The Crete Experience: Hania, the Enchanting Town

We reached Hania by ferry from Piraeus. Yes, we knew by plane the trip would have been only half an hour away from the capital, as opposed to 8 hours by boat, but we felt adventurous and the journey was overnight. Plus, I had heard dolphins were often spotted before Hania, and for once I wanted the chance to see them.

That was a disappointment… Not the trip or the ferry, the dolphins were a disappointment. It’s not that they didn’t show up, no. Those bastards were sighted the moment  I was in the cabin packing. You see, you just don’t understand… I have been missing dolphin sightings all my life. When I was a little girl and my parents would take me on a ferry ride, they would spot dolphins when I was either in the toilet, or buying ice cream. The day before my wedding day, almost everyone invited at my wedding saw them at the beach where the wedding was supposed to take place, except me, because I was on the opposite side on the town! I am starting to think dolphins are doing this on purpose. I will see you dolphins one day, it’s going to be on open seas. I will have the last laugh!

Anyway, let’s talk about Hania. We arrived at around 6 am. We took the bus to go downtown instead of taking the taxi. Though the trip was terminal to terminal, it was not long at all. We had waited longer for the bus to arrive.

Once in town, a very helpful old man saw that we were kind of lost looking for our hotel and told us he would lead us there. He bid his friend at the coffee shop goodbye and walked with us to our hotel

This is why I love to travel to Greece, it’s not just that the country is beautiful, it’s that the people are warm, friendly and helpful. In my opinion this is what makes Greece great. Not just its history, it’s the people.

The hotel did not have the rooms ready, we had expected that and we did not care. We were feeling energetic and wanted to explore… and have a big breakfast too, that wouldn’t hurt. Thankfully the hotel, the Arkadi was not far from the old town that was waking up. In fact it was just across, i congratulated myself on hotel-picking skills. With our luggage left at the hotel, we went walking in the famous old town.

Walking through the old town I felt like  like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. In the morning you watch this old town bloom. Windows were opening, shops were being cleaned. We took everything in as we walked on the path towards the sea, to the old Venetian port. By eight, the town was hustling and bustling. There were people everywhere, one would think it was in the afternoon.

The old port was breath-taking, the crystal sea was enchanting and inviting, although I knew we could not swim there– there wasn’t a beach, it was a port–  the waters still called for me, like a siren would call an enchanted sailor. My spell was only broken by the crushing waves which doused my friend. That was funny.

We decide to have breakfast in one of the taverns there, to stop me from nagging. At home I never have big breakfasts, just a cup of something hot and a cookie. At Hania I had the international breakfast which consisted of fried eggs with bacon, a croissant,2 toasts with honey, some feta, a huge glass of orange juice and a big mug of French-pressed coffee. Yes, I ate everything and there were no leftovers. The price for such breakfast was decent, around 8 or 9 euro I believe, which is quite cheap from where I am coming from.

After breakfast we walked on, and visited the Nautical museum. It was ok, quite small, something you wouldn’t cry over if you missed it. There was an interesting ship made in the ways of old, The Minoan ways. That was pretty cool. We walked by the Mosque which had been turned into a museum that was still close and encountered a fisherman who sold sea sponges.

“I have been fishing for fifty years,” the old sailor told us. “These I have fished this morning. Try them.”

He was selling them from his boat with a younger man that could have been his son. We couldn’t but buy a few.

We walked by the boats reached a very windy sea and went into the back alleys of the Old Town. We found where the pubs are. We found leather shops, the knife welding shops, more traditional taverns, and shops that sold Cretan products. They had all just opened up, and were their first customers.

Best thing was not what we bought, but the people. We met interesting people, a particular girl selling Cretan souvenirs at her family’s shop comes to mind. She showed us the first present her grandfather, ever gave her. It was of course the traditional Cretan  knife made small by all the years she had it sharpened. Her family were blacksmiths, almost everything out of metal in the shop, they had made it themselves.

People at Hania were warm, liked to make conversation, and insisted that my husband was not only Greek but Cretan as well. I am the Greek one, my husband is Lebanese and he smiled each time they told him so. They made him feel at home.

Every day in Hania was a day well spent.

For food, you didn’t have to worry which tavern to pick. The sea food, especially the mussels were to die for. We paid at lunches from 10 to 20 euro per person, which again we found cheap considering the amount of food we were ordering. Gyro and souvlaki were consistently good and cheap at around 2 or 2.5 euro.

We forgot ourselves in Hania. We  walked for hours, scouting the shops and taverns, sucking everything in. We shopped for hours at those traditional places. It happened that we watched he Eurocup final there and spotted the French and Portuguese amongst us.

Three weeks have passed since i have left Hania but Hania’s spell is still upon me. I smile when I remember the town and I feel it still calls to me. I wouldn’t mind getting caught in its claws again. I wouldn’t mind doing like the enchanted and stranded sailor caught by the witches of the sea and never leave.

 

 

Crete Experience (part 1): Why Crete?

I have to confess, when my husband suggested that we go to Crete, I had other ideas. Johnny has never been to the Cyclades: Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Andros, Syros… and these are the islands Greece is famous for.

He had been to Greece around 4 times, and I figured he’d start asking me if the white houses with the blue windows and doors were a myth or not.

I wanted him to experience that perfect white and candid blue. Everyone in the world wants to. And hey, we could probably spot a Hollywood celebrity there (Leo DiCaprio and Gerard Battler were just there)

My husband then said the following magic words which made me forget all about Gerard battler abs, (he probably lost since the movie 300 anyway): “but the food is excellent in Crete.”

Each traveler interprets vacation time differently. For some, vacation is the time to unwind in a peaceful place probably by the beach. To have lazy morning and lazy afternoons, that would make up for the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For others, vacation time is one huge party. It is the opportunity when you can start getting drunk at 3pm all the way to early morning. Mykonos is a popular destination for party-lovers. I have friends who love to absorb the energy, the vibe of it all. I have other friends who travel solely for the shopping experience. Show them a center filled with things they cannot usually get from home and they are in heaven.

Johnny and me love to travel so that we can eat… No, I am joking. We take our vacation very seriously. It is the European way after all to live life awaiting the next vacation time. We both lived in Europe at one point, by the way. He lived in France, where he probably learned all that careful planning and I lived in Greece where I did not learn any planning whatsoever. I just learned to love beautiful Greece. Anyway, we have a checklist, whenever we are discussing a new vacation location. They have to have all the below:

1)  historic significance, must-see museums, or important excavations;

2) breath-taking scenery, jaw-opening architecture, paradise beaches;

3) and yes, I am not going to lie, we purposely choose locations that are famous for amazing food.

Crete has the most important excavation of all of Europe, the earliest European settlement, at Knossos and with Crete’s strategic location, the Minoan settlements are only the beginning. You can visit Venetian castles, turned Ottoman strongholds. You can visit monasteries that have played critical roles during the Greek revolt against the Ottoman empire, or during the resistance in World War II.

History, check!

When we looked at images of the natural beauty of Crete,we were thunderstruck. So to see, so little time. And lets not mention the beautiful beaches like Balos and Elafonisi… I can’t even describe how ignorant I felt about Crete. I had no idea Crete had such beautiful beaches. I was ashamed to call myself Greek…

Paradise location, check!

Last, but certainly not least is the culinary experience. Does Crete really have great food and how did Johnny know? Well during our honeymoon in Corfu there was a Cretan carnival, and yes there was glorious food everywhere. So with the third check for yummy-yum-yum food, we had our bags packed, our tickets bought, our passports in hand and ready to go to our first Cretan town, Hania!

Greferendum: Heroes fight like Greeks

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In my weekly updated story Stella Diaries, I have Stella say multiple times that she doesn’t understand much about politics, well it will not come as a surprise, but this is because I don’t much understand politics.

I understand situations; I understand people and countries under crises. I understand frustration, unemployment, and the feeling of being in debt.

I usually stay silent about global events whether sad or festive, because I believe that no matter how much I read about any particular event I will never have enough knowledge to add any good insight. I feel if I can’t know everything, and all the side of any story, I’d rather stay silent. They are enough people filling the world with noise.

Usually.

Today, I have decided to make a little noise myself about Greece’s referendum.

I don’t know how Greece will do after either result and for once, I am at peace with myself about this because it seems no one really knows either. Having said that, I strongly do lean towards one side more than the other and if I was in Greece I would have voted and prayed that my side would win. I am not going to reveal what I would have voted, though.

I have spoken about the things I don’t know or speak of, now let me talk about the things I do know of.

I know Greece is brave, I know that today’s referendum has resurrected  dormant Democracy.

Today the people of Greece, or should I say Hellenes, have taken back what’s rightfully theirs, the power to decide their own destinies. Today’s vote isn’t remotely  something insignificant; it decides their way of life for the near and possibly far future.

I am not naive. I know that the referendum isn’t done just for the sake of performing a truly democratic practice. It could serve some hidden political agenda. Still, the prime minister is not only brave but, I believe, performs a service to the Greek people, regardless their side.

On Monday, no matter the results the people will have taken part in deciding Greece’s path for better or worse and no one can deny how significant this is. It is a day to be immortalised in Greek history books.

The people of Greece are not united in their stand about Grexit, the Euro, the present government and that’s OK. They can’t all be. Being of the same beliefs, is not what democracy is about. It is about mattering. It is about existing. Taking a stand. Being a voice.

I love Greece as I would love a person. Its people are a passionate bunch with the biggest of hearts. They are brave, fiesty, outspoken, and kind. I would not see them kneel.

It would be a tragedy.

Not because of their past, yes it is great, because of their present as well. Not because of their sun, because of their warmth, their welcoming eyes, because they use the word paidia (kids) for people they like regardless of age. This is why I am proud to be a Hellene.

Stay strong Hellenes. Yes you are still strong regardless of the crisis. You have proved this today.

“Greeks don’t fight like heroes, heroes fight like Greeks” Wiston Churchill

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KzZPJqaVadY

Expatriot

The following I wrote some years ago. It’s a personal piece. Image

It all begins with a haircut. I remember very well that day. It was the beginning of summer, it was in ’95 and I was twelve years old merrily living in Greece. Change was in the air and with it, I suppose, the desire for change.

I sat very still on the little stool in the bathroom and avoided the mirror at all costs. I would not take a final look at my long hair waiting to be cut off as taking last look could only mean I was making room for a memory to reminisce about. It was definitely a change for the better, I told myself. Nobody needs a memory to reminisce about when things are changing for the better.

And if I could pinpoint the one domino piece that launched the downfall of everything familiar at that point in my life, I would blame it on my sudden decision to cut my hair. Yes, I blame it all on my sudden desire to have a makeover that I did not think much about.

Desire is dangerous. It can push you to wander in the fields of imagination, promising you much deserved rewards and cheat you in the end out of much more than you had bargained with. Alas, these kinds of revelations only come late. When the hair has been cut and you do not recognize the person staring at you in the mirror.

I was not born in Greece, but I might as well have been, for we moved there when I was still a baby. I was born in Lebanon which at that point in my life was as a whole a big ghost town for me. I was told it was a place where a lot of bad things had happened. In my imagination it was all a war front where children still cried, women ran, and men died.

We used to have a house there, my parents would tell me, but it had burned down. Seven bombs fell on it and nothing would be salvaged. Yes, not one or two but seven and as they had told me the story a lot of times and ended it with “thank God we were not there,” I thanked God we were in Greece. It would not be for much longer.

I realize it must be difficult for any human being to leave his home country behind for the first time and not know when one’s coming back, but it must be much worse for a Greek sixth grade student with Mr. Stathis as his or her teacher for the past 3 years.

Mr. Stathis had so much passion for Greece’s culture, history and art that he was able to make patriots not only of us his students, I believed, but of every chair, desk, pencil or chalk present in the classroom.

He must have been in his thirties back then. He had very straight light brown hair that always sort of fell on his forehead no matter how many times he pulled it back. He wore glasses, and I think I remember he had blue eyes. His lips had the same color as his face, and a few times I found myself wondering in class if it was that his face too pink, or were his lips too pale.

I remember him a lot in jeans and a white shirt and always moving around, always excited to teach. His voice always slightly raised and he gestured a little bit with his hands when he said things he was passionate about, especially in history class.

“The Greeks had invented a writing system for writing a long time before Phoenicians invented it,” my eyes opened in amazement thinking those bloody Phoenicians took all the glory in history. I remember this part very well. I did not know at the time I was half a Phoenician.

“By the time history recorded that the Greeks took the alphabet from the Phoenicians, we had invented it, used it and lost it.” I was really proud to be Greek.

Oddly I do not remember how they first broke the news to me that we were going back to Lebanon. I definitely know why I do not remember though. I must not have taken them seriously. Iprobably said that I was not going and that would have been the end of the affair to me.

Only when my bed was given away, when the couch went missing, when my dolls, toys and books were taken, did I realize that my parents were serious about the move.

When all the furniture of the house was replaced with boxes and the walls grew silent, I stood defeated, alone, with no power to matter. What could I say to stop this from happening? What could I do? Could I run away and get lost somewhere in Greece? No, I did not have the guts. Instead I watched as the rooms became unfamiliar: so much smaller and echo-y. I wondered where how the staff had fitted in the first place. How could my home stop being mine and become someone else’s home?

I did not cry as strange men took the last boxes away, but I must have looked quite pitiful. One of the strange men told me with a smile not to worry, and that I’d find all my stuff where I was going. I did not answer him and I resented his patronizing tone. I was not being worried about the safety of my things, did he not know? Did he not understand? What about my home, my cousins, my friends? Would I find them packed among the boxes? No. This is what I would have said to them and my parents… Although I might have been a little worried about my stuff as well.

We had a lot of relatives in Greece, most Greco-Lebanese like us. When they learnt of the news of us traveling, they took it upon themselves to come up with every reason this was a bad idea. Some of their reasons, I admit were ridiculous, but some I found reasonable. The Lebanon my parents grew up in was dead, they said. There was nothing there awaiting us, at least not yet. Greece was now our home, no matter how bad it gets in Greece it would be far better than where we were going.

I agreed silently and prayed my parents would listen, but their response to these criticisms always  was, “We are going back home,”  and that it had always been the plan to go back to where they grew up and that times was as good a time as any.

They kept saying “we are going home” but for me only the two of them were the ones going back to a home. My parents failed to see that while they were expatriates in Greece, I was not. I was already home. There was no other place I knew that could be my home.

I remember the day I parted with my cousins who were more like sisters to me. They had to go to school and I was unwilling to say goodbye. I pretended to sleep until my mom made me get up. I kissed each one on the cheek said goodbye and ran back to bed. They did not say a word other than goodbye. When I heard them leaving I cried in my pillow, though I did not yet start to understand the meaning of missing someone you cannot get to.

I did not only leave my cousins behind but a whole culture I was very attached to. I would not hear people speak Greek again on the streets. I would not write or speak Greek anymore. I would miss it as much as I missed a part of myself.

What’s familiar? I did not look much familiar after I had that fateful haircut. Nor would I be familiar to my old self long after my hair grew back.

Hyper Smash