We are just back from a magical week in Crete. The title of this post is written with an English alphabet. In Crete all the signs use both the Greek and English. In the Greek alphabet this phrase would be written as: Καλημέρα Χανιά.
Chania, also spelled Hania and in Greek Xaviá is always pronounced Hania. It is the second largest city on Crete, located at the western end of the island. We stayed there right on the old Venetian Port for a week at the Porto Veneziano Hotel, located at the preferable eastern end of the port, where there are fewer tourists and many more boats.
Crete has a long and interesting history. There is known habitation here since the Neolithic period, at least four millennia before the legendary Minoan civilization, the oldest-known European culture (which existed from approximately 2700-1450 BC). It was one of several independent Greek City-States, like Troy or Athens. Legend named Crete as the birth place of Zeus. Minos, mentioned in Homer, was the son of Zeus. He built the labyrinth that housed the fearful minotaur. Europa, king of Crete after Minos, required seven young men and women to be sacrificed periodically to the minotaur. After Knossos collapsed in ancient times, Crete was successively a part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, The Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Empire. It has only been politically joined with Greece since 1913.
During the Venetian period (1205-1669) Chania was an important port town. The breakwater and lighthouse were built then. The photo below shows how well the harbor wall subdues the sea waters.
We often take our vacation in October, when our season has slowed down to the occasional guest. I have always wanted to go to Crete, to see the Palace of Knossos and to experience the sheer ancientness of this part of the world. It was something of a dream come true when we landed at the Chania airport. We could not have had a nicer time. The weather, which had just turned chilly at home, was perfect. We visited many of the "must see" sites, and our hotel, as luck would have it, was the perfect base.
Heraklion, the capital of Crete, is a big ugly city. It was mostly chance which led us to chose to stay in Chania instead. This old city is full of charms, especially down on the old port. You can walk along the long wall, built so many hundreds of years ago, to reach the lighthouse and look back over the town and the vestiges of buildings from the various phases of Crete's historical past.
Again it was merely chance that led us to the particular hotel we chose. What a fortuitous choice it was! Chania is much less tourisy than Heraklion, but still in October had its share of visitors. But on our side of the port, the far eastern end, we did not have to contend with crowds at all.
The ships which dock in this little harbor are more humble than some of the huge luxury yachts that descend upon Greece from early spring through late autumn. That suited us very well. I once saw a television show where a little Greek matron was sitting on the dock of her village surrounded by huge cruise liners and opulent yachts. She pointed out to the interviewer that Greece is a very poor country overrun by the rich. We very much wanted to avoid that kind of scene, and we were quite successful in having a more authentic experience. One very nice thing about Crete is that the island is largely self-sufficient, and while it benefits from all the tourism it is not entirely dependent upon it.
Old town Chania is full of shops and restaurants. Following the labyrinthine alleys and pathways is a pleasant way to spend a warm afternoon or evening. It is a very lively town.
Of course one of the pleasures of visiting Crete is enjoying the delicious food. The Mediterranean diet has long been touted as the most healthy in the world. It certainly is simple, light and fresh. We ate Greek salad almost every day.
We met a Greek shop keeper in Chania who told us that she was born on mainland Greece but that she chose to move to Crete because it is much warmer, being that its southern coast looks across to Africa across the Libyan Sea. I have always wanted to visit Greece, as I am a kind of paleophile, but whenever I looked into traveling to Greece I always became boggled. There are so many islands and far too many fancy resorts. Crete was a wonderful place to begin to discover this place of ancient lore.
Kaliníhta Χανιά, (Goodnight Chania). This is a place to explore and enjoy, but Crete has so much to offer, from it's White Mountains, which dominate the Chania skyline, to its attractive beaches and dramatic gorges. It is the largest and most populated of all the Greek Islands. We spent each day in exploration to get to know the island, but we were always happy to come back to our hotel on the Venetian Port of Chania.
My next few blog posts will be about Crete as there is much to report. I took over 400 photos.