly make their mark on Crete’s canvas. The volcanic and tectonic legacy is evident everywhere, each one telling a unique tale from its past.
Irini Gorge, Agia Irini
The gorges themselves are incredibly special and as you enter the bosom of their souls, they take you into their protection and transport you to a whole new world. We walked four of the lesser known gorges as we didn’t want to share the experience with thousands of others eager to conquer the feat that is the Samaria Gorge. Plus you simply can’t do them all and to add insult to injury, I was supporting an Achilles’ tendon strain – only in Greece eh. So Pefki and Butterfly Gorge in the east and Imbross and Irini in the south west were our four nemeses. Each one giving us unique challenges. Pefki with its 300ft ascent, Butterfly with her rock climbing endeavours, Imbross, the uphill hIke through an old river bed with narrow cliffs teaming with the sound of insects and the equisit 8km Irini gorge that snakes through the mountains with dexterity and grace to the orchestral melody of your own personal aviary. Their architecture is astonishing and as long as you can take your eyes off where you’re walking for two minutes, you can appreciate Mother Nature’s artwork that rises above your head.
Cretan Church – great architecture
Now speaking of architecture, I have to be honest that all Crete’s design efforts goes into the landscape and not the buildings. Whilst it is undeniable that the churches and mountain-top chapels are devine, literally, I didn’t really think much to the Cretan villages. Krista to the east was lovely, the old town of Chania charming and the harbour towns quaint. Although on the whole they really did disappoint me. I guess I have been spoilt by Santorini and Mykonos, so they have a lot to live up to. I do love how the deep purple and pink bougainvillea drape seductively across telephone wires and concrete balconies, in a vain attempt to shield their plainness, although only with a modicum of success. That said their delightful homes turned tavernas in EVERY village you pass just shows the Greek’s entrepreneurial spirit. Partnered with the stalls on the roadside that offer the weary traveller a tempting gastronomic tease with their local honey, raki (fire water!!) and olive oil goods, they are just too good to bypass. You want organic this is the place to come.
Goat milking for cheese making at our door!
I can’t miss the chance to share the vision of the pink and white oleanders that border the main roads, creating a corridor of colour that make an otherwise boring piece of tarmac quite picturesque. The delicate red poppies wave in the breeze, the yellow broom brings the mountainside to life and the wild sage and thyme fills the air as you pass by. And then there’s the goats that cling to the gorge edges defying gravity and yet are still able to yield the most wholesome milk for a sensational cheese. I shall never again be able to eat this without accompanying it with a delicate dribble of organic honey – just a marriage made in heaven.
So what did we learn from our Cretan experiences? First and foremost, Crete is big. Underestimate it at your peril. A month is just not long enough to do it anywhere near enough justice. We did well with our five centred ‘homes’ although there is so much we had to miss.
Secondly, Crete is stunningly diverse. Whether you like hiking, snorkelling, photography, botany, beaches, buzzy towns, history or mountains – you will not be disappointed.
Wild camp at Sfinari, west Crete
Finally Crete offers 15 campsites; some of which can only be loosely described this way. They are often small, basic although always welcoming and often with stunning swimming pools. If their signs say ACSI, it is unlikely to end up in a discount as most times their inspection has either run out and it’s an old sign or it’s just an inspection sign, which don’t offer discounts. That said we paid between €17-26 per night with electric. Wild camping is doable although not as profusely as on mainland Greece, yet we managed to find some stunning spots that were made in heaven or somewhere close. That said we found that if we centred ourselves in one place, then either use our bikes or hire a car, we covered more ground. You can get a car for about €25-35 per day, depending on the length of hire and it’s great to nip to places more quickly than with a 3.5T motorhome. The roads are very doable, on the whole and although sometimes twisty and wiggly, travelling around the island wasn’t difficult. Just sometimes more efficient with a car.
So what would my closing reflections of Crete be? Come! Simple as that really. I know it’s the furthest south you can get in Europe, although please come. Either fly and hire a motorhome from:
www.campergreece.com; www.motorhomes.gr or www.spicycampers.com
…or make the overland journey sailing from Piraeus to Hirakleon or Chania with Anek Lines. The €400 return journey was, in my view an absolute investment and the best way I could imagine to spend that money. Crete will take hold of you by the heart, pull on your strings and offer you an experience, not a holiday. Its richness, colour and diversity will make it so memorable that photos will not be required. You will relive your Cretan Odyssey through your dreams. Although here’s a few to whet your appetite.
With love and and admiration for Crete, Mrs Moneypenny.
As those lovely Roman chaps used to say, ‘Tempus fugit’ – and you know what? They were right, time really does fly. I can’t believe where the last year has gone; a whole twelve months has past since we embarked on the biggest week of our lives, EVER!
From the humble and yet inspiring beginnings of a Silver anniversary road-trip in New Zealand, we packed up our belongings, said ‘goodbye’ to jobs and handed the keys back to the rented house we had called ‘home’ for four years. We stuck two fingers up to conformity, leaving behind what society classes as normality – after all who wants normal when you can have adventure and a life on the road? I get that this isn’t for everyone and, if truth be known, four years ago I would have said that it wasn’t for me either. Yet we’ve never been scared to do things differently and boy, this was seriously different.
So on 4 March 2016 we left English shores for our European road trip, yet as we said au revoir to Plymouth’s port, little did we know how life on the road, with our trusty chariot Scoobie, would change our lives, possibly forever. Read more about our pre-road trip preparation and tips here…
As I look back now, on the cusp of our first anniversary, I’m wondering how appropriate it is to celebrate this landmark. Is it with champagne? Is it with a meal or do we simply acknowledge with a huge amount of gratitude how life has unfolded for us? The latter certainly seems like the only way to mark this significant date. No doubt we will reflect on the months that have passed and reminisce over the ups and downs of our nomadic life and the people we’ve met along the way.
Although the thing that will hit us the most will be the lessons we’ve learnt, and are still learning, as we meander our way through this new lifestyle. So, what are those lessons?
Here are our TOP 10 Lessons from our Nomadic Classroom.
1. The first is, how fear can take over your dreams. Fear of what others might think, fear of what could happen in the future or fear of how safe you will be in a strange country. Fears so big, that if not addressed can consume you and hold you back from living the life you deserve. Realising that fear is only a self-constructed thought can release you from its grasp and enable you to live your dreams. We challenged each fear and looked at them with logical eyes and common sense. We worked out the likelihood that those fears ever materialising and generated contingency plans should the worst ever happen. Once you strip away fear’s power you fly free. See more about overcoming fear here…
2. Have the courage to be different. Conforming to society’s expectations can be a comforting blanket to be enwrapped by, although this has its limitations, especially if your wanderlust is calling. We came to the conclusions that however others may judge us, this is our life, our dream and life is too short to accommodate norms that no longer fit your dreams. This is our time to fulfil our potential.
3. Remember this isn’t a holiday, this is a lifestyle. For our first three months, we grabbed at everything; visited every UNESCO site there was and ticked off Natural Parks, cathedrals and cities as though they were going out of fashion. We soon realised that we needed to evolve from tourist travellers into nomadic travellers if we were going to stay sane. So stopping in one place for more than two nights became an important ingredient in our adventures. You don’t need to see everything all in one go. Hopefully there is always tomorrow (finger’s crossed.)
It’s all about balance.
4. Balance is important – learn the art of stillness and movement. Our first six months was a lovely yet a busy period as we not only settled into a rhythm, we committed to seeing friends and family. We hadn’t quite got used to creating a kinder schedule for ourselves. We soon realised that travelling is tiring and needs respect. Whilst we have no regrets of any one of our visits, we could have been more mindful of our needs and stresses. In twelve months we’ve covered nearly 13500 miles and 10 countries during that time, which is phenomenal. Although at the other end of the spectrum we had five weeks at one place in January, which had us itching to travel again. So finding a balance between being still and smelling the roses whilst travelling to a new ‘home’ is really important and has taken us a year to work out. And we think we’ve finally grasped it, although I’m not sure you ever get it ‘right’!
5. Embrace simplicity. I’ve never been a Madonna – material girl, although Myles might disagree with the number of shoes I’ve brought with me. Yet we’ve stripped back a three bedroomed house and fully functioning kitchen to all the bare essentials for our 7.5 metre space. And there’s absolutely nothing we want for – at all. Although what we have learned is to be creative with the resources we do have, be inventive in how we store things and embrace simplicity. We cook more simply, we live more simply and we dress in a way that feels comfortable. We regularly stream-line what we have by doing a bi-annual cull – anything not used or worn during that time is recycled. A number of my shoes have found themselves back in my mum’s care because I hadn’t worn them. Life on the road demands simplicity and it’s such a lovely value to embrace as it brings so much more peace to daily life.
Wild camping in Playa de Carolina, Aguilas, Murcia
6. Wilding versus campsite. Over the last year we have done a fair bit of wild camping, although not as much as I thought we might. I’m not sure it was anything to do with confidence or safety – perhaps more to do with internet connection and a decent signal so we could work. Sometimes it depended on the country, for example Slovenia and Italy don’t encourage wild camping, so places are hard to find. There are some definite periods during the year when wilding is a ideal; Easter, July/August (when campsite fees are crazily expensive and you can’t use ACSI) and January/February when lots of us ‘snow birds’ are looking for some winter warmth. In between, we’ve found a rhythm that gives us a bit of wild camping and then a top up on a site so we can juice up, do washing and get some good wifi. Don’t miss out on wild camping though, as you get to meet some amazing characters and the sites do just what they say on the tin; wild, wonderful and warming to the soul. Read more about our wilding perspective…
Living life together in a small space is doable.
7. You can have harmony in a small space. Who would have thought that two people (or more in some cases) could live harmoniously in such a small space. Whilst we have met people for whom it hasn’t worked out, as it has put too much pressure on their relationship, for us we are stronger. We have found a way to live, work and move around the van such that it doesn’t invade each other’s space and we regularly talk about how we’re doing and iron out any frustrations. Of course during the summer we have a whole ‘outside’ space to luxuriate in. Winter can be more compromising, although we have baggsyed our own ‘office’ space and we have a couple of rules like, only one person in the kitchen at one time and always make the bed. Otherwise we are so pleased at how well we flow, even after nearly 30 years together.
8. Be a gracious teacher and student. We came into our road-trip with a little experience of owning and travelling in motorhomes before. Although having a holiday or short-break to living full-time are miles apart and we never underestimated the transition we knew we would have to make. So we studied, researched and honed our skills before we left and soon realised how much more there was to learn on the road. Like to how fix a punctured toilet miles from anywhere and getting off wet ground, even with grip mats. We really do feel like every day is a school day. Although it’s lovely to talk about our experiences and choices with others, if they ask. We love to share and receive and we have adjusted so much of what we do based on other people’s experiences.
Root yourselves not in one place.
9. You root yourself wherever your tyres stop. One of my worst fears before we embarked on our nomadic journey, was not being rooted in a home that I could call my own. I’ve always been a home bird and loved coming back after a holiday. So how would I cope not having the security of a roof and four walls? This has been my biggest revelation of the whole year really. Roots are not in bricks and mortar; roots are wherever you stop for the night; roots come from your own feet and not from an address that you can return to. Scoobie is our home and he provides our roots and our routes. And although we’re loving this now, it might not always be this way – so when or if that time arrives, then we will create new roots, in a new way. As Paul Young sang way back when, ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.’ Let go of roots and your freedom to explore expands exponentially.
10. You never really escape The Matrix. And finally, one of our biggest lessons that we learned early on was, although we had chosen to move away from what we call The Matrix (which contains all the ties, rules and regulations of life in the System), actually it’s everywhere. You never quite escape it completely. If, like us you still have a property that you rent out for income, then there are still landlord issues to deal with, bank incompetences, tax issues to sort out and rules that still require you to comply to some degree. So if escape is the thing you long for most, then the harsh reality is that you can’t. The quicker you realise this, the more freedom you will gain ironically. Stress still exists in our lives, although it is only ever self-induced. As long as you still have a NI number you will always have some ties and links to the System. That said, the hoops you have to jump through are significantly reduced, and now our stress, after years of depression, debt and anxiety, are at an all-time low.
So how would we sum up our experiences over the last twelve months? Although perhaps over-used, life changing definitely feels an appropriate phrase. We had a dream, overcame fears, worked together to make it happen and feel grateful for every moment that we are blessed to enjoy. And we can honestly say that we are happier than we’ve ever been thanks to those courageous actions and a whole heap of support from family and friends. We now play hard, work hard and live well, giving life a good old workout. We cherish every moment and each moment inspires us to keep on trucking. May the next year be equally blessed with health, adventure and happiness as we continue our exploration of eastern European shores. We hope you’ll join us along the way. Cheers!
Ms Moneypenny and Mr Rainman xxx
So we finally took the plunge and bought our brand new motorhome- a Pilote 740c. We chose this particular one because we liked the build quality of the Pilote and the model offered an Island fixed bed. Having toured New Zealand in a Swift Bolero with a french bed we thought we could compromise but we are spending a lot longer in our new ‘home’ we decided at the 11th hour on the ‘upgrade’. We think we’ve made the right decision but only time will tell.
Having finally made the decision on make and model it was time for the extras and what a selection there is. From electric lift up beds to rear view cameras- you can have the lot but in the end we chose the following.
1. A 120W solar panel
2. 1 Extra 105ah leisure battery
3. a gaslow LPG filling system
4. an outside BBQ point
5. An external shower point.
6. An inverter to convert 12v to 240v on 1 extra socket in the kitchen
7. The additional sleeping bits for a second double bed
8. A bike rack
9 An engine upgrade to 150BHP
10. A catgeory 1 Alarm
In addition we will have a drive away awning instead of a fiamma pull down sun screen ( this may in time prove to be a mistake), a cadac safari external gas BBQ, a 12v towel rail, anti skid wheels (to stop the rear skirt catching the floor) and a Wifi/Broadband system to stay connected.
Our thought process took us down the following path.
1. Running out of electricity while wild camping is not an option.
2. The inverter is necessary to charge up devices when not a electric hook up and standard kitchen appliances (juicers, blenders etc) can be used
3. On his return from a recent trip to Europe a friend of mine recommended the gaslow system as he couldn’t fill up his bottles unless he was in Germany. He also advised to install the skid wheels (served him well on a number of occasions) and the towel rail. ‘Always nice to have dry towels in the morning’ he argued.
4. Many people in New Zealand complained that their hire motorhome was pants going up hill hence the engine upgrade (especially if we’re going to tow a smart car or Qpod- the jury is still out here)
5. I’m a side mirror kinda person and did’t use a camera when I had one.
6. For convenience an external shower and BBQ point seemed logical
7. I was all prepared for the investment of an Oyster satellite dish on the roof when the same friend lamented whether his was money well spent. ‘ You can always get a mobile or wifi signal most places’ he said. ‘ We’ve only used the thing once and it was pretty slow. So I’ve plumbed for the latest wifi/mobile boosting roof mounted aerials in the hopes this will suffice.
8. Having had a puncture recently and used the glue stuff you squirt in to good effect I am refraining from a spare tyre and the long lasting residue they pump into all tyres for the tie being.
And that’s about it. I’m positive we haven’t thought about everything and that this is only a starting point but I don’t think we’ll be too far off.
TTFN Smiley…. Next Blog…. The dreaded Payload.
I quick telephone call to Mick the salesman and it would appear that our new Pilote 740c hasn’t even reached the production line yet. Week 47 he said it’s scheduled for commencement and that is 23rd November. We ordered it in September and they haven’t even started it yet… Ah, he said, if you had ordered it at the Motorhome show at the N.E.C in October I would be telling you that delivery time is 10 months from now so you have been lucky.. OK, I said, I’ll let you off. Seems our delivery date is still on schedule for mid- December after all so we just have to be patient for a little while longer…