Getting lost in Chania

Well, not really lost – just momentarily misplaced. Chania (pronounced hon-ya) is all about discovering the alleyways and back lanes. Without our cellphone, we would have had a tough time finding our Airbnb, Xenon Apartments. We’re on the second floor, with the balcony.

We’re staying six nights in Chania, which is a beautiful, evocative small city on the north-western end of Crete. The Old Town is a series of laneways and narrow alleys that criss-cross up from the Venetian harbour and show a number of influences – Jewish, Turkish and Venetian – in the architecture.

Just around the corner from us is a building that was built in 1650 by Jews who were brought from Spain by Venetians during their occupation of Crete during the Middle Ages. It was originally a soap factory but is now a restaurant.

We also visited the only surviving synagogue, Etz Hayyim, which was re-built in the mid-90s. After Crete’s Jewish population was wiped out in 1944, the synagogue fell into disuse, but today is full restored and is open to all visitors. We were not allowed to take photos inside the synagogue, but this is a shot of the exterior grounds.

Other religious edifices are prominent, of course. The Mosque of Kioustsouk Hasan, which is now an exhibition hall, is a standout on the harbour.

The Agios Nikolaos cathedral is one of a number of Greek Orthodox churches in Chania.

It flanks the leafy Splantzia Square, where the Greek prerogative seems to have a foothold; men of all ages sit and gossip and drink coffee.

Chania has been a fantastic introduction to Crete – we are re-learning the art of slowing down, sipping our drinks and savouring our food.

While there is no denying the appeal of Greek food, after a while the palate is screaming for something a little lighter, a little cleaner, a little different. We discovered a fabulous vegan restaurant called Pulse, owned by an Irishwoman who has lived in Crete for 27 years and has successfully resisted the urge to eat lamb.

Last night’s dinner, overlooking the water: Stephen had a Superfood Salad

I had ravioli stuffed with polenta and garnished with fennel.

The Venetian harbour – ground zero for people-watching, eating, drinking and endless strolling. It is flanked by the Firka Fortress on one end:

…the Grand Arsenal at the other…

…and the Egyptian lighthouse that protects the harbour.

More harbour scenes – at dawn…

…and at dusk.

Although the marina was full of yachts, catamarans, luxury cruises and glass bottom boat rides, there was still room for the trusty Greek fishing boats.

So now that we’ve walked the promenade, let me take you through some of the alleyways. They are filled with cafes, tavernas, small inns, sweet little shops, and photogenic doorways and balconies.

and finally – this little fellow. He is a friend of our apartment’s proprietor, and his very proud young parents watched as we stopped to talk to him.

We had a bit of a setback in Chania – we had to cancel our plans to hike the Samaria Gorge. It is listed in all guidebooks as a “Must-do” – an all-day event that involves a very early bus ride to the trailhead, followed by a 16-km. hike through an outstanding canyon landscape, dropping from 1230 ft. elevation to the sea on the south shore of Crete. This was one of the things in Greece I was most looking forward to; I even bought new hiking shoes!

Two days ago, my back gave out on me; an episodic event that can be brought on by bending over to tie up my shoes, and results in a paralyzing vice grip on my lower back that is the mother of all muscle spasms. Every two or three years or so, I am in the grips of one of these hellish things; I think this one may have been brought on by the many hours on the plane, followed by my excitement and a failure to pace myself.

Luckily, I have found a therapeutic cream that has really helped, but certainly not enough to tackle a full-day hike. So very disappointing.

Stephen has been a trooper about it all – “in sickness and in health”, I guess. We could still do the beaches and Crete has bragging rights to a couple of beaches that consistently make it on the “World’s Top Beaches” lists. We chose to go to Elafonisi Beach – an exquisite beach on the south shore, about an hour and a half drive through the mountains.

We rented a little white Peugeot, and began the drive with a tiny bit of trepidation. The reputation of Greek drivers as impatient speed hounds aside, we also have a long history of getting tragically lost, so driving in foreign countries carries its very own adventures.

But not this time! Armed with our cellphone, and very comprehensive road signs, we soon found ourselves high up in the mountains.

The road conditions were terrific – mostly like the photo above, although with a bit more twist and turn.

And if you had a sudden irresistible urge to drink and drive, there were a number of raki shacks along the way.

And then, the reward.

Crystal clear water; warm enough but still refreshing, mountains as a backdrop and best of all – no crowds. Absolute swimming bliss. Elafonisi used to have pink sand, but apparently over the years so many people have taken home vials of sand as souvenirs that the true pink tone has changed and softened. An admonishing sign is posted – yet another thing of beauty on this earth we have failed to protect.

Tomorrow we head east for a few days in the small town of Rethymno. We’ll be in Crete for over two weeks, maybe longer. See you again in a few days.

25 thoughts on “Getting lost in Chania

  1. Alison and Steve September 18, 2020 / 8:01 am

    More Cretan nostalgia as we join you in Chania and on the coast. It is interesting to see people on the beach and swimming, which was not the case in November, when we were there! A bit chilly. We remember the giant highway signs in Greek and, mercifully, in English as well, which prevented us from getting lost. We are so sorry about your back, Ginny, as we had looked forward to your hike. As had you! The gorge was closed during our visit. Keep safe and well, and have a glass or two of raki for us!
    Alison and Steve

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    • laurence blanchard September 18, 2020 / 9:12 am

      How beautiful again, the colours, buildings, plants, the old men, not so much, always the old men loitering, where are the local women? The beaches seem busy, are people distancing at all?
      Look after that darn back Ginny, we want you nimble and fit in order to report to us who live vicariously through your posts!!

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      • leavingourselvesbehind September 18, 2020 / 10:28 pm

        Laurence – it is so beautiful here, and yes, the men! So many men sitting and drinking and checking out the women. The women, who go about their business and work and look after their kids, largely ignore them! It is fascinating to watch. Being the power without actually having the power.
        The beach did get full – every beach hut was rented, but they are all very well spaced, so we were always well apart. I can’t imagine what it would be like in normal times though.

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    • Louise Connors September 18, 2020 / 11:34 am

      Thank you for the very pleasant pictorial memory experience . Chania was one of my favourite places in Greece. The soap factory/restaurant is where I had my birthday supper about six years ago. Love the charm of this wonderful island. Enjoy

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      • leavingourselvesbehind September 18, 2020 / 10:30 pm

        Louise – how great to hear from you! Isn’t this such a beautiful spot? We’re headed to Rethymnno today for three days – it is supposed to be a similar town with Venetian harbour and narrow alleyways, so hoping Chania hasn’t spoiled us.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 18, 2020 / 10:24 pm

      All the more reason to return to Crete! I think there are a couple of other shorter canyon hikes in the eastern part of Crete that we may be able to try.
      We had our first raki last night – much like ouzo – it was much smoother than I thought.

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  2. Joan Fisher September 18, 2020 / 8:12 am

    Just when I think I have seen the most beautiful picture, there is another one. I’m running out of words to use and everyone is making me turn green with envy. The scenery, architecture, food, (especially the food, lol), beaches, it’s all gorgeous. I wish I was brave enough to follow you. Sigh. Very sorry to,hear about your back, girl. I hope you heal fast. Aging is not for wusses!

    Hello to Steve. He might remember Gerry Mahar. Not sure. His wife was my roomie at university and is not doing well. Very sad.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 18, 2020 / 10:10 pm

      Chania is very photogenic, and everything changes by the hour with the light – a photographer or painter’s delight.
      Interestingly, even though Europe is spiking in cases, it is the Europeans who are travelling. I guess it has always been so normal for them to pop over to another country for a week or two that even Covid is not a deterrent. It took a lot to make us decide to come, but now that we’re here, it feels fine. Everyone wears masks, and there are no crowds, so it is easy to maintain distance.
      And no, Gerry was before Steve’s time, although he knew of him.

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  3. Danielle September 18, 2020 / 8:56 am

    Beautiful Chania!!
    Brings back so many nice memories
    Danielle

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  4. Lyn Morris September 18, 2020 / 9:55 am

    Loved it all but the one of the person walking with the bike and the colourful beach umberellas was a poster picture ! Really enjoyed your time in Crete. I envy you two so mluch !

    Lyn

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 18, 2020 / 10:13 pm

      thanks Lyn! That shot was such a fluke – I wanted to grab a sneaky shot of her outfit. Oh, to have the youth, fashion sense and insouciance of these beautiful girls!

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  5. Shelley Tillemans September 18, 2020 / 11:56 am

    We agree with all the above – take care of yourselves, your back, your general health, etc. so that we may continue to enjoy your trip! Seriously though, I just read in the Guardian about the hurricane force weather that’s hitting western Greece and may hit Crete on Sunday. Raincoats at the ready and stay away from anything that could fall down!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 18, 2020 / 10:16 pm

      Shelley – we will thankfully miss the worst of that hurricane. It was due to smackdown on Crete tonight, but it has veered off-course a bit and really hit Corfu and that area – wrecked a marina and did a ton of damage. We will likely experience heavy rain and thunderstorms this evening in Rethymno, and that weather will be around for two or three days. Hopefully we will have the chance to see the area and not be forced to hide out in our room!

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  6. linda Ogle September 18, 2020 / 1:02 pm

    Ginny
    You continue to entice us with your wonderful travelogue and pictures and even sound upbeat about your drive [instead of that hike1] but riding in a car can’t be comfortable with your back like that. How long will your back pain last ordinarily?One day you are feeling healthy and indestructible and then….. I REALLY hope you will feel better soon. Hugs linda

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 18, 2020 / 10:19 pm

      Thanks so much Linda. This back of mine usually grabs for about a week or ten days before I’m back to normal, but every day gets better for longer. Walking helps, punctuated by sitting with a glass of wine. :>)

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  7. Heather Scott September 19, 2020 / 7:54 am

    So sorry to hear about your back, Ginny. I hope it improves soon so you can reap all the benefits Greece has to offer. Elafonisi looks like a perfect place to kick back and relax … so glad you found it!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 20, 2020 / 4:56 am

      My back is slowly getting better – thanks Heather! There is so much to see and do here, just got to keep moving.
      We’ve got another great beach coming up in a couple of days – Voulisma Beach near Agios Nikolaos, which is our next destination.

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  8. Christine McMahon September 19, 2020 / 8:41 am

    Am really enjoying your travelogue, Ginny! It brings back memories of Greece back in my student days. Hope your back heals quickly.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 20, 2020 / 4:58 am

      I’m so glad you’re interested in reading it, Christine. It’s funny – so many people I know were here during their youth, and it is one of those places that doesn’t seem to change much!

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  9. Jim and Sheila September 19, 2020 / 5:22 pm

    Glad to hear the hurricane will miss you. We were worried when we read in the news that it was heading to Crete. Oh, the beautiful colours , clear ocean and blue skies! Our hearts ache, when all we can look at is grey sea, clouds and smoke. You definitely made a good choice to go to Greece.
    Hugs Jim and Sheila

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 20, 2020 / 5:01 am

      We feel very lucky – Greece has been a tonic, although we are still a tiny bit obsessed with reading about the latest malfeasance from you-know-who. Have to stop that. Otherwise, life is wonderful. We’re back in our place in Rethymnon after a gorgeous lunch of mussels in ouzo (me), and pancetta with eggplant salad (Stephen) – getting out of the midday sun.

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  10. Shelley-Anne Gajda September 21, 2020 / 8:57 am

    I am so happy you decided to go – it looks fabulous – you two keep on introducing me to places I want to go. Take care, and i look forward to reading more.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind September 21, 2020 / 9:06 am

      You would love it here! I think if you plan on coming either next spring or fall you will still have a chance to enjoy Greece before the crowds return. I have no idea what it was like to travel here pre-Covid, but I always heard about the horrendous crowds and the thousands of cruise ship passengers taking over. It is just about perfect now.

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  11. Garry Davey September 21, 2020 / 7:09 pm

    Hey Ginny and Stephen, so glad to catch up with you and vicariously travel to exotic climes, your posts are compelling reading, and your photos are beautiful and evocative, take good care! Hope you’re feeling better by the time you’re reading this. Cheers!!

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