For about a month and a half, starting from London, and from a chubby cat I met there, I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve met amazing bipedal and quadrupedal creatures. The last trip was a few days ago by train, on the occasion of the 2nd vegan festival in Greece. On Friday night, 12th May , we boarded on the evening train leaving from Larissa Station and on Saturday at 6.30am we were walking through the streets of Thessaloniki.
“Well, tomorrow I will only eat sweets!” “Me too …” , I replied.
That was the last thing me and Elsa discussed, a few minutes before going to bed on Saturday night, in the cozy room of our lovely friend, Dimitra. During our first day in Thessaloniki we had the chance to walk around the city, meet friends, enjoy vegan food and some special cocktails on the beach.
Of course, central to our visit was thevsecond “Vegan Life Festival” that took place on Sunday 14th May, a festival dedicated to the vegan lifestyle that was recently launched in Greece. And as I mentioned before, during that day we would only eat sweets, VEGAN sweets! This may sound weird but how could we do otherwise while being in the heaven of vegan desserts such as vegan bougatsa (traditional custard pie), vegan ice creams, millefeuilles, triangles and profiteroles to mention just a few of the vegan delicacies one can find in Thessaloniki and of course in the festival exhibition!
Shortly after twelve o’clock, after having a morning coffee next to the historical walls of Ano Poli (Upper Town) and a vegan ice cream cone from “Pasalidis”, the famous pastry shop in Agiou Dimitriou street where one can find a great variety of vegan desserts and ice-creams, we headed to the harbor and specifically to Warehouse C, where the festival was going to take place, right next to the sea. The building chosen for the realization of the festival was easily accessible and very convenient, with enough space for the exhibitors, a separate room for the speeches and benches outside the building with an amazing view to Thermaikos.
For me, the greatest value of the festival was the trip, the beautiful people I met – some friendships just began – our conversations, the jokes and the feeling that something is going on, this peaceful way of life is spreading all over and love conquers the hearts of more and more people.
In case you find yourselves wondering, yes, everything went according to our plan and so we had desserts for breakfast and lunch (it was impossible to eat dinner after that), but we did not manage to eat as many as we would like to (there were many), having additional reasons to return to the beautiful city of Thessaloniki, who knows, perhaps on the occasion of the fourth Vegan Life Festival!
On July 27, while I was preparing our baggage to Amorgos, the temperature in Athens was unbearably high and I wished several times for some coolness. Bearing in mind the warm days and nights in many other camps around the Greek islands some years ago, I tried to suppress bad thoughts and instead I imagined of a cool and refreshing breeze scented with sea reaching my face.
On July 28, a few hours after our arrival in Amorgos, I found myself in Hora, wearing my colorful sweatshirt jacket plus my partner’s denim jacket that fell over my shoulders with the grace of a modern sack of potatoes, while the strong wind had messed up my hair so much that I started considering the possibility to do dreadlocks or shaving my head. I’ve started suspecting that I should have asked from the island gods less persistently cool breezes!So, the first tip I would give to the visitors of the island is to take into account that the evenings can be quite cool, depending on the area in which one can be found. And here I think I should stop commenting the weather, which, moreover, is so changeable and start writing some information for the future travelers.
1. Accommodation: In Amorgos there are apartments and hotels throughout the island and since we are talking about a mountainous island, they are not necessarily located next to the sea. In any case one can book online the room of preference on time and check where the room is located. On the other hand, if we choose to camp at a campsite it is advisable to have determined in advance what we want. In Amorgos there are three organized camping sites: a. The municipal campsite in Katapola -the one of the two ports of the island, which is located in a quiet area with copious shadow. The advantage is that it is close to restaurants, grocery stores, harbor and several beaches, so practically it can be convenient if you travel without your own car. Additionally this campsite is animal-friendly, provided of course that visitors are responsible and take care for and on behalf of their quadrupedal friends.Beyond basic services, there are also two shared fridges and a canteen, which is open all day and offers everything from coffees to traditional cooked food at reasonable prices. One minus we should mention is that there is no communal kitchen for those who wish to cook their own food. However we got in contact with a person from the staff who told us that it is possible to have akitchen area in the summer of ’17.
b. The campsite ” Castanis ‘, located about 1 kilometer away from Katapola, and from the sea . There are many shadowy corners where one can put a tent; it is very quiet and clean. Here, there is a tavern which offers coffees, drinks and food at good prices, a mini market and also a common kitchen with common refrigerators, but in order to cook we need to have our own camp stove. Our four-legged friends can come with us, upon request. c. The camping in Aegiali is probably the most famous among the three, and particularly preferred by young people as it is situated next to a sandy beach, bars and a beautiful sea, in a tourist village which seems to be rather more “vivid” than Katapola. Tourists in Aegiali can enjoy both the sea and the other amenities of the village without any dependency on means of transport. Note also that many ships to Amorgos go also at the port of Aegiali. But before choosing Aegiali one should also take into consideration a couple of things. First, when we called to get information, they declared that pets are prohibited in the area, so we ruled out the possibility to stay there. Moreover, when we visited it, we found that the tents were overcrowded in a relatively small space, with any subsequent impact this might have, from the cleanness and hygiene of the place to the peace and quiet one may seek in order to sleep or relax.
2. Beaches: What each of us may consider “nice” beach is certainly subjective, although some basic parameters such as the cleanness of the beach and the water are not. Well, regarding the quality of the sea water and the cleanness of the coasts Amorgos gets ten out of ten. On the other hand, the fact that most of the beaches can be reached only after walking along shorter or longer paths, as they are in less accessible points, can excite some, but it can also be a major problem for others. By car one can reach easily beaches such as Paradisia and Kalotaritissa at the Kato Meria on the island, while in others, like Gramvousa , people are transported by small boats on a small fee. Agia-Anna beach is just five minutes walking from where the bus stops or parking site is, however, since it is small in size but great in beauty, it is usually crowded even in the morning. But the most beautiful beach is called Mouros and to get there you need to follow a path, 10 minutes walking. If you arrive before noon, you can protect yourselves from the scorching sun under the shadows of the cliffs that rise on the back side of the beach. Finally a less crowded and quite beautiful beach is Psili Ammos. To get there we walked about 20 minutes. In all these beaches you have to carry with you fresh water and an umbrella.
3. Food: As in most Greek islands, pulses, rice, salads and greens have a central role in the diet of the inhabitants. Therefore in Amorgos one can find delicious Amorgian fava (or more frequently fava from Schinousa as Amorgian is more expensive), stuffed vegetables (usually with rice), stews, greens, potatoes and salads of various kinds. Those who decide to stay or visit Aigiali will likely discover «Falafel» shop -which among other things offers falafels- as well as other restaurants with several vegan options.
4. Walks: For our afternoon-evening walks there are several options considering of course the size of the island. Most visitors enjoy visiting the windmills and the narrow stone streets of the Hora, which retain the traditional architecture and the Greek island aesthetics. The same aesthetic applies also to the mountain villages Tholaria and Lagada. In all these places there are many taverns and restaurants. An interesting route that gives the opportunity to calm down and enjoy the natural landscape is the hiking trail that starts from Katapola (there are signs on the road) and rises on an imposing hill, the Moudoulia on top of which lies the ancient Minoa. Although the place was not open to the public when we went, one can observe several of the remnants that belong to the distant past. Moreover, many choose to visit the monastery Chozoviotissa which is considered one of the main attractions of the island.
5. Vegan-shopping: In Amorgos we didn’t miss almost anything of our favorite products, but one may need to be a little bit careful with the prices. For example the central groceries at Katapola sell vegan milks and other products such as whole-wheat pasta and rice-cakes even 50% more expensive than a grocery store located less centrally- though only 50 meters from the coastal road- on the way to ancient Minoa. We bought vegan milk, tofu and zea-pasta and legumes for our camp cooking. Furthermore, we found an organic vegetable garden on the road to Ancient Minoa, named «Amorgos Organics». The garden is open for anyone who wants to buy fresh, seasonal and organic fruits and vegetables from late morning to sunset except Sunday.
6. Transport: On the island we can go by boat departing from the port of Piraeus. As mentioned above there are ships that go to both ports of the island, so depending on where you stay you can select the right port to disembark. It is possible to transfer our car or motorbike with an additional charge, but the island has a good bus service so one can use busses to go to the beaches or visit the villages. Additionally to Amorgos you can simply follow the old-fashioned way and try hitchhiking especially if nostalgic of the ’80s! Maps of the island can be obtained for free from various shops, hotels and campings, but if you are not going to stay for more than a couple of days, perhaps a good idea would be to buy a small guide of the island before going or look for information online.
Just like so many other young people, looking at the uncertain future a few years ago, while completing my post-graduate studies, I had been thinking very seriously to emigrate for a “better life” in an economically prosperous country. It seemed the perfect idea that time, and considering that I love to travel, I had almost decided that I would move to another country. However one summer dawn, I arrived with the boat to Heraklion early in the morning and I drove to the south of Crete, crossing mountains and valleys while the sun was rising. I stopped in a mountainous spot halfway and took a deep breath of the morning Cretan air, admiring the scenery and my soul got fulfilled with this deeply spiritual sense that I am Home. And I hope you already know that when one finds Home, leaving it is not an option.
Fortunately I never regretted! Luck and hard work did their miracle so by now I can say for sure that I enjoy a happy life and although I live for several years now in Athens, I always return to Crete at least once during summer.The beauties of the island are so many that neither an article nor a book would be enough to mention one by one. However I would like to share some information regarding Heraklion, Crete that may be useful for the peaceful traveler. I hope in the future to visit, photograph and write relevant articles for the other three major cities of Crete and beyond.
Firstly, Heraklion can be reached by large and comfortable ships. Usually they depart from Piraeus at 21.00 – 22.00 pm depending on the time of the year and they arrive to Heraklion at 6.30 – 7.00 am the next morning. Due to the increased traffic during July and August, the ships execute some extra daily trips, something that one may opt for, not only because you don’t have to book a cabin in order to sleep but also because you have the chance to enjoy your coffee on the deck, watching the sea route. Alternatively there are many flights to and from the airport N. Kazantzakis connecting the island with the most important airports of Greece as well as many other airports abroad, especially during summer.
In recent years Heraklion has become quite friendly to travelers and of course to the inhabitants. Apart from the museums and the attractions you can find on every city guide, you shouldn’t miss a walk on the new promenade and to Koules – the fortress built by the Venetians in the port of Heraklion- during sunset. I also like to walk on August 25 Street, the road that leads to the famous commonly known as “Lions square” after the Venetian-era Morosini Fountain in its midst, which features four lions supporting the main basin.
Heraklion is surrounded by the Venetian defensive walls which remain intact till today and they are considered to be among the best preserved Venetian fortifications in Europe. Today one can walk on the walls, where a beautiful park has been created. Especially during spring one can see a great variety of Cretan herbs and plants that grow along the walls. Moreover the place is visited by many quadrupedal and bipedal creatures that want to have a stroll and enjoy the beautiful view from above. One can see dogs playing around and people staying till late, talking, walking or jogging. There are several entries that lead to the walls, some of which are located on Plastiras street. In addition there are some specific places within the walls where various events take place, such as the garden theater Kazantzakis, where one can attend concerts and performances especially during summer, while the grave of the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis in Martinengo Bastion can be visited all year round, without a fee.
In order to buy some traditional products, fresh produce or souvenirs, it is worth visiting the central market of Heraklion, on 1866 street, very close to the Lions square and Meidani. Along the street there are shops that sell a variety of herbs, fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, bakeries and cafes. However if you are looking for organic products, the best idea is to visit the organic farmers market that takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from the morning till late in the afternoon (usually 4-5 pm) on the beautiful Georgiadis park. Here you can buy in season locally produced fruits and vegetables. We were lucky enough to find local papayas from Lasithi! We usually visit the market at noon and after shopping fruits and greens, we offer ourselves an iced coffee at the coffee shop that is located in the park.
In Heraklion we may not have identified a 100% vegan/vegetarian restaurant, but this doesn’t not mean in any way that we did not enjoy plenty of vegan dishes. Most restaurants offer several dishes that can be consumed by vegans, such as vegetable-based dishes, a variety of legumes and beans cooked in the traditional way such as baked giant beans, split peas puree, salads, olives etc. However it’s better to clarify that you do not want meat, milk, eggs and butter in your plate, as in most restaurants, the staff may not be quite familiar with the concept of veganism. Some of the places where the locals gather for coffee and / or snacks and raki, beyond the outdoor cafe in Georgiadis Park, is the Lions sq. (especially in the morning), the cafes – taverns located in Kagiampi str., an alley parallel to Kalokairinou str. and the numerous restaurants that are located close to the promenade. One traditional cafe – tavern with vegan options that we found interesting was named “Lakouva” and is located on Zotou Kosmas Street 11.The owners have created a vegan/vegetarian menu especially for those who abstain from eating animals and animal-derived products, with very interesting choices and friendly prices. Here we ate “askorvoulakous” (sort of bulbs that grow in Crete), amanitous (grilled oyster mushrooms, topped with a delicious blend of olive oil, lemon and balsamic vinegar) and falafel (ask without yogurt).For our next food adventure, we chose another beautiful place called “Lakkos” (Taxiarhou Markopoulou 41), where we found several vegan options also in very low prices. Here we had delicious homemade stuffed vine leaves (ask without yogurt) made with the traditional Cretan recipe, potato salad, beans and eggplant salad. However there are even more options such as mushrooms, greens, olives etc.
Cretan people love good food but they are also passionate with bread and bakery products. Thus in Crete one can find many top quality bakeries with a wide variety of traditional –and more- pastry and bakery products. Here there also many vegan options. For example, whenever I visit Crete one of the things I really like to eat is the traditional, fried or baked pies filled with spinach or other greens. I know, I know fried food is not the healthiest option but it is so delicious that it’s hard to resist. You will find these greens-pies both small and large size in several bakeries but also as an appetizer in restaurants. In addition, many bakeries also offer freshly squeezed juices, salads and smoothies.
The weather in the island is usually very good and allows swimming in the sea from April up to October. However, since the weather here is relatively good almost always, there are many people that choose to swim all year long. There beaches close to the city of Heraklion but they are either crowded or seem relatively less clean and they cannot be compared with the fantastic beaches in the southern part of Crete. We chose some of the beaches in the southern part of the island to swim enjoy the sun and fall asleep looking at the stars. When someone asks me what to do when he or she gets to Heraklion, I always say that of course one should go for sightseeing in the city. On the other hand, if I had to chose I’d rather spend my time exploring the hidden beauties of the prefecture such as the numerous small, wonderful villages, the magnificent lake of Votomos in Zaros, the magical lake behind the dam in Faneromeni, the unique beaches of the south, the historical caves of Matala, the mountains with the wild flowers and the rare Cretan herb species. This is what Crete actually is.