Our Greek adventures started late in the day with an evening flight from Budapest to Heraklion with Wizz Air. It was my first time flying with Wizz Air and it really was no different to flying with Ryanair or Easy Jet. We flew into Heraklion on the island of Crete. From there we rented a car and drove to a small village called Panormo where we would be staying for the next few days. Our trip was split into three parts: a) on the island and doing some touristy things; b) Athens; and c) sitting on the beach.
Driving in a foreign country in the dark is not easy, but if that country is Greece and you had just arrived, it is even worst, as we quickly discovered. There is one main highway on the island of Crete that runs East – West on the north side of the island (where we were). Crete is a very hilly island, so much of the highway are twists and turns around the mountains, often hugging the seashore, with massive cliffs dropping off into the sea. The highway was barely lit for most of it. There would be a light or two when we were approaching villages and towns, but for the most part nothing. The lanes did not have reflective squares on them so in reality, we could maybe see 20 meters in front of us, and virtually nothing if driving around the curves of the road. The Greeks drive amazingly fast around these twists and turns. It is a single lane highway, with many blind corners. I have no idea how the Greeks were able to weasel their way in and around traffic. Crazy!
The whole time we were on the road, my heart was in my throat and I was utterly terrified. To make matters worse, the address we had for our first apartment wasn’t detailed enough. We had a GPS and I had a vague idea of where we were going. Greeks have their own alphabet and when translated into Roman letters, there is a very big difference. For example, the city we flew into could be written Heraklion or Irakion depending on who you talk to. The GPS was set for the town (which was spelt differently from what I knew), but not the address of where we were going. The car rental company wasn’t very helpful – just difficulty communicating.
When we got to where the GPS told us to go, we gave our host a call. No answer. Just our luck. There were some bars and restaurants open along the road and I went into one to ask for directions. There was a bartender, and three guys perched on bar stools. One of the guys came over, looked at where I wanted to go and grunted, “follow me.” So I scrambled back into the car and we followed this guy on a moped through the tiny, twisty streets of Panormo. About 5 minutes later, he pointed to a restaurant, turned around and sped into the darkness.
We thought, maybe we were in the wrong town. We’re not looking for a restaurant, but apartments. I went to ask for directions, but when walking through the entry garden, I realized that the tables were set up in a semicircle and it looked like some sort of celebration. A wedding of sorts. Like a deer in headlights, I quickly backed out and headed back to a car. Moments later, a guy came running out and asked if he could help us. I showed him the address and asked if this was the right place and thankfully he said yes. We had made it.
Turns out it wasn’t a wedding that I had walked into, but an engagement party. By this time it was past midnight local time (Greece is an hour ahead of most of Europe) and the party was still going strong. Our host invited us into his restaurant for a welcome drink and snacks. He even gave us some of the cake from the engagement party with house-made ice cream (that was ridiculously delicious). We found this place on AirBnB – my first time using the service. He showed us to our studio apartment and we settled in for some well deserved sleep.
Tell me about a disorienting travel experience! What did you do?
PS. Check out the rest of my posts about Greece!