Symi island, Greece

Gialos, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Ah, Symi – that last of the islands we’re visiting, and perhaps the most picturesque, particularly the harbor at Gialos, with its custard-colored neoclassical villas lining the hillside, and its stunning beaches with turquoise and emerald water set against dramatic cliffs. We took a water taxi to Agia Marina beach, which had water so crystal clear that I could see the ocean floor more than 10′ below me. Elise urged me to swim across to the tiny island with her, where she had a blast doing cannonballs off the pier.

Agia Marina beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Later, we visited Nanou Beach, which had tame goats and a dreamy, tree-shrouded beachside cafe. I floated endlessly in the emerald water, listening to the pebbles rolling over each other with each gentle wave (underwater, it sounded like the crushing of ice), while Elise developed her water ballet routine in honor of the Olympics.

Nanou Beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

tame goats at Nanou beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

tree-shrouded cafe, Nanou Beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

In the evening, we passed Agios Georgios beach on the way back, where one last glorious sliver of light electrified the turqouise water.

last sliver of sunlight at Agios Georgios beach, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

water taxi to Gialos, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Back in Gialos, we climbed the 500-step Kali Strata to reach a hillside restaurant. It’s not one monstrous staircase favored by fitness buffs like my sister Lisa Ollmann Mair, but a few steps followed by a stretch of flat road, followed by a few steps, and so on, so the guidebook’s description of it as “calf-crunching, knee-knobbling” made me assume the writer had never tackled the likes of the Samari Gorge trek – for which the description would have been much better suited. From the bay, the villas on the hillside look so tidy, but up close, many are windowless and roofless, with weeds as tall as me. I wish no hardship on anyone, but the photographer in me simply loved the decripitude.

derelict villa, Kali Strata, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Kali Strata, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Back down along the harbor, a lady selling all manner of sponges plunged a few into a bucket of water and then squeezed them dry so we could feel their texture. One’s apparently good for the face, another for skin conditions, another for “females” (she didn’t elaborate), and still another for household cleaning. I suppose I should have bought one, but when I learned from intrepid traveler James H. Bluck that their black exterior must first be broken off and their milky guts squeezed out to make them useable, I couldn’t really bring myself to buy one.

natural sponge, Symi, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Agios Stefanos Beach, Kos, Greece

After arriving by ferry in Kos, we skipped touristy Kos Town and headed straight for the relatively empty beaches of Kefalos Bay in the southwest of the island. Our hotel was paces from Agios Stefanos Beach, which had more rocks than we’re used to (thanks to Crete’s dazzling sandy beaches), but it more than made up for that given its crystal-clear water, picturesque 5th century ruins right on the beach, and photogenic islet sporting a tiny church just off the shore. The island feels much more laid back than Crete and Rhodes, which is a welcome thing as we near the end of our travel adventure. We dined at an incredibly peaceful spot on the beach, where the moonlight reflected on the water and cast a ghostly glow upon the tiny islet. In spite of her choice of 8 beaches along the 12km Bay, my little Knucklehead preferred to swim in the hotel pool.

Agios Stefanos Beach - @World Travel Mama

5th century ruins at Agios Stefanos Beach, Kos, Greece - @World Travel Mama

climbing 5th century ruins at Agios Stefanos Beach, Kos, Greece - @World Travel Mama

Ionikos Hotel pool, Agios Stefanos Beach, Kos, Greece - @World Travel Mama

enjoying the strong ocean breezes along Agios Stefanos Beach, Kos, Greece - @World Travel Mama

dancing at sunset at Paleochora’s Sandy Beach

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

Paleochora, Crete

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.

Paleochora cat, Virginia Studios, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Paleochora beach sign, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Paleochora, Virginia Studios, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Paleochora, Galaxy Restaurant, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Falassarna Beach, Crete, Greece

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.

Falassarna beach, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Falassarna beach, Crete - my little Wild Thing - @World Travel Mama

Falassarna beach - my little Mischievous One - @World Travel Mama

Kissamos, Crete - Sunset Taverna - @World Travel Mama

Kissamos, Crete - stray cat - @World Travel Mama


Gramvousa Island and Balos Beach, Crete, Greece

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.

Balos beach, Crete - pink sand - @World Travel Mama

Balos beach, Crete - @World Travel Mama

Balos Panorama - @World Travel Mama

Gramvousa Island shore - @World Travel Mama

Gramvousa Island fortress wall - @World Travel Mama

Gramvoussa Island - descent from fortress - @World Travel Mama

Rethymno, Crete

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.

Rethymno fortress - @World Travel Mama

Rethymno fortress - desolate structures high above the town - @World Travel Mama

Rethymno Old Town - winding alleys beneath floral canopies - @World Travel Mama

Rethymno, Misiria Beach - testing the waters - @World Travel Mama

Rethymno, Camping Elizabeth kitten - @World Travel Mama

Rethymno, Misiria Beach - @World Travel Mama

Rethymno, Misiria Beach - my Little One in her sarong - @World Travel Mama

Arrival in Heraklion, Crete!

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!

Heraklion - tiny tourist - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion fish spa - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion, beach cards - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion harbor at dusk - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion, strolling the seaside promenade - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion, Cretan salad seaside - @World Travel Mama

Heraklion harbor at night - @World Travel Mama