During an evening swim at Paleochora’s Sandy Beach, which is not among Crete’s most celebrated beaches, I nonetheless witnessed the most beautiful scene of our visit yet. The sun was setting behind the mountains, bathing the beach and its tidy rows of tiki umbrellas in golden light. Live music started playing from a beachside restaurant – something folksy with a fiddle and deep male voice. In the water near us, a Greek man with the blackest hair and beard and woman with long blonde ringlets and a hunched grandma immediately joined hands high in the air and started dancing. At the water’s edge, a couple started practicing a line dance, stepping to the side, skipping, and then stepping again to the side. A young boy near them neatly tapped his hand to the sole of his foot, first on the right side, then the left, while three little girls turned simultaneously in circles. Elise said “Mommy, dance with me!” With all that magic happening around us, how could I not? So we got out of the water and tied our sarongs around us as dresses and made up our own line dance (cross steps, kicks, dos-a-dos…), cracking up as we messed up or accidentally kicked each other. But a jogger passing by gave us a thumb’s up, surely just for effort given the virtuosity around us, but it felt good to be acknowledged as being a part of that lovely local scene.#nocamera #inthemoment #paleochora
I love breezy, cheery Paleochora. It’s a coastal town like (gritty) Kissamos, but it has a marvelous vibe – perhaps because it’s a peninsula, and so more like a tiny island in its own right. The sign for the beach points both east and west (joy!), and the cafes along the seaside and in the pedrstrian zone are overflowing with familes with kids, even well past sundown. Elise loves that there are friendly cats everywhere. And while it’s not unique to this town, I’ve also come to enjoy the tradition of having watermelon for dessert – and sometimes a sip of raki.
So we hit the last of the epic beaches on Crete’s western coast, Elafonisi, which had perfectly turquoise water and the gentlest waves yet. Water clarity was not as good as Falasarna or Balos, but who cares! it was awesome! We met a very sweet jewelry designer, Katerina of Cretan Art Seeds, who accessorized us with necklaces, bracelets and anklets made of shells and seeds. In the evening, we stayed at a guest house in nearby Paleohora, with wildflowers tumbling over every wall and a veritable chirping bird/cicada orchestra. Blissful! Dinner was at To Skolio, a cliffside courtyard restaurant with valley views, where we sampled the baked zuccini with feta cheese, Greek salad and giant beans in tomato sauce. It would have been perfect except that, as an open air restaurant, nearly every local person around us puffed away on their cigarettes.
Loved Falasarna beach’s gorgeous turquoise water and golden sand (though I could have done without the oddly redneck beach cafe). If Elise had had her way, we would have body surfed the waves from morning till night. But hunger eventually led us back to Kissamos in search of real food. We managed to find the highly recommended though completely unpretentious seaside Sunset Taverna, where we had grilled swordfish caught right off the shore and sauteed wild greens from the mountains of Crete. As is her habit, Elise made friends with the local cat, who probably feasted a little too well on swordfish that night.
We made it to Balos beach on Crete’s Western coast. Elise and I both gave the pink(!) sand and crystal clear water a 10 out of 10. But she hated (and I loved) the steep climb up to the Venetian fortress that was a short ferry ride away on the Gramvousa Island. In the evening, we tried cooking fish at our apartment, but somehow failed miserably and ended up having French toast instead. Kinda lame given that we’re on the island known for the best food in all of Greece.
After strolling through the oddly desolate fortress high above Rethymno, Crete, we wandered the maze of lanes in the Venetian-Ottoman quarter, grateful for the shade beneath the pretty floral canopies. In the evening, we had a dip in azure waters of Missira beach, where we lucked out and managed to book a beach bungalow at charming, laid back Camping Elizabeth in spite of the fact that we’re smack dab in the middle of high season. Unlike Elise, who’s fully in vacation mode, I’m finding that my city self is completely at odds with the pace of the island…but the scorching heat, the gentle waves in the cool water, and one marvelously delicious meal after another are slowly forcing me to adjust.
Kisses from Kissamos! gateway to the epic beaches on Crete’s Western coast. While the name of the town, which makes me think of ‘Kiss the Most’, is lovely, the town itself, unfortunately, is not, though it has a nice sandy beach and some good, unpretentious seaside restaurants.
What a day! Saw the ruins at Knossos Palace (in the scorching heat, but it was worth it) and the unbelieveably beautiful Minoan frescos, sculptures and urns at the Archaeological Musuem. I was completely in awe of the Minoans’ artistry and craftsmanship. In the evening, we feasted on stuffed tomatoes and vine leaves at Minos Restaurant, a lovely second story, open-air cafe with hanging floral plants, singing birds, and delicious food.
Our Greek travel adventure has begun! After getting settled, we checked out the town square and decided to go for a fish spa. Elise could hardly keep her feet in the tank because the little fishies tickled her so much. The hotel had a handy stack of cards featuring Crete’s most epic beaches. I picked what I thought were the 3 most stunning – Balos, Falassarna and Elafonisi – and got to work planning our beach-hopping itinerary. In the evening, we strolled the harbor and seaside promenade, and had our first Cretan meal. From everything I’ve read, Cretan food is supposed to be the best in all of Greece, and happily, our Greek salad and chicken souvlaki were every bit as fresh and delicious as expected!
Round-the-world flight tickets generally have only 16 legs. While that may get you around the globe, it gets you to relatively few of the world’s 196 countries! So while we are living in Berlin, we are taking every opportunity to travel in our own backyard so that we can save those precious flights for more distant destinations. In Germany, summer vacation is shorter than in the US (only 6 weeks), but in exchange, kids get at least a week off during fall, Christmas, spring, and Easter breaks, which has made it possible, bit by bit, to discover magical places a short bus ride or flight away from us.
There’s no way I can do justice in a single ‘catch up’ post to everything we’ve seen since we moved to Germany in late 2013, but here, at least, are some of the highlights:
We celebrated Christmas 2013 with relatives in lovely Prezelle, a tiny village northwest of Berlin near the Elbe River with only 501 inhabitants. For the first time in her life, Elise experienced the excitement of lighting real candles on a Christmas tree!
In January 2014, we visited Prague, where we’d lived for a year when Elise was two. We checked out the Christmas Market and shared a Trdelnik, a cinnamony-sweet, tube-shaped pastry, in Old Town Square, wandered our old neighborhood including the playgrounds of Letna Park, had dinner in Prague Castle, and visited with Elise’s adorable four-year-old buddy Stella.
Spring 2014, we toured Munich, where I had studied my junior year of college. We strolled through bustling Marienplatz, sampled fresh smoothies and shishkabob at Viktualienmarkt, and wandered nearly all 5km of the dreamy English Garden, where Elise threw blossoms into the creek.
…and visited cousins in Heidelberg, at Lake Constance, and at Hegelbach Organic Farm…
…and spent time in Milan with my friend, opera singer Renata Vitova, and her son Kuba, Elise’s old pre-school buddy.
In the summer of 2014, Elise’s Gran generously invited us to accompany her on a Scandinavian cruise. Highlights included Oslo’s Vigeland Park with its massive stone statues, the picturesque towns of Tallinn, Stockholm and Helsinki, and the Russian ballet in St. Petersberg.
Later that summer, we spent a week with friends at Lake Balaton, Hungary. Elise absolutely loved coming up with ways to jump off the pier, including cannonballs, holding hands with her friend Vica, spinning, on floats, etc. The lake is gloriously undeveloped for great stretches, with reeds lining the shore instead of glaring hotels. Seeing the kids splashing in the clean water as swans swim by evokes a feeling of wholesomeness and timelessness.
In summer 2015, we explored Paris and Salzburg. Elise was beside herself the day she was to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time, yelping with joy at her first glimpse through the train window, and literally running to the observation point. She also fell in love with macaron, which she shared with her My Little Ponies. Other highlights included the Louvre (though we had hopelessly little time to explore it), the Pompidou Center, an interactive exhibition at Palais du Tokyo, where participants steered boats through ominous dark waters, breakfast every morning at Le Pain Quotidien, dim sum at Galleries LaFayette, and uncannily delicious fries at a cafe near Sacre Coeur.
Salzburg highlights included Gran’s christening of Elise at a fountain in Mirabellgarten, meeting old family friend, Norica (the person who inspired Elise’s middle name), and dashing barefoot through fountains.
In 2016, we celebrated New Year’s in Budapest, and visited the town of Martonvasar, where Beethoven composed “For Elise” (the inspiration for Elise’s first name). In Martonvasari Park, classical concerts are held summer evenings on a magical little island in a lake that’s a stone’s throw from Beethoven’s villa.
In the spring of 2015, we traveled to the Czech Republic, where I did a couture wedding shoot in Prague, picked out beads with Elise in Jablonec nad Nissou, and went skiing with her in Vrchlabi where we stayed at the cheerful, family-friendly, and sparklingly clean Pension Andel, which is only one kilometer from the slopes.
Over Easter 2016, we visited Barcelona and the Portuguese islands of Madeira. I adored the winding alleyways of the Gothic Quarter, where we stayed, as well as Park Güell, high above the city. For her part, Elise loved the playground next to the amazingly imaginative Sagrada Familia more so than the temple itself, lol.
In Madeira, we thoroughly enjoyed a toboggan ride down the hill (screaming the whole while!), as well as a jeep safari through picture- perfect valleys and mountains and along dramatic coastlines, and the 9km sandy beach of neighboring Porto Santo island.
Aftwards, we traveled by ship with Elise’s Gran to Malaga, Cartegena, and Rome. We saw amazing fortresses and ancient ruins, as well as inspired artwork at the Picasso Museum, but, more than anything, Elise loved the gelato in Rome where they drizzled a bit of vanilla sauce into the cone, added 2 scoops, and topped it off with whipped cream.
It is a priviledge to be able to travel this much. We are grateful especially to Elise’s Gran, who’s invited us along on two cruises. We also live very modestly in Berlin, trading certain comforts for more travel time.