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".