Monday, 28 September 2020

The Not Quite As Distant Holiday Diaries - Chania, Crete


Step away! We're back from eleven days exploring the gorgeous Greek island of Crete and, in line with current government Covid regulations, we're having to self-isolate for the next fourteen days. 



When I first travelled to Crete in 1990 I was in my early twenties and loved it. I stayed in Ayios Nikolaos on the east of the island back in the days when holidays meant dancing all night and doing very little by day, although I did visit the former leper colony on the nearby island of Spinalonga and pretty Elounda beach. My boyfriend at the time insisted on wearing his Wolverhampton Wanderers strip & picking fights with Brits in opposing team shirts. Thirty years on, having traded in the old boyfriend for a far better model, the only obstacle standing in the way of a triumphant return to Crete was the small matter of travelling abroad during a worldwide pandemic.



We flew from our local airport, Birmingham. After handing over our bag, our passports and the Passenger Location Form* (PLF) were checked by the sole airline rep on duty who waved us through to passport control. The airport was spookily quiet, many of the shops were closed and there was plenty of empty seats to allow passengers to maintain a safe distance. We decided to forego the obligatory pint at Wetherspoons, eating half the sandwiches Jon had made before we left home. At the departure gate our PLF forms were checked once again. A man in front of us was denied boarding as he'd neglected to apply for one. After hearing numerous reports in the media about lax cabin crew and passengers roaming the plane mask-free, we were slightly wary about the flight but we needn't have worried, Ryanair were brilliant. When we boarded we noticed that two lads in their 20s had removed their masks. When another passenger took them to task they replied that they were exempt and didn't have to wear them. He called a flight attendant who informed them that they either wore masks or would be removed from the flight. The masks went back on and stayed on. Nobody was allowed to get up from their seat, go to the toilet or open the overhead lockers without buzzing the cabin crew first to seek permission and, as the flight was only a third full, social distancing was pretty easy.

*These are available from the Greek Government website and submitted on-line by each passenger a maximum of 48 hours before departure. At midnight on the day your flight is scheduled to leave an individual bar-code is sent via email, permitting the applicant to enter Greece. No bar-code, no trip.

On landing at Chania airport some four-and-a-half hours later our PLF codes were checked both by immigration and the gun-wielding - but friendly - Greek police. Some passengers were chosen for random Covid-testing although we weren't. Outside the terminal we caught a taxi to Chania's Old Town. Masks are mandatory in taxis in Greece for both passenger & driver, with santiser available & the driver's seat screened off. On arrival at our destination we phoned the key holders of the apartment who turned up within minutes, both wearing masks. They showed us into what was to be our home for the next three nights and handed over the key. After nine hours of wearing a mask it was a real joy to remove it, crack open a bottle of wine, eat the rest of our sandwiches on the balcony & marvel at the late night warmth.


Travelling at such a weird time has its advantages, a lot of the available accommodation had been slashed in price. Our gorgeous 16th century Venetian apartment complete with four poster bed and roll-top bath was just £30 a night. 


Islanders will tell you that Chania is Crete's spiritual capital, although the formal title was passed to Heraklion many years ago. It's a stunning city, with a shimmering waterfront and a jumble of Venetian streets, a maze-like old town contained by ancient city walls and littered with Ottoman, Byzantine and Minoan ruins.

In more normal times the stepped alleyways and narrow streets would be packed with both sightseers and residents going about their daily business but, in this strange new world, we'd often be the only people about. 


You might be able to see from the photos that mask wearing is mandatory both inside and out although most people exercise common sense, removing them whenever social distancing is possible. 





Despite Chania being one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world, tourism is relatively new and the architecture is finally being restored after years of neglect. 


Known as Kydonia in ancient times, Chania was a substantial Minoan community, warranting a mention in Homer's Odyssey. It was captured by the Romans in 69 BC, then by the Byzantines where it remained part of their empire until the Venetians took over. During the thirteenth century the Genoese briefly seized it, holding control until 1285 when the Venetians returned, turning it into the island's most beautiful city. 


In 1645, after a two month siege, Chania fell to the Turks. Although churches were converted to mosques the remainder of the city remained relatively unchanged making it almost impossible to differentiate between Turkish & Venetian architecture. In 1897, following the outbreak of war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, the Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia and Italy) imposed peace and stationed a joint force off the waters of Chania, finally forcing the Turks to leave. During World War II Chania suffered severe bombardment by the Germans, the destruction compounded by a fire which wiped out almost everything apart from the area around the harbour.


The Yali Hassan (meaning seaside) mosque was built in 1645, the year the Turks conquered Chania. It is the oldest Ottoman mosque on the island and although no longer in use as a place of worship, occasionally opens to host exhibitions.

As with the other Greek cities we've visited we were amazed by the cleanliness and lack of litter. Graffiti is the only sign of disorder you'll come across.




Much of the arched Arsenali in the photo below are in a ruined state although a couple have been sensitively restored into cafes and temporary exhibition spaces. 





 

Our three days in Chania were mostly spent wandering the tangle of Medieval lanes and alleyways in the Old Town, invariably getting hopelessly lost. We ate lazy lunches in shady town squares, followed by complimentary bottles of raki which the waiters (always masked) claimed both helped aid digestion and to keep the dreaded Coronavirus away. The menus offered a Cretan rather than the better known Greek salad, served with freshly made mizithra cheese along with crisp barley rusks and tangy capers.



We spent an afternoon on Nea Hora, the city beach a 10 minute walk from the harbour, an immaculately clean Blue Flag beach which apparently gets absolutely rammed in more normal times. The water was impossibly clear and we loved watching sea bream fearlessly swimming in-between our ankles as we paddled.


After dark the temperature barely dropped, hovering at a balmy 28°C. The wonderful To Adespoto, a restaurant set within the ruins of a mansion destroyed by a bomb in 1940 served as a location for the 2012 film The Two Faces of January. The Well of the Turk, tucked away in a labyrinthine alleyway inside the old Turkish quarter of Splantzia, was another beautiful find.


These ancient walls were constructed by the Venetians against constant raids by pirates, in particular those by the dreaded Ottoman Pirate, Barbarossa (1475 - 1546).





Of course we met lots of cats, huge groups of strays living in colonies fed and loved by the locals as well as possibly one of the silliest felines ever, this dozy tabby who had made this model boat into a home for both herself and her kittens.


After six months barely venturing further than our garden gate we weren't sure how we'd feel about spending time in Crete's second largest city but from the minute we arrived Chania bewitched us and the three days we spent there absolutely flew by. Atmospheric, beautiful and authentic. We'll be back.


Yammas, Chania!

Hope you're all keeping sane, safe and happy. See you soon.

PS For all my Chania photos click HERE

84 comments:

  1. So amazingly beautiful. Looks like the sort of place one would fall in love with and never want to leave. Glad you're both safe and well.

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    1. It was gorgeous. I would have been happy just to sit on the balcony and watch life pass us by for 11 days! xxx

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  2. Hello Vix, welcome back! I’ve been eagerly awaiting your pictures. Wow, what an amazing looking place. I just love the colours of the tall, thin houses and what beautiful hanging pots. It makes me want to paint my boring white walls. Think I need to be drinking some Raki too ;) Glad you had a relaxing time. Lulu x

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    1. Thanks so much, Lulu! I love how Greeks create gardens from the tiniest of spaces, it's also amazing to see what we have as houseplants growing in abundance in the street like zebrina and umbrella trees.
      We all need a few barrels of raki shipped over from Greece to see us over the coming months! xxx

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  3. Such a treat to see the photos of your trip! Looking forward to the next installment. Betty

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  4. How gorgeous it all looks!.so quiet too, more cats than people it seems. Glad your holiday happened.

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    1. It was so quiet, we were really spoilt seeing Chania relatively tourist-free. xxx

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  5. It does look so much like Venice, and the buildings remind me very much of Cinque Terra in Italy. Look at that gorgeous blue sky! Ah, it sounds just freakin' fabulous!

    Glad to hear that the flight was uneventful - what will people come up with next to avoid wearing masks? I wear mine for about 4 hours solid per day, and I can't wait to get it off when I get home from work.

    Aw, I love all the cats! That one in the boat with her kittens is so funny. I bet your lads have missed you.

    Welcome home, Vix and Jon! We readers have missed you too! looking forward to the next installment.

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    1. Hi Sheila! It is so much like Venice, it's amazing so much of the Venetian architecture remained intact after all the invasions over the years.
      Can you believe that people are still trying to wriggle out of wearing masks? I was so impressed with the cabin crew not standing for any of those cocky lads' nonsense.
      The cat in the boat makes me giggle every time I look at the photo.
      The lads have been so badly behaved since we got back, fighting, demanding food every five minutes and running up and down the bed all night, they're really making us pay for leaving them. xxx

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  6. What a delightful surprise to find your post. It is so good your words again and I'm looking forward to the next instalment. Welcome home!

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  7. What a beautiful town and apartment! I love reading about your adventures and looking at the wonderful pictures you take! That's a lot of cats roaming around.

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    1. Thanks, Claudia! We loved our apartment, such a novelty to sleep in a different bed after months at home. I loved all the cats, Greece is full of them. x

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  8. Glad you made your trip a reality. Lovely pictures!

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  9. I am glad you are both home safe and sound. I even had the date circled on my calendar for coming to check on Vix and Jon. The pix are wonderful and I am so happy you both got away for eleven days. hugs

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    1. Oh, bless you, Marjorie! Thanks so much. xxx

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  10. Wow-it sure sounds like everything that could be done to keep travelers safe and healthy was done, and what a great place to hang out for a while! The sea is so beautiful and that architecture. I fear Americans will never be allowed anywhere again.

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    1. Greece's Covid rules and the strict enforcement of them really did put England's to shame. We came across a group of young American lads (possibly students), I was curious to know how they'd got there! xxx

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  11. What a great post. So interesting and lovely lovely photos! Thanks, and looking forward to the next installment..

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  12. When you think of Greece it's usually white and blue. What a surprising riot of color!

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    1. Crete has only been Greek for 100 years, it's a fascinating island, very different from others I've visited. xxx

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  13. wonderful!
    you made it there and had a great time! chania minus tourist hordes looks like my dream of a city vacation. but i´m not sure if i could wear a mask for 9h for the transport......
    the yellow top looks fab - no wrinkles to see :-D
    xxxxx

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    1. It really was a dream without the badly dressed straight off the cruise ship tourists cluttering it up and spoiling my photos! xxx

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    2. PS That yellow top was the last thing in the bag each time we packed. I can't believe I avoided creasing it!

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  14. what a beautiful place and you were very clever to take a chance as you had great prices and the place virtually all to yourselves! So lucky that you can self isolate at home with friends to bring supplies :) I am glad you're back though as have missed your colourful posts xxx

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    1. Chania really was lovely and without the normal crowds it was a joy wandering around and getting lost in the maze of streets. We definitely want to go back! xxx

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  15. Travelling abroad has its advantages currently doesn’t it. Less people, more room on planes etc. It must bring very mixed emotions. Chania looks like a beautiful place. I love the painted buildings.
    So glad you got there in the end xxx

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    1. I'd already fallen in love with Chania when I saw photos online but in real life it was even better, such a wonderfully relaxed vibe.
      I honestly felt far safer on the four hour flight and walking around the streets of Chania than I do in the UK what with enforced mask wearing, safe distance signs and free hand sanitiser available on street corners. xxx

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  16. Wow what a beautiful place. I went to kos in my teens and l loved it. It brought back so many memories.
    Paul thought you were very brave going away. I keep dropping hints about going Seoul but he is waiting to see what is happening over the winter,
    I have really missed your blogs take care and keep safe

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    1. Hello, Allie! We went to Kos a couple of years ago, such a lovely island.
      Honestly everything felt so safe, the flight was brilliant, the Greeks were well aware of social distancing and wearing masks - far more so than the fools here. I would have no hesitation about going back next week if I could!
      Hope Paul's knee is healing nicely! xxx

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  17. It's lovely to see you home safe. Sounds like a gorgeous place to visit

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    1. Thanks, Cherie. It really was lovely, I'm so glad we were able to go. xxx

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  18. Vix, I've loved seeing your holiday post! You and Jon look so happy and relaxed.

    Where to next? X

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    1. Thanks, Jess! We absolutely loved our brief escape, it's done us both the power of good! xxx

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  19. So pleased to read that you both had a great holiday, loved all your photos and the running commentary that you gave us with the history of the places, very interesting Vix. Life won’t seem too bad in self isolation if we carry on having a few sunny days here in the West Mids plus all us followers are so pleased you are back amongst us. Take Care, Brummie Sue.

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    1. Hello Sue! I was delighted with Sunday's weather, after pottering around the garden all morning I was in a bikini reading on the lawn in the afternoon and Tuesday was just as lovely, makes coming back that bit easier. xxx

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  20. It sounds like your visit was a bit different to the first one you had back in your twenties! It looks beautiful, I love the narrow alleyways and painted buildings. The long relaxing lunches sound dreamy.
    Reading this installment of your holiday, I can imagine your quarantine is a price well worth paying for the joy of getting away for a good break.
    Glad to see you back Vix xxx

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    1. It was very different! I can't even remember eating anything other than the odd Greek salad the last time.
      Chania was lovely, all the better I think for having so few visitors.
      You're right, a fortnight's quarantine is a small price to pay for a lovely eleven days. I'm almost tempted to go back! xxx

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  21. It looks amazing. And now you have a peaceful two weeks at home to catch up on all the little jobs that have waited for you since your departure, no bad thing.

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    1. It was fabulous and well worth a fortnight of quarantine just to escape for a while. We've got a list as long as my arm to crack on with but I keep getting distracted! xxx

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  22. Ahh Vix is back! so glad you both had a great holiday! I bet the change of scene was good for the soul. My favourite pic was of you in the narrow street between the two buildings. It does remind me of Venice. Nice surprise today to see your post. I am trying to stay sane at the mo (going a bit stir crazy now) and old rellie next door did something daft and broke her foot so another dimension to life. Anyway Vix welcome home!!! Shazxx ps very interesting the history of the island

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    1. Hello Shaz! I'm so sorry to hear about your elderly relative's mishap, that's going to put the poor dear out of action for a while, isn't it? I bet your heart skips a beat every time the phone rings.
      Chania is just gorgeous and very like Venice - minus the hoards of tourists!
      Take care. xxxx

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  23. Welcome back, Vix & Jon, although I'm quite sure you'd have wanted to stay out there a bit longer. And who can blame you? What an absolute dream of a town Chania is, perfect to wander its streets and alleys and get lost in. And definitely worth all the hassle of getting there! Your 16th century Venetian apartment looks like a dream too, as does that amazing azure blue sky. The cat who made her home in that model boat made me chuckle. And speaking of cats, I'm sure that Stephen and Frank welcomed you back with open paws! xxx

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    1. If only we'd known back in February when we'd booked our flight I'd definitely have made it a longer trip! Ah well, it was lovely to get away, sleep in a different bed and get away from all the doom and gloom. The lads have been so naughty since we got back, they won't stop shouting at us and fighting one another! xxx

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  24. Chania looks so beautiful. That sky, the colour of the sea and all those pretty coloured buildings. A dream location when so few visitors!! I always enjoy your Goa photos, but they never inspire me to go there, as stunning as it looks. Snakes on the staircase first thing in the morning??? No thank you. But Crete, now that is tempting! Love the cat in a boat, how cute. I'm sure yours will forgive you soon. They've had you to themselves for a long time; probably wondered where you disappeared to! Zxx

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    1. Definitely no whopping great snakes in Greece, just hundreds and hundreds of cats - I wanted to bring them all home in a container and tip them out in the garden although I'm not sure what our lads would have made of that.
      Greece really is beautiful, clean, friendly, hospitable, long summers and incredible food. xxx

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  25. Looks like you both had fun considering dealing with the restrictions. I’m glad you were able to go and enjoy your time!

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    1. Thanks, Tracie! We're so glad that we were able to go, who knows when we'll be able to travel again. It's looking more and more like another lockdown is imminent at the moment. xxx

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  26. Hello and welcome back! Chania looks lovely and I have to admit I'd never heard of it before. The apartment looks wonderful and the food pictures made me salivate. You and Jon both look so well and very happy. I expect you're finding the weather here quite chilly contrasted to a balmy 28 degrees! Brrr! I do hope you're feeling a new lease of life after your break.

    I'm not so sure I'd want fish swimming between my feet; when I swim I'm scared to open my eyes under water in case I meet a huge fish; for some strange reason I find big fish quite scary!

    I'm impressed with the Greek efficiency with the PLF forms; barcodes and all. I just had to hand my PLF completed form in to the immigration checkpoint as I drove out of the port in Dublin. I could have provided a false name and address of where I was staying as no one checked my credentials!

    Plenty of cats around so you didn't miss your fellas too much.

    Take care and good luck with the self-isolation; I'm sure it's all totally worth that fab break away.
    xxx

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    1. Thanks, Vronni! We were quite spoilt with the weather on our return, I was lying in the garden with my bikini top and shorts on (until today!)
      Jon actually got bitten by a sea bream while we were there. Apparently the ones in the Med have gone a bit feral and can smell blood, he had a tiny scab from digging up the bamboo before we left and the cheeky sod couldn't resist chewing it!
      I was appalled when we landed back in the UK, nobody asked us for our forms or anything. they were far more interested in apprehending a bloke with a suitcase full of Benson and Hedges!
      You're right self-isolation is a small price to pay for a lovely escape although I suspect the majority of passengers weren't going to bother. One was actually on the phone when we landed inviting the family over for Sunday lunch and asking what they wanted as they were going to Lidl in the morning! xxx

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  27. The colours look glorious and I had to smile at the cat in her boat. Arilx

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  28. Welcome back. Glad you had a good time. It looks lovely.

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  29. It looks like my idea of heaven not to have too many people around. You can really look at all the architecture/buildings.

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    1. It was fantastic, Annie! Such a treat to be able to take photos without waiting for a break in the crowds. xxx

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  30. I'm so glad you were able to go. We are off to Burnham on Sea in the camper for the weekend. Not quite so fabulous, but it's just nice to have a change of scene and be by the sea. This too shall pass, as they say.
    Looking forward to seeing the rest of your trip xx

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    1. Have a wonderful time, Annie! I was so excited to sleep in a different bed after so long in ours! xxx

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  31. Welcome home Vix and Jon. So glad that you had such a wonderful holiday. While you were away I have been able to go thru some of your archives and have so enjoyed them. I also have really enjoyed your distancing diaries entries. Thank You so very much for all the hard work I know it must take you to put this blog together. It has brought so much joy.
    Karon
    Paso Robles, CA, USA

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    1. Thank you so much, Karon. Your kind comment made my day. I couldn't resist Googling Paso Robles, you live in a beautiful part of the world. xxx

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  32. So glad you're back and so glad you had a wonderful time! These pictures look like they're from a magazine... perfect in every way! Enjoy your quarantine time snuggled up at home. Love, Andrea xoxo

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  33. Ah it looks beautiful! I'm glad you were able to get away, that the journey was uneventful, and that you enjoyed your trip.
    I wvisited Greece in my early 20s but it was, as you say, all about dancing, drinking and lazy days, but I fell in love with the views, the food, the locals, and I'd love to return one day...
    I hope self isolation is going well, does it feel strange to be back home after getting away?
    xx

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    1. Thanks, Hazel!
      Greece really does have something for everyone - well worth a trip back when you can! xxx

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  34. You're back! For some reason, I was expecting you to be gone for a month! I'm so glad you got there and back safely and that you didn't experience too many Covidiots. Honestly, pretending you are exempt??!!! I think people should have a special pass to prove they are actually exempt as I've has parents telling me they are exempt in school but not really giving a reason. So glad the passengers and staff dealt with it so swiftly.
    So lovely to see beautiful Corfu again! It looks like you had a wonderful time. How great that it wasn't crowded! The food looks utterly scrummy! Ahhh, cats! Of course!

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    1. If I'd known when I booked the flight back in February that it might be our last chance to travel for a while I'd have been sorely tempted to stay for a month.
      I agree, I think you should have an official document not just some free download from the internet. Nobody wants to wear a mask but we just have to get on with it. xxx

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  35. Speaking of which, two chavvy, swearing girls have got in my carriage not wearing masks, putting their feet on the seat. Grrr

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    1. Gah! Sounds like the idiots on the plane trying to get away without masks. One was almost crying after the cabin crew told him she was going throw him off the flight. xxx

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  36. It's all so stunningly Beautiful, a shame about some Graffiti tho', especially in such a well Cared for place.

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    1. It is gorgeous, isn't it? The Ancient Greeks invented graffiti so I kind of like that they're preserving their traditions! xxx

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  37. Welcome home Vix. I so enjoyed seeing seeing Chenia, it looks wonderful as are your photos. It also reminds me how i miss Greek food , we always go to a Greek restaurant in Melbourne for authentic Greek food. Glad to hear that masks and social distancing rules were in place and properly adhered to on your flight. A question on quarantine in the UK , are you checked on by police or any other Authorities while in quarantine to make sure you you really are adhering to the rules. Here checks are done several times either by police or SES volunteers( Jon has done several), just curious. xxx

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    1. Thanks, Jill! Lovely to hear from you. I love Greek food, too - so healthy and fresh. No wonder the Cretans have one of the longest life expectancies in the world.
      Unfortunately the whole quarantine issue seems to be a bit of a joke here. We submitted our UK PLF forms online 48 hours before we left Greece but, unlike when flew out 11 days previously, nobody from the airline asked if we'd completed them before we boarded the plane and no-one bothered to check when we landed in the UK.
      Although we're doing the right thing by staying within the boundary of our house and having food deliveries (left at a safe distance) I've not heard of any traveller returning from an island/country not on the UK's safe corridor list being checked up on by the authorities. There were several people on their phones when we landed making arrangements with friends and family for Sunday lunch, pub meet-ups and shopping trips. No wonder the UK has such a huge problem with Covid. I felt guilty pushing the bin out of the gate this morning! xxx

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  38. Welcome back, dear Vix!. Glad to read that cabin crew managed everything and everybody safely and also glad that people in Crete are behaving nicely, wearing masks and keeping their distance. This kind of things make a difference. It's lovely that you could enjoy this quiet atmosphere, the colorful and picturesque streets, the cute cats (they make me feel nostalgies of Portugal!), and the Fabulous Food. Love your photos and love to discover Chenia, which totally looks like the kind of place I'd love too!.
    And you look so relaxed and fabulous!. Love particularly your suntop and colorful skirt, so appropriate to this magnificent background!. Looking gorgeous in the sunshine!
    We had not to fill any form nor ask any permission to go to Portugal, which was nice. Neither we have had to quarantine ourselves after holidays. But we've come back to a critical situation, increasing cases and the menace of a local lockdown!.
    besos

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    1. Thanks, Monica! We were wary about the flight after reading so many horror stories in the British media/travel forums but we felt completely safe. We'd probably be far more likely to contract Covid by sitting in a British pub than flying to Crete.
      I can't believe you didn't have to fill in any paperwork for your trip to Portugal, isn't strange how despite all being in this together each European country is completely different with its rules and regulations? xxx

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  39. Welcome back! I'm glad you both got to have your holiday - and will admit to feeling a twinge of envy seeing those photos, it all looks so perfect. It's good that everyone was being so careful, and that you were able to have a good time.

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    1. Thanks, Mim! It was utterly brilliant and a real treat to be able to have the normally bustling streets to ourselves. I can't praise Ryanair enough, the flight was the only part of the holiday we were concerned about and to all accounts I think we'd be in more danger of catching the virus by visiting a British pub! xxx

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  40. Chania looks amazing! You took so many great photos. It is lovely you were able to travel to Greece for a well deserved vacation.
    The yellow top paired with a maxi skirt makes for such a great holiday outfit. You look beautiful!!!!

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    1. Thanks so much, Ivana! Chania was lovely. It's crazy to think that most tourists only ever go there to use to airport, it's a joy to explore. xxx

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  41. Chania is absolutely lovely! I would go there in a heartbeat, if I ever feel like I can travel safely again. Although it sounds like your flight there was reasonably stress free (aside from the two young men trying to get around the mask rules). I will admit to feeling extremely envious right now as I look at your photos.

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    1. Although we knew we'd be safe in Greece (the infection rate is a fraction of ours) we were both wary about flying and were so relieved that the cabin crew were really strict and put up with no shit from those cocky young men. xxx

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  42. I realise this is a bit late, but welcome back. You look suitably restored and refreshed from your trip away. It looks so beautiful there and I adore the glorious muted colours of the buildings against the backdrop of the vivid blue sky. I'm now going to pour myself a glass of something red, enjoy reading your next posts and imagine I was there having a wonderful time with you. X

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Thank you for leaving a comment. If you have a blog I'll pop over and return the favour.

Lots of love, Vix