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.

 

 

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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!