Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Enjoy the peaceful village of Agathia in East Crete...with your dog

Agathia in the 1960s (view from village towards Kastri and Xiona Beach)
 Ok, so it doesn't look exactly like this anymore...
Agathia in 2010 (view from Palaikastro-Xiona Beach road, facing Mt Petsofas)
But it is still a lovely, peaceful village.

I've written a few posts lately about this area of East Crete, so I'm not going to wax lyrical about the changing colours of the mountains as the sun sets, or the amazing contrast of bright blue sea and the silver-green of the endless olive groves...  well, maybe I will, a little.

I love this village for its natural surroundings, but architecturally it's not the prettiest of the Cretan villages. Of the traditional style of architecture, there are a few smaller, single storey houses, one or two crumbling mud brick walls and a small and pretty church.

Cafe-Taverna Anatoli, Agathia
However, there are a couple of good tavernas and raki 'bars', with great views, which have welcomed us with our dogs on several occasions.

The Cafe-Taverna Anatoli is a great, cheap option, serving the Cretan spirit raki with mezedes, and a limited but reasonable selection of meals. This summer we paid just 4€ there for a half litre carafe of wine and a small meze (cheese, olives, tomatoes, cold meats).

I just said I wasn't going to write too much about the views and the surroundings, but I have to. It's the best thing about the Anatoli. From the terrace at the front, you have a truly wonderful view - out over a sea of olive trees, down to the distinctive Kastri mountain at Xiona Beach, and in the other direction, up to Mount Petsofas and the mountains that separate Agathia from Zakros to the south.
View of Kastri from the Anatoli Cafe-Taverna
Mount Petsofas (from the Anatoli)
The owners were very friendly and welcoming when we asked whether we could bring Sage in too, and the other customers spent some time petting her and asking all about her.
On the terrace of the Anatoli Cafe-Taverna

The Anatoli is open throughout the year, but if you are there in winter it may be a good idea to let them know in advance if you are planning to eat there.

The Meltemi Taverna
Moving on, another taverna in Agathia that welcomed us with Sage (my friends also took Garby there), was the Meltemi. This taverna does not have the  wonderful views that the Anatoli does, but the food there is great. I have to say, even though I'm not a fan myself, that their speciality is the traditional Cretan dish - snails.
Garby at the Meltemi, waiting for leftover snails
The Meltemi serves a good variety of food, also fairly reasonably priced. We each paid about 10€ for a  dinner of many small plates - salads, chips, meat, cheeses, and quite a lot of wine.

Staff at the Meltemi were fine about us bringing Sage to dinner with us, under the covered terrace of the taverna.  They told me that they were also open during the winter, and that I could bring Sage inside the taverna, providing that she was well behaved, and we sat out of the way of the other customers.

Sage at the Meltemi
I have also stayed with Sage at Agathia, at the Filoxenia Rent Rooms (see post:

These rent rooms, near the entrance to the village from the road from Palaikastro, are quite spacious, very clean, have private bathroom, fridge and tv, and, most importantly, have balconies with views down to Kastri and beyond to Kouremenos Beach. It's lovely to wake up and have coffee on the balcony, and watch the windsurfers out in the bay.

A final note, this village is a great base if you want to explore the east end of the island. From here you can get to Zakros in less than half an hour, to the palm beach at Vai, to Toplou Monastery and Siteia, not to mention the numerous beautiful and deserted beaches all along this part of the coast. 

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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dangers of Crete (1)...with your dog

Van with hunting dogs 
While Crete is a wonderful place to live and travel with your dog, there are a few things it's best to be aware of, in order to keep your dog safe. Today I want to post about hunting, after seeing at least 3 vans with hunters and their dogs, last weekend while on a nature trail (in Cyprus, yep, happens there too!).

A few weeks ago, while still in Crete, I'd planned to go for a hike up to the mountain Petsofas in East Crete. It was a Sunday in early September. Luckily I had arranged to go with a friend, who gave me a timely warning: it was the first day of the legal hunting season, and the hunters were out in force. We decided to start out on the hike, and see how we felt along the way. Along the road leading to our trail up the mountain, we were passed by 3 or 4 vans, full of excited, barking dogs, at least 4 dogs per van. I struggled to keep Sage calm, and we continued a bit further, down through the olive groves.
As we were nearing the mountain, the barking intensified, and sounded like it was coming from all directions. Looking up, we saw the silhouette of a hunter, with a large rifle, and several hounds running at his side, walking along the ridge of the mountain.

At this point, sitting in a kafeneio with a view of the mountain and a glass of wine seemed like a better idea than risking a run in with a pack of hunting dogs. So that's what we did.

There are official dates for the hunting season each year, which I have not managed to find on-line. I'd appreciate any feedback on this! I found a useful site in English on the hunting laws and restrictions:  The hunting season starts from early September, and continues through the Autumn. Hunting is permitted in designated areas, on 2 days per week - Wednesdays and Sundays.
Van with hunting dogs

I don't want to give any opinion on the ethics of hunting here. I just want to pass on the advice that I have been given to avoid any possible accidents:

  • Where possible, avoid hunting areas during the Autumn, particularly on Wednesdays and Sundays
  • During hunting season wear bright colours if you are out walking in areas of hunting activity
  • Keep your dog on the leash 
  • Try to keep your dog still and calm if you hear hunting dogs close by
  • Be aware that people will hunt in areas of wildlife, despite signs etc that forbid it

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Athens to Crete by ferry... with your dog

I made the mistake of taking Sage for a trip to Athens, by ferry, when she was just a young pup. It was selfish of me, I wanted to celebrate my birthday with friends in Athens, and to show off my beautiful new dog. Arriving at the port in Heraklion, Sage immediately became skittish due to the loud noises and unusual smells of the ships and the sea, the passengers and the cars, the chaos. I had to coax her onto the gangway, amid a crush of people and luggage. Although young, she was a big girl even then, and people were pushing to get out of her way, tutting and looking annoyed. The situation didn't get any better. The dog-friendly area was right at the top of the ferry (this was Minoan Lines by the way), through various cafes and lounges, and up lots and lots of progressively steeper and narrower steps. Even the tried and tested method of holding a biscuit in front of her nose couldn't tempt her up the last few steps. So I had to carry her. And my bags. She was then about 20kgs.

We sat freezing on the deck for a few hours. This was January. Every time I left her to run to the bathroom, or go to buy something warm to drink, she got distressed and started barking uncontrollably. Eventually I put her in the kennels, right at the top of the ferry. These kennels are fairly exposed to the sea winds, especially during a cold January night. By the time I let her out, early next morning, she was freezing cold, frightened and disoriented.

The journey back to Crete was better, as we travelled during the afternoon, but still was not ideal. I haven't done this journey again since then. After spending so much of our time traveling around Crete (and now Cyprus), on all forms of transport, I don't think this ferry journey would bother Sage much these days. But for anyone feeling unsure, I have summarised the experiences and advice of friends of mine who regularly manage long ferry trips to and from Crete...with their dogs.
Mayia on a recent trip from Crete to Athens

Staying on deck with your dog
Sage's friend Mayia is a frequent traveller on ANEK lines ferry Olympic Champion between Crete and Athens. My friends have tried out the various companies and options, and find the Olympic Champion the most convenient for the following reasons:

  • This is one of the cheaper ferries 
  • Staff are quite relaxed about where you sleep (in terms of nodding off in a comfortable chair somewhere - some companies will actually wake you up!) 
  • The kennels at the back of the ferry where you can leave your animal if necessary are relatively clean and not so exposed to the elements as on other ferries
  • Facilities are available for cleaning up after your dog (a water hose and broom near the kennels) 
  • There is a sheltered area of the deck which protects from the weather if you are sleeping outside with your dog

Mayia on deck of the Olympic Champion
This type of ferry travel might not be for everyone, however. My friends stay on deck with Mayia, summer and winter. They make a camp with sleeping bags in the most sheltered area of the deck (dogs are not allowed inside the ferry), and tether Mayia to a table or post to ensure she stays close by.

In this case, your dog travels for free, and the only cost is your own ticket, at the cheapest rate (usually called 'economy' or 'deck').

While this might be fun with a group of friends, every once in a while... maybe... it's more difficult if you are travelling alone, or have any obligations the following day and don't want to arrive exhausted, or simply if you are not that fond of camping outside on ferries!
Dog-friendly cabin 
As she was getting older and frailer, Garby was treated to a night in a dog-friendly cabin at the end of this summer, as my friends travelled back to Athens. They also found ANEK lines to be the cheapest and best option. This option does cost more - I think about 80 Euros more than an ordinary cabin (ie without dog), but it does mean that you get a chance to sleep during the journey, without worrying about your dog.
Garby travelling in style this summer 
My friends kindly reported back to me about their journey. The main difference between the dog-friendly and the normal cabins are the lack of carpets in dog cabins, and the fact that these are clustered together out of the way of the other (sleeping) passengers. Sensible measures!

The website recommends that you book these cabins well in advance (particularly during the busier seasons). I would also say that there are often price deals on these ferries, and it's worth doing some research to find out current deals and promotions.

You may want to carry your dog's blanket or rug, to help them feel more at home in the strange environment of the ferry.

Kennels on deck
I previously wrote about my short journey from Sitia to Heraklion by ferry, and the friends I met on board who were travelling back from Rhodes with their dog Guinness:
My friends would put Guinness into the kennels for short periods of time, so they could sleep for a couple of hours, or go and buy something to eat. Rhodes to Heraklion (or further, the ferry continues on to Athens eventually...) is a long haul - probably too long to camp out on deck! So my friends made sure they were well organised (carrying a water bowl that is almost impossible to spill, for example, and stocking up on food they might need, in order to limit the times they had to keep Guinness in the kennels).
Guinness heading up to the kennels

Guinness was also travelling with ANEK, as there are few companies that run this route. He was travelling for free.

ANEK lines kennels
After the feedback from various friends, I have to say that ANEK does seem to be more dog-friendly than the other options (NOTE: ANEK and Superfast Ferries run some routes as a joint venture, but it is the ANEK-owned ferries, such as Olympic Champion which have proven to be the most convenient for travel with dogs!).

Here you can find some rules and regulations for ferry travel with pets on the various lines operating within Greece:

As a final note, I wanted to write briefly about leaving animals in cars in the garages while on board. I heard of a recent tragedy involving hunting dogs who were left in car trailers in the ships' garage, and were tragically killed. As there are facilities on board, there does not seem to be any reason to risk your dog over-heating, freezing, suffocating from endless car and diesel fumes etc etc. Simply, don't take this risk.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Lunch or dinner at Metohi Village Taverna, Vai... with your dog

Dinner at Metohi Village Taverna with Garby and Sage
When you are visiting East Crete, Metohi Village Taverna is a great place to stop for food. This taverna is a well-kept secret, hidden away off the road between Palaikastro and Vai, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

We went there for dinner this summer, with our two dogs - Garby and Sage. They owners were very welcoming. We sat outside, on the lower terrace of the taverna, with plenty of space so as not to disturb other customers.

Metohi serves a variety of dishes, and specialises in good quality, locally sourced meat. I'm not a liver fan, but my friends assure me this is one of the best places to eat liver in Crete. We ordered up a feast - slow-cooked lamb, liver, an enormous salad from vegetables grown locally, various mezedes, much more than the four of us could eat. The prices are also very reasonable; we paid about 15€ per person.

This place is usually fairly busy at lunchtimes during the summer, but you can always find a quiet corner to sit comfortably with your dog. It makes a nice change from eating out at the busier tavernas in the square at Palaikastro, or at the beach at Kouremenos, and provides a good escape from the crowds. The surrounding countryside is extremely wild and arid, which makes the Metohi seem like a welcome oasis. It's a great place to stop on the way back from a visit to the beautiful palm beach at Vai (or the smaller, more dog-friendly beaches beyond the sand dunes at Vai).

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Losing a friend

Garby in her favourite spot for travelling
I just received the sad news that our lovely friend Garby passed away. Since she has featured in quite a few of my posts, I wanted to share this news here.

Garby was just a pup when she was found abandoned in the garbage (hence the name). She was adopted by some friends of mine, and spent 12 happy years, travelling between her home in Athens, and her 'summer home' in Palaikastro, Crete. She became an important part of our team at the excavations there, galloping around the dig house and garden when she was young, lying in her basket in our workroom when she got older, and always following my friends. Whatever job they were doing, Garby would be there too.
A few years ago on a camping trip
She was very sweet natured, quiet and calm (at least when she was older), and became good friends with my Sage. This summer, especially, we had lots of trips out with Garby - to tavernas, to the beach, the excavation.

It's going to be a different, sad place next summer, without our friend Garby.