Friday, July 15, 2011

En Vacanes: Greek Isles, Crete

Chania harbour at sunrise, Crete

On day five of our trip we journeyd aboard a two-hour ferry from the southern port of Santorini to the northern city of Heraklion, Crete.  Docking a bit later than expected, we rushed out of the port and across the street barely making the last public bus westbound to Chania.  Of all the places we visited in Europe, this leg of the journey was the most "lonely planet" experience encountered.  Most tourists sunbathe and sightsee on the well known islands of Mykonos and Santorini, entirely missing Crete, rich in history and culture.

Chania harbour still looks much like it did when Venetians occupied
the island starting in 1204

Crete's ancient history can be traced back to the Minoan civilization; you may recall its mention in the famed Homer's Odyssey (1100 BC).  Because of the island's location, it sits as a Mediterranean gateway from east to west and north to south.  And thus this ancient land was conquered and occupied by some of the greatest naval military powers for centuries, including the Byzantines, the Venetians, and the Turks.  The architecture that remains today are relics of the various inhabitants since the 15th century.

my husband was up at 6am the first morning photographing
the glowing sunrise from our balcony

Casa Leone, a 15th century Venetian villa where we stayed

view from our patio of the Chania harbour

looking out at the harbour from Casa Leone's main room;
the Venetian Gothic arches and rod iron spindles transported us back in time
to the 1400s when the wealthy Leone family lived in Chania

our guest room with Venetian glass chandelier

Most of our full three days in Crete were spent wandering the labyrinth of streets of "Old Town" in Chania, admiring the large, fortress-like Venetian doorways and Turkish spires of many of the municipal buildings, chatting with the friendly restaurant owners and eating unimaginable quantities of feta cheese, tomatoes, olives, and tzatziki.  Our last day on the island we cautiously maneuvered a stick-shift Fiat Punto across 80 km of narrow mountainous terrain in search of Elafonisi Beach.  While the journey there tested our defensive driving skills (and our ability to read a Greek map), it was undoubtedly worth it when we crested the final peak and saw Elafonisi's sandy beaches glimmering below.  With it's soft pink sands, crystal clear water, and undulating coves, this beach was unlike any I've seen. 

Venetian doorway in "Old Town" Chania

 endless piles of sandals at the leather market in Chania

Greek cheese and olives at the Agora food market

Chania Cathedral built by the Turks when they occupied Crete
in the mid 19th century

Chania harbour lighthouse


Elafonisi beach in western Crete; its beauty made me jump for joy

Cretan seagull surveys the shores of Elafonisi 

small herds of mountain goats crossed the road numerous times while
we were driving through the countryside

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