After our last big breakfast at the Lató, we packed up and set out on foot for the bus station at 10:00, giving ourselves more time than we needed to make the 10:45 bus. Taking our luggage down the public stairway turned out to be a good deal easier—big surprise!—than taking it up had been when we arrived on Saturday. We were at the station in plenty of time to buy our tickets, and when the bus arrived we found and boarded it without adventure or misadventure.

As I’ve already mentioned, we had decided not to take the bus all the way from Iráklio to Sitía, for reasons based on the delicate state of my personal plumbing (significantly improved since that time by surgery I had a few months after this trip was over.) We had asked Yánni Soldatos—the proprietor of Sitía Taxi, whom we had previously engaged to take us from Sitía to Káto Zákros—to meet the bus instead at Ágios Nikólaos, a scheduled stop almost halfway between Iráklio and Sitía.
Partying in Mália
The northern shore of Crete, west of Iráklio, is full of resorts and resort towns, and the bus alternated between the limited access highway and an older road where passengers could be picked up and dropped off. This beach-rich area is popular with tourists from Britain, and signs in English at times seemed to outnumber signs in Greek. (I remember seeing a couple that touted the Robin Hood Pub.) Both our guidebooks sounded warning notes about visiting Chersónisos and Mália—the Lonely Planet Guide complains about “the worst elements of young British holidaymakers” now coming to Crete, and continues, “Crowded and noisy, Mália is full of pubs, bars, tacky eateries, and sunburnt topless Brits hooning around on quad bikes, making it seem like one big fun park (or nightmare).” The Rough Guide, published a couple of years later in 2010, says, “Vast crowds of 18-30s—many in organized groups—stagger between the bars and clubs, and while the worst excesses of past years have been left behind, you do still get the odd confrontation.” The picture above, taken in 2012, shows what must have been a comparatively restrained affair.

Mália also has one of the four known Minoan palace sites, fortunately some distance from the modern town. I doubt that its ruins would have attracted many holiday-maddened skinheads, but we hadn’t been able to fit it conveniently into our itinerary, and decided that three out of four palaces—we were now bound for our third, at Káto Zákros—would suffice.
Ágios Nikólaos
When we arrived at Ágios Nikólaos, I was ready to find the men’s room, and did. We were in Crete’s fifth largest city, a picturesque place as this Wikipedia picture shows, and according to the guidebooks there are some interesting things to see. However, the Rough Guide emphasizes the city's dedication to “upmarket tourism”—not a world we were eager to explore. We had already stayed in the three largest cities (Iráklio, Chaniá, and Réthymno, in diminishing order of size) and before leaving we would spend a few days in Sitía, the sixth largest.

Yánni's taxi
Number four, Ierápetra on the southern coast, wasn’t on our itinerary at all, nor can we really count Ágios Nikólaos, where all we did was change from one vehicle to another. The bus paused for 15 minutes, so it would have been possible for me to find relief and get back on, but the steep and crooked path to Sitía would have slowed down the rest of the journey, and we were glad to make a change to the comfort of the taxi and the company of Yánni, who was waiting for us at the bus station. He was with an old friend of his who had returned, as he does every summer, to revisit his roots in Sitía. Today he was along for the ride.

And it was a gorgeous ride. We drove south and then east from Ágios Nikólaos, skirting the gulf or bay of Mirabello—obviously named by the Venetians; it comes out in Greek to Mirampélos, since the sound of b, which long ago changed to the sound of v in Greek, can only be produced in Modern Greek by putting an m in front of a p. (Aren’t you glad you know that?) The Italian name, based on Latin mirabilis, means ‘wondrous,’ or ‘of wondrous beauty’ and is now pretty much limited to French and Italian women’s names, though it was used for places in the Middle Ages.
The 'wondrously beautiful bay' of Mirabello
When the road turned northeast and began climbing the mountains on that shore, the gulf fully lived up to its name. Yánni stopped at a place called Plátanos with a famously spectacular view: in this picture you can see Ágios Nikólaos as a white blur on the far shore (reminding us, jointly with the bay, why blue and white are the Greek colors par excellence), and at the right you can see the tip of Psíra, a small island once home to a Minoan seaport. That was destroyed by the earthquake that toppled the palaces in 1450 BCE, and Psíra was later the site of a Roman lighthouse and a small military post. It is now without fresh water and has been uninhabited for centuries—perhaps since the Romans left—although modern archaeologists have put in some digging time there.

Plátanos, according to the Rough Guide, has two tavernas. We know that there was at least one, because we stopped for cool drinks there. Dorothea’s notes describe the site as a “panorama,” and since Panorama is the name of one of the tavernas, it’s probably the one where we stopped. We talked to a Greek man there who had spent some of his years living in Washington, DC.

The road turned inland, and in due course we arrived at Sitía, which we passed through without stopping and continued on our way to Káto Zákros. The route we took seemed roundabout, but its only alternatives were tiny roads that wound their way across the mountains and for all I know may have been unusable in some places by anything with wheels. We left the choice of route to Yánni’s wisdom and experience.
Zákros from above
He got us to our destination at about 3:30pm—less than 5 hours after leaving Iráklio, and that span includes our stop at Plátanos and a second stop we made, on Yánni’s advice, at Zákros, the permanent town 5½ miles inland from (by road; birds find it much shorter) and hundreds of feet above the seasonal town of Káto Zákros. The latter name means ‘lower Zákros,’ and the parent town is sometimes called Áno Zákros (‘upper Zákros’) by way of distinction, but just plain Zákros seems to be most common. Despite its superior size and year-round occupation, the upper town (as a few minutes with Google is enough to demonstrate) attracts fewer photographers than the lower. I did find this small hiker’s-eye view that shows what it looks like from the mountains overlooking it.

In Zákros, Yánni took us to a grocery store, explaining that we’d be unable to buy groceries down at the shore. We were planning to eat all our meals at the Akrogiáli tavérna, whose owner was renting us our room, but we bought some bottled water and some fruit juice, as well as paximádia, butter, and honey for light snacking. Later, we were slightly embarrassed to carry these purchases past our host when he was showing us to the room, but they never caused us to miss a meal in the tavérna. Anyway, I'm sure Yánni wouldn’t have advised us to do anything that might have annoyed Níkos; they're old friends. On our way, Yánni had told us that, every year, he, his friend, and their wives spend a summer night in Káto Zákros when the moon is full, to feast at the Akrogiáli and watch the moon rise over the sea.

We said goodbye to Yánni and his friend. We had arranged for him to return three days later to take us back to Sitía, where we would spend our last few days in Crete.