Travel to Villa Koukouvayia FAQs
Many people ask about the (rather romantic) notion of coming to Crete by ferry. The ferry is an amazing experience, and I’m glad I’ve done it enough times to NEVER do it again. It’s long, subject to weather delays/cancellations, and unless you pay for an overnight cabin, you will most likely end up sleeping on the (interior) decks with the other 3,000 people who couldn’t afford (or couldn’t reserve—they’re limited) a cabin. The scene feels like a refugee center two days after a natural disaster hits, with everyone wearing the same scent from Estee Lauder: “Eau de Dead Goat.”
Most importantly it will eat up at least a day of your itinerary.
The other option is the Dolphin (i.e. “Fast”) ferry. This will not eat up a day of your itinerary, in fact ‘eating’ up anything for you will likely not happen for three days after you stumble onto dry land at the trip’s end. These things look like James Bond villains’ boats, and travel over the sea at incredible speeds. Try to imagine being in a burlap sack tied behind Lewis Hamilton’s rear suspension during the F1 race at Monaco, but if the circuit was paved with charmingly large cobblestones. It really wouldn’t matter if there was a large lounge chair or stadium sized flat-screen TV playing non-stop Rap-Music Booty-Call videos in the burlap sack, would it?
Nor does it matter if you’re one of those people who can claim “I never get sick at sea,” unless you’re also one of those people who can claim “I never get sick watching 75 other people get sick at sea, quite often right in front of me, and quite often onto me.”
And all kidding aside, the two final blows to ferry travel (either the slow or fast options) for you is that they have the most arcane, incomprehensible online ticketing system I’ve ever seen, AND it will be almost impossible to in any way to speed your departure from the mainland to Crete vs. the late flight at which you were originally balking. The ferries to Crete tend to be overnight, and the ground transport time between Athens airport and Piraeus (the usual ferry port, although there might be a ferry out of Rafina, which is closer to the airport) is long and not cheap. So you won’t likely advance your departure time, in case you were considering the ferry as a “quicker” option to avoid a long airport layover.
So, the only reason to take the ferry is to have an ‘authentic’ Greek travel experience; or, if you’re extremely lonely, to acquire the following charming answer to the future question of: “Mommy, how did you meet Daddy?”
“Well, dear, even though Mommy was not a refugee and had a passport and citizenship to a first-world country, she was on a steamer sleeping on a floor next to a hundred complete strangers who were snoring and needed shaves when the ship took a queer swell on her starboard beam and rolled hard to port. One of those stranger’s arms fell over me; and that was Daddy. And nine months later, you were born!”
- If pre-booking, ask for “airport pickup and drop off” so an agent meets you when you leave Baggage-Claim. This is by far the easiest, and most efficient way to access a rental car.
- Before you release the agent, remember that, historically, Cretan rentals take a beating and get little service. Check car tires, lights, etc.; and check tank. The rule “Leave tank as found,” often results in an empty tank, and will burn you if you pick up late and gas stations are closed. L
- Or the opposite, this quaint history of renting a car that’s been beaten like an island mule is now changing, sometimes to the renter’s detriment. We hear more and more stories where rental car companies are recording “damage” on returned cars in a way that comes suspiciously close to simple “use.” If the agent insists on reviewing the car with you at delivery, do so, and take pictures of any, even slight damage, and note the description on the contract—especially if the agent does not note that damage first.
- Also, on the rental contract you will most likely sign a promise not to take the car “off-road”—quite surprisingly even for ostensibly “off-road” rentals like Jeeps and other 4x4s and SUVs, which you’ve chosen precisely so you can get “off-road.” Keep in mind that what “off-road” can mean to the rental company is just a “dirt” road, even a well established and public way. That includes the road (almost every tourist in their rental car takes) to Balos, and the parking lot at Elafonisi. Keep that in mind as you explore the island, where many of the roads are well-graded, easily travelled, but dirt, and if you do have a problem or flat, hire a private tow-company to get you back to the paved section, and then call the rental car company.
- And be aware: Like Olympic runners with lousy shoes, rental car SUVs and 4x4s with crappy tires can not go or do what they were designed to go and do; and rental car companies rarely pay the cost of fitting those vehicles with good, off-road tires. So, while it’s tempting to rent one of these vehicles and suddenly believe that you’re George of the Jungle or King of the Wildebeests, be careful about dashing truly “off-road” and following some rutted tractor path to a secluded beach. You may end up stuck there like Tom Hanks, with no one to talk to for years (your passengers will not be talking to you any longer) but a volleyball.
- Especially on the National Road between the northern cities, lane-lines are suggestions more than rules. The National Road might look like a two-lane highway, but it’s actually four lanes, made so by everyone in the slow lane staying right and straddling the (so-called) “emergency”-lane, thereby allowing faster cars to easily pass (even in the face of oncoming traffic), which they do, putting on their left-signals to warn the oncoming traffic they’ll be drifting a bit into their lane.
If you come from a culture that sees all rules as absolute rather than contextual, splitting lanes will appear unsafe. And it is, if only a few do practice it, and the other cars don’t expect it. So here, it’s only unsafe when scared first-time tourists don’t understand what’s going and fail to practice it, or Americans (who think of lanes as property and defend the space at all costs) fight it.
- Unfortunately, you must be careful of taking advantage of this trick and passing others. Unless you’ve rented a beaten-up farm-truck with two goats in the back, you could be subject to one of the few cases where Crete takes advantage of tourists instead of welcoming them. During the tourist season, the police have been known to put their coffee down, leave the café, and set up shop on the National Road, targeting the easily distinguished rental cars and clipping the contextually innocent drivers for doing what everyone else is doing: “overtaking” illegally. And in those cases, the consequences are rough—pulling your license and not releasing it until you pay a €600 (that’s not a typo) fine.
So, make sure when you do pass, it’s one of the many places on the national highway with the dotted lines, where overtaking is okay.
- In most cases, knowing if someone’s capable of driving a car involves a simple question: “Can you drive a manual transmission, or do you need an automatic?” In Crete, the question is: “Do you have a fear of heights?” Cretan topography is dramatic, and—speaking in geological time-frames—almost fluid. There are roads everywhere, but other than the length of National Highway along the (relatively) flat northern coast, the roads must bend, rise and fall with the landscape, and they do all three with a passion, sometimes without pavement. And just as people living at the equator don’t have words for “snow,” Crete doesn’t seem to have words for “Guard-Rail.”
But every price has its rewards, and those same roads, when driven carefully, will take you to places and views otherwise available only in dreams.