May 16, 2009

Our Big Fat Greek Wedding Party, part α

Hatched by Dafydd

Crete is a sympony of thundering dogs, tumpeting roosters, yowling stray cats, baying fishmongers, and loadcasting Greeks gathering with friends to discuss the day's triumphs and defeats over homemade Greek salad, heavy bread, and handrolled cigarettes. At this season it's chilly in the dawn, steamy in the sultry afters, noisy and cool at night.

There is no morning; or if there is, nobody observes it. The day begins at noon, as the restaurants open and the stores flip their signs. Even the shade is bright, caroming off the cushion of brightly painted buildings (primary colors) to sink in the eye pocket. Greece is a typical Southern European country with lusty men who yet produce few children, hot-tempered men and women who yet don't fight: It may be too hot, or else it's too humid, or then again it may be too cold.

Picking up where we left off in Chania, after leaving the internet cafe, we set off for the inner harbor -- past the Mosque of the Janissaries (with its hideous concrete dome, it looked less like a house of worship than a kiosk dispensing travel insurance), hooking east towards the restored arsenals. I was hot to see a promised carefully reconstructed Minoan galley (ca. 1500 B.C.); but we had to wait... for a reason never clearly explained, the museum opened at 10:00, closed at 3:00, then reopened at 6:00 and closed again at 9:00. As we were still in the window of darkness, we decided to eat dinner first.

Taking the advice of the Rough Guide to Crete, we dined at Apostolis 2 (just three doors down from the original, Apostolis 1). There we split a fried-fish platter and the omnipresent Greek salad (tomatoes, cukes, and a feta cheese much looser than I'm used to having). Everything was excellent; and as with the lunch restaurant, they served free and unexpected dessert. This time it comprised two items (mixing and matching was in order): figs preserved in heavy syrup, and yogurt accompanied by a different syrup, this one made of rose petals. Each was more delicious than the last. Raki -- brandy-like wine fermented from the skins and stems left over from grape pressings -- was also freely handed out (as at nearly every Cretan restaurant, taverna, and cafe).

Every meal we've had in Crete so far has been accompanied by fried potatoes (we would say "steak fries"). The waiter at Apostolis asked Sachi if she wanted fries; always wanting to know her options, Sachi asked what the choices were besides fries. "Fries or no fries," explained the waiter succinctly.

We had plenty of fish left over, so we had it for breakfast next day. I should take a moment to describe it more fully (if it seems I'm dwelling on the food, that's only because it's one of the facets of travel I love best). The basket contained a mix of shrimp, squid, red snapper, sardines (sardella), and a slightly larger fish than the last, with an orangish tint. There was also octopus, but that alone was grilled instead of fried. The snapper had bones that required surgical extraction; but for the rest, one simply pops the entire beast into one's mouth -- head, tail, gills, suckers, tentacles and all -- and grinds away with one's molars.

In the morn, we decided to do some local exploring. We had noticed a sign in the village from which the mountains of villas sprout; "Ancient Aptera 2 km" it read. Since a major reason to visit Crete is to ponder the Ozymandian collapse of ages past, we decided to see what Ancient Aptera entailed.

Driving through scenic, rolling hills of scrub and some greenish-purple, heather-like plant, past the modern Aptera (relatively speaking), we eventually found the archeological site in question. What astonished me was the aeonic range of architecture. The oldest ruins were from the 8th century B.C., before the Hellenic period of Greece; but there was also a monastery dating from more than a millennium later at the same site! Shortly thereafter, Ancient Aptera was destroyed by an ancient earthquake... else I'm sure it would still be there, its taverns asking customers whether they wanted fries or fries with their mousaka.

The site includes Greek burial chambers; a Byzantine fortress; a Persian fortress; Roman sisterns; Christian churches dating from when Arthur War Duke still reigned over parts of England; Venetian and Florentine coins; Ottoman cannon emplacements; and Nazi pillboxes. It was well worth our expedition (we could even have walked from Villas Manos), but our presence was required in Chania once more.

For lunch, we returned to the scene of the crime, Apostolis, with a couple of Sachi's accomplices and had temera -- I think -- which is a porridge of yogurt, fish roe, and olive oil, along with souvlaki -- shish kabob, more or less. After some more sight-seeing (while I was at the internet cafe again), it was time to drive back to the villas.

Driving in Crete is a true adventure, particularly in the cities. First off, in Greece generally, speed limits are what separate locals from tourists, and the center line is only a suggestion. One drives at the right edge of the lane; when a car inevitably races up behind, one pulls further over until the right wheels are actually in the emergency lane. I think the reasoning is that the impatient chap is going to pass you anyway... so you might as well make it quick and painless, with a minimum of driving on the wrong side of the road, by giving as much room as you can.

In general, Cretans seem to be good (or at least skilled) drivers; but today, en route to the small town of Kalive, the cops went roaring past us on the National Road; a kilometer further along, we saw a car flipped upside down in a ditch along the right side, with police trying to extract the driver -- or at least ascertain whether it was a rescue or a recovery. So it goes. Sachi was nervous behind the wheel for the rest of the day.

It appears impossible to obtain a proper street map of any Cretan city, likely because the streets change names every couple of blocks (like in Ireland). But it would be useless, since next to none of the streets have visible steet signs anyway. Those few that do are sometimes labeled in both Greek letters and Roman script; but the most important always seem to be the former only. While I can usually sound out Greek words in peace and comfort, I require less pressure than while trying to navigate through a city of back alleys and narrow closes at breakneck speed, and more time than is available in the fleeting flash I get as we roar past.

The only way to get to any "there" from one's current "here" is to look at the larger map, note the general direction of travel -- Chania is northwest from the Souda Bay/Chania exit off the National Road, for example -- and then combine ingenuity, a compass, and brazen ruthlessness to stick to that course (ignoring do-not-enter signs as required). Eventually, one should reach a part of the city one recognizes.

To be continued...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 16, 2009, at the time of 8:44 AM

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» クレタ島旅行記第四話: ハニヤそのβ from In the Strawberry Field
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