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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Crete to Turkey: A Tale of Two Pensions

The journey east from Irakliou begins with clammy tourist towns

This is the story of a tale of two really extraordinary pensions. A pension is a kind of European hotel, often family run and sometimes very quaint and special in its way. We already experienced this in a previous blog in Patras with Pension Nikos, but our experience of way out pensions took an extravagant turn in the last 24 hours.

We set off from Heraclion for Sitia not having any idea of where we were going to end up and somewhat fearsome that all the accommodation in Sitia where we had to finish to take our Aegean flight out to Istanbul from Crete was utterly expensive.

So we took the bus in the morning in blazing heat. Unlike the through buses on the mainland this bus was a long running local that literally stopped at every bus shelter along the way, winding at first through traffic choked tourist towns, sporting those seedy beaches with masses of fixed umbrellas that make one wonder why humans have this obsession with mindless sun burn as if the aquatic ape theory were true after all and we are all seeking some deep evolutionary relationship with our dolphin cousins.

More of those hideous battery hen beaches

However as the road heads further east, the land begins to take on a wilder look with craggy arid headlands cutting into deeply azure bays all feeling like we are witnessing some sort of radiation disaster because everything is just to bright and intense.

The road goes up a wild rocky gorge

The the road winds sharply inland over rocky hill country, only to wind back later into craggy bays. The series of images gives a rough running commentary with the exception of the major town of Agios Nikolaos, after which it winds up into steep headlands, and passes through a string of little hill towns a couple of which I managed to snap as the bus lurched from precipice to valley.

Images of the road heading east towards Sitia

This inscrutable headland marked the end of civilization

The road climbed to wind through small hill towns

Power to the church!

Eventually we arrived at Sitia, which was a charming isolated sleepy Cretan town relatively immune from the package tour and English beach holiday resort madness.

Sitia street with the "Commothion"

Panorama of Sitia harbour and waterfront (click to enlarge)

After a hot walk in from the bus station dragging our stuff and a few attempts to find a hotel at a tolerable price, we arrived at one of the classic Greek "rooms to let" - Pension Venus a multi-storey family home completely covered in Bouganvilia which has a string of little self-contained apartments on the upper floors which you have to approach passing right through the living room of the owners, and the kitchen at the back if they happen to be there when you arrive.

Vertical panorama of Pension Venus

The entrance way is literally the owners living room

To cap the love next image, each bedroom had a little red night-light, although from the serious but friendly demeanor of the grandmother, you wouldn't imagine they had any notion of a bordello in mind when they named their pension.

Anyway Venus was heaven for us. It cost only 30 euros for the night complete with a huge complementary bowl of grapes, as well as having a fully equipped kitchen and bathroom on each floor containing two neat but small rooms to rent with private balconies.

Panorama of Sitia from the airport on our departure

This morning was another of those nightmare days where we have to get somewhere for a really early departure - in this case a 7.20 departure from the airport. We got going at 5.53 am and by 6.15 were out in the street waiting for the taxi I had cunningly ordered on our global roaming cell phone, but all to no avail because it never turned up, forcing me to stump down to the wharves and flag one, from the taxi rank in the centre of town.

From there is was a relatively straightforward flight in a small four engined Avro jet to Athens and after a few hours a second flight into Istanbul, which proved to be a great city to struggle through with a highly efficient metro connecting to a central modern tram line both of which had glide on glide off positioning making it a dream to use a luggage trolley. This left us standing right outside the walls of the Topkapi palace, where we eventually came upon our latest marvel of a pension - the family run Coskun Pansiyon, which I had reserved by e-mail.

Topkapi palace panorama with the pension alley in the background

Pension alley on the left

Left: The alley up to the pension, Right: view out our window

We had a lot of trouble finding it even though we knew it was within 100 metres of the tram stop because it proved to be up an incredibly steep little cobble-stoned street which Christine literally couldn't pull the two heavy bags up, so I had to stump up to find it and then was blown away when I had to climb four sets of teetering stairs to find that we had cunningly reserved a unique funky little air-c0nditioned backpackers "matchwood" penthouse literally nestled right against the walls of the palace.

"Norwegian wood" tacked onto the roof of the building below.

Our funky penthouse poking out above the main house roof with the palace walls above
by the TV bowl antenna (see previous image from the window)

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