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Crete 2021: Part 5

24th July:

Yesterday, I did nothing. I wrote more in my journal, napped, and then joined a group to head to the beach. I don’t know why, but the wind has been ferocious the last few days - extremely ferocious. At one point, we were trying to walk along the shoreline, and the wind was so strong that it blew some poor bastard into the sea, and hundreds of sandy particles into every orifice that wasn’t covered up. Being in a sandstorm sucks as much as you’d assume. It’s funny in hindsight how neutered they feel in films by comparison. Sandstorms hurt. Ultimately, we did persevere and my inspired hypothesis about the nudist beach being the most sheltered and the sand being too large to be blown around by the wind was completely true, thank you very much. The only issue I had whilst there was Grant asking me to “look over there” at one point, where I got a full view of an old man’s entire gaping areshole are saggy balls as he bent down. Grant near pissed himself laughing at my horrified reaction. I’m certain anyone else would have responded the same way when presented with that view.

The wind remained strong through most of the day, though it started to come in bursts. Rubbish was being blown into the sea, and Nina (who is a beach-cleaning veteran) couldn’t contain herself any longer than it took to stop giving their owners’ the benefit of the doubt. She exploded off her towel and dove into the surf after the empty crisp packets and coffee cups. Unfortunately, she needn’t have bothered, as the owners went back for them soon enough. To make sure it wasn’t entirely a wasted trip, I waded out to her with a random empty beer can I found and floated it towards her. She took it in good humour. We spent most of our time hanging out on the beach, truth be told, talking about things of no consequence. It was exactly the atmosphere of how holidays with a large group of friends used to be before the plague. It was nice. I’d missed that since everyone grew up, got jobs, and moved out of London. I miss those friends.

Luckily for us, the walk back was much less brutal. The wind was calmer, and we walked on the road. We were getting quite hungry, and so we planned to go out for dinner as it was the last night for more than a few of us at Plakias. The restaurant was huge, and full of other faces from the hostel. The pizzas were good, the wine was drinkable, but it was the shots after dinner that were truly killer. We partied on the roof of our hostel until the owner shut it down after midnight. More than half of the party decided to continue the party on the beach. Alex, Nina, and I (and one or two others) stayed behind to have an exceptional late-night chat and stare at the stars. They’re always my favourite part of the party.

26th July:

I understand that these dates can get confusing, but I swear I’m almost back up to date now! On the 24th July, I left Plakias. It was finally the end of my stay on Crete, and I would be headed out to Athens in the evening. All the preparation on my part was, true to form, very last-minute. Even just the day before I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going next. Croatia? Turkey? Hungary? More of Greece? In the end, I decided to catch the ferry to Athens with Nina, as she was already heading that way, and I felt that Athens was as good a place as any to take a second to breathe. Breathe and think about what to do next. That’s the wonderful thing about having as much free time as I have right now: I’m only limited by my imagination and also coronavirus oh yeah forgot about that. Generally speaking, it’s my imagination. I do still think I’ll go to Istanbul in the next few weeks, just because it’s such an incredible city period. But I digress.

Back to the 24th. By 3:30, we were off. Nina and I had said our goodbyes and packed our bags, and we were on the road back to Heraklion. Upon arrival, and with my earlier experience of the city, I took her around some of the same streets I had been shown previously as good places for food. Yet we were nervous about missing our ferry, and couldn’t spend too long searching for a place to eat. In the end we settled on one of the many tourist spots for some familiar food. It was once the menu arrived that it struck me just how tailored the whole economy here was to tourists. This restaurant had the menu in several languages, none of which were Greek. It could be that they had a separate menu in Greek that we were not offered, but at the time it felt to me oddly exclusionary. Certainly, it was indicative of just how important the tourist trade was to the maintenance of Heraklion’s economy. Not even a suggestion of locals eating there. I’ll never know.

Finally, it was 8pm: time to catch the ferry. We went through a series of compulsory paperwork at the dock to declare we were covid-free, and that the ferry company was not at fault in case of an outbreak. Although we were compelled to show it to the staff before entering the ferry proper, they did little else except place it in a pile of other similarly discarded paperwork and usher us up. I thought it odd considering how serious they were taking covid measures. Seating is separated so no one is too close, masks must be worn when moving around, but someone declares that they have covid on the form asking you to declare if you have covid? They would never even check.

In any case, we settled into a beautiful 9-hour trip across the Aegean that would definitely not be sleepless. Neither would it be anxious, as the woman coughing horribly behind us without a mask made sure of. Fortunately, we could escape both easily by heading up to the deck, where the sunset was stunning. Watching the aeroplanes queuing up in the sky for landing at the airport gave me an entirely new perspective on something seemingly so mundane. You forget how impressive it is to fly. As the sun was finishing its descent, I saw what I thought to be a bright yellow dome of a building off the other side of the deck. Of course, the clouds then receded to reveal the moon that had been growing larger and larger every day. Now it was a low-lying supermoon cast in yellow thanks to the reflection of Saturn, which was also visible that night. That moon followed us for the whole journey, a supernatural companion for my lonely insomnia.

The sun rose over Piraeus in the most contrasting spectacle I have ever seen. On one side of the deck there stayed a night illuminated by celestial bodies. All else was absent of light save that from the ship. Now on the other side was a slowly rising sun, and the vanishing lights of the buildings on the shore. It truly felt like you were caught between two different days. Different as night and day. I suppose that does rather undercut the sentiment, doesn’t it?

After we exited the ferry and made it to my hostel, I dropped off my bags and went for some breakfast with Nina before we parted ways. Check-in wasn’t until 2pm, so I had a lot of time to kill, but as soon as I’d finished eating, I knew I had to find somewhere to sleep. I was unfortunately too tired so socialise, which was a shame as I would have loved to stay longer. Nina and I promised to meet up in Turkey if circumstances allowed, but we were headed in different directions for the time being. I spent much of that day snoozing in my bedroom and finishing off the last few days of this journal that you are reading now. I wasn’t even aware how magical a view of the Acropolis my hostel had until I went out to the balcony at night. The whole complex was illuminated by lights. A man on the roof opposite was finishing his workout, his silhouette making for an incredible contrast as he stared up at the ruins. I felt like I was trespassing on an introspective moment, quietly invading his privacy from the other side of the road. I should have taken a photo, really.

And that’s it! Crete is done! Crete diary done! It was certainly different to what I expected. Truly I had no expectations outside of the Minoan and Venetian elements, so all else I experienced was without outside influence. If I were to summarise my feelings in a few sentences, I would say that Heraklion was not for me. The few places I visited on the north coast were unfortunately too touristy for me. My appreciation for Crete matured significantly once I reached the south of the island, to Plakias and its surrounding countryside. The people I met were wonderful, the experiences I had were incredible, and the surroundings were unbelievable. I wish I had been able to spend more time exploring more of the island, because I would have spent all my time walking around those villages, beaches, river valleys, and mountains. I cannot say enough good thing about how stunning Crete is. So, I reach the same conclusion I always do on trips like this: I wish I could drive.

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