Chania and Astratigos, Crete
Sep 8, 2007
|Crete - the Villa and Chania
When we got into Chania (after a 2-hour bus ride from Irakion, which was thankfully in the dark, given the size of the roads), we started to look for our hotel. 200 metres from the bus station was what we were told. Well, it didn't appear to be in a 200 metre circumfrance. OK, we thought, we'll ask some people. No one had heard of the hotel. Ok, I thought, I'll go off on my own, and find some taxi drivers who can tell me where it is. No dice. 4 taxi drivers all had no clue. Luckily, someone recognized the street name, and we were able to stumble to the hotel around midnight (the end of a very long day that started out swimming in a hot spring in the sea in Santorini). In fairness to the hotel, they had just changed names after a big renovation - a fantastic place that was redone in a 400 or 500 year old building right on the old port of Chania - the Hotel Sun. I would recommend the hotel to anyone - they have been very accommodating, and the location and rooms are excellent.
The next morning I picked up our rental car, a Skoda Fiera or something, and we drove out an hour west to our little villa, in the tiny hamlet of Astratigos (the Villa Georgios). It was a harrowing ride along the peninsula, with Kyla ensuring that the car stayed on the road (and didn't plunge down any of the cliffs on our right) by leaning well on the passenger side. The villa was incredible. Three bedrooms, a sweet kitchen, our private pool, two decks (one underneath a huge series of grape vines laden with, ... well, grapes). And calm. Quiet. Solitude. Astratigos was up in the mountains of the Rodopos Peninsula, only a 45 minute walk (downhill) to a small beach. The hamlet had about 20 houses, no stores, and no restaurants (a 15 minute walk took us to Afrata, where there was a store, a phone, and a number of family-run tavernas).
However, we quickly figured out that Astratigos has a seamy underbelly. At least, it had drama. The neighboring family seemed to communicate by shouting. Dogs seemed to bark constantly. We grew fond (or grew to hate - 1/2 dozen of one, 1/2 dozen of the other) the little black and white dog who belonged to the shouting family, who barked at everything (he must have learned that, in his family, he had to bark to be heard over the others). Goats and sheep baa'ed and bleated in the morning. Roosters crowed. Bread vans tooted their horns, and one specific van (we never figured out what it did) drove by once a day repeating things on a loudspeaker. But, it was still heaven. We slept, we went to beaches, we went on walks, we went for meals, we cooked meals, we drank wine.
Back to the roosters for a bit.
If you are like me (at least, if you are like me in this aspect), you grew up with the belief that roosters crowed at the sunrise. "Rise and shine", they crowed, "time to start your day on the farm". Not that I ever lived on a farm, but I believed this with all my heart. This image of the bucolic rooster gently waking the farm community was mainly reinforced by Foghorn Leghorn, and the Cornflakes rooster (whose name, incidently, is Cornelius. I kid you not. He was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. I learned this from a hockey card I got from a Cornflakes box).
Turns out it is all bull.
Roosters crow constantly, for no good reason. The roosters near us, and around the island, just crow. "Cock-a-doodle-doo" every frickin' 5 minutes, throughout the day. And night. I swear, it was 3 in the morning that I heard one at one point. Possibly they are attuned to the earth's rotation, and sense whenever there is a sunrise across the globe (which would be continuous), or else they are incredibly, vastly, stupid.
My bet is on stupid.
The beaches were out-of-this-world. The little neighborhood beach was quiet, pebbly, and calm. The beach at Falanarsas was a huge golden circle of sand, with great rocks, and great swimming. And the beach at Elafonisi was incomprehensibly beautiful. Miles and miles of sand, with lagoons, still warm water, and no touristy ticky tacky crap. If that beach was in North America, there would be about 900 mini-golf courses and bumper car rides, and the beach would be obscured by a heartless boardwalk with tons of beachware and overpriced suntan lotion to buy.
Instead, there was a cafe run by the municipality that sold cappucinos for 1 Euro. They had a monopoly; they had a captive audience; they had people who were in summer heaven and would have paid 10 Euro for a coffee, and they charged 1 Euro.
It also had the best shower ever, and this means a lot to us in the third of the world that showers with hand-held showerheads. It was warm, free, and above-the-head. Elafonisi gets my vote as the best beach in the world.
On Friday night we wandered down to Afrata (the 15 minute walk) to go to dinner at "Once upon a time". Polly was the owner, and she greeted us warmly at the door. There was no menu; we could choose from what she was making that night. She started us off with a glass of raki, a strong spirit, and local homemade Cretan wine (which was strong, and tasted not unlike port). Fantastic food - my lamb pie, Kyla's moussaka-like dish without meat, Judy's pork chops, Mel's lamb chops, and the salad and crusty bread with cheese. We were there for hours - we had many glasses of wine with Polly, and a friend of hers at another table was a bouzouki player who was convinced to play some traditional Cretan and Greek songs. It was amazing, and felt like a real slice of Cretan life on a regular Friday night. We left late, and walked back up the hill in the dark, with the stars spilled across the sky between the mountain on our right and the sea on our left.
We woke late the next morning.
We left the Villa on Sunday, September 16th, and returned to Chania, with a week left in Crete, and three days left with my parents before they leave.