Greece: They Speak German There

Longer ago than I wish it was, I took a two week vacation to Greece. Actually there were four of us, two of my friends from business school, Rick and Anne, and my boyfriend Bob. It was a great deal: a few nights in Athens, a Greek Islands cruise, and seven nights on the island of our choice. We chose Crete. When we met at the airport check-in desk in Toronto it was clear that Anne and I had very different travel styles, as her carry-on was as big as our checked baggage. The consequence of this will become apparent later in this story.

When we got there, we did a whirlwind tour of Athens and then proceeded to our cruise ship. The itinerary was to visit a few islands, leave the boat when we got to Crete, and get picked up on the return cruise seven days later. The ship was great, the weather was great, and the scenery was beautiful. Once on board the ship, the bounty of Anne’s luggage became apparent. I think there were about seven pairs of shoes (compared to my two), and we did not see the same outfit twice. I had gone the mix and match route, centering around one colour, with the result that all of the photos emphasized my packing frugality. As Anne put it when were viewing the post-vacation legacy: “look – there’s the blue and white striped number again!”

We successfully disembarked on Crete and proceeded to the hotel that was included in our travel package. It looked sort of like a large chalet, with big iron doors to the lobby, lots of wood and Tudor accents – possibly even something you might see in Germany or Austria. That should have been our first clue. We were assigned rooms looking towards the ‘garden’ as opposed to the ocean. The view also included some very productive smoke stacks from a power plant. Anne was not happy, and led the charge to get rooms overlooking the pool and beach. After a day or so, we did get our rooms moved (more about the consequence of that later).

The main meals were included, so we headed to the dining room for dinner. The menu was in three languages: Greek, Italian and German. This is where studying German in high school and university turned out to be a very good move. Apparently Crete is a very popular destination for German travellers. Good thing we had brought lots of books, because German was the closest we were going to get to English. However, I was able to read the Der Stern headline announcing “Jackie Onassis ist gestorben” and pass the news along – see it here .

German travellers seem to take their leisure very seriously. They are big fans of buffets, and since our appetizers and desserts were laid out accordingly, our hotel was a big hit. It was very dangerous to get between a well-nourished German and the dessert table. They also liked to work off the pastries by vigorous participation in the athletic activities by the pool. These started around 8 am, with Dieter the athletic director announcing the line-up of fun on his bullhorn, and wound down around 11 pm after the late night water polo tournament. Did I mention we had moved our rooms to over look the pool?

Despite everything, we did enjoy our sightseeing on Crete, however we decided to end the week early and head to Santorini for a couple of days, and catch up with the cruise ship from there. Even if you’ve never been there, you probably know what Santorini looks like because it is the poster child for the Greek islands – white washed buildings with azure blue accents, perched on top of a cliff. Needless to say, the water is a very long way down. And we arrived by ferry.

One way to get up to the main town of Fira is to hire a mule and make the trek up the 500 steps (which we dubbed the mule-shit steps). Thankfully, Santorini also has a funicular gondola system to haul people and their stuff up to the town. We needed one gondola just for Rick and Anne’s luggage.

Santorini was fabulous. It would have been nice to stay longer, but we had to catch the cruise ship when it came back to port. We had a rough approximation of the time, but weren’t really quite sure how we were going to get to the ship. We couldn’t find a taxi, so we had to haul the luggage by hand to the gondola, and this was before wheels were standard issue. We were only able to snag one gondola car, so it was stuffed to the roof with Anne’s luggage. It was actually a good thing we couldn’t see out of the windows, because the vertical drop to the ocean is precipitous.

We could see the ship in the harbour, but there was no sign of a tender. Rick managed to commandeer a fisherman to take us out –all four of us and all of the luggage in a small dingy. We got to the ship, hailed the bridge, and a crew member arrived to get us back on board. He lowered what is best described as a rope ladder down the side of the ship – probably about a 30 foot drop to the fishing boat. I don’t know how we managed it without losing anyone or anything, but we made it up the ladder successfully with the help of three crew members forming a relay team to get all the luggage to the top. Once safely on deck, Anne emptied her wallet to tip her reluctant sherpas, and vowed never to pack heavily again.