May 13, 2009

Cretans to the Left of Me, Cretans to the Right...

Hatched by Dafydd

Yeesh, it's just like in the U.S.! (Oh, wait -- the domestic variety would be cretins, a whole 'nother thing entirely.)

We set out at about 3:45 am Monday morn (or as Sachi calls it, "zero dark thirty"). Got to the airport in plenty of time and whisked through security; but even so, the gate agent was unable to change our seats to something other than "stuffed in the back like excess sardines."

When we got the reservations, we naturally arranged for seats: right ahead of the wing, a window and the one next to it. But at some point, the carrier -- whose name I will not mention anywhere in this post -- decided to change "equipment" (that is, the airplane) from a Boeing 757 to a Boeing 757 (don't ask, becuase I can't tell; I don't get it either!)

When they did, they simply dumped all the previous seat assignments and arbitrarily changed our seats to the empenage (look it up)... and of course they didn't tell us, despite having our e-mail address. In any event, even when I found out, they refused to let me change over the phone or internet; "Just tell the gate agent when you get there, and he or she will take care of it. None of the seats are assigned, so you should have no problem."

On a completely unrelated note, a pure non-sequitur, remind me never to fly Delta Airlines again.

So we bounced and rattled all the way to New York City (first leg of the trip). The same thing happened there, of course, and we were stuck clinging to the rudder again for the trip from NYC to Athens, Greece (not Georgia), second leg; this time, it was about eight and a half hours of Shake 'n' Bake. No sleep.

In Athens, we had a three-hour layover... so we tortured ourselves with some airport food -- which is every bit as savory and delicious as its American counterparts. I had a ham and cheese sandwich. It was crumby... literally, the bread was falling apart.

But at last we rode the final leg across a little snippet of the Mediterranean to Chania (or Hania) airport on the island of Crete.

I must admit, it was a dreadful flight (and I'm very much not looking forward to the return trip in a week, all alone this time... Sachi must stay here for business reasons for a few more weeks). But what's past is prolix, especially when I write it. And once here in Crete, things began to look up rather decidedly.

We're staying at a villa (actually a duplex, with a different person related to Sachi's work in the other side of the villa)... it's achingly beautiful, with a polished stone floor and hardwood ceilings, a swimming pool (too cold to swim in), and an amazing view of Souda Bay. The opalescent water here is Magritte blue; I don't know how Disney does it!

Today (Wednesday), our first full day here, we drove into the city of Hania -- second largest city in Crete, after Heraklion/Iraklion -- and we're now wandering around the Old City... a maze of twisty passages, all alike: tiny alleys (you can stand in the middle, stretch out your arms, and nearly brush the walls on each side). We saw a collection of Byzantine art, ate at a wonderful taverna (see below), and we're now at the Notos internet cafe on the waterfront of the outer harbor, directly opposite an ancient stone lighthouse.

Lunch was spectacular; we started with three appetizers:

  • Tzatziki, which is yogurt with cucumbers, olive oil, and garlic;
  • Stuffed grape leaves with sour cream, the best I ever tasted;
  • And a mixture of melted cheese, red peppers, and the ubiquitous olive oil, blended into a mixture the consistency of thick oatmeal... wonderful!

The main course (we shared one order) was lamb cooked in a savory mushroom and gouda cheese (why not feta? oh well, can't have it all). It was ambrosia to me, to stick with the Greek motif, since I love lamb.

Speaking of food, last night, in the village just below the villa, we ate grilled rabbit, some kind of sausages, and moussaka. I tried ouzo, but one taste persuaded me that I will avoid it from now on; it tastes very strongly of licorice, a flavor I just dislike for whatever reason. But the rest of the meal excelled.

We also tried raki, a snapps-like drink; according to, raki is "A brandy of Turkey and the Balkans, distilled from grapes or plums and flavored with anise." Anise also tastes a little like licorice, but it's much milder a flavoring. We got some again to wash down today's luscious lunch.

The prices are very reasonable... and you just can't beat the atmosphere. Today's lunch was in an open-air agora-like space with tarps covering it, hung all about with Greek and Turkish thingamabobs. Sure, it was touristy; but what the heck, we're tourists.

Later today, we're going to the archeological museum, and then we'll see a reconstruction of an ancient Minoan ship. The Minoans were a sea empire that predate the Hellenistic Greeks by some 1,200 years. It's possible that a great catastrophe -- perhaps the eruption of the volcano Thíra, a.k.a. Santorini -- destroyed the Minoan civilization; although Thíra was not heavily populated, it's only 70 miles north of Crete, the center of the Minoan empire... and the eruption was so staggeringly huge that it could have created a devastating tsunami that wiped out the cities and palaces on Crete. In any event, shortly thereafter, the Greeks took over the island... and a few hundred years later, they propagated the legend of Atlantis, which could be a folkloric memory of that explosion and destruction.

That's as much as is practicable or desirable in the way of travelogue; a good host always knows to leave when they still want you to stay (rather than the other way 'round)... so adios until the next time we can find internet access here.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 13, 2009, at the time of 6:22 AM

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The following hissed in response by: nk

Hey, Dafydd!

You're in my ancestral homeland. My great-great-grndfather came from Crete. Chania is a much nicer city than Heraklion. Try a drink called tsipouro also called tsikoudia in Crete which is pure white brandy made strictly from grape squeezings, unlike raki which may contain other fruits, or ouzo which is made from grain spirits.

The Cretans are all big gun nuts. Try to snap some pictures of roadsigns which have been used for combat practice. Also, ask your host to take you to a village near there where every male was killed in a blood feud (164? all told).

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2009 4:56 AM

The following hissed in response by: nk


lamb cooked in a savory mushroom and gouda cheese (why not feta? oh well, can't have it all)

They make some cheeses on the islands that you cannot find anywhere else because of the EU rules requiring pasteurization. For a Western dipping his toes palate I recommend kefalotiri, graviera, and kefalograviera. You can then go on to the more local ones.

BTW, we have a friend who is a civil engineer with the local government in Chania. That's not by any chance related to Sachi's business there, is it?

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2009 6:47 PM

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