Destinations Magazine

Escaping Italy for Recovery in Crete

By Livingthedreamrtw @livingdreamrtw
Lighthouse - Chania, Greece I never thought I'd be saying these words, but I'm really happy to have left Italy.  We had a great time, saw everything we wanted to see and then some, but by the end of our 2 1/2 week stay in the country we were mentally and physically exhausted.  So it was with great joy that we hopped on our plane to the Greek island of Crete and didn't look back. 
It is safe to say that we had very little ideas about what it would be like to visit Crete. In fact, other than one over enthusiastic friend, we were making our decision to visit purely on faith.
Lucky for us, she was right about every highlight she mentioned.  But it took a few days on the island to truly come to appreciate the differences in these two parts of the world.  In almost every capacity Crete is coming out on top, and after the following struggles we had endured in Italy, it is just what we needed.
The People
Tons of People at Spanish Steps
To be blunt, we thought an absurdly high number of the Italians we interacted with were quite rude.  Sure, we met dozens if not hundreds of insanely nice people, such as those we rented apartments with, but these are an outlier to the norm.
The major issue we had stems mostly from the service we received in shops and restaurants.  We understand that it is Italian style to be laid back, slow, and even late in just about every instance, but our ability to let it all go only goes so far.  When you get the feeling that some locals think tourism is a bother rather than a benefit, you know there are issues.
I must emphasize the word some here, because it was only select cases that this is worth mentioning.  But when it becomes frequent enough that you can remember many specific instances, there are more issues at play than an employee having a bad day.
The best example we have of this is at the local stores and mini markets.  It was very common for us to have gone into a shop, had our items ready to check out, and then be completely ignored or even bypassed at the counter while the employee was either talking to a friend or electing to help other customers who got in "line" to pay well after us.
After several minutes waiting we frequently found ourselves putting the items back on the shelf and leaving just for spite.  They clearly didn't want our money, and we were okay with that if they were.
In Crete it seems to be a different story.
Very Few People in Chania
Everyone we have met so far in Crete, from the people on the street to the shop owners and employees, have all been incredibly friendly to us.  Tourism, albeit much smaller than in Italy, does not seem to be resented at all.  People are happy to talk to us, ask where we're from, speak English (as hardly any visitor understands a word of Greek), and are more than willing to help out whenever they can.
To compare our local store experience to one in Crete, the worker at one market in Chania saw we were carrying a lot of items and came up to us with a smile on her face and a basket in her hand so we didn't have to hold as much.
It is the simple things like this that make the biggest impact, and these two places have a night and day difference.
The Restaurants
Italian Pasta
Let me get started by saying that I love Italian food. Pizzas, pastas, gelato; I can eat it all the time.  A good night out at an Italian restaurant was always one of the highlights of our day; even if dinner was often at 7:30, 8:00, or later (still haven't got used to that one).
What I was starting to get sick of; however, was the service charge.  Most restaurants in Italy charge service fees of 1-3 Euro per person regardless of how good the service actually is.  For a meal of just two pizzas, it is quite a bit of money.  For a proper dinner with multiple courses, it is relatively low percentage of the overall bill.  So it varies on how much it will truly impact your night out and budget.
Sure, you can go to restaurants that do not have service fees, but if you want to eat at the ones that have highly rated food and not be tourist traps, you'll be paying this unfortunate fee almost every time.
In one particular restaurant we were not charged a service charge, but instead charged for bread that we did not eat from (a popular fee at most restaurants, one which we completely understand).  Since we didn't touch it, and even set it aside after trying to wave it off when it was delivered, the waiter picked it up at the end of our meal and served it to another table within seconds.  Our bill, of course, still had the fee listed and was accompanied by a verbal statement of "service not included."
Of course it wasn't.  We didn't get any service with that meal at all.  He didn't have to remind us of that one more time and certainly wasn't getting any bigger tip for it.
Free Raki and Dessert
In Crete all of our meals have not had a service charge, but still have the obligatory fees for bread.  Instead of a service charge, most of our meals have ended with a free hunk of watermelon, free dessert, or a small carafe of raki liquor that is big enough for four to six shots.
You mean I pay for bread but get free food and alcohol at the end?  I can't say no to that and tip even better because of it. 
The Weather
Super Sweaty Jeremy in Rome
Italians have an incomprehensibly high threshold of pain. 
In the summer the weather in Italy gets incredibly hot and the humidity can approach 100%.  This means long days of being completely drenched in sweat.  But somehow every single apartment we stayed in managed to get by without air conditioning.
We get it, electricity is expensive and air conditioning in summer is an easy way to quadruple your bill.  (As a side note, you know it is sad when restaurants advertise A/C as their biggest special). But one of the interesting things we encountered is that only one of our four apartments even had a room fan.  Not just for us, but anywhere in the entire residence that was co-shared with the owners.
The one that did have the fan, oddly enough, was the one we did not share with the owner and was in the coolest city of the four we stayed in.
There were many nights in our Rome apartment where we literally did not sleep but an hour or two because of how excruciatingly hot it was.  How anyone else survives with a good nights sleep, we'll never know. 
Sea Breeze Saves the Day in Heraklion
But in Crete, where the temperatures are similar but accompanied with a wonderful sea breeze, things seem to be much nicer.   Our apartments and hotel rooms have air conditioning even though we don't really need it most nights (yay!), restaurants are cool even with only fans, and it is not so painful that you want to take a 5 hour nap in the middle of the day.
I guess I can't really blame Italians for their weather, but I do blame myself for not staying at places with air conditioning during this time of the year.  We already went over budget for accommodations to begin with before adding in that premium, so we didn't even consider the possibility of upgrading.
Even though this one is my fault, it makes us happy to be past it.  Heat can be a brutal adversary if you do not have any outlets to escape it.
Will the Rest of Greece Follow Crete's Example?
I just hope the next week in Greece continues with this trend.  If it does, it will be one of the top destinations of our trip so far.   Great food, wonderful people, amazing scenery, and an ability to escape the extreme temperatures?  Sounds like the perfect destination to me.
We can only hope.
(Note - I want to reiterate the point that we had a great time in Italy even though we had many frustrating moments during our stay.  On their own, none of these issues are major.  For us it was the culmination of 2 1/2 weeks of these over and over again that pushed us a bit too much.  We'll forget about them eventually, and most people won't even notice them while traveling in the country.  We're just very, very happy to be in Crete as it is almost a night and day difference from our stops in Italy.  But if our frustration stems from a cultural misunderstanding, I apologize.  We may just be missing something that no one informed us about before our visit.)
Escaping Italy for Recovery in Crete

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog