Author Topic: 10 days in Greece- Trip Report  (Read 500 times)

Offline aerosy

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10 days in Greece- Trip Report
« on: June 11, 2019, 02:12:36 PM »
Greece TR, July 26-August 5, 2018

Since this is my first TR Iím sorry if I miss some basic details and upload garbage photos. Iím more of an information stalker than poster on DDF, but Iíve gotten tons of useful information from here and I almost never post so I figure itís time I gave back a little and hopefully this can be of some help to people planning their own trip. I also was not planning to write a TR at the time so I donít have pics of many things and the ones I did take were on my old iPhone. I donít own a dslr and donít really know how to use one (sorry @Something Fishy ) but maybe one day Iíll upgrade and learn.


Since I was originating in Israel, Europe was the most practical destination. But I was looking for a place not overrun by bein hazmanim tourists which ruled out most of Italy, Vienna, Prague and many more cities, including the more popular Greek islands like Santorini and Mykonos. Then I read about Crete, which is an enormous island that is a close to six hour drive end to end, and less than two hour flight from Israel. Figured I can find a quiet corner there. I wanted to get Athens in on the same trip, and after playing around with different flight combinations I came to TLV-HER, HER-ATH, ATH-TLV.

1) Flights

TLV-HER was on Aegean and cost $216 per person. There were no good direct award options so I used 14k UR for it from CSR. HER-ATH was on Ellinair (which I never heard of before) and was $62 (4k UR). ATH-TLV was back on Aegean for $210 per person (14k UR). There were cheaper options for HER-ATH but they were all on ATR-72ís or other turboprops which my wife wasnít so excited about (not sure what it is about those planes that scare them ;)), so I paid a bit more to get a 737.

2) Hotels

I wanted to see both sides of Crete so I booked 3 nights at Domes Noruz Chania which at the time was 45k/night Marriott points, and 3 nights at Domes of Elounda which also cost 45k/night. Domes Noruz is on the west side of the island while Domes of Elounda is on the eastern side and it is a three hour drive from one to the other. Domes Noruz is an adults only resort and will not allow children under 16. Domes of Elounda, on the other hand, is extremely family friendly.

Since we were going to be in Athens for Shabbos, I was looking for a hotel that was near the Chabad House/Restaurant and that is able to give mechanical keys. I found Athens Lodge, which was literally a 1 minute walk from Chabad, and confirmed with them that all rooms had mechanical key capability. We were staying in Athens from Wednesday to Sunday so I figured Iíll just stay at this hotel for the entire time. It was $218/night for the ďSuperior Room Partial Acropolis ViewĒ (which is one tier above the base room), so I redeemed about 58k UR for the whole stay. But then I discovered that the rooms were extremely small and I wasnít too excited about staying there for four days so I emailed the hotel about upgrading to a bigger room and ended up paying around 120 extra euros per night to get the largest suite they had which was ĒThe Athens Lodge Suite with Acropolis View & VerandaĒ. There are points hotels not that far of a walk from there and I met some people who stayed there for Shabbos and it was fine, so if I would be doing it again I probably would do that as it would have ended up much cheaper.

3) Car Rental

Since I would be driving from one end of Crete to the other, and most attractions and activities are more than just a taxi ride away, I was going to rent a car for the entire stay.

If you search for rental cars in Crete you'll see a ton of results. Some of them had such dumb names that they seem like scams but the big companies were much more expensive so I looked into these little guys. I found one that had great reviews and that everybody liked the owner and I booked a six day rental for a little more than 300 euros. The company name is the very originally named ďAutoRentals CreteĒ :D. Most of their cars have manual transmissions, and although I really want to learn how to drive a manual, Crete was probably not the best place to learn, so I booked the second smallest automatic that they had and stayed upset at myself the entire week for not driving a manual since they were so much cheaper.

From my research it seemed that I don't need a car in Athens unless I'm driving out of the city and it turned out to be true. A car would've been a huge pain to deal with to drive and park in the narrow streets and is totally unnecessary there.

4) Kosher Food

The kosher restaurant in Athens, which is run by the shliach there, delivers packaged meals to anywhere in Greece with a refrigerated shipping company. They have 6 dinner menus and a breakfast and Shabbos meals and you can also add items from the grocery attached to the restaurant. I ordered 5 dinners, 4 breakfasts, Shabbos meals, and some groceries like grape juice, wine, and milk. The order process was quite easy to do online and all the info you can need is on the website. There are clear instructions in English and Greek how to warm it up, not to open the actual meals, etc.. They also needed a contact at the hotel that has been notified about the kosher meals, so I reached out to the hotel and got one.

I also brought along plenty of food for lunches and for after the suppers run out.

Part 1- Day 1-4, Chania, Crete

Day 1- Thursday, July 26

The flight from Tel Aviv to Heraklion was mostly uneventful, besides for learning in some very raucous ways that Greece is a very popular Israeli vacation spot (if you think frum flyers are not so cooperative try flying with a group of secular Israelis heading to vacation). The approach into HER was beautiful. We were able to see how clear and blue the water was even from the plane, as you can see from this very unprofessional iphone pic.

We deboarded at a remote stand, waited in a long immigration line (the soldiers were all smoking outside till they saw our bus coming), and then waited for a half hour for our suitcase at an ancient baggage carousel. The car rental guy had emailed us that there would be someone waiting for us to take us to our car, and sure enough near the exit to the airport there were tons of guys standing holding signs with names. They seemed to all be from different rental companies and it took another five minutes to walk through them and find the guy holding the sign with our name printed in very small letters on it. The big companies have desks closer to the terminal, but the small ones are all in a lot a couple of minute walk from the terminal. The lot was divided up into little squares, with every company having a little hut for an office and a couple of cars in front of it.

The rental guy told me that they would have to switch the car they give me for a different one on Friday (the next day) because of a reason I didn't quite get and that they will come to wherever I am to switch it. I told him I will be a two hour drive away but he wasn't fazed. Then I tried explaining that I wouldn't be able to do the switch after sundown on Friday but he didn't seem to understand and thought I was talking about some party I was going to be at, but he said he'll come earlier.

We left the airport at around 4:30 PM for the two hour drive to Chania. I had gotten an email from the restaurant in Athens while I was in the air that they had reached out to my hotel and confirmed that my food had arrived which gave me one less thing to worry about. Side note, there are many stray dogs near the airport but they don't really approach people.

Driving in Crete is an interesting experience to say the least. Most of the way it was a one lane highway but Cretans treat it as two lanes in each direction. There's the actual lane for people who are driving fast enough and wild enough to put the Italians to shame (and Brooklynites, Israelis etc...), and then there's the shoulder for everybody else. I'm not kidding, it seems like it's really expected of you to drive on the shoulder if someone behind you is going even a bit faster than you, even in what in every civilized country are no-passing zones. Having learned how to drive in NYC I caught on pretty quickly but I did see some clueless tourists merrily driving down the middle of their lane with a long line of angry Cretans behind them. Cretans seem to be known as bad drivers as I kept on hearing throughout my vacation from regular Greeks.

Chania has an old part of the city that's what everyone comes to visit but the hotel is in a newer part that's about a fifteen minute drive from there. After turning off the main road I  drove down this very narrow and slummy looking street until I saw the gate to the resort on the left. The difference between the surrounding neighborhood and the hotel is so stark that is really like an oasis in the desert type of thing.

The resort itself is beautiful and tastefully designed. We were welcomed into a gorgeous lounge/check-in area, were seated, and offered the signature drink (we declined).

She confirmed that my kosher food arrived even without me asking about it and told me who to talk to if I had specific instructions. She then walked us to our room and explained what we were passing on the way. There are two nice pools on site, one regular and one quiet. The quietness of the latter didn't seem like it was enforced too strictly but it was definitely empty more often.

The room itself was nicely designed and had an outdoor section with some seating, a bathtub and a plunge pool.

The base rooms all have plunge pools but they are all right next to the walking paths. They aren't really private as all that divides the pool and the path is a wall of slanted slats so if your standing on the path at one angle you can't see in at all but from another angle you see right in as you can see from these pictures (the ones at the ends of some of the paths were more private since less people used those paths).

The shower in the bathroom was a bit weird. It had no separation or curtain dividing it from the rest of the bathroom so water kind of went everywhere but since it was stone dried up pretty quickly.

There is a narrow beach with seating that only hotel guests were able to use, but there were tons of non hotel guests just walking up and down the beach past the hotel. It does get pretty quiet at mealtimes.

By the time we got settled in it was after seven so we headed to the beach to watch the picture perfect sunset. I wish I knew how to take proper pictures but this is all I have from that sunset.

I went to talk to the kitchen manager Gabriel about my food and he turned out to be quite familiar with all the kosher requirements and was phenomenally accommodating. The restaurant had sent a list of what's in the box and what should be sent with what so there was no need for him to shlep the boxes out to show me. The food came in two foam boxes like this.

I told him which supper to warm up and it was sent to my room in a timely manner.

Day 2- Friday, July 27

All we had planned for Friday was a Segway tour of Chania since it had to be booked in advance. They had a couple of options but we picked the "Old City & Harbor Combo Tour". We left the hotel with ample time to get to the old city but finding parking close to where the segway shop was located was a nightmare. After pulling some NYC parking moves we ran to the shop and arrived 10 minutes late but the others were waiting patiently for us and commiserated about the parking situation.

The tour was incredibly informative and we got to see pretty much every interesting site in Chania without taking a step. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we got a ton of information about the city, Cretan culture, and all other things Greek. (If anyone is planning on doing this tour make sure to bring cash, as they didnít let me pay the balance with a credit card.)

When we passed places that I wanted to come back and check out, I marked them in Google maps to remember where they are. The streets in the old city are narrow and convoluted and I would never have found certain places otherwise.

After the tour we stopped in a large supermarket on the way back to the resort and bought some fruit and drinks for Shabbos.

We spent some time on the surprisingly empty beach and I spoke to the kitchen manager Gabriel to confirm when to send the heated meals on Friday night and Shabbos day. The are lots of halachic nuances with this so I'd recommend asking your LOR for the details before doing it.

Day 3- Shabbos, July 28

The resort was pretty calm and quiet over Shabbos. Our meals were delivered right on time but the guy that delivered it Shabbos morning insisted on a signature and didn't speak any English. It's not as easy as you might think to mime that you can't write today because of religious reasons and that you'll take care of it at nightfall, but eventually he understood that I'm somehow different (maybe my yarmulka had something to do with that ;)) and that it'll get worked out somehow.

Day 4- Sunday, July 29

We had to get to the other side of the island and we wanted to get back to old Chania so we checked out at twelve, got what was left over of our food from the kitchen, packed up the car, and headed to Chania. There was plenty of parking because many stores are closed on Sundays. I was nervous the entire time in Chania about our stuff in the car that was clearly visible from the outside since we had a hatchback, so I'd recommend getting a closed trunk if you'll be leaving your luggage in the car.

In Chania we explored the streets, checked out some shops, took some pictures at the old harbor, bought some cool locally carved olive wood souvenirs, and then headed out to share the highway with some crazy Cretan drivers for the trip to Elounda.

Part 2 coming soonÖ..Day 4-7, Elounda

Offline sam28

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Re: 10 days in Greece- Trip Report
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2019, 04:24:47 PM »
I just came back from Crete was there for 5 days hope to write a TR one day still have other TR to finish

 keep it coming its well written thanks for sharing .

Offline aerosy

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Re: 10 days in Greece- Trip Report
« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2019, 08:39:27 AM »
I just came back from Crete was there for 5 days hope to write a TR one day still have other TR to finish

 keep it coming its well written thanks for sharing .


One thing I realized from this is that it's not as easy as it might seem to write one but I would love to read your TR on Crete

Offline Luvtotravel

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Re: 10 days in Greece- Trip Report
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2019, 10:22:02 AM »
Beautiful! Looking forward to next installment...
Don't wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.

Offline aerosy

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Re: 10 days in Greece- Trip Report
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2019, 11:54:35 AM »

Part 2- Day 4-7, Elounda, Crete

Day 4- Sunday, July 29, cont.

The 3 hour drive between Chania and Elounda was nice and uneventful, besides for a temporary checkpoint where they were pulling over random cars. We thankfully were not pulled over, but I had nothing to worry about, as I had an international driverís license (which you need if pulled over in Greece). The road past Heraklion was mostly new with no shoulders so there was no Cretan driving shtick there.

We got to Domes of Elounda in the afternoon and were given a choice to check-in indoors or outdoors. They have a gorgeous indoor/outdoor lounge/bar overlooking the bay and Spinalonga island. We checked in outdoors of course and got some welcome drinks.

The woman who checked us in tells us nonchalantly that we were given an upgrade. I couldn't make out what she said besides for the word villa but that sounded nice so I thanked her profusely and we went out to the golf cart that would be taking us to our room.

The guy drove past all the rooms in the main section of the resort to the other side and we drive up to the private villas. They look pretty nondescript in front outside, so we hadn't realized yet what we had gotten. It was only when the driver starts telling us about the room as he's taking us in and he mentions something about the pool that I realized that I had gotten a really serious upgrade to a two bedroom luxury villa with a private pool and a sea view. The room is roughly $1700 a night in high season!

The base rooms that you get on points all have a hot tub that is basically on your front porch near the entrance to the room in full view of everybody walking or driving by. The villas, on the other hand, are in a totally different area and secluded. The private pool that I had was a real full pool, not a plunge "pool".

We even got the last row of villas with nothing past the pool, except for the pool guy that came by in the morning to clean and test the water, so it was a truly private experience. The villa had two beautiful big bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a large well designed living room, a kitchenette, and a very spacious outdoor space with a pool and outdoor shower. There was also a washing machine and drying rack that came to very good use.

Still not sure what I did to deserve such an upgrade, as I am only gold in Marriott, and there are like ten room levels between the room I booked and what I was upgraded to. If anyone has some insight please share.

It is a family resort, so everything is designed to be family friendly and most of the people we met had some kids with them. The family pool is huge and amazing for kids with a whole play area behind it. The adults-only pool ended up empty most of the time because of this and the resort got pretty quiet at night once the kids were sleeping.

The rest of that day we just ended up exploring the resort and putting our pool to good use. We warmed up the last of the Chabad meals and ate outside.

The meals had been refrigerated since I had gotten them, and at 3-4 days old they weren't all that good, so I would recommend freezing them or having them shipped frozen if you will be using it past 2-3 days.

After dark we went to the lounge/bar where I picked up a beer and my first cigar ever.  8) (I mentioned to the server that I had never had a cigar before, so he asked me if I want him to cut it for me. I had no idea what he meant so I tell him sure. He puts the cigar cutter halfway up the cigar and asks me "here?" and something didn't seem right to me but who was I to argue with the expert. Then he starts laughing and tells me that he wanted to see how far I'd let him go and ruin my cigar. We had a good laugh and I only felt slightly stupid  ;D ;D)

We went to check out the beach which is across the road, but the hotel has a private path and tunnel under the road to their beach. It's not much of a beach with no good sand and not very wide but serves the purpose and has good seating. (A cigar at night on the beach is a good introduction to cigar smoking but I didn't really take to it and my wife didnít take to the smell :) , but maybe it's an acquired taste.)

Day 5- Monday, July 30

The plan was originally to rent atv's and explore the peninsula on them but (because of the private pool etc...) it ended up being a lazy day and we limited the action to going to Spinalonga island. It's a popular attraction in the area and there are boats from the nearby cities every half hour or so. The resort offered a speedboat directly from their dock to Spinalonga (for significantly more than the city boats but a significantly shorter trip so, I splurged) and I booked a slot in early afternoon.

Spinalonga from the resort...

The boat driver recommended a specific amount of time to explore the island which turned out to be perfect and we made up to meet back at the dock at a certain time for the return. We drove up to the dock at Spinalonga with tons of tourists milling around and getting on and off the big city boats. Getting off the hotel boat with just me and my wife with everybody staring at us wondering who the VIPís were was really the business class experience of ten minute boat rides  8).

The island itself has a ton of history from many eras, with ruins from the Venetian era and earlier covering the Island.

It was actually used as a leper colony in the 20th century all the way up to 1957, which I found interesting. It's basically a mountain and you can explore on your own and go wherever you want, though there were some groups with a tour guide. We climbed to the Venetian fortifications at the summit for some amazing views, took some pictures, roamed between the ruins and headed back to the dock where our boat was already waiting for us.

I'm no photographer, but even my phone pics show how beautiful it is.

Supper was some cold cuts that were meant for after the Chabad meals run out with some odds and ends we had lying around.

Day 6- Tuesday, July 31

We hung around the resort and beach and used some of the various facilities which made it a very relaxing day.

There is also a photography company that has an office in the main building which we ended up booking for some professional photos. There were many families using their services, so it seemed pretty smart to have on-site photographers. There are also some amazing spots on the resort grounds for pictures.

Supper was more cold cuts and some fresh veggies. The night was capped off with a beer at the awesome lounge again and a night swim in our amazing pool of course.

Day 7- Wednesday, August 1

We were leaving that day so we made sure to wake up early and get a swim in before we had to check out.

Our flight from Heraklion to Athens was leaving at 3:30 PM and it was an hour drive to the airport. We left with plenty of time to spare and the car return was painless.

Our flight was on Ellinair which is apparently a tiny airline with no facilities of their own at the airport. The whole flight had to check-in at one desk in the farthest possible corner of the airport.

There was another low cost airline with a huge line of very rowdy Israelis waiting to check-in at the desk next to ours. None of the desks had signs, and since (to an Israeli) I look pretty Jewish, they assumed we were also headed to Israel, and when we went up to our desk they all thought we were cutting the line, and boy did they make their feelings known.  ::)

The rest of the airport and airplane experience was fine and we landed in Athens after 4 PM

Part 3 coming soonÖ..Day 7-11, Athens