Sunday, May 25, 2014

Santorini to Crete

There's a great little restaurant in Fira, just outside Imerovigli, called Salt and Pepper. It's a silly-seeming name for a Greek restaurant in Greece, but why not I suppose. It's a husband and wife team -- he cooks, she does the rest, and they're both responsible for its great success. His food is amazing; he shops every morning, buys the produce from the local farmers and the cheeses from the local cheesemakers, the fish and meat from the nearby fishermen and butchers. OH MY is he a fantastic cook. And she's a very charismatic larger-than-life kind of woman. When you thank her, she says with this rolling accent You're WELcome. We wanted to eat there our first night but didn't realize we'd need a reservation, so we made one for the second night. And while we were eating our dinner that second night, we paused to make a reservation for the third night.

grilled lamb chops. salad with thick, sticky balsamic and good olive oil. a Santorini cherry tomato. Amazing tzatziki.

grilled white eggplant. Santorini tomatoes, feta.

amazing saganaki

sweet little dining room

always to start: Hot dolmades. The most tender grape leaves. Incredible tzatziki.

We drove up the coast to Oia and I was terribly disappointed but not all that surprised. It was just like Disneyland, Greek version. Nothing but overly expensive shops selling all the same stuff, and crowds and crowds of people winding through them and gaping. A giant blue and white church. People rave about watching the sunset from Oia, since it's out on the tip of the curve -- unobstructed sunset views -- but we had unobstructed sunset views from our patio in Imerovigli and no jammed-up crowds of people and tourist tchotchkes. But here: Oia. (and it's pronounced EE-uh.)

church ceiling. Lots of gold.

everything decorated.

icons, gold and silver.

the church at Oia
We also drove around the countryside checking out various little places. We stopped in Megalochori for a sweet treat and got a gigantic donut, and in our quest to find Ancient Thira we instead found another black beach:

we had such a crappy little car on Santorini -- huge scrapes all over, and nearly rusted through by the other door!

here we crouched in a bit of a cave to take a picture, out of the bright sunshine

Vourvoulos -- that's the cave on the left. Beautiful aquamarine water to the right.

one of many black sand beaches -- so much volcanic rock here

our fantastic donut! the bakeries here are magnificent for the most part, though something we got at one
bakery sure made us both get kind of sick
Our last night featured one more gorgeous sunset.....

farewell, beautiful Imerovigli, clinging to the cliff over the caldera

goodbye, breathtaking sunsets in Santorini

goodbye, Oia out there at the tip

We took a highspeed catamaran from Santorini to Crete; it took about an hour and a half, and it was remarkably efficient. There were probably 2,000 people on the ferry, and we were pulling out of the port a few minutes before our scheduled departure at 6, and we got to Heraklion a bit early too.

the port at the bottom of a giant mountain

our huge catamaran -- Hellenic Seaways, thousands of people dragging suitcases

the interior of the ferry
bye bye beautiful Santorini. xo
We landed in Heraklion, took a cab to our hotel, and dashed out for dinner. One thing that's been wholesale true on this trip is that we've eaten some remarkable food. Just delicious, beautifully prepared, without exception. Until we hit this spot in Heraklion. It was top-rated on TripAdvisor but blech. It was all deep-fried in the same pot of old oil. The saganaki was like over-fried mozzarella sticks from any mall restaurant. Bad calamari. Pork that tasted like Mexican food, overly seasoned with cumin. The only thing that was good was dakos, which is a hard rusk bread topped with chopped fresh tomatoes, feta, and drizzled with olive oil.

the only thing is you have to have very strong molars

This morning we got up kind of early and took a walk around Heraklion, which we'd been expecting to be kind of blah, but we actually loved it. There's an old Venetian fort at the harbor, and of course I'm a sucker for signs that say "Theseus" and stuff like that, but it's just a gracious kind of city, quiet beautiful neighborhoods, lots of flowers everywhere.

bougatsa, with honey and nuts -- flaky pastry filled with a savory creamy cheese

where we ate breakfast -- very empty streets on a Sunday morning in Heraklion!

purple everywhere, it seemed

dark and light

and filling the sky

here's the harbor -- and that's the old Venetian fort on the far top left

Marc always loves harbors and boats

the harbor at night -- a nice place to walk, and lots of Greek kids flirting with each other

walking around the neighborhoods

yeah. I'm a sucker for this stuff.
Heraklion / Iraklion pulls at me because I've read it in Homer, it feels like an old familiar of mine even though this is the first time I've ever been here. Remember the part where Odysseus pretends to be a Cretan? As Wiki describes, the Idaion cave at Mount Ida is where Zeus was born. The Paximadia islands were the birthplace of the goddess Artemis and the god Apollo. Their mother, the goddess Leto, was worshipped at Phaistos. The goddess Athena bathed in Lake Voulismeni. The ancient Greek god Zeus launched a lightning bolt at a giant lizard that was threatening Crete. The lizard immediately turned to stone and became the island of Dia. The island can be seen from Knossos and it has the shape of a giant lizard. The islets of Lefkai were the result of a musical contest between the Sirens and the Muses. The Muses were so anguished to have lost that they plucked the feathers from the wings of their rivals; the Sirens turned white and fell into the sea at Aptera ("featherless") where they formed the islands in the bay that were called Lefkai (the islands of Souda and Leon). Hercules, in one of his labors, took the Cretan bull to the Peloponnese. Europa and Zeus made love at Gortys and conceived the kings of Crete, Rhadamanthys, Sarpedon, and Minos. The labyrinth of the palace of Knossos has the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur where the Minotaur was slain by Theseus. Icarus and Daedalus were captives of King Minos and crafted wings to escape. And later this week, when we are in the small village of Zaros, we're heading up to see the old Palace at Knossos. I love this stuff.

But even more, Crete is just so damn beautiful. I was driving and so couldn't take pictures of the incredible scenery between Heraklion and Rethymno, where we are staying for a couple of days, but if you'd been in the car you'd have heard this non-stop: "Oh my god, look over there! WOW, this is amazing. God, isn't this beautiful? I never dreamed it would be this beautiful!" It's very green and very mountainous. Lining both sides of the highway are these huge bushy pink-blooming plants that look like giant oleanders. Dusty pink, white, and then the Mediterranean. Mountains, valleys, just incredibly beautiful.

this is SO SO PALE. I wish I had better pictures of the drive.

We pulled over at a place to take pictures. The water is so gorgeous.

Just incredible scenery all around.
We're staying in this small Venetian town called Rethymno. We're in the old part of the city, closed to cars, and it's beautiful but also packed with stores and restaurants for tourists. That's not our favorite kind of deal, so we're very glad to have a car. We have a day of toodling around planned tomorrow, driving to an old monastery that was an important place for the resistance movement in WWII (they really hate Germans here, because the Germans attacked Crete and killed LOTS of Cretans, who fought hard against them). We'll also head to the southern coast, and to a bunch of spots in between. But the place we're staying in Rethymno is gorgeous; it's a 500-year-old Venetian-Turkish mansion, and we have the room at the top, which is huge -- with the bed on a loft overlooking the living room, and a beautiful private patio.

one of the little Rethymno streets

on our patio

such a nice space -- we'll have coffee out here tomorrow morning
lighthouse in the smaller Venetian harbor

looking down into the entryway of our hotel -- the name (Casa dei Delphine) refers to dolphins

the harbor
more of the harbor

Tomorrow when we're out and about I will take a LOT of pictures of the countryside. Crete is so magnificent, I just had no idea and I'm sure you don't either, unless you've been here before. More tomorrow!

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