On our last morning in Chania we got up early as usual and took a norm al morning stroll around the old town. We kinda knew it was time to leave since we were getting to be perhaps a bit too familiar with our surroundings. Still, we'd really enjoyed our time in Chania, the city really spins its charms on you.
Speaking of charming, when Thomais saw us returning from our walk. She told us to wait for her before going anywhere....a few minutes later, she delivered freshly fried and delicious cheese pies to us!
Thomais told me that there are people who come back every year to Chania and stay at Madonna Studios. Based on our experience I can understand why. If we're ever back in Chania, we'll surely stay here.
While having our cheese pie and sipping some coffee we heard a commotion below......
It was a tour passing through the little cobblestone street in front of us.
The Missus decided to spend the rest of the morning relaxing with a book, while I headed off to the Archaeological Museum which is housed in church built by the Venetian's in the 16th century.
The admission was really inexpensive....2 Euros and it was a nice way to kill an hour.
We decided to get some lunch before our afternoon flight back to Athens.....it was an easy choice. We walked pass the tables of Tamam earlier in the morning, by then, the Missus had already decided to have lunch there. She wanted another crack at that avocado dip.
And yes, the Missus had keep Her "wine streak" alive.
I'd decided on having a nice salad...it seemed like the thing to order on such a bright and sunny day. I wasn't disappointed. They called this the Tamam Salad and it was simply one of the best salads I've had in a good long time. The tomatoes were so wonderfully ripe. There was a sweet-tangy dressing, that seemed a bit like a light honey-mustard. A good variety of cabbages and lettuces gave the salad a nice color and a tad of bitterness.
As you can see, it was topped with that lovely avocado dip and walnuts.......
We had more avocado dip.......
And this time we were smart enough to get some fried potatoes with it. Also, by this time, the Missus was in full swing trying to get that avocado dip recipe, which our server deftly deflected.
Keeping with our veg theme we ended with some very nicely done fava beans in olive oil topped with dill.
We had packed before heading out to lunch so we took one more walk around the waterfront.
As we walked back to pick up our bags and grab a taxi to the airport we came across the guy to the right. He worked at one of the waterfront tourist restaurants and would always try to get us into the place. We'd always turn him down with a smile and "oh, no we just ate" or something like that. If it was lunch he'd tell us, "come for dinner then...." In the mornings it would be, "come try us for lunch!" On this day, as he made his attempt to lure us into the restaurant, I told him, "oh, sorry, we are leaving in a few minutes." He broke out into a big smile and told me, "you must at least take a picture with me so you don't forget us!" So I did.......
Not that I was likely to forget about Chania anytime soon.
Returning to Athens was like going to a different planet. Gone was the blue sky, the clean air......it seemed much hotter and crowded as we walked to Hotel Tony from Symtaga Square.
After freshening up, we walked through the Plaka which was just packed to the seams with tourists.
We decided just to stick around the Koukaki neighborhood and have dinner at one of the local tavernas recommended by Tony.
It turned out to be just nourishment.......
The kokoretsi, basically lamb intestines wrapped around offal, then roasted was especially disappointing. The intestines greasy, the offal, dry, and well, awful.....
As they say....you can't win 'em all. We turned in early....it was another 5am bus from Symtaga Square to the airport in the morning. We were headed back to Antalya.....
It seemed that the trip up the mountain was more stressful for the Missus and I as the road took some pretty sharp turns and it was drizzling pretty good. A couple of times the driver had to honk his horn to get the sheep of the road.
We finally made it up to the beginning of the Samaria Gorge National Park, hoping that the gorge was open in spite of the drizzle. The gorge is closed between the end of October, sometimes through the beginning of May as much of it is under water. We paid our 5 Euros and headed off down the steep beginning of the gorge called Xyloskalo ("wooden staircase") at about the 4,100 foot level.
It's a bit slippery and steep going down. There are also a lot of signs warning about falling rocks. The Missus got really irritated when I stopped to take a photo of one of the signs. When we mentioned hiking the gorge, several people told us to be careful because every year one or two people die from falling rocks, being swept away, heat exhaustion, or plain falling. But c'mon, maybe two hundred thousand people hike the gorge every year, so I naturally scoffed. Until I read this. The gorge is often closed during heavy rains and also after 3pm. You can walk into the gorge for about 2 kilometers from either end after 3pm, but you'll then be turned around.
If you're like me and not really used to walking down fairly steep inclines, it can be a little hard on the legs. But looking up at the misty mountainside makes it worthwhile.
The main trail in the gorge is very well maintained. We even ran into one of the park rangers riding his donkey, which I guess is the local ambulance.
It's about 2 kilometers before you reach the bottom of the trail. This being early in the season, the gorge had just reopened, we had to cross the stream quite a few times.
After winding your way for about another 2 kilometers you'll come across a nicely maintained rest area. We ran into another park warden here and there were restrooms available.
There was once a church here named Agios Nikolaus and before that a temple of Apollo. The cypress that grow here are said to be over 2,000 years old. It's a good place for a short break to take in that you made it down that mountain.....
About three and a half kilometers further, you'll come to the ruins of a village.
You cross a wooden bridge and enter what's left of the town of Samaria, which was populated until 1962! The last oflks left when the gorge became a national park. I had read that it's pretty easy to see kri-kri, an endangered species of mountain goat found only on four islands....but it was no-go.
A bit past Samaria, you'll enter the gorge proper. The water sort of disappears for a while; it's going under all the rocks you are trying to walk on.
This can be pure hell on your ankles if you're not used to walking on unstable and misshaped rocks. This is basically the riverbed that you're walking on. During the winter this is all under water. We could see watermarks on the rocks as we walked over them.
There were times when it seemed like the mountains met right in front of you and the trail ended. Of course that wasn't true, but it made for some fairly dramatic photos. Because we were approaching sea level the temperature also started rising and it was getting pretty hot. I'm sure this place might be no fun during the summer. Still, the Missus was determined to make that "first" afternoon boat out of Agia Roumeli and was pushing me harder than a stagecoach driver in Indian territory. Still, I was making pretty good time....I had a secret weapon, more on that later.
There were times that the verticle walls of the gorge, stretching over 1600 feet above you almost blocks out the light. Quite dramatic....
But to be honest; at this point I was getting to be a little "gorged-out", as you may probably be reading this. I was ready for a nice cold drink.....
Soon the river reappeared and we had to cross several rickety "bridges"......
These were attached to large stones by fence wire. I guess they were swept out of place everyday and replaced every morning
After crossing the stream a couple of times we started noticing more people. These were folks doing Samaria the "easy way", actually hiking up from Agia Roumelli. This, of course meant we were getting pretty close. We especially knew this when we came upon the ultimate Samaria photo-op Sideroportes, the "Iron Gates" where the gorge shrinks to a mere 12 feet in width.
It's pretty anti-climactic after that. They check your ticket at the end of the trail, their way of making sure everyone makes it out of the gorge. You're quoted the distance to 16 kilometers, but it's actually13 kilometers to the end of the hike. The other 3 kilometers is down to the harbor of Agia Roumelli.
I did mention my "secret weapon" on the hike, right? Well, it's in the photo to my right. Early on, I found a sturdy stick. It really helped me keep my balance on the unstable rocks and the downhill walk. Both the Missus and I left our "walking sticks" at the exit of the trail. As we walked down to the harbor, I told the Missus, "I loved that stick, man, I'm actually looking forward to using a cane in my old age! And heck....maybe adult diapers ain't that bad after all...." To which She replied, "don't be stupid."
As we went to buy tickets for the early boat out of Agia Roumelli we found out that this time of the season there's only one boat from Agia Roumelli to Hora Sfakion where we needed to catch our bus back to Chania.
Now the Missus had made gorge walking into an Olympic sport to catch that "early boat"......now we had to wait three and a half hours for the "only boat". Still, I'm pretty happy to have done the gorge in four hours! So what to do while we waited? Well, the restaurants didn't look promising and we walked around the three shops, bought fluids to rehydrate, and looked at the ocean......
and looked at the ocean a bit more......
We finally made our boat, caught our bus in Hora Sfakion, and made it back to Chania at about830pm. Now we hadn't eaten but a tiny bit of food at about 7 that morning so we were starved. We'd been eyeing out Tamam Restaurant since we arrived. The restaurant located in two building across a small back street was always packed, the tables lining the street seemed less popular but were usually full as well. Well, instead of heading back to our room, we made like the little fellow to our right....right to Tamam and found the outside tables empty. We sat down...immediately!
Now if the name Tamam sounds familiar, it should be....the building that the restaurant is located in has a history as a bath...a "hamam". Anyway, you can read it here if you click to enlarge. We were really just too hungry to care. We descended on the bread, olives, and herb butter like ravenous wolves on a crispy pata!
Of course, the Missus wasn't hungry enough to forget about having wine with every meal except for breakfast in Greece......the house red was quite nice.
And of course the Missus loved the local wild greens called horta. Here at Tamam, they served a particular green called Stamnagathi, also known as Spiny Chicory. Really good stuff!
Mildly bitter with a surprising amount of sweetness.
There was one dish, that I thought was kind of strange, that I'd heard Tamam served. Something that I would never would have associated with anything Cretan. I had to order the Spicy Avocado Dip....just had to!
Man, this was good, really good! There was a bit of spice, definitely yogurt, garlic, herbs....the Missus absolutely loved this as well. We've been trying to duplicate this since we returned. Olive oil gave it some fruitiness....... The gentleman serving us told me that avocados have been growing on Crete for years, but because it's not traditional, a lot of people don't know what to do with it. Amazingly good with fried potatoes.......
Which were included with the Cretan Smoked Pork.
The pork was pretty tough and the flavor a bit underwhelming....guess I'm used to a stronger smoked flavor. So yes Ed, I did eventually get to try Cretan smoked pork and even......
The Cretan sausages also didn't impress me much.
The by-the-numbers grilled oyster mushrooms with balsamic glaze was very pleasing.
But the Kid Goat Roasted over Potatoes was why I came to Crete.
Fork tender, mildly gamey and sweet, drenched in fruity olive oil, with tender potatoes enrobed in the essence of goat.....whoa.....one of the cuts was actually the tenderloin, which was super tender.
And of course, this being Crete there's always complimentary dessert......the raki that I'd come to love as well.
Wow, we finished everything.............
We headed back to Madonna Studios, we had a key to the building. I felt really bad when Thomais was still there! It was almost 11pm! She had waited for us to return, like a worried aunt...she had even prepped some cheese pie for us. I felt terrible....but the always accommodating Thomais told me, "no worries, I am glad you made it back safely. Tomorrow, you let me know, and i'll fry up the cheese pies for you!"
There's something about Chania that just goes straight to your heart.
I know this has been one of those long posts. Thanks for reading!
Crete, and Chania specifically had worked its magic on us. we were really charmedby the town, the alleyways and cobblestone pathways that wove around the Venetian structures really took you to a different time. Especially in the early evenings when the day-trippers had left and the partyiers were taking a little siesta before a hard night. The mornings were even more fun as the usually packed areas are devoid of activity other than restaurant workers setting up for the day. There's a peacefulness that overtakes you.
The Missus and I walked through just about every street close to the harbor, just soaking in the personality of the old town. It's hard ot imagine that this part of Chania was heavily bombed during World War II, or that much of the population of the city were either imprisoned or executed by the Germans, suspected of participating in the resistance. Almost the entire Jewish population of the town was shipped off to camps during that time as well, essentially destroying what was a very long history on Crete.
Yet, the beauty and charm of the town survived......
It was a nice time to try and figure out where we'd want to have our next meal....and perhaps where we wouldn't.....
I don't think that I mentioned that a pretty impressive wall was built by the Venetians around what is now Old Town. Unfortunately, the fortifications didn't stop the Ottomans from taking the town from the Venetians in 1645.
On this morning, we headed around the city walls and into Chania proper.
So what would lead us out of Old Town? Well you know it had to do with food right? When we headed out from Madonna Studio's in the morning, I stop and chatted with Thomais, who noted my interest in food. She told me that today was "market day" and the local one was just outside the city walls in front of the fishing harbor. You know I just can't resist these, right?
I believe it's fellow blogger Lynnea, who once mentioned that the classic mmm-yoso travel post will always include farmer's markets and dogs....well, here's the proud little fellow who followed us to the market...then found more interesting folks to follow....
In contrast to the sleepy Old Town, the market was pretty busy.......
The location overlooking the harbor is quite nice as well.......
While walking through the market admiring the super fresh offerings the Missus had an idea.....
Why don't we....which of course means me, make dinner tonight? Well, I hadn't really taken inventory of what was available in our room. I did note a two top burner set-up, so the Missus settled on having a big lunch and a very, very, simple mostly veg dinner. Which was a relief to me since as much as I was tempted to try stuff like this.....
I really didn't feel up to it. So we kept it very simple.......
We headed back to our room with our bounty, then the Missus settled back in to start reading one of the books in the cabinets....book exchanges are wonderful!
When lunch rolled around, the Missus had only one thing one Her mind.......Vasiliko again. Which was just fine for me......
This time around, I ordered the calamari, just to see how it would be. The Missus isn't a big fan of the usual tough squid, but this was very tender....very, very, tender.
Of course we had the octopus....we just had too.
As we had our cheese pie and raki, one of the gentleman working here came over to chat. He had remembered us from the day before. Along with the infamous "how can you live without olive oil", we now got the "why sea salt is healthy for you" presentation.......
Opening the little container of sea salt on the table, "you know, sea salt is very healthy for you....more healthy than almost anything! I will tell you why!" I look at the Missus with an amused look, we're both just waiting for the shoe to drop. "I can take all this sea salt, pour it in water, then mix....it will dissolve, be all gone. The same thing must happen in your body....so it can do you no harm!" We look at each other, trying not to laugh. He looks at us and add the disclaimer, "of course, if any of you is a doctor or medical person, I take this all back!" You gotta love it!!!
After lunch we returned to our room, the Missus settled in,but I was wide awake. I decided to head out for provisions I needed for dinner. Along the way out I got some directions from Thomais to the local market....
I also decided to stop by the Agora, the old central market which is fairly close by........
The building that houses the market is quite impressive; built in the shape of a cross it was inaugurated back in 1913, when Crete was officially unified with Greece as part of the Treaty of London. On this day, when I arrived, the Agora was almost totally empty. It was late in the day and all the seafood vendors had cleaned up and were long gone.
Though most of the other shops were open, the place had a "ghost town" feel to it.
It was nice to walk around a bit, but I ended up going to the market to purchase, well. just a couple of bottles of wine really.
You see, when I asked Thomais about finding a market nearby, she asked me why. I mentioned needing some salt and perhaps a little olive oil. Did I mention how generous and accommodating Thomais is? Well, I was told not to worry about salt.....and Thomais also brought us olive oil pressed from her very own trees!
Does service get any better than that? Really? We popped open the bottle of red I got from the market...the Missus had a seat on the little porch under the late afternoon sun in Chania.
It was a very humble dinner........quite simple. But this was Crete and the pure and simple are savored. Of course here, the tomatoes are sold when they are truly ripe.
So what better than a simple salad dressed with fresh pressed olive oil.........
We really took our time with dinner.
Soon we finished that bottle of red and I opened the bottle of white we bought in Iraklios. It refreshed us......
We started in on the bread and cheese we bought earlier in the day. Such substance filled us up.
Our main course may seem perhaps too simple, but we truly enjoyed it. The flavors of potatoes picked the day before, zucchini, fresh, ripe, and sweet. Just simmered in water and dressed with sea salt and olive oil......something this simple would actually cost you much more here if bought from the grower here in the U.S......this actually cost us 3 Euros, farm fresh.
After dinner, we took a walk....we had hit that mellow evening time, before much of the dinner crowd had come out.
I'd always thought the lighting at twilight and dusk to be the same, but it is surely not true.....
It's easy enough to be taken by the charm of Chania to forget the history. And you can be easily overwhelmed by the history of Chania as well. Our after dinner walk took us to a street just off the waterfront and up a hill. Here we found a archaeological site right in the middle of a group of buildings and apartments. Apparently, this is the location of one of the city's original settlements on the Hill of Kastelli, where the Minoan's settled in 3000 BC.
This was a nice post-dinner walk. But of course, according to Cretan tradition, we never finished dinner! We never had raki.......luckily, I had also bought a little bottle of raki at the market. This turned out to be good stuff! And it was a nice aperitif....especially for me. The next morning we were to hike the Samarian Gorge!
Things start slowing down as evening nears in Chania. The cruise ship and day-trippers have gone and I guess the party folks are resting up for a busy night. For us, photos just seem to come to life during the twilight hours as all the haze melts away into the background.
We took a walk to stimulate our apettite and to just explore a bit.
This town sure has charm, that's for sure......restaurants and cafes seem to be everywhere, tucked into every little spot where there's room for a couple of tables.
Our visit took place before all the riots and austerity measures took effect, but there were hints of it in the air, as we saw protests on two of our nights in Chania.
For visitors like us, it can be difficult to reconcile the beauty of the town, with the difficulties of living here.......
By this time, the sun was going down and we decided to grab a small bite somewhere near to where we were.
We ended up at a very popular restaurant, noted in many of the guidebooks.
It turned out to be out least favorite meal on Crete. It wasn't bad, just not very good. Perhaps staying away from seafood wasn't the best choice.
It's very hard to feel disappointed in such a beautiful place as this......
We were kind of sad to leave Iraklios, especially after the two really nice meals we had, but it time to move on. We checked out of our hotel and walked the couple of kilometers to "Bus Station A" and bought our tickets to Chania. Compared to other cities w had quite an easy time finding our way to our hotel, even though it was tucked away down a little street a few yards from the Venetian Harbor. Once you find Plateia 1866 it's just a matter of time before you hit all the tourists and you'll know you're there.
We walked along the waterfront, past all the tourist tavernas and shops and found a quiet little side street where Madonna Studios was located.
There are 5 studio apartments in an 800 year old building that is Madonna Studios. I've got to truly say, of all the places we've stayed, this is one of our favorites. And one good reason is the hospitality. The one woman running the place is named Thomais and embodies the spirit of your favorite aunt in the world. She is kind, warm, and as we were to find out very generous. When we arrived there was a little welcome gift set out for us.
Which included apple cake, cookies, and water.......it really made us feel welcomed. The place had a small kitchenette which we ended up using and a small television which was did not use. The Missus was taken by the rustic charm of the place and immediately told me to run downstairs and take a photo of Her on the little patio.
There was another little patio overlooking the small courtyard. We ended up having coffee here in the morning, some wine in the evening, and even eating dinner here one night.
For some reason the place just seemed right up our alley..........simple, but charming.
We loved watching the tiny street below.....even when nothing was going on.
After taking our sweet time stowing our stuff and taking a nice post bus ride shower, we headed out past the now maddening crowd on the waterfront. Even though the place was crowded, the beauty of the Venetian Harbor shone through. One only needed to look out at the Venetian Lighthouse which guards the harbor, a Chania landmark.
The Missus' birthday was approaching and She decided that Chania would be the perfect place to do some shopping. Somehow, we ended up past most of the tourists, in the area near the Agora. The Missus looked into this little shop, which had opened so recently, that they didn't even have a sign yet.
It was a cute Mom and Pop operation. The owner's son was a very mellow and nice guy, and the Missus found something She liked.
The young man was so nice, we asked him for a lunch recommendation. He had a couple ofsuggestions and told us that his nearby favorite, "is not very pretty, but they make good food, is reasonable, and is even on the waterfront, but many locals eat there." Sounded like the right place! He drew us a little map with the name of the place, Vassiliko. We thanked him and with the Missus's new earrings in tow headed out past the Mosque and the Great Arsenal and easily found the little Taverna.
It was indeed not a fancy place, looking a bit worn, but there seemed to be quite a few older gentleman eating there, a good sign.
What we noticed during our visits, we made more than one, was that tourists would sit at the outer four or five tables and order something like tzadziki and a glass of wine. All the men were having some major meals.
Of course, we were in Greece, so the Missus had to have some wine.....this time the house white.
Another thing I quickly noticed were the cats. THey avoided the outer ring but were right at home past those tables and obviously knew a good thing.
We started with horta, because the Missus couldn't get enough of it, and also because the gentleman taking our order told us that we needed some vegetable to make it a balanced meal! He was a hoot and we have an even funnier story about him later.
Anyway, the horta was nicely prepared, slightly bitter, with a mildly sweet flavor.
We saw another table just going to town on the small fried fish, basically fried whitebait so we had some of that as well.
On the way from the bus station I passed two fishmarkets and there were a couple of items that looked really good. The clear waters around the Greek Isles is so breathtakingly beautiful, but it is not especially fruitful, except for a couple of animals.
The Missus is not particularly fond of octopus, but I just had to order it.
Grilled and seasoned with salt, lemon, and olive oil, this was heaven. The octopus was so tender you could cut it with a spoon! For the Missus it was love at first bite, She had never had octopus like this before and just loved it. This was one of, if not our favorite dish of the trip. So perfectly simple.
The Missus was afraid of the cuttlefish, but after the octopus She was game.
Not as tender as the octopus, but this had picked up a bit of smokiness during the grilling process.
And the meal ended in just perfect fashion for us, some cheese pie, savory and mildly salty, drizzled with honey, and some raki.......
Vasiliko was the perfect place for us, not crowded with tourists, and we could still people watch while having lunch.
Lunch had energized the Missus and She decided to make the kilometer or so walk out on the sea wall to the lighthouse.
It an easy walk, though perhaps a bit windy.
The Missus climbed up the stairs of the lighthouse to take a zillion photos. The view of Chania's waterfront from here is amazing.
Though I took this photo....wish I had a panoramic camera for the shot. It's almost too eays to take a nice photo here.
As we walked back to our room for an afternoon nap, we reflected on how really pretty this city was.
This part of Chania just seemed to be made for postcards.......
The previous night we had a wonderful dinner, a recommendation from the hotel front desk...so why not go to the well again? This time, the gentleman at the front desk took a map and drew us a path toward the southern city walls, to a place called Erganos. It was a pleasant walk, the weather was perfect for a rather leisure walk. When we hit this building, the Missus looked at the sign and told me, "this is the place."
I guess the sign did say Erganos? I dunno, I might still be wandering around Crete if not for the Missus's savant like Greek translating skills.
The restaurant itself gives one a warm feeling, it tends to wrap itself around you upon entering. Of course, this being the ungodly hour of 530pm, the place was totally empty. Though the one guy working the front was moving tables together setting up for a large crowd. Luckily, he spoke very good English.
He was very friendly and chatty and with good cheer told us that the majority of folks coming here to eat were Greek tourists and locals.
The menu itself was very interesting, not a single souvlaki or moussaka on the menu! Those items were replaced with dishes like Apaki, a traditional Cretan smoked pork, and Gardoumakia, which was explained as lamb stomach wrapped in intestine and cooked in a dill white sauce.
Of course the Missus was just happy to have rusk, which came in the bread basket.
The bread was accompanied by some very briney olives and a light, but grassy olive oil....which led to a funny conversation with our server.
While talking about the Cretan's love for olive oil we mentioned that Americans only consume maybe one tenth of the olive oil a Cretan has during a year. He gave us an incredulous look and said; "but....but....how can you make a salad....how can you cook your food?" Which had us laughing....there's no life without olive oil in Crete!
Of course the Missus was on Her mission of having wine with every lunch and dinner....in this case She went with a half liter of the white and a half of the house red!
The horta, Cretan wild greens were very good, pleasantly bitter, and the lemon added a nice acid component which lifted the dish.
Of course the Missus wanted Her Fava Skordalia, which was very nicely prepared, thick and beany, without being grainy.
I'd been wanting to have a taste of the famous Cretan snails and they had those on the menu.
The snails looked pretty small, but where actually pretty good sized when you got one out of their shell. Very meaty, but too chewy for the Missus, who loved sucking on the salty and olive oil flavored shells. I actually enjoyed these.
I was thinking about trying the splinogardoumo, a pork spleen (blood) sausage, but instead went with the fried glykadia.
These were lamb sweetbreads, crisp at first bite, then meltingly rich and creamy, it was love at first bite. Man, did I enjoy these. The Missus thought it too rich, was this really the same person who loved the steamed pig brains in Luang Prabang?
I really wanted to try some straight up lamb dish and went with the lamb with potatoes roasted over wood.
You had to work for your meat, but man this was delicious....the potatoes had been "basted" with with lamb drippings and were very tasty.
At most places in Crete, dessert is complimentary......
And came with anywhere from a small carafe or a couple of glasses of Tsikoudia, which they call Raki in Crete (versus raki in Turkey which is more like Ouzo). This was a nice version, a bit of a bite as you'd imagine from a drink made from the residue of the wine presses. We were told, that Erganos, like any good Cretan restaurant, makes their own Raki. Apparently this stuff is like 70-80 proof and is the stuff, not ouzo, that makes Greeks "dance on the table". Don't know if was the vacation thing or what, but this stuff never touched us...even the Missus who is a bit of a lightweight. In fact, I've been trying to find this since we've returned from our trip....but perhaps it's better that I don't.
As you can tell, we were eating well in Crete......
After leaving Peza, the Missus pretty much just pointed the way to go, we just kinda headed off, passing through village after village.....
Every so often the Missus would tell me, "stop....stop now...." And I'd oblige.
Of course I would stop....after all, we were in the middle of Crete, it's not like I had anywhere to go, right?
By that time, the Missus had found Her calling for this little jaunt; She wanted to photograph every single church in every village along the way.....really!
We'd be driving and She'd exclaim there's one, hurry, like the church was some kind of rare bird that would grow wings and fly away into the horizon.
After a while I seemed to enter a bit of a daze as the villages we drove through, Astraki, Mori Agarathou, Apostoli, Evangelisimos, all faded into one. We passed through the village of Thrapsano, famous for their pottery...did we stop to check out the shops? No, although I think there's a photo of the church around here somewhere.
Looking at these photos I noticed something interesting.....
Do you notice that all of the photos seem to be somewhat tilted one way or another?
The Missus would rush out of the car, set-up and quickly snap a photo, run back to the car and tell me, "ok, ok, lets go....." It's not like the sun was setting on Kastelli or anything.
By the time we hit Lyttos I was fried....plus the smell of fresh manure was strong in the air. It was surely a sign to turn around and head back.....
But not to Iraklios, oh no, weI had to find the village of Arhanes...which actually wasn't that hard to find.
We found parking above the village, then walked down the street to the very photogenic and relaxed area near the square. As we walked along, it was hard not to stop and enjoy the wonderful houses, full of plants and flowers.
It was hard not to just slow down and relax........
By the time we reached the square I was starving. It seemed that most places weren't open yet...perhaps it was too early in the season? We made our mind up on one of the restaurants right on the square. I think the name was To Spitiko, but can't be certain, after all, "it's all Greek to me....."
The place was empty and three was a very nice woman working the front of house. Of course the Missus had to have Her half liter of red wine. She was deteremined to have wine with every meal in Greece. Thankfully, breakfast was the exception....god knows if She'd tried to do that!
Of course the bread arrived and the Missus got Her "rusk".
We started with the "Spitiko Salad", which was a hefty salad featuring boiled eggs along with the standard Greek salad items. That rusk was used as "croutons" just made the Missus enjoy it more.
The Fava Skordalia was very thick though without a strong bean or garlic flavor.
The horta, boiled wild greens had a nice bitterness, though were on the "water-logged" side.
The woman recommended the Bekri Meze, literally "Drunkard's Meze", which is made with red wine.
Though the pork was on the tough side, the sauce was a nice combination of salty-sweet-spice which we sopped up with the bread.
Overall, this was a decent meal, after which we walked back to our car and headed to Iraklios. Past those scenic wine groves.....
We saw an older woman hanging off one of these tractors, probably hitching a ride to the next village on the way back. I wish we were a bit faster with our cameras....
Speaking of on the way back......one thing I noticed as we made our way into Iraklios; things looked different. We didn't pass Knossos, nor the hospital as we did on the way out of town. We were confused and perhaps a little disoriented...until we saw McDonald's (remember I mentioned the importance of that landmark in an earlier post?). Getting back to the hotel was a piece of cake after that....though we'd have to find parking on the street. If you've ever tried parking on the street in Europe you'd understand. Actually, the Missus was quite impressed with my parallel parking skills as I made it into a slot barely bigger than the car itself. It was time for a nap......then maybe i'd be ready for dinner!
We had really enjoyed our previous day in Iraklios. But the city is a pretty busy modern one, the fifth largest in Greece. Now the one reason that had me planning a stay here is the ancient Greek city of Knossos once the capital of the Minoan civilization. Located 5 kilometers from the Iraklios, it's probably the main reason tourists come here. But it turned out that by the time we arrived, the Missus had developed "ruin fatigue" and adamantly refused to visit Knossos....in other words, She said "no to Knossos."
The Missus had been cooking up another plan. She wanted to drive around the central wine region of Crete. By drive meant that I'd be the driv-er. Now having seen folks zooming around on the street, I really wasn't too enthusiastic about driving around Crete. Plus I was pretty sure that the car we arranged for was a "stick". Not really a big problem I guess, my last car before I moved to the mainland was a 4x4 and I used to drive delivery trucks and flatbeds....but it had been at least 15 years since I drove a stick. Of course, the Missus had Her own spin on the whole thing, "it's like riding a horse, right?" Of course how many times you fall off that horse when you get back on factors into the equation. "I hope you feel the same way when I kill the thing in the middle of the busiest intersection of Crete." "You are so negative....."
Of course, the natural place for such conversations would be breakfast. And we really enjoyed the spread at the Galaxy hotel. Of course, we'd not have been so happy if breakfast wasn't included, it would have been an extra 22 Euros a day and as good as it was....well, it wasn't that good!
The Missus had fallen in love with rusk, the twice cooked bread, which was as hard a crouton, but struck a nerve with Her. And tis place had an area with traditional Cretan items.
Of course, if you're a regular reader, you know the Missus loves Her eggs. Here the boiled eggs were lined up in rows, front row 3 minutes, middle row 6 minutes, back row 9 minutes. Which led to a bit of a quandary for the Missus, "I'm wondering how long the three minute eggs has been sitting in the salt......is it more like a nine minute or six minute egg?" Trying to end this mental stalemate I told the Missus, "while you're contemplating carry-over cooking, there's a line forming behind you......"
It was the orange juice that got me.........it tasted so wonderfully fresh squeezed.......I actually would have three glasses with breakfast.
We really enjoyed our breakfasts here......
When we met with the rental agent, the Missus told him, "I want a small car, one of the itty-bitty European cars, the smallest one." The agent humoured Her and gave assurances that we'd get the tiniest car available. After breakfast, we picked the keys up at the desk with information on how to find our car....it was parked on an adjacent side street and how to return it.....try to find parking on a side street. To the Missus' disappointment, the car wasn't "itty-bitty" enough, but I'm sure She forgot about that as we headed out of Iraklios, past the hospital and Knossos......and hit wine country.
About 15 kilometers out of Iraklios we passed the village of Peza. Peza is known as the central hub for Wine and Olive in the area. Right past the town we came to the Peza Union Museum and Tasting room. There was one tour bus parked outside, so we decided to stop....the Missus really wanted to taste some of the local olive oil. I read somewhere that Crete has the highest consumption of olive oil per capita in the world, something like 30 kilos per person per year!
The folks on the tour was just finishing up when we arrived, so we had the place to ourselves.
We wandered the displays showing the history of wine and olive oil production in the region and stopped to taste some wine.
Some of the wines tasted really "raw", but we found a bottle we liked and bought it. We'd later have it one evening in Chania.
Of course the Missus was here for olive oil. There were five available and the woman manning the counter talked to us about flavors and acidity.
When it came time for tasting, we asked to taste just the straight olive oil....this was when the fun started. We expected a little splash of olive oil and maybe some bread. Instead the woman poured a shot of the stuff into a little dixie cup and handed it to me! She then started pouring another cup of it for me! We frantically stopped her....man, there ain't no way I could do five good sized shots of olive oil. I guess the folks in Crete do consume the most olive oil in the world. We indicated using our index fingers and thumbs how much to give us......it surely wasn't like 2-3 ounces of the stuff. In the end, we loved the highest quality olive oil, called 24K gold and bought a bottle. You can see it in a photo on this post. Man, could you imagine me drinking like ten ounces of olive oil......... It makes for a funny story though.
After making our purchases we jumped back in the car.......the Missus now told me what Her mission was for this roadtrip...... stay tuned!
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.
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".