Early in the morning, our ferry moored at the port of Chania
(pronounced “Hania”) in Crete. We took a bus to our little hotel in Agii Apostoli, a quiet seaside village in eastern Crete. This is Greece’s largest and southernmost island bordered by the Libyan Sea in the south. It is elongated with a length of 260 km and a maximum with of 60 km that at one point is squeezed down to just 12 km.
The drama of Theseus and the Minotaur took place here and to lay testimony to this are the ruins of Knossos, the centre of the Minoan civilisation that flourished more than 2,000 years before Jesus Christ was born. In more recent times, it has switched hands between the seafaring Venetians and the Ottoman Turks before its independence from the Muslims.
The population of modern Crete is mostly rural living off the rich produce of this self-sufficient land. It is rich in cultural traditions, the food is unique and the people speak a local dialect of Greek. A lot of the products are organic and people exploit the sun and wind to generate electricity. Mountains cover most of its surface, there are gorgeous beaches lining its pristine peninsulas and despite being a major tourist attraction it has plenty of surprisingly secluded spots.
Agii Apostoli is just a few kilometres from Chania, the biggest city of western Crete and it hosts, like everywhere else, hundreds of Scandinavians who flock here for their annual migration. Just across the road from the little hotel are footpaths leading to two C-shaped beaches joined together by a curving peninsula. The entire landscape is so wild and undeveloped adding to the unpretentious allure of this place. Red, yellow, violet and white blossoms line the trails by the sea and a walk around here has a calming effect on the most frayed nerves that may be. At 7:30 am, after a night on an uncomfortable boat, I preferred walking to activate my senses rather than the rude awakening that I would have experienced by entering the cool April waters, something the locals never miss come summer or winter. The therapeutic stroll prepared me for my visit to Chania.
A city walk
The second largest city of Crete is a delight to visit and I was sold despite the wet weather. Walking down the main street lined with tourist shops and food stalls leads to a medium-sized square housing the city’s 1897 orthodox cathedral. Walk a few more metres and you reach the picturesque port lined by colourful façades reminiscent of Venice, which curves on either side like open arms almost completely embracing the sea. On the right, a lighthouse marks the end of the street.
On the way to the lighthouse I encountered a rather obsolete-looking bulbous structure crowned with six pink, rusty domes. The Yiali Tzami mosque is a 17th century Ottoman mosque that was closed in 1923 following the departure of the last Muslim Turks, who made up 45% of the population, in an exchange that saw the return of Greeks living in Turkey. It now serves as an art gallery with exhibitions running all through the year. The path leads to the right, lined with sea food restaurants (read tourist traps) and boats anchored on the left. Walking all the way to the lighthouse, the view of Chania’s harbour with snow-capped mountains in the background left me speechless.
It was past lunch time but as it happens when I travel, my hunger to see things often surpasses my hunger for food so I put off eating for a while. Later, during my quest for subsistence, a rather stylish looking restaurant presented itself in the less touristic parts.
Stepping in, a smiling waiter enthusiastically ushered us to the open kitchen and opened lids of large vessels showing us what was on the menu for the day. What a novel and hands on approach to the unsuspecting diner! I would later realise that this was the norm in Cretan eateries. The ingredients were all organic, sourced from island itself and this reflected in the quality of the food.
I relished my meat and vegetables and asked for the bill and was instead presented with a plate of panna cotta accompanied by retsina, a strong wine exposed to pine resin giving it a unique flavour. Perplexed, I asked if there had been a mistake to which the friendly waiter replied “This is from us”, making this late lunch entirely worth the wait. I realised that this was another thing one must get used to. I was amazed at the generosity of these people who were grappling with a crippled economy in crisis. The relaxed meal at the restaurant gave time for the clouds to drain themselves out as we stepped out for a wet wander, this time through the narrow streets of the old quarters. The warm colours of the buildings, their balconies with potted flowering plants, the purple bouquets of winding wisteria hanging randomly from roof to roof across the sloping paved paths lent an atmospheric character to the Old Town.
A small path on the way out of this area led upwards and that is where I went since the slightest indication of a place that might offer a view grabs my attention! The footpath was lined with millions of daisies. It felt like being serenaded by flowers. A few metres up, there is a small field with another explosion of these white and yellow flowers. In fact, their scientific name Bellis perennis aptly suggests their perennial beauty. The picture of the tiled rooftops of Chania with a profusion of flowers as a foreground was a perfect finish to my first day on this promising island before marvelling at its natural wonders in the days to come.
Getting to Crete
There are several ferries from the port of Piraeus in Athens that go to Crete and the trip takes around 9 hours. To get there faster, Aegean Air and Olympic Air operate flights between Athens and Heraklion.
Low cost companies like EasyJet fly there from other European cities.
There are buses to get around Crete but renting a car or a scooter means not depending on bus timings and more freedom and flexibility.
Hi, I am Prajwal Madhav. Please clap to show how much you liked this post.
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