The tires spun but the car slowly lost all forward momentum and started sliding backwards back into the darkness. I put on the brakes and that slowed but did not stop the backwards decline. I had been dreading this moment for a few days. After an occasionally white knuckle experience driving on Crete it was the parking garage for the last hotel that looked like it had defeated me.
Our first challenge with driving on Crete was navigation. We had taken the ferry into Heraklion and had a rental car dropped off the next morning at the hotel. With some creative double parking by the rental car agent that went without incident. We drove to the ruins of the palace of Knossos north of Heraklion without incident. Since the car was dropped off with an almost empty tank we did have to find a gas station before going to far.
It was the return trip through Heraklion that vexed us. We followed the signs to the national highway but soon found our selves in unmarked streets and alleys in Heraklion. I have a very good sense of direction but the roads did not seem to go where we wanted to go. Finally I started following cars more or less at random like the main character in Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I would pick the larger road that seemed to head north and west until we finally found the national highway.
The national highway towards Rethymno had its own set of challenges. The highway is a wonderfully newly paved two lane road. That is to say that it is striped as a two lane road with one lane in each direction. It is driven as a four lane road. When you are not passing you drive with your right tire, and occasionally your left tire as well, to the right of the white stripe marking the right shoulder. There is nothing quite as invigorating as the adrenaline rush that comes from seeing a truck coming at you mostly in your lane.
The people of Crete decorate the highways with small shrines to the drivers who failed this driving test. The shrines are small recreations of Greek orthodox churches decorated with flowers and other reminders of the unfortunate driver. As a Lamborghini passed me while strattling the center line I wondered if the small Lutheran church that they might put up upon my demise would look out of place.
After surviving all of that, I found myself sliding backwards down the incredibly steep ramp of the hotel’s parking garage. Parking garages in old European towns and I don’t always get along. I was a passenger when a former boss took out the side of a VW Westfalia in a parking garage in Bremen Germany. I had nearly done the same trick on more than one occasion. Just last Summer it smelled like I burned out a clutch escaping the clutches of a similar steep and cramped garage in Nice France.
My wife and daughter got out of the car and wished me luck as I took on the ramp one more time. After a running start I found the escape velocity of the garage in Chania. My legs shook for 5 minutes with the dose of adrenaline that my body thought might help with the situation. I had conquered driving in Crete and would live to tell of the experience.