Beautiful blue skies framing ancient ruins and modern city conveniences.
We spent a day, walking around town, exploring.
Lucky for us, it was market day!
We also took a day trip to Knossos, the oldest European city. Parts of it had been restored (murals repainted, columns recast), but it was still really neat to see.
Signs of unrest due to the economic crisis in Greece (27% unemployment): a sign outside a center for radical activists.
In Heraklion, we started to get a taste of the fresh Grecian food we’d been hoping for all along. We found a place right by the water- and, conveniently, around the corner from our hotel!- that was absolutely perfect. So perfect, in fact, that we went back three times in 24 hours.
Local greens with tomatoes, grapes, cheese, and honey mustard dressing; fresh sardines sautéed with greens
It was at this restaurant that we discovered the wonder of Cretan grape leaves! It was my absolute favorite dish. I’ve loved grape leaves forever; they’re easy to find in most Greek or Turkish restaurants in New York, not to mention the Whole Foods’ hot bar. However… grape leaves in Crete are not prepared the same way as they are in New York, or even in Athens. Instead of being cold, wet and very lemony, these are served warm. They’re a drier variety, and are stuffed with all kinds of herbs and even vegetables like herbs and carrots, and served with Greek yogurt. I could have eaten these for every meal.
We spent a lot of our time in Heraklion sitting at cafés, reading, nibbling, and maybe sipping a little wine. It was heavenly.
On our last morning in Heraklion, we took a three hour bus ride to Chania on the other side of the island. We stayed in a cute boutique hotel with a nice little balcony, perfectly sized for breakfast.
Old World charm out our window.
Chania is a formerly walled city, which makes the landscape quite stunning.
The water is so blue and so clear.
On our first full day in Chania, we did something my parents had done on their trip to Crete 30 years ago: we hiked the Samaria Gorge.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t know if I could do it. The weather had been so hot and so dry, and I didn’t know if I had it in me to trek 16 kilometers.
We were advised to take the 6 AM bus to the gorge, as it would only get hotter as the sun started to rise. Once we arrived at the entrance to the park, we set out a little before 8.
The first 9 kilometers are mostly downhill, which is actually very hard on your joints. Especially when you’re mostly walking on rocks!
I guess the donkeys get used to it.
The scenery was really beautiful. It reminded me of something I realized while we were in Muir Woods in California: I need to spend more time with nature and wildlife.
The path took us through the ancient settlement of Samaria, which is nestled right in the middle of the gorge.
16k later… we’re hot and sweaty, but we did it! I am so glad that I gave myself a chance and went on the hike, because it was probably the highlight of our trip. It was also really fun to think of my parents walking the same path three decades ago!
At the end of the hike, we were rewarded with the cool, blue ocean. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to go swimming! There are cafés all along the beach, as well as chaises and umbrellas. It was heavenly.
Back in Chania, we had some of the best food of the trip. Our favorite restaurant was supposedly the best spot on the island, and like in Heraklion, our hotel was literally a block away!
It was here that I decided to eat the bread that usually accompanied our meal (they automatically bring it to you, then charge you for it). This bread was absolutely worth it: it was baked in a clay oven, and served with soft goat cheese, sea salt, and the most delicious tiny brined olives.
Arugula salad with parmesan, figs, and sundried tomatoes… we loved having sundried tomatoes so much that we’ve been putting them in everything back at home!
It was here, too, that B tried Greek lamb. We both eat pescatarian at home, but believe that trying a region’s cuisine is a great way to experience their culture. While B enjoyed his lamb, I had an enormous plate of local greens sautéed with mushrooms.
Elsewhere, we had grilled swordfish and squash blossoms stuffed with rice (prepared the same way the grape leaves are).
Boiled local greens, grilled calamari, grape leaves.
The night after the hike, we got back to Chania very late and hadn’t yet eaten dinner. We went to the waterfront to search for dinner, and I was absolutely craving fish stew. We shared a steaming bowl of it, which was made with potatoes, carrots and zucchini (and most definitely chicken stock). It was so hearty and comforting, and I will be making some at home as the weather gets cooler.
The best fish we had in all of Greece was at a little roadside café suspended over a cliff, overlooking the water. The chef took us back to the kitchen and showed us his fresh catches of the day, then made us a very simply prepared grilled fish. It tasted like it was just brushed with olive oil, oregano, salt + pepper, but it was one of the most flavorful fish I’ve ever had.
Walking back to our hotel, we found a fig tree hanging over the main road… and you better believe we picked our dessert!
Most restaurants in Greece bring fresh fruit- watermelon or grapes- to the table for dessert. At one place, we also got a plate of preserved cherries and Greek yogurt. And almost every spot in Crete, we were brought small bottles of raki, the drink of Crete. It smells kind of like Jager, and tastes like moonshine (not that I would know, of course…) and was, for us, undrinkable.
I’ll be back a little later with the final installment of our trip…