Friday, May 30, 2014

Chania and mountain roads

It's so funny, the question of connectivity on vacation. I remember once sitting in an upstairs open-air lounge overlooking the South China Sea in a small little village in Vietnam being fully online -- and fast, too. I remember sitting in a cafe in a little village at the base of Macchu Picchu, looking out the window at a giant statue of an Incan warrior and listening to pulsing house music and being on superfast internet. A little place we regularly go to in the lower Catskills? No internet connection available. And here in Greece--EUROPE--inconsistent access to the internet. It's been a few days since I was able to post, so this will be a picture-heavy catchup.

In the last post we were in Rethymno, always referred to as one of Crete's most picturesque cities. It is, I suppose; the harbor is pretty, the Venetian stuff left hanging around is pretty, but it's a packed-in tight tourist center. Stall after shop after cafe after store packed with tourists, and selling touristy souvenirs. This continues to be disorienting to us because we rarely go places like this. We're usually the only people around who look like us. In Rethymno, we very much enjoyed the beautiful place we stayed, and we enjoyed driving around in the countryside south of Rethymno, but the city itself not so much.

here's our little Crete car -- we rarely saw other drivers so it was easy to stop whenever we wanted

Crete is all mountains and valleys

in the countryside, the roads are lined with these gorgeous yellow-flowering plants

for some silly reason, Greek highway graffiti cracks me up.

the little homes in the villages often look like this -- draped and dripping in bright flowers

We stopped at the Arkadi monastery, an important site in Greek history.
Rather than surrender to the Turks, the Greeks blew up their ammunition stores
killing everyone in the village, themselves AND the Turks. Only one young girl survived.
These are some of the skulls of Cretan people (pronounced kreh-ten, not KREE-ten)
in an ossuary on the monastery grounds. Greek visitors came into the room
bowing in reverence, crossing themselves three times. You don't really mess
with Cretans in time of war. They are TOUGH people. Look up the history
of German invasion on Crete in WWII.
Driving on the mountain roads is lots of fun -- I'm doing all the driving for a number of reasons and I keep thinking about being in a video game. I think my biceps are getting stronger and my hands are getting calloused; left right left right hard hairpin to the left hard hairpin to the right OH NO there is no guardrail OH NO the mountain has slid onto the dirt road and there's just a bit of road left on the edge hard hairpin to the right left right left right left right hard hairOH NO no road.....  It's loads of fun, especially since we almost never encounter other drivers, but it does require a lot of attention and focus which makes it tiring after hours of driving. And it takes hours of driving, because the roads are all like this.

Driving from place to place often takes us down what are surely just alleys that will surely lead into someone's garage or workshop, but's just the road through the village. The paved road will end and we're suddenly on a little dusty unpaved path going up or down the mountains, and we'll think we got off track somewhere, surely we're not meant to be driving here, and eventually the paved road reappears. It's the most fun driving I think I've ever done.

When we left Rethymnon, we took the long, scenic route to Chania which is also described as one of the most picturesque cities in Crete. And it is -- and it's another harbor town with Venetian ruins, remnants of WWII bombings, and tourists. It was less packed-in than Rethymno so I liked it more, and again we adored the place we stayed -- an old Venetian-era home restored to a small hotel (three rooms) but we mainly spent our time there driving in the countryside. Mama Nena, the hotel, was just like a home, and the breakfast spread was so huge it kept us full all day. That didn't stop us from visiting little tavernas in the mountains for lunch, of course. I'm going to have to get on a hard diet when we get back.

the red building is our hotel, and we have the only balcony overlooking the harbor

such a nice place to sit in the mornings and evenings

OH we stopped at this one taverna, no idea where, but it was amazing. The smell of lamb roasting on the fire
drew us in. There were waterfalls all around where we were sitting, and the woman who served us
filled the water picture from a spout sticking out of the mountain wall behind us.
Marc got roasted lamb and I had my daily Greek salad. It's ALWAYS good. Always.

I love this landscape, it takes my breath away.

and I always love coming upon windmills, like wackadoo giants waving their arms at me

We ate dinner at this charming little restaurant in Chania, Terpiti, and had the best appetizer I've ever had.
Bougiourdi, a small dish of feta and fresh tomatoes and chili peppers in olive oil, baked until it's bubbly. YUM.

no idea which taverna, which lunch -- could be any of them. Greek salad, a basket of bread,
a Mythos or Alpha beer for me.

we stopped all along the way, and whenever we saw a walking path if we thought it looked promising
we'd just park where we could and walk as long as we could. Never saw another person.

but we saw and heard lots of goats and sheep, and on rare occasion a shepherd standing nearby.

this dessert was fantastic, but how bad could fried puffs of bread drizzled in honey be, anyway?!

so Greece. Blue skies, white churches, the Greek flag.

outside of Chania there are miles of orange groves. Miles and miles of them. Little old women all dressed in black
sitting next to roadside stands selling big bags of oranges, or glasses of fresh orange juice.
But at 2 euros/glass of juice, it was never a bargain.

the lighthouse in the Chania harbor

ah, here's that lamb roasting over the fire, at that taverna! Blogger's not good or easy at picture uploading.

oh, hello mountain goats trying to cross the road.

this dude walked around Chania holding a little sign that said FOTO.
I felt very sad to leave Chania; I'd lost one whole day in Rethymno to a bitter cruel headache and perhaps that influenced my feeling about it, but I much preferred Chania to Rethymno. When we left the hotel, the owner Matina and her assistant Diana hugged us and kissed us, and stood at the door waving goodbye. They'd told us it was a house, to feel at home, and it felt like leaving home as we walked away with our suitcases.

From Chania we drove through the mountains again to Zaros, a small village on the slopes of Crete's highest mountain, and an ancient (and current) source of great spring water for Crete. Unusually, the skies were cloudy and in fact in the evening there were long rolling thunderstorms. As we were leaving Chania, Matina said no, it wouldn't rain, there would just be dust from Africa (just south of Crete is Libya). But it did rain, and a beautiful long quenching rain, too. I'm glad it didn't rain while we were driving on the little mountain roads.

we stopped at this gorgeous little taverna in Spili for lunch. The food was very good, the place was
gorgeous, but YIKES the two women who worked there were scary! One was just an old scowling angry-
seeming woman, and the other younger woman looked like she'd just as soon break your arm. But
isn't it a beautiful place?

I wish I'd taken pictures of these from the start; every little bit, along the roads, are these little
church structures. They each look different, but there's always a cross on top and stuff inside.
I'm not sure of their use or purpose, but they are everywhere.

uncharacteristic (for this time of year) cloudy skies

enlarge this -- that's a gorge-type gap. Crete is well-known for it's beautiful gorges; it seems to be
one of the main tourist draws of Crete, hiking the gorges.

here's another style; this one just seemed to be a model of a church.

we're staying at Eleonas Cottages in Zaros, and the grounds are thick with
fruiting trees, herbs, and flowers.

we walk through this to get to breakfast

this makes me LAUGH -- the 'gym.' In Crete you work out underneath olive trees.

a beautiful setting for breakfast

Greek yogurt and honey. It's like eating the richest ice cream. I could eat it every day for the
rest of my life.

not a fan of yogurt, Marc selected the other traditional breakfast foods

such gorgeous flowers everywhere
We're about to head to the Palace at Knossos, and I expect to be so happy I lose my mind. My book club just read a book about the decoding of the Linear B script, and I've always daydreamed about seeing Knossos. I'm sure there will be a little roadside taverna and a Greek salad for lunch in there somewhere.

Boy. Come to Crete. It's such a beautiful place. I'm so happy we've come here, and I've loved every single minute of it (except for the headache day). It's a strange vacation for us, and crazy expensive compared to our usual destinations -- I doubt we'll ever come back, so I'm soaking up every second with a big smile.

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