I love Crete

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July 18th 2013
Published: July 18th 2013
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I spent the first week of June in Crete. I usually only post about my longer trips but sometimes I have very nice, short breaks and these days it is almost compulsory to post your photos. What better way to prove that you have actually been there? That’s why I didn’t write a blog the last time I visited Crete. It took nearly two hours to pass passport control and at some point, I sat down and put my camera under the chair and that’s where it stayed. Maybe a travel blog is not really necessary anymore. So much nicer to just scroll through the photos on your phone.

The first time I was in Crete, we stayed around Elounde, in the hills and on the coast, visiting Spinalonga and driving into the mountains and up to the snow line. It was the beginning of April, not quite Spring yet, so there were no flowers and the water was very cold but it was mostly warm in the sun and fresh and cool in the mountains and always there was the Cretan blue sky and sea all around. I liked it and hoped that we would come back one day. Five years later, we decided to explore Chania provence on the other side of the island. And this time, I fell in love with Crete.

We arrived at the airport in Heraklion and picked up our rental car. We had rented a Suzuki Swift, one of their cheaper deals. The man scoffed at the idea of anyone driving such a small car and upgraded us to a Volvo. This practically always happens to us in Europe when we rent a car ahead with pickup from the airport. We get upgraded to something much better and still pay the cheap rate.

We took the highway to Chania, about a two-hour drive. We had a short walk into the old city from the parking lot and easily found our hotel on the harbor. I booked it online and although I paid more than we usually do, I hadn’t expected it to be so lovely. We had the Venetian room, a nice big room with two French windows that opened onto a long narrow balcony practically hanging over the water. The sort of room that you want to spend some time in and enjoy the wonderful view.

There were quite a lot of tourists in Chania. Even though it was the start of the summer season and the hordes had not yet arrived. Chania was the only place that we saw a lot of tourists. It’s a well preserved Venetian port and has lots of small lanes with old buildings, shade trees, cafes, flowers and vines climbing the walls. I loved it. We made lots of walks around the harbor and through the back streets. Very quickly, we found ourselves retracing our steps. It is a bit confusing but not very big.

We had breakfast on the balcony every morning. Sitting in the morning sun with the panorama of the harbor before us, was the most wonderful start to the day. I ate too much yoghurt on the second day. Together with all the cheese I had been eating on my salads, I made myself quite ill. The restaurants in Chania are probably OK but quite touristy and more expensive than in other places we visited. Micha found a souvlaki café he liked and had a few meals there.

I like Greek food, it just took me a few days to realize I have to go easy on the dairy. I don’t usually eat much but the Cretan yoghurt and cheese is delicious and they give you huge servings of everything. You get a great big slab of cheese on your salad and it is really hard not to eat it all. But I did learn and eventually enjoyed everything in moderation and even though I remembered souvlaki from previous trips to Greece and how much I liked it, this time I decided to give it a miss – all that fried bread and meat wasn’t for me – just in my mind, not in my stomach.

Our lovely hotel turned into something of a monster during the night. The bed was really uncomfortable. And believe me, I know uncomfortable. All those beds in India and Vietnam had nothing on this one. But breakfast on the balcony nearly made up for it, nearly. On our first morning we were sitting on the balcony and we noticed that the adjoining balcony had a pet rabbit hopping around. It was a very handsome grey and white rabbit. Unfortunately, Micha had reason to remember this rabbit later in the day.

After breakfast we drove into the mountains and visited the botanical gardens. The drive was fantastic, the view splendid, the air fresh and clean, the sun shining in a perfect blue sky. Wonderful. From most places we could see the sea. You almost feel drunk from the beauty of it – and that is before the retsina with lunch.

The botanical gardens had a very nicely placed restaurant on a lookout point. At the end of our hike around the gardens we spent some time recovering from the heat, enjoying the shade and cooling breeze but we didn’t eat there. The park itself meanders up and down the valley, but what comes down must go up – and after following the path for a long way downhill, we then had quite a difficult walk uphill but there was much to look at on the way, and we had lots of stops to admire the wide variety of plants and trees and rest breaks in the shade. It was quite a hot day, you really need the water they hand out at the beginning and a hat to keep the relentless sun off your head is also a good idea. Apart from an English family, we were alone on the path. The park has recovered well after a devastating fire about 10 years ago. It was a very interesting place. We saw plants and fruits and flowers and herbs unknown to us. We have a passionfruit tree at home, so when we came upon the giant passionfruit tree we searched for its flowers and found the most gorgeous flowers, hidden from view, underneath the leaves.

The woman in reception at our hotel had told us that there were good typical Cretan restaurants in the villages in the mountains so we continued on the mountain roads looking for a place for lunch. It was probably way past lunch time by then. But time wasn’t a factor in Crete. I didn’t charge my phone, watch TV or check email the entire week. And mostly we ate when we were hungry – which to be honest, wasn’t that often. Everything was fresh and delicious, very satisfying but also very filling and going by the girth of most of the locals also very high in calories. Yes, olive oil and honey is very healthy but when your breakfast omelette consists of six eggs fried in lashings of olive oil, generously topped with honey (yes! We saw that) and all washed down by gallons of orange juice – I would think, not so healthy. But who knows? The people aren’t that fat, just rather round, and they all look healthy and happy and carefree.

It was something of a relief to be in the mountains out of the constant wind that was blowing on the coast. Because of the cold wind the water was much colder than it usually is in June. Although the beaches around Chania were full of sunbaking tourists, there were very few people in the water. I have visited Greece many times but never swim because I always visit in the off season. This time I had an ambition to swim in the waters of Greece. But the water was freezing and apart from a few very brief dips, I can’t say that I swam this time either. Micha, the swimmer, only wet his toes.

We continued driving along the narrow, winding mountain roads, every turn inducing another “aaah, isn’t it lovely?” moment, with frequent stops for closer looks and to take in a particularly nice view. At the entrance to Vouves, I saw a restaurant and we stopped to take a look. There wasn’t anybody about, only the pony at the entrance to greet us and announce our arrival with a gentle whinny. Inside in the kitchen, we found a woman singing along with the radio and sorting vine leaves. We went outside and took a seat before the view of mountains and sea. Complete silence, except for the sound of bird song. The air was fresh and fragrant and I could pick up the scent of the roses growing nearby.

Rabbit is a specialty in Crete and Micha had fond memories of eating rabbit as a boy and how tasty it was. The restaurant owner had two dishes that day: Rabbit in wine and lamb with potatoes in the oven. So Micha had the rabbit and I had the lamb. He didn’t enjoy it as much as he thought he would. Not because it wasn’t good. He couldn’t stop thinking about the rabbit on the hotel balcony. In spite of that, we had a nice lunch with a Greek salad and a bottle of retsina. So we lingered there, reluctant to leave, toasting our good fortune at finding such a great place for lunch.

After lunch we headed back to Chania, the road descending for most of the way back to the coast through quite an impressive gorge. We spent the evening walking the harbor and streets of Chania. In the evening I wasn’t hungry so Micha went to the souvlaki place. This was our last night in Chania town. The next morning we continued our trip. We didn’t have any real plans, only a few ideas of the best direction but everywhere we went we found beautiful places and eventually stopped in a seaside town, Paleochora …

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One old man sat on a bench from early morning till after sunset, fishing. He would catch a very small fish every 5 minutes or so and then throw it back. When his daughter came to pick him up in the evenings, he always had an empty bag.

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