Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Crete, part one: I Purloin Your Bananas! A Cretinous Odyssey Begins

Hania, Crete, Greece (Χανιά, Κρήτη, Ελλάδα)
17 July 2016
We planned a two-week jaunt to Greece for a little holiday with Yannick's sister Fabienne and their dad François. After a restless night on the plane (thankfully no Hot Chocolate Boy on this flight), we arrived at Hania airport a little after 6am and were greeted by François who ferried us back to their accommodation so we could have much needed showers.
Upon pulling up outside to unload our bags, I noticed that across the street was an abandoned house with a caved-in roof. Attached to it was a still functioning house with an elderly woman standing in the doorway, staring at me. I met her gaze and smiled, but she continued to stare at us shiny foreigners. (It was probably already 30 degrees by this time.)
The shower was great. There's nothing quite like brushing your teeth and washing after a flight, even a short one. It must be something about the recycled air that makes you feel dirty. We discovered that the AirBNB hosts had left us a melon in the fridge, so we chopped that into wedges and ate it for breakfast. There was also a bunch of bananas, which I confiscated for use in future breakfasts. After a brief excursion to acquire more food supplies, we returned to the house so that the others could continue their morning meal with honey and Greek yoghurt.

Having a strong urge to become reacquainted with Greece and see an island that we had never visited before, we drove into Hania for a morning stroll. When we arrived it was fairly deserted, with just a few people drinking coffee at cafés along the old streets. On our way to the waterfront, we saw a minaret poking up above the rooftops and passed by several fenced off archaeological sites. You could look down from the street to an excavated layer below and see remnants of ancient walls. Most of them didn't have plaques stating what they used to be - they were just another fixture that made Hania. François, who had been to Greece many times in his youth, said that Hania looked very similar to when he was there in the 70's.

A remnant from the Venetian rule, the dockyards stood out against the waterfront and in the streets around. Like big stone garages for ships, they now hold a range of different businesses, and we visited the Maritime Museum of Crete in one such boat-garage. Inside were collections of old photographs of Crete, information regarding the history behind the Venetian rule, and one great centrepiece: a life-size reconstruction of a Minoan trading ship, which they built as faithfully to the original model as possible, even using the same materials that would have been used at the time.

Back in the 70's, locals would sit out by the water with octopuses drying on the backs of their chairs, but today local vendors showcase an array of sponges and wind chimes for tourists. Some of the outfitted boats were quite spectacular in their displays!
The waterfront had a very Mediterranean feel overall, and I thought that there must have been something left over from the Venetian rule, as the brightly plastered buildings lining the promenade reminded me a little of seaside Italian towns like Portofino. On our way back to the car, we found that Hania was waking up slowly and more people were emerging into the sun with board shorts and Ray Bans on.

As it was about time to check into our new AirBNB for the next few days, we drove to a tiny mountainous village called Meskla and met our host at a café. There were tables and chairs outside under a concrete awning (to shield patrons from the heat of the day), and we chatted with our host over Cretan bevvies: Gerani lemonade, which tasted a bit like artificial banana; and Gerani orangeade, which was pretty good. Soon after sitting down, our host informed us that he had a job for François - a friend of his had received mail from Quebec, in French, which he needed translating. François was happy to help, and read out details of a Canadian pension. An odd job to be sure, but an important one!
Soft drinks drank, we followed him in our car up to the house. (We went "the good way", which was a slightly lengthier route, and very steep, but apparently less steep than the alternative.)

The house was amazing, with a pool overlooking the hills, an outdoor terrace where we ate all our meals, and beautiful rooms in which to rest our weary heads. There was even a backgammon and chess set in the lounge, which we played on some afternoons when it was too hot to be out of doors.

After a short rest, we set off again. A windy road delivered us to Sougia beach, where I took some deep breaths to ease the nausea that had crept over me during the car ride. François remarked that it had changed quite a bit since 1973, when there had been only one café on the beachfront. Now, there were several cafés, as well as tavernas, and a couple of small supermarkets. Full of hunger, we settled on one of the tavernas for lunch and enjoyed a range of mezes: stuffed peppers and tomatoes, baked feta, and meatballs. At one stage the wind decided to be extra naughty (after blowing napkins off the table became dull), and knocked the breadbasket into my glass of wine, spilling it all over the table and my plate of stuffed vegetables. I mopped it up without too much trouble (hopefully the tablecloth didn't permanently stain), but then as I was raising a bite of food to my mouth, my elbow clashed with Yannick's and the forkful went flying into the middle of the table where it sat in a wine stain. To an observer I must have looked like a most calamitous diner.
The others then took a swim at the beach, but I was too siestaful and stayed ashore, enjoying the sun. The wind picked up even more, and it became unpleasant to stay on the beach as coarse sand was blowing into our faces. Curse you, wind! Stopping by one of the supermarkets, we loaded up on fruit and other supplies. The proprietor was from the Netherlands, and had moved to Sougia thirty years previously. Apparently archaeological finds had halted further development in the seaside village, keeping it less built-up than what such an attractive location might have become. (Nuh-uh, resorts, we got ruins here. Run along.)
On the drive back to our accommodation, we collected some wild thyme growing from tiny scratchy bushes on the hillside - we had no spare bags so we commandeered François' hat to store the sprigs.

Though we struggled to stay awake that afternoon after our less than ideal sleep the night before, we eventually made it to dinner! From the terrace we looked out over the village and Yannick snapped a couple of shots of the quiet Meskla nightlife. A light meal was just the ticket after our feast of mezes at Sougia - we doused fresh bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with cucumber on the side and feta for the others. We added a bottle of rosé to make it the perfect first night in Crete.

Today's post was almost called: Battling Sleep Demons in Paradise