We arrived at the Nikos Kazantzakis (whose book I'm sure you've heard of) International Airport ready to go. The airport was indeed fairly small for an international airport. We made our way out of the airport and caught public bus #1 asking the driver to drop us at the stop near Dimokratias Avenue. The hotel we were staying at was outside the city walls, but Iraklios didn't seem like that large a city and we were a bit away from the main tourist tract. Many of the signs were just in Greek (ελληνικά) so we were a little confused. I stopped and asked the very tall soldier with the big gun (there were a couple of riots recently) and he smiled and pointed us on our way. By its looks the Iraklios Galaxy looks like a business hotel, but the room were probably the most modern of our entire trip, most unlike the B&B stops we had. It was fairly large, had great A/C, the television actually worked and had the BBC....and the Missus loved the breakfast (more on that later).
Several of the staff here were very nice and we depended on their recommendations for two of the best meals we had on this trip.
Staying the in nice air-conditioned comfort of our room was tempting, but hey, we were in Crete! So after freshening up we headed down the road parallel to Dimokratias, Ethniki Antistaseos past the McDonald's (this will be important in a later post), down to the harbor and past Bus Station A, which is where we'd have to catch our bus to Chania in a couple of days, all the way to the Old (Venetian) Harbour.
Which leads to the Koules Venetian Fortress which was called "Rocca al Mare" or Sea Fortress by the Venetians.
I've read both that the fortress held out for over 20 years of attacks by the Ottomans and that it played little or no role in the invasion. Which is true, I'm not sure. But under Ottoman rule it became a prison.
Under the influence of the blue sky and ocean I guess it's pretty easy to get in touch with your inner child....or perhaps the sun was getting to the Missus......
By this point we'd made it down the shoreline to the Historical Museum of Crete.
The Museum is small but interesting. It also has the famous painting Modena Triptych by El Greco who was born Doménikos Theotokópoulos in Crete. I also loved all the different Coat of Arms of the Venetian and Greek aristocracy in first Chandax, it's name during the Byzantine Greek era, then Candia when it was bought by the Republic of Venice.
After being refreshed by our visit in the cool confines of the museum we headed back out. The Missus was searching for the Morosini Fountain in Lion's Square which was built in 1628. We headed in the general direction of the center of the walled portion of the city, up streets, then back down street, sometimes turning around at dead ends....part of the fun is the trip, not necessarily the destination. And in this was certainly true in this case as the fountain itself was a bit underwhelming for us.
Just off to the side of the fountain is 1866 Street, named after the year of the famous Cretan uprising against the Ottomans. The narrow pedestrian street that is the site of the Central Market. There are tons of stands, restaurants, and shops along the street. This is where I got my first glance of the famous Cretan snails which was supposed to be delicious.
Eventually we turned around and headed back toward the hotel, cutting right through the middle of town and out through the city walls. Back at the hotel we asked the really nice gentleman at the front desk for a recommendation for dinner. He recommended a place called Pantopoleion, where he oftens dines after work.
The name was said to mean "Market of good tastes" or something like that and we were told it was right down Ethniki Antistaseos, the street we had walked down in the morning. However, I could not, for the life of me, find the place. Until the Missus saw a sign that said "ΠΑΝΤΟΠΩΛΕΙΟΝ", and told me, this must be the place. Now how the heck She got Pantopoleion from that I'll never know, but we found that She had a knack for reading street and business signs. And She was without a doubt right in this case.
You want to eat at a popular restaurant in Greece? Go around opening time and there won't be a soul in the place, as was our experience here. Of course, the Missus immediately ordered some house red wine.
Our next challenge was when we were handed our menus. This was indeed more of a locals place....the entire menu was in Greek....with no translations! This was really funny....it really was "all Greek to me!" Lucky for us, the young lady serving us, whose name was I believe "Helene" was so funny, good natured, and full of pep, decided that to get maximum enjoyment, she would read and describe the entire menu to us...all four pages, well three minus drinks! And so she started with an "ok lets go...." Laughing all the way, we asked her to stop and with a few hints, asked her to order for us and she proceeded to bring us what was probably one of our top three meals on this trip.
Of course everything started with bread.....
The Missus had already fallen in love with "rusk" the twice baked bread that is very crisp and toast like.
Helene arrived with a sampling of cheese she selected for us.
The two thin slices on the top were just plain fantastic, intensely flavored, just plainly great. When we mentioned this, Helene beamed and told us that this cheese isn't on the menu. It's a local artisan cheese that they use in another dish she ordered for us, but it's flavor is so unique she decided we should taste it.
The roasted vegetables with fresh tomatoes and goat cheese was quite delicious...this is where the Missus started eating roasted vegetables every couple of weeks.
The least favorite dish of the evening were the stuffed mushrooms.
Stuffed with something that tasted like panchetta, these weren't bad, but paled in comparison to this:
Horta is what the Greeks call wild greens and there are literally hundreds of varieties. We'd come to really enjoy simple Horta Vrasta, simple boiled wild greens, never knowing exactly what we'd get, but tasty all the time. Funny that the first taste of horta would be in the form of very tasty fritters paired with goat cheese.
But my favorite dish of the night was the pork chop stuffed with the cheese we'd tasted on the cheese plate and sun dried tomatoes.
This was so tasty and as far form the "other white meat" as you can get. It had that great pork flavor and the flesh near the bone was barely opaque, as it was moist and cooked to perfection. Even the Missus, who had sworn off pork ages ago couldn't help but have a couple of slices and gnaw on that done. It was one of most memorable dishes.
It was a fantastic dinner, thanks to this young lady:
We would come to love the traditional digestif that accompanies dessert (usually free) which is normally a cheese pie. It's called Raki, the stuff "that makes you dance on the tables if you drank enough". Made from grape skins, it has a nice bite, but goes so well with sweet-creamy-mildly savory items. Usually something like this would KO the Missus....but for some reason, having all that wine, then finishing with Raki never touched Her in Greece.
As we were leaving Helene gave me a copy of the menu......the all Greek menu that we could keep "to remember".
Pantopolian Gefseon (ΠΑΝΤΟΠΩΛΕΙΟΝ ΓΕΥΣΕΩΝ)
Ethniki Antistaseos 72
We had spoken about returning for dinner the next night, but were told that they were closed on Tuesdays. I'll make sure to drop by if I'm ever back here.......
After doing some post-dinner walking we returned to our room. As I looked out onto busy Dimokratias from our balcony, I thought to myself, "man do I love Crete......"
Thanks for reading!