Travelling elsewhere this summer? Leave the sunbed separation anxiety at Baggage Claim and prepare to explore.
With the tourism industry in its element as we enter the summer months, it’s no surprise that wherever we go we are bombarded with invitations to visit ‘Europe’s biggest waterpark’, to hire a quadbike, or ride a donkey (which has clearly seen much better days). As a student and someone who is weary of being ripped off, these are the types of offers I try to steer clear of; often reverting to my sunbed to give myself some well anticipated TLC.
The past two holidays I’ve been on have been with my boyfriend, Jack, and have been the first times I’ve travelled abroad without adults. This freedom therefore is something I’d like to say I’ve taken in my stride. These were also my first experiences of Greece, Rhodes last year, and Crete this summer. The Greek Islands are absolutely fascinating places, oozing with tradition, rich culture and unique community auras. Yes, there are aspects of the tourism industry which have made their way into the country, providing them with a central aspect of income, but it is these traditional assets which leave its visitors with their freshest sense of adventure.
Both trips of mine to Greece have been with OlympicHolidays.com which have without fail provided low budget holidays at absolute gems of places. Travelling to Rhodes last July was the perfect choice of destination for easing us into the uniqueness of Greek life and its culture. As Jack’s birthday happened to fall during our trip, we of course did typical touristy things such as paragliding and visiting our local cocktail bar (the Greeks can bear their alcohol strength like warriors!). But one thing we did particularly differently this holiday that I haven’t done in the past, was going out of our way to see aspects of the island that we wouldn’t normally have chosen to see.
The first place we decided to visit was a local town called Lindos which we were able to access using the local bus. Here we enjoyed a lively walk through the scattered parades of shops and elegant white houses. Once we had completed a good browse of the shops, we then came across a unsteady looking climb to an even steeper set of steps which we were told led to an ancient acropolis. And why not? we thought.
The climb was pretty high, making it especially difficult at 35 degrees. However, it was the sequence of local cats and kittens as well as local Greeks selling elements of their livelihoods (from hand sewn quilts, to home grown fruit and veg) which offered us a refreshing distraction. Reaching the top of the acropolis rewarded us with a truly magnificent view. Not only could we see miles across the island, giving us a panorama of Rhodes’ coasts, mountains and villages, but surrounding us were a selection of ancient Greek buildings which we were more than keen to explore.
The second trip of our Rhodes’ visit was one that we selected from the variety offered by our holiday reps. The trip featured a boat trip from Rhodes to an island called Chalkída, and the best part of the experience was the approach to the island. Chalkída is a very small island; home to only 500 people. Nonetheless, it is the well-kept, stunning aesthetics of the place which could persuade anyone that millions of pounds had been put into it. However, as we soon learnt, it is pride that drives the residents of the island to keep itself in the state that it is in. Our first view of the island was its array of coloured houses, shops and chapels which nostalgically reminded by of the make-believe town Balamory (if you know, you know). When setting foot on the island, we also had the opportunity to enter the chapel, follow multiple footpaths around the island, and most importantly learn about the residents’ means of survival.
Our second trip to the Greek Islands which took place this summer was to Crete. It was an equally eye-opening, but extremely different experience to Rhodes. Our hotel was situated in Malia, a place we had immediately associated with hard-core clubbing escapades and dodgy cocktail bars. But once we’d put our clouded judgement behind us, we actually found ourselves in one of the most gorgeous, family run complexes.
The excursion which proved a true eye opener for us this holiday was another Olympic Holidays sponsored trip. It was an all-day safari tour: and not the tiger, elephant type (although there were plenty of goats!). Led by a knowledgeable English resident of Crete (who like all Greeks works all day, every day between the months of March and October!), the tour took us through the deserted backroads of Crete’s mountains. This allowed us to see some of the most amazing views and farmlands on the island.
During our ascent to the top of the mountain we also stopped off at a traditional village, where we were stunned to see several old women ably hoisting crops and materials onto the backs of trucks. Our other stops included a quaint taverna where we were able to sample honey from the local Cretan bees as well as freshly picked olives and goats’ cheese. Whilst here, we were also given an insight into the importance of the olive crops to these communities. Communities which have no water or electricity, but choose to live here on the basis of the quality of the olive plants. (Top tip: when buying olive oil, look for the one with the lowest % acidity to ensure the best quality. Oh, and you can also put it in just about anything, including exchanging it for butter in cakes!).
The most exciting part of the day (of course!) was lunchtime when we were treated to a traditional Greek lunch at a taverna. The meal consisted of a range of local dishes including a cucumber and Greek yoghurt dip (Tzatziki) and a freshly made Greek salad. We were then also given meat from the barbeque as well as fresh fruit and the Cretan’s holy spirit, Rhaki (also known as fire water!). Rhaki is an alcoholic drink that the locals make from the remains of the wine making procedure (vines, leaves, seeds).
The final stops of our tour were the cave of Zeus’ birth,
where we were told the ancient Greek myth whilst it was brought to life by the enormous cave, and a visit to see a tree which has existed in Crete since hundreds of years before the ROMANS! Moreover, during the journey back to our hotel, our driver expressed the extreme sense of trust and loyalty that is shared amongst the Cretans. Not only is it natural for these Greeks to be in possession of a gun (solely for the purpose of protecting their animals and crops), but it is unknown of them to fear thieves coming into their homes or abductors approaching their children whilst they stay out late to play.
Overall, the trip gave us an incredible insight into Cretan life which we could never have experienced from the comfort of our sunbeds. I highly recommend venturing out of your comfort zone wherever you are travelling to this summer in order to experience something new and to broaden your understanding of the diverse world that we live in. Happy holidaying!