We will be in Crete for a little more than a week. We had originally planned to be here only seven days, but it turns out that there is no ferry from Iraklio to Santorini during the winter months. (The guidebooks and travel agents we consulted failed to mention this. Oops!) As a result we had to cancel the Santorini leg of our trip (bummer) but get to stay in our little village of Fodele two extra days (Hooray!). In case you’re wondering, that first picture is of Iraklio harbor and the Venetian Fortress. Iraklio is the capital of the island of Crete and a veritable labyrinth of one-way streets and alleyways that all lead the way you don’t want to go. It was a lot of fun trying to find our way around town.
Our plan of course is to visit some of the Minoan sites and the archaeological museum here on Crete. But what did we spy in the distant mountains as we first drove into our village? Snow! The Psiloritis Mountains (Mt. Ida) were covered in snow. There is actually skiing here in the middle of the Mediterranean! I never would have guessed it. So we took advantage of our rental car and drove to the snow. It’s a long, narrow, steep, windy road. We now know that carsickness is international and affects all three of our kids and Leah. Well… we made it to the end of the road high in the mountains, froze our rear ends off, found a dead ram, made a snow-mud ram, threw snow balls, and made a hasty retreat into a warm café in the mountain village of Anogia for some hot chocolate and Nescafe. That’s right, glorified instant coffee. Sorry, I’m a bit of a coffee snob, and this is painful to admit, but I have been drinking Nescafe. “Then mu arési Nescafe!”
We are staying in the village of Fodele, about 25 minutes west of Iraklio and about one and a half miles up a canyon from the beach. We spent an afternoon lounging in the icy cold wind at this pretty little beach one afternoon. We were all alone of course since it is the middle of winter; no sane tourist visits the Greek islands in winter. It is a tiny, working, traditional Greek village. That means that it is not a Euro-tourist stop, but it is a Greek/Cretan tourist stop. Sunny weekends find the town and its park filled with families and couples dining in the cafes or picnicking along the creek. It is the home of renaissance painter El Greco, and there is a small museum where his childhood home stood. There is also a spooky looking 1000-year old Platano tree, small shops, a bakery (excellent bread here!), and several restaurants that dot the narrow street that parallels the creek. Our flat borders the walkway on the other side of the creek and a park. We have to walk over a bridge to get to our place; can’t drive here! From our flat it’s a two-minute walk to the nearest restaurant - four minutes to the bakery at the other end of the village. Did I mention that it’s a small village?
Our favorite hangout became Domenico’s. “Smoothie George” (or as Emma was fond of saying, “Soothie George”) is the front man to this café while his wife Eva and his mother-in-law Maria prepare the traditional Cretan meals. By the way, Cretan is not a derogatory title meaning barbarian; here it means great hospitality and excellent food. Where does that negative interpretation of the word Cretan come from anyways? Back to the food. We enjoyed the house specialty of pita gyros made with pork or chicken, tomatoes, onions, yogurt, and French fries all stuffed into a toasted pita pocket. They also make some excellent sheep-milk ice cream. Yummy! Megan and I decided to have a date on Valentine’s Day and left the kids to Leah (Thanks!). We let George know the day before and he had Eva and Maria prepare a traditional Lamb dinner for us. Amazing! George is also proud of his home distilled Raki; a grape liquor that tastes like it was made to strip paint from walls. George called it jet fuel. After dinner, true to Greek hospitality that cannot be denied upon pain of humiliation and anger by the offerer of said hospitality, George plunked down three shot glasses and sat with us to share some Raki. We talked long into the evening with George and a British couple who have transplanted here and manage our flat named Helen and Ken. Bravo! Ya mas! Greek hospitality is alive and well.