Our first day in Chania, we are met with people out in the streets cleaning and repainting the inventory and façades of their restaurants. We are close to the only tourists here and seem to have the old town almost to ourselves.
I’m already in love.
It is a long time ago that I experienced something as romantic and picturesque as the old town of Chania. The colourful old houses, the small streets and, in every perceivable spot, potted plants giving off a green and fresh atmosphere. Our hotel is right in the middle of the old town, in the Splantzia Quarter which used to be the Turkish part of town. I can’t imagine a more lovely little square than the one outside our hotel – hidden away amongst ancient houses and potted plants.
I believe it is a mixture of the romance of the place and well-cooked Greek food, which makes me utter out loud after a wonderful dinner with my boyfriend that I am lykkelig. And yes, you might have heard the rumour that Danes are the happiest people in the world, but first of all I think the entire concept of measuring the happiness of entire populations and comparing them is absolute bullocks.
Secondly, I might in general be happy with my situation in life, but the bubbly feeling of joy is not something one experiences on a daily basis. It usually has a catalyst – and to me that would be the knowledge that I have 5 days ahead of me in this absolutely stunning place at the far most southern place of Europe. So perhaps, at this moment in time I can count myself amongst the happiest in the world.
The average human body is made up of 50-60% water. The average Cretan body is made up of 50-60% olive oil.
The Cretan kitchen is not full of overly dominating flavours. However it is rich with a wide range of subtle but complementary tastes derived from the many spices, vegetables and dairy products produced in Crete and the rest of Greece.
The local meat is grilled, the fish is fried and the vegetables are fresh. Lemon and orange trees are everywhere in the countryside and in the parks in Chania, while olive oil and honey is a plenty.
Though I normally do not travel for food, I have found a great enjoyment in experiencing local cuisines with my boyfriend. There is something about exploring new dishes in the company of others.
Our mornings begin with a wonderful Greek yoghurt with honey, sesame paste and muesli. For lunch as well as dinner we join the locals on a restaurant or taverna ordering two or three mezzes, which is more than enough to fill us. Mezzes are small dishes, which in many countries serve as appetizers to the main course. In Crete however food is not served as courses following a particular order, rather it arrives at the table when it is ready. This is all finished off with a small desert and a shot of raki on the house.
We have in every way had an amazing culinary experience. We have tasted chestnut stew, boureki, mousaka, fried squid and marithes, feta and Greek yoghurt and much much more and all of it with plenty of wonderful Cretan olive oil.
The City of Chania
The city which is the second largest in Crete can be traced back to Minoan times when it was called Kydonia. However it is particularly the Venetian and Ottoman rule which has shaped the old town of Chania. The beautiful harbour was mainly build by the Venetians, and so were the fortifications around it.
The Ottoman Empire overran the city in 1645 after a two months siege, and stayed until the 19th century when several revolts and fights for independence led to further autonomy finally resulting in the Cretan union with the rest of Greece after the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913.
The city of Chania is by all means full of history and tradition and the Cretans are proud people, patriotic to the core. One place where this is particularly visible is at the Maritime Museum of Crete in Chania, where the Venetian and Ottoman periods are described as slavery, while the Cretans, the Greeks and the Byzantine Empire is painted a tad too rosy-red for my taste.
The museum is by any standard chaotic and confusing and does not seem to be targeted the foreign visitor. It is over crowded with stuff and much of the information looks like it was made as collages by fourth graders. The English translations are horrendous and I imagine someone figured Google Translate would be the best and cheapest way to go, which again could explain the rather atrocious descriptions of the Ottoman and Venezian Empires. Yet, you cannot deny that the wooden model ships on display are very beautiful.
I picked out a few quotes just for the fun of it:
After the suppression of the Byzantine empire in 1204 by the Crusaders, Crete is conceded to Vonifatios Momferratikos, who sells it to Venetians and a new, lasting and brutal slavery begins, which reaches the year 1669. The pressures and the arbitrary acts of Venetians cause the reaction by the people of Crete that is expressed by a series of revolutionary rebellions, 27 ones, especially during the first 150 hears. But the omnipotence that the Venetians obtain with time condems each offort to shake off the Venetian slavery, to fail.
This was the historical moment when the people of Crete, after slavery of ages under the Romans, Saracens, Genoeses, Venetians and Turks, after having kept unsmirched their Greek origin, made their inextinguishable wish for their freedom and the union with the fatherland true.
It will never be the museums which draw the tourist crowds to Chania, but they are not really needed.
The city oozes history and culture and you can smell the Cretan life style and atmosphere from every corner. This is a place so connected to its past and traditions that you do not need a museum to explore Chania.
As our stay is nearing its end, after five amazing days, I can only say that my feeling of happiness has not degraded one bit. The food, the culture, the architecture, the history and most importantly the people have been detrimental to making this an unforgettable vacation.