Categories
Greece (Crete)

Travel on Crete: How to get from Heraklion to Phaistos by bus

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It’s not easy, but it is possible to take the bus from Heraklion to Phaistos

Today, my husband and I visited Phaistos Minoan Palace, arguably the second most important Minoan archaeological site on the island of Crete in Greece. Phaistos has been on our bucket list for our journey through Greece, and because we’ve relied on bus travel for much of our trip, we’ve learned that things can go wrong.

For example, your driver may miss a stop, turn around, and go back. Your driver may make a package delivery you weren’t expecting, adding minutes to your ride and causing you to miss a connection if you have one.

That’s why yesterday we figured out EXACTLY how we would make the trip today. We bought our tickets a day early for not only Phaistos, but also for the bus station from where we would depart. In the end, we had a successful trip, but it wasn’t without a good dose of head scratching, miscommunication, wrong turns, and a frantic last-minute ticket purchase.

Part of our confusion was due to the scarcity of up-to-date timetables and not knowing the location of Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station (the main bus terminal in Heraklion). The rest of the confusion was due to a general lack of detailed, timely information on how to get to Phaistos in the first place. It’s not listed as a destination on the pull-down destination menu on their website; however, the printed timetable does list Phaistos as a destination. Go figure.

In addition, there simply isn’t much info on websites such as TripAdvisor and Rome2Rio. Instead, what you will mainly find are other people on TripAdvisor looking for the way there, too.

Here’s how to get from Heraklion to Phaistos:

  1. Get a KTEL bus timetable brochure from any KTEL ticket kiosk or at the KTEL Central Bus Station. You will need this timetable to figure out when the buses leave and return from Heraklion and Phaistos.  Read on for how to find KTEL Central Bus Station.
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    I’ve circled the part of the KTEL timetable brochure that shows the Heraklion to Phaistos and the Phaiston to Heraklion schedules. Side note: There are multiple ways to spell Heraklion and Phaistos. Heraklion is also spelled Iraklio. Phaistos can be spelled Faistos and Festos. Moires is also spelled Mires. Take a look at the Greek spellings, too, so you can recognize them if needed.

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    Here is the June 2019 KTEL timetable brochure. We used it July 6 and the times were still the same.
  2. Go to KTEL Central Bus Station (the main terminal) and get there well ahead of your bus’ departure time. Get there early (thirty minutes or more) on the day you plan to travel or buy them the day before like we did. Do this in case any unforeseen complications arise and cause you to arrive late and  miss your bus because you didn’t have your tickets purchased.
  3. To find the KTEL Central Bus Station, we asked a ticket seller in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. (We didn’t see any informational signs to direct travelers to the station from the popular museum where both city buses and KTEL buses drop off and pick up.) The ticket seller told us to walk behind the ticket kiosk on the circle next to the museum, and then take the stairs down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and follow the street until you come to a large dark gray bank (Pancretan Cooperative Bank) on your left. It has a modern look, with lots of large mirrored windows. When you get to the bank, you will see the KTEL Central Bus Station in front of you at the corner of Efessou and Leof. Ikarou.IMG_1072
  4. Walk down the stairs behind the bus station, go through the waiting area that looks like a large outdoor cafe, and go inside.
  5. Get in line at one of the six ticket windows and tell the clerk when you want to go to Phaistos based on the times available per the timetable brochure. We purchased only our tickets (7.10€ each) to Phaistos ahead of time. Because we didn’t know how long it would take to see the site, we didn’t know what time to schedule a return bus. IMG_1074
  6. You will take an approximately one-hour bus ride from KTEL Central Bus Station in Heraklion to Moires, where you will change to another bus bound for Matala. Phaistos is on the way to Matala.
  7. When you get to Moires, get off the bus so you can hop onto another bus headed for Matala. To do that, go inside the KTEL ticket office (there’s not a station–just a bus stop and a ticket office with a bunch of boxes scattered on the floor). The ticket office has a small KTEL sign on it and is about one hundred feet from the bus stop. Ask the ticket clerk how long it will be before the Matala bus arrives. In our case, it was about ten minutes away.
  8. Watch for the Matala bus. You will not need another ticket to get on the Matala bus.
  9. The bus ride to Phaistos from Moires on the Matala bus takes about fifteen minutes. The driver should stop at Phaistos, but he might not if you don’t tell him you need to stop there. Do that when you board or during the ride. Don’t assume other riders are going to Phaistos. (If they’re tourists, they’re probably going to the beach in Matala.) We were the only two people on our bus today headed for Phaistos. Here’s the sign for Phaistos Minoan Palace. Get off here.

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    Here’s the sign for the archaeological site. Note the spelling variation.

9. Tour Phaistos Minoan Palace. It might be a good idea to buy a guide book and thumb through it before entering the site so you can understand better what you’re seeing. Phaistos doesn’t appear to have the marketing support that other sites such as Knossos does. By the way, tickets to the archaeological site cost 8€ each. It took us about 1-1/2 hours to see the site. It would have taken longer, but some of it was closed for maintenance.

10. Leave Phaistos.  There were bus schedules taped to the windows at the archaeological site ticket booth and inside the bus stop out near where we disembarked. These should coincide with the KTEL timetable brochure. But to double-check, use the chart (see photo below), and find the bus that departs from Matala and arrives in Heraklion. In the photo below, I’ve circled the part of the schedule that contains the route that begins in Matala, stops at Phaistos, and makes the connection in Moires again onto a bus that returns to Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station where you started.

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11. When your bus arrives from Matala to pick you up at Phaistos, board it and buy your tickets from the driver. Our tickets were 1.80€ each. This paid our way back to Moires.

12. At Moires, you will need to disembark, (just like you did earlier), go inside the KTEL ticket office, and buy tickets to take you from Moires back to Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station where you started. For us, these tickets cost 6€ each. We nearly missed our Heraklion-bound bus in Moore’s because it was fifteen minutes late arriving in Phaistos. As a result, we arrived at Moires at 1:55 for a 2 p.m. ride. If there’s any question that you might not have your tickets before the bus leaves, go ahead and board the bus, and as you board, tell the driver you will be buying tickets directly from him. We saw many riders on both KTEL and city buses buy their tickets directly from bus drivers.

13. Once you’re seated on the bus in Moires, enjoy the approximately one-hour drive back to KTEL Central Bus Station. Our return ride took a different route from what we took in the morning and it followed a windy, mountainous road with vast, breath-taking views of olive groves and vineyards punctuated with oleander and cypress trees.


Thanks for reading! Greece can be tricky to navigate, especially with changing bus schedules, language barriers, and stations that close or change locations. We needed a blog post about this very topic a couple of days ago. We searched quite a bit to find the way to Phaistos. I hope this helps some readers find their way there. By the way, I plan to write a post about our visit to Phaistos in the next few days. 

Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for my daily travel posts from Greece and Italy, including our AirBnb stays and also to catch that Phaistos post. 

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

The strange situation I saw two days ago in Athens

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Photo: Marilyn Yung

An unsettling episode on our otherwise comfortable journey through Greece

I guess nothing came of the strange situation I saw two days ago in Athens.  Here’s what happened somewhere between the Omonoia and Ministiraki stations.

So, okay. I’m sitting on this gray metal bench waiting for a train to whisk my husband and I to our AirBnB in Paiania. As I stared at the departure sign’s red digital numbers, I noticed two security guards casually saunter up, talking between themselves. One, pale and tall, walked with his hands in his pockets, eyes on the ground as he spoke to his partner who, with his salt and pepper hair, appeared to be nearing retirement age.

I took note: two security guards.  Together.

Now I come from a small town in Kansas and have lived in rural Missouri for thirty years. I know next to nothing about public transit, let alone public transit in downtown Athens. Do security guards often travel in twos? Or just when a situation warrants it?

Whatever, I thought, my eyes moving from the guards back to the digital sign. It indicated our airport-bound train should arrive in about six minutes.

To the right, toward my bench on the platform, a man approached.

Here’s what I noticed:

  1. He was wearing a straw hat, a wide-brimmed style,
  2. and a too-small faded blue suit jacket,
  3. and black sunglasses,
  4. and a canvas hat under the straw one (yes, two hats),
  5. and long, wavy black hair stuffed under the neck flap of the canvas hat,
  6. plus, a drab white-and-blue plaid shirt under the ill-fitting suit jacket.

Here’s what I wish I had noticed: his shoes. They say shoes can say a lot about a person, but I didn’t look at his shoes. I couldn’t get past the straw hat.

Neither could the security guards. Once Straw Hat walked up, they took note. They had been standing silently, but when Straw Hat entered the scene, the taller guard whispered to the other.

The two guards passed by me and walked to the platform edge. They watched the man approach my bench, stop two feet short next to a garbage can, and stand quietly.

I turned away from Straw Hat to my husband sitting to my left. “Do you see this guy?” I whispered.

“If he gets on the train, we’re staying behind for the next one,” he mumbled quietly.

I watched the security guards. The taller one occasionally glanced over at Straw Hat. He made eye contact with the strange dresser. It reassured me to see that the guard wanted Straw Hat to know that he was being watched.

Good, I thought. They’re on to him. And Straw Hat knows it.

I shifted back on the bench and returned my gaze to the digital sign.

Five minutes.

More passengers wandered to the platform. One camera-toting man, a tourist obviously, noticed Straw Hat. His eyes snagged on the hat, and then dropped to scan the rest of the ensemble. He turned away.

Three girls wearing summer tans and sundresses walked up, chatting away, oblivious to Straw Hat. A mother pushing a stroller rolled onto the scene, her eyes never raising from her precious cargo. Two more men walked up. Both glanced at the hat, one’s eyes resting for an uncomfortable three seconds on the costume.

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Photo: Marilyn Yung

Four minutes.

The taller guard glanced again at the costumed man and made a call on his cell phone. The other tugged on his belt, straightening his gray shirt that read “Private Security” in all capitals.

Three minutes.

The crowd had grown. The sounds had changed: wheeled luggage rumbled by, shoes and flip flops shuffled through.

Several old men gathered. Two were in a heated conversation. One repeatedly pressed and raised his index finger up and down into his palm, counting off some reasons he was fired up about. At one point, his eyes caught the Straw Hat. He stopped for a split-second, wrinkled his brow in curiosity, and turned away to continue his reasoning.

Two minutes.

I turned to my husband. “Still watching him?”

“Just hang back when the train gets here,” he said, looking straight ahead, keeping the man in his peripheral vision.

In the corner of my eye, I watched, too. Straw Hat gingerly tugged at the cuffs of his sleeves to lower them. They already hung too low, I thought, nearly an inch beyond the hem of his jacket. He then inspected his fingertips. Pale hands, I noticed. Dirty nails. The few tendrils of black hair that I could see were so black they shone blue under the overhead LED lighting. He spent time tucking his hair under the neck flap.

One minute.

From down the tunnel, we heard a dull, deep roar of an oncoming train. Its front sign showed that it was bound for another central Athens station… not the airport. It slowed to a stop at the platform and the doors slid open.

A rush of passengers disembarked, displacing the chatting girls, the camera-toting tourist, the old men, the doting mother. As the train emptied, those waiting flowed toward it, including Straw Hat.

Suddenly, another man appeared wearing a sophisticated, double-breasted gray suit and carrying a clear plastic bag.  Two packages were inside wrapped in white paper. He approached Straw Hat, paused, and turned to face the train.

Straw Hat leaned forward and muttered words into the space between them. Then he turned toward the second train car and boarded. Gray Suit boarded the first car. So did the security guards. The taller one kept his eye on Straw Hat in the next car. Had they seen the comment exchanged with Gray Suit? Were they aware that they needed to watch him, too?

More passengers boarded. A few last-minute riders scurried to the platform, scooting inside the train at the final second before the doors slid shut. A bell sounded and the train sped away.

We wondered.

What was about to happen? Anything? Why would anyone dress so conspicuously? Was Straw Hat planning to peel off the layers of his costume as his crime progressed? Was he the distraction to entice watchful eyes off Gray Suit, the truly dangerous one?

We still wonder. What exactly did we witness? We heard nothing about the incident, but then again we probably wouldn’t. Beyond the most basic phrases, we don’t speak Greek, so asking someone or watching the TV for news is futile.

Our Athens transit experience is one of those curious travel stories. A peculiar memory. A shared inexplicable moment that we trust resulted in nothing more than an eyebrow-raising incident to retell over the years. This one story is thankfully the only unsettling episode on our otherwise comfortable journey through Greece.

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Photo: Marilyn Yung

Thanks for reading! This happened two days ago in downtown Athens. It was very unnerving at the time. The two men could have merely been out pick-pocketing. About ten minutes prior to this story, a station employee had warned my husband to wear his backpack on his chest. “The pickpockets are out today,” he had said. Maybe that’s all it was.

Leave a comment if you’ve had a similar puzzling encounter. Feel free to follow my blog for more travel stories.

 

 

Categories
Greece (Peloponnese)

Meet our AirBnB hosts: Kostas and Toula

Our fabulous hosts at Mycenae

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Mitch, Toula, Kostas and me

AirBnb offers something that a traditional hotel doesn’t: contact with local residents. We met Kostas and Toula on our first night in Mycenae after three weeks on Skopelos Island.

That day, we had ferried to Skiathos Island, flown for 25 minutes to Athens, then taken a bus to Athens’ KTEL terminal, and finally taken a 1.5-hour bus ride to Fichti, which is just down the road from Mycenae.

Kostas was waiting for us under an olive tree in Fichti. When the bus stopped, the driver made no announcement and there were no signs indicating we were at our destination. Mitch decided to ask the driver where exactly we were and when the driver replied, “Fichti,” Mitch scurried to get our luggage from the hold. At that point, I realized that Mitch was not coming back. (He told me later he thought iI was right behind him.)

So I quickly grabbed my purse and hurried off the bus.

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Our AirBnb at Kostas’. We climbed up that spiral staircase to our door.

Kostas was expecting us to be arriving on this particular bus. I had been in contact as our plans unfolded throughout the day with his daughter Sophia, and she had kept him in the loop.

However, since we had booked our Airbnb under my name, when Mitch climbed down from the bus first, Kostas asked him, “Marilyn?”

But then Kostas saw me climb down, realized that Mitch was not Marilyn and we made our introductions.

Kostas was so friendly. He talked the whole drive back to our apartment. He told us about his daughter and son, who currently lives in Canada. In fact, Kostas lived in Canada at one time for several years, which explains why we were able to communicate so well. He struggled with finding words at times, but overall his English is excellent considering he is a native Greek and nearing retirement age.

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The sign on the outskirts of town showing the way to the ruins.

When we reached the little town of Mycenae, where our apartment was located, Kostas pointed out the mini-market and two or three tavernas, which we visited the next day.

Inside our apartment, Kostas and Toula showed us around the one-bedroom apartment. It had a nice living room, large eat-in kitchen, full bath, and plenty of seating with an extra couch tucked here and there. There was WiFi, air conditioning, a washer, and a large tile front balcony with clothesline.

They also took great pride to show us the fridge, which they had stocked with six eggs, a small carton of milk, local honey, a loaf of bread and toasts, apples, oranges and apricots. Kostas also showed us a bottle of olive oil fresh from his groves. (He farms olives and oranges, he told us.) We used the olive oil to cook eggs for breakfast the next two mornings. They also provided instant and Greek coffee, which we made on a single-burner stove.

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Kostas and Toula kept lots of games in the apartment. Here are Greek Scrabble pieces.

Their generosity and hospitality were incredible… above and beyond! They have definitely mastered the art of what AirBnB calls “the extra touches.”

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The view off the side of our front porch balcony. Those are apricots in that truck. Olive trees in the distance… and right by the truck also.

The next evening, we visited with the couple again when we inquired about how to get a taxi back to Fichti. We visited inside their apartment, which was located on the ground level of their three-story building. Over small porcelain cups of Greek coffee, water, and fresh apricots, Kostas offered to drive us back the next morning, as he and Toula were making a trip to “the big city” of Argos.

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The view off one side of our front porch balcony.

We also met their sweet little Chihuahua-mix dog, Kirra, who sat on my lap and stared deep into my eyes. She is very old, Kostas said, which you could tell from her fully gray nose and jowls. She rolled over on her back in my lap as we talked.

Toula, who speaks as much English as I speak Greek, multi-tasked all the while. (Several times, Kostas would stop the conversation and translate to Toulah.) She kept her eyes on a TV program, and occasionally listened in our conversation about Kostas’ and our kids, job prospects in Greece for young people (there aren’t many, he said), the cycle of world superpowers, and how Greece needs the help of larger countries to succeed.

 

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The highway between Fichti and Mycenae was quiet at night. Earlier in the day, tour buses from Argos drive through. It seems that maybe Argos gets most of the tourist business.

Kostas also told us that it had been several years since he had been up the hill to the Mycenaean ruins. In fact, when he had been there before, he had been working there. “They charge too much to see it,” he said. “They think they are the United States and charge a lot for it.”

We explained that the 12€ tickets didn’t seem that high to us, but then again the culture of Ancient and Classical Greece is revered perhaps more when you don’t grow up around it. To us, it’s an amazing site. Perhaps to Kostas, it’s just a bunch of old rocks.

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I had chicken souvlaki and Mitch had pork souvlaki.  Both were served with french fries. We also had tzatziki as an appetizer. The weather was beautiful. Taverna owners and/or waiters walk right up to you on the sidewalk asking you to dine at their establishment.

We then made arrangements to meet outside the apartment at 9:30 the next morning for the drive back to the Fichti bus station. Kostas also said he would help us buy our bus tickets back to Athens.

As promised, we all met the next morning… fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

The four of us made the ten-minute drive back to Fichti. We unloaded our luggage, then I sat with it under a tree while Mitch and Kostas walked across the street to get the tickets. Toula waited in the car. After a few minutes, she emerged from the car, and we hugged, kissed cheeks European style, and said, “Thank you,” to each other. Soon, Kostas and Mitch emerged from the bus station with tickets in hand.

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The Fichti (say “Fith-ya”) bus station, about ten minutes north of Mycenae

Of course, Kostas absolutely would not accept the 20€ Mitch tried to hand him, waving his arms and stepping back when it was offered. So, while Kostas and I hugged, Mitch tossed the bill onto his car seat. With her limited English, Toula couldn’t refuse it.

We took our seats under the tree, and turned to wave goodbye to our hosts. Kostas, now finding the bill, shook his head. “I don’t want it,” he said.

“Goodbye!” we shouted. He continued to shake his head.

“We would have spent it anyway for a taxi. You take it,” Mitch explained.

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This Greek Orthodox church is right around the corner from Kostas’ and Toula’s place.

Kostas finally conceded, smiled, and pulled away. “It’s been good to meet you,” he said.

“It was good to meet you, too,” we replied.


Thanks for reading! We’re on our way to Olympia today from Delphi. At least two bus station transfers, we think, but we’ll have to confirm with the driver. The bus station in Delphi is actually inside a restaurant. You just ask one of the waiters and he instantly turns into a ticket clerk.

Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for more stories from our trip to Greece.

Categories
Greece (Skopelos)

Stafilos Beach for the win

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…Stafilos had a dog, so that pushed it ahead of the pack

We visited four beaches (Glisteri, Glifoneri, Panormos, and Stafilos) during our three weeks on Skopelos Island and they each were clean, comfortable, and drop-dead gorgeous.

However, Stafilos Beach had a dog, so Stafilos for the win.

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Follow the signs down the hill after you exit the bus.
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The beach is big and beautiful.

When we visited Stafilos last Friday afternoon, a brown, wiry-haired dog made its rounds to the various beach-goers settled on towels and blankets. It greeted each visitor it met and then flopped down, soaking wet, and wriggled in the tiny pebbles. It was truly this dog’s dream come true, apparently.

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The dog cooling off in the water.

Never one to ignore an animal, Mitch and the little dog became fast friends. The dog sat with us on our towel and surveyed the kids and adults sunning, swimming, and snorkeling around us. And then she returned to the water and swam out to her owner anchored out in the cove. With her head just  a tiny brown dot on the surface of the water, she amazed us by soon returning to the beach for another dose of interaction with strangers.

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Mitch and man’s best friend

Stafilos is just a ten-minute bus ride from downtown Skopelos. Check the bus schedule board at the bus kiosk, arrive at the designated time, board and pay your 1.60€ when the attendant comes to you during the ride.

We headed out in the late afternoon and returned about two hours later.

Make sure you wear good shoes when you go, since you’ll have to walk about 500 yards or so downhill.

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The road down to Stafilos Beach looks like this…

The walk is steep, so watch your step. However, pause to catch the gorgeous views.

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…and this…
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and this.

Once you arrive at the beach, you can just spread out a blanket or towel at no charge or 2) pay 7€ for a beach umbrella and two wooden chaise lounges. You can see the umbrella section at the far left edge of the second photo in this story.

When it’s time to go, don’t forget you’ll have a hike back up the hill.

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The road back up the hill from Stafilos Beach looks like this…
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…and this.

There are a couple of tavernas you can visit on your walk up. These are casual cafes that serve fresh seafood, salads, and drinks.

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You may see some tiny churches on the hillside…

As you walk up, look around at the hillsides to see the occasional private Greek Orthodox churches. Here’s another one across from the bus stop:

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…or at the bus stop.

Also near the bus stop: chickens pecking underneath an olive tree. What a great scene!

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Chickens feeding beneath an olive tree.

We stood across the street in the shade and waited near this sign for the bus. It was right on time!

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And finally… the bus stop.


Thanks for reading again today! We are en route to Mycenae today via Athens. In fact, I’m writing this post in the Skiathos Alexander Papadiamantis Airport. Click like, leave a comment or follow my blog for more stories on the daily.