Friday Flickr – Chania

Friday Flickr – this week I’m reminiscing on Chania in Crete.

It’s almost a year since I went to Crete for Orthodox Easter. I travelled around Western Crete for a few days ending in the busy town of Chania with it’s picturesque Venetian Harbour.

Chania seemed to have a bit of everything: an old town with winding, narrow streets; a new modern town; a backdrop of snowy mountains; sandy beaches; nice restaurants and tavernas; feet-feasting fish; a market; an old Jewish synagogue and Armenian built mosque, and of course THAT harbour.

It’s a place I’m sure I’ll return to.

Click on the photo below to access the Flickr album.

Chania, Crete

 

Chillin’ in Chania

A few days in Chania wasn’t nearly long enough.

This was the view from the balcony of my £11 a night apartment.

Chania, Crete

It was hard to tear myself away, but I had to because Chania is far too lovely a place to miss seeing properly.

When we drove into Chania late at night, I was a little disappointed. I’d loved Paleochora so much and Chania seemed modern and busy in comparison.

We checked into our 3rd floor apartment with a balcony and sea view, but couldn’t see much in the dark. I took this photo which showed a lot more than I could see with the naked eye and was surprised to see it look quite promising.

Chania harbour in the dark

The next morning I awoke to the amazing view above. Standing on my balcony with a coffee and looking to the left I could see the snow-capped mountains.

White Mountains

Sandy beaches snaked along the left side of the harbour. This was Nea Chora or ‘New Harbour’.

Beach, ChaniaNea Chora, Chania Nea Chora, Chania

The views at sunset were pretty good too.

Sunset over Nea Chora, ChaniaA short walk led along the seafront to the Venetian Harbour, so called because it was built by the Venetians in the 1300s. It’s lined with restaurants and tavernas, an old fort, a lighthouse, a mosque that was being renovated and the maritime museum. Tantalising glimpses of the distant, appropriately named, White Mountains drew the eye just as much as the harbour did.

Venetian Harbour, Chania

Venetian Harbour, Chania Venetian Harbour, Chania Ventian Harbour, Chania, from the fort Venetian Harbour, Chania Venetian Harbour, Chania Venetian Harbour, Chania White Mountains, Chania Mosque, Venetian Harbour, Chania Mosque, Venetian Harbour, Chania Man renovating mosque, Venetian Harbour, Chania

A morning visit to the Maritime Museum gave me a good overview of the history of the area. Whilst there I discovered a room with three elderly men working on a model ship. The level of detail was phenomenal. They told me it was a hobby and each ship could take several years to make.

Replica boat building Replica boat building

Another museum I tried to go to was the Greek National Football Museum. It was started by a local fan, hence it being in Chania rather than Athens. Unfortunately, each time I passed it was closed, so I never made it inside.

Greek National Football Museum

I drank thick coffee and shots of raki in the tavernas and celebrated a friend’s birthday with one of my best ever meals at the To Stachi vegetarian restaurant.

Restaurants, Venetian Harbour, Chania Restaurant, Venetian Harbour, Chania

Taverna, Chania Street full of tavernas Coffee and retsina

Exploring the narrow, winding backstreets behind the harbour I found a synagogue. The Jewish population had dwindled over the years so by the time of the Nazi occupation there were only about 300 Jews left. In May 1944 they were imprisoned and then put on a ship heading to Piraeus. The ship was torpedoed by a British submarine killing all onboard.

Narrow street, Chania Narrow street, old chania Old Chania street Birdcage, old Chania

The synagogue fell into disrepair until the late 1990s when it was placed on a list of endangered monuments of cultural importance. Money was raised and the synagogue reopened in 1999 following renovations.

Synagogue, ChaniaMany buildings were covered in graffiti which I put down to mindless vandalism. Later, someone translated it for me and I realised this wasn’t ‘I woz ‘ere’ or ‘Shaz luvs Wayne’ type graffiti, but rather political slogans. I saw it in a new light, and although I still thought it spoilt the buildings, was impressed by how politically engaged people seemed to be.

Graffiti

On my final afternoon, I discovered the market. Called the Agora (meeting place) it was filled with goodies like olives, cheeses, Cretan knives and mountain tea.

Chania marketThe following morning, I drank in the views from my balcony for the last time. I may have arrived feeling disappointed, but it was nothing to the disappointment I felt at leaving.

Nea Chora, Chania

Stray Cats of Paleochora

I’ve realised I don’t have enough cat pictures on my blog. Actually, I don’t think I have any. This is an oversight that obviously needs to be remedied and my recent trip to Crete has given me the opportunity to do this.

I’ve realised I don’t have enough cat pictures on my blog. Actually, I don’t think I have any. This is an oversight that obviously needs to be remedied and my recent trip to Crete has given me the opportunity to do this.

Although stray cats are ubiquitous in Crete, it was in Paleochora that I first really noticed them. Walking along the rocky section of the beach on Easter Sunday there seemed to be an awful lot of cats just hanging out among the rocks. Watching them for a while, it became obvious that they weren’t out for a day at the seaside, but the beach was their home. They were beach bum cats. 


Some were quite hard to spot as their colours helped camouflage them against the rocks. They lay in the sun taking in the rays, scrabbling about for titbits amongst the flotsam and occasionally disappearing into hollows. 



The following day, as I sat outside a bar on the main street sipping a coffee, I noticed a ginger cat waiting outside the fishmonger’s opposite. It seemed quite confident of being served. Sure enough, the fishmonger’s young son came out and offered the cat a snack. The fishmonger, realising what was going on, chased the cat and reprimanded his son. Moments later, a black and white cat appeared and behaved in exactly the same way as the previous ginger. The ritual was repeated: cat waited patiently; young boy came out and fed it; dad chased cat and told son off. I could have sat watching this all day.

Fish please!

 

Next!

The stray cats of Crete are well-known and seem to be tolerated in much the same way the birds are. Sometimes people feed them, other times they ignore them, but I didn’t see anyone being cruel or getting annoyed at them. Even the fishmonger, who must have been pretty frustrated, wasn’t horrible when he shooed them away. 

From the numerous calendars, bags, tea towels and postcards I saw with pictures of Cretan cats adorning them, I supposed they’re quite good for the tourist and retail industries and maybe this is why they are tolerated? 

Of course, being strays they are not neutered, deloused, wormed or even fed regularly. Although they look cute, they have to deal with a much tougher world than our pet cats in the UK. 

Spot the cat

Tourists, falling for their cuteness whilst on their summer holidays, will feed them, enabling the cats to become healthier, stronger and, consequently, more fertile. In the winter the tourists leave and the cats, along with their kittens, are left to fend for themselves. Many don’t make it through the winter. A sad thought, but if they did all survive, especially at the rate cats breed, the towns would be over-run and the local government would, presumably, have to organise a cull. If the tourists didn’t feed them in the summer, maybe they wouldn’t be healthy enough to breed and this would be a natural way of keeping numbers down. Or maybe the cats would adapt to a year-round lean diet and breed anyway. It’s not possible to know. But I do know that I enjoyed seeing them around and getting the chance to photograph them.

To Stachi veggie restaurant

One of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Was it really a week ago that I was in To Stachi eating one of the best vegetarian meals of my life? I don’t think I’ve stopped salivating over it yet.


We discovered To Stachi when wandering around the Venetian Harbour on our first morning in Chania. The friend I was travelling with remembered an organic food shop on a street set a little way back from the harbour and we went to see if it was still there. We found it, but it’s no longer a shop and instead has been converted into a small restaurant.


The place was empty as it wasn’t yet lunch time, but we went in and ordered coffee and sat with it at the tables outside the front. The owner, cook, herb-picker, vegetable grower and slow-food aficionado brought us a free piece of freshly-baked cake with our coffee and stayed outside to chat with us. 

Stelios owned the shop that was previously on the site and decided to turn it into a restaurant a year or so ago. He’s passionate about vegetarianism and food that is local, organic, traceable and slowly cooked with love. 

He explained that the name To Stachi means an ‘ear of wheat’ and told us about his family land where he grows a lot of his own produce. We’d also learnt during the week that Cretans are great at foraging, making use of all the wild herbs and greens that grow rampantly on the island.


Helen was so enamoured with the place she decided this was where she wanted to come on Friday evening to celebrate her birthday. Stelios was delighted and promised to make something very special.

On the Friday evening five of us arrived for dinner and were looked after wonderfully by Stelios and his daughter; he brought a constant stream of food to the table and took time to explain what every dish was. Unfortunately as I didn’t write everything down, I’m already struggling to remember what I ate. What I do remember was that it was all amazingly delicious. Here are photos of just a few of the dishes we were served. 

Best of all, at the end of the meal, Stelios brought out a birthday cake he’d made specially. It’s called galaktoboureko and is made from filo pastry and a thick gooey layer of semolina custard. It’s making my mouth water just thinking about it. 

galaktoboureko

The quality of the photos is poor because not only had I not taken a notepad and pen, but I’d also not taken my proper camera. I expected the food to be good, but really thought I’d be focussing more on the conversation, so I only had my mobile phone with me. Now I’m regretting that decision. 


To Stachi can be found at 5, Defkaliona Street, Chania. 
Here’s the Facebook page

Manto Studios

A beautiful place to stay in Paleochora. I never wanted to leave.

Manto Studios from the front

Arriving in Paleochora, down on the western edge of Crete’s south coast, we had no problems finding our accommodation on a corner of the town’s main street. Parking was free and our host had cordoned off a space for us right outside the door. 

Manto’s gallery (L), stairs to roof terrace and reception (R)


Entering the reception area we already knew we’d come to a place we were going to love. Art work decorated the walls and hung from the ceiling; a long sofa sat opposite a large TV (we never saw it switched on – Paleochora is far too nice to spend time indoors watching TV); the scent of jasmine drifted in from the courtyard outside the back door. 

Reception


Manto, the owner, appeared. She was welcoming, friendly and spoke good English. After moving the buckets she’d set out on the road to keep a parking space for us, she showed us to our room. We had booked a studio which turned out to be on the ground floor. We had our own little veranda with a table and chairs and a stable-style door that led into the room. 

Love the terracotta pots set into the walls


The room itself had twin beds with thick, red satin duvets, chairs, a table, wardrobe, dressing table and TV. Hidden behind a set of cupboard doors was a little kitchenette with sink, fridge and hotplate. The en suite had a spacious shower, toilet and basin with towels and basic toiletries supplied. 

 

Manto is an artist and has a large gallery at the back of the guesthouse. Her work is displayed throughout and even the headboard, mirror rim and dressing table top had been painted by her.

Easter treats



As an Easter treat she had laid out a selection of goodies on the table. A bowl of fresh fruit, sweets and wafer biscuits; a bottle of wine; three chocolate fondant ladybirds (ladybirds symbolise Easter); a couple of dyed red, hard-boiled eggs (red being the colour of Easter); and a loaf of sweet Easter bread inlaid with another red hard-boiled egg.




Outside the room, the narrow courtyard opened into a much wider space at the back of the cafe area. The plants were just starting to blossom and a line of mint was pushing its way through the soil. The large jasmine tree shaded the area and made it a really pleasant place to sit and linger over breakfast. 

Just part of the amazing buffet breakfast
Just a small part of what was on offer


Breakfast was included in the price and was served in the cafe. The buffet was a help-yourself affair laid out along three walls. Juices, a choice of teas, coffee, a range of breads and home-made jams, fresh and canned fruit, compote, cereals and muesli, scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, bacon, sausages, yoghurt, honey, cheeses and cold meats, pizza, warm freshly-made cheese and spinach pastries, meat pastries, cheese croquettes, olives, three kinds of cake … it went on and on. I wanted to try a bit of everything, but even taking tiny portions, there was no way I could do it. The food was delicious, the coffee was good and Manto and her husband helpfully explained what everything was and made sure I knew which pastries were vegetarian. 

Just when we thought the place couldn’t get any better, I noticed stairs leading up to the roof from just beside the reception door. I climbed them to discover the roof of the gallery was a large sun terrace with loungers and spectacular views of the mountains. Peering between buildings I could just glimpse the sea a block away. 
 

I loved this place and although I wanted to see more of Crete, I could have quite happily spent the whole week here. If anyone is planning a trip to Crete and looking for accommodation, definitely check out Manto Studios. And if you’re in the area, but not actually staying, then at least call in for breakfast. 

An example of Manto’s artwork on the wall in our room


Cost: 2 people, 2 nights over Easter weekend, including breakfast = €75 (total)
Non-guests can have breakfast for €6.

You can find the website here.

Chania Market

A market I wish I’d discovered sooner.

Chania Market

I only discovered Chania market late on the Friday afternoon of my last day in Crete. It’s housed inside a large cruciform purpose-built building with an elaborately-beamed high roof. The Agora (market in Greek), as it’s known, was built between 1911 and 1913 and modelled on the market in Marseille. It was opened as part of the celebrations of the unification of Crete to Greece.

Chania Market

Chania Market

To enter involves climbing wide steps and passing through a temple-like facade. There are other entrances at the back and on each side. Inside are 70+ shops and little cafes selling great slabs of cheese, big bunches of mountain tea, multi-coloured olives, abundant meat and fish varieties, jars and jars of honey, dried fruits, yoghurt, coffee, olive oil, raki, vegetables, snails …

Chania Market
So many olives
Chania Market
Cretan cheese and honey
Chania Market
Mountain tea

As well as all the food, the Chania market also sells Cretan knives, tourist t-shirts, locally made soaps, leather bags, postcards and scarves. There was even a cat on a shelf, but I don’t that was for sale. 

Chania Market

Chania Market 

It was a shame I’d only discovered so late into my trip as I would have liked to spend more time browsing and to have tried out the food and coffee in the cafes. 

Chania Market


The Agora is open Mon to Sat 8am until 1.30 or 2pm. It’s also open on Tue, Thur and Fri evenings from 5pm to 8pm, though we were there before 5pm and everything seemed to be open.

Fish ate my feet

A birthday breakfast where we were the breakfast.

I travelled to Crete with a friend who just happened to have a birthday whilst we were there. To celebrate she decided to get her feet eaten by fish. I have some weird friends.

There were a few places around Chania where, those so inclined, could pay to sit with their feet dangling in a fish tank and let the fish chew (or rather suck) the dead skin from their feet. I’ve seen these fish spas popping up all over the place in recent years as the experience is considered to be a spa treatment rather than a ghoulish way of serving breakfast to Goldie.

Birthday breakfast



Up until the last moment I ummed and ahhed over whether to join her in being breakfast or settling for being food photographer. I always like the idea of trying something new, but usually shy away from anything involving my feet as they are SO ticklish.

In the end, I couldn’t resist trying and slipped off my shoes and rolled up my trouser legs. My lower legs and feet were soaped up and hosed down before I was sat on a bench with a gaping fish tank in lieu of a footstool. 

I was supposed to let them settle on my feet, not kick them away


The fish, which are all freshwater fish imported from a river in Thailand, knew breakfast was about to be served and, piranha like, caused a mini-riot at the surface. I gingerly lowered my feet into the frenzy and squealed as a dozen or so tiny mouths started to pluck at my flesh with the sensation of couple of dozen mini electric hammer drills. At least this is what I imagine a wall must feel like when a hammer drill is used on it. I likened the feeling to a constant vibration; my friend to a series of tiny electric shocks.

Regardless of whether it was more akin to vibration or electrocution, it was definitely ticklish. Really ticklish. I struggled to hold my feet still, sometimes involuntarily kicking out to dislodge the fish. When the timer rang at the end of 15 minutes, I thankfully lifted my feet out making sure no fish were still attached. My non-ticklish friend opted to stay in for another 15 minutes and seemed to find the whole experience quite relaxing. Which I suppose is part of the point of a spa treatment. She was quite impressed with the results too, feeling her feet to be a lot softer afterwards.

I didn’t have much dry skin on my feet to start with and as I spent more time kicking the fish off than letting them do their job, I really didn’t notice any difference. 

Toe sucking




The fish used are garra rufa, also known as ‘doctor fish’. As well as sloughing off dead skin, the fish secrete an enzyme in their saliva (diathanol) which is thought to help heal skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. On the downside, concerns are sometimes raised about the hygiene levels of these salons (water is not changed between customers and additives such as chlorine can’t be used because they would harm the fish).  It is also thought that there is a very slight chance of the fish passing on HIV or hepatitis, though there is no evidence for this. It is advised that if you have open wounds you pass on this treatment. The salon we chose seemed very clean and our legs were checked for cuts. The therapist found a tiny cut on my friend’s leg (so tiny she hadn’t noticed it herself) and this was covered with a plaster so the fish couldn’t get to it.

Another concern of course, is for the welfare of the fish. I was worried that the sunscreen I’d applied to my legs wouldn’t be good for them, and so was pleased with how well my legs and feet were washed before they were allowed into the tank.

We went to Doctor Fish and paid €10 for the first 15 minutes and €9 for the second 15 minutes.

Greek Orthodox Easter – the video

A short video to capture the sounds and atmosphere of Orthodox Easter.

If I ever want to get good at making videos, I need to start actually making videos. Greek Orthodox Easter in Crete provided me with a good opportunity for a first attempt, as photographs alone couldn’t do justice to the occasion. I didn’t have a tripod or a specialist video camera, so I just pointed my usual camera and pressed the record button. I think I’ve done okay at capturing some of the sound and atmosphere, but I obviously have a LONG way to go to perfect my filming technique! 

Greek Orthodox Easter

Fireworks and an effigy burnt on a bonfire. No, not Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night, but Judas and Greek Easter.

It was all a bit last minute. A friend, who had previously lived in Crete, suddenly found she was free over the Orthodox Easter period and decided to use this unexpected time-off to return to visit friends and join in the celebrations. As my only previous experience of Greece was a rushed and unplanned visit to Athens when I was inter-railing in Western Europe in the ’80s, I couldn’t resist tagging along. 

My previous trip had happened because someone had enticed me with the information that if I went to Athens I could sleep on a roof. Coming from Manchester where we not only sleep under a roof, but also under a thick duvet and preferably with the central heating on, the idea of sleeping on a roof was, at the time, way out there in terms of adventurous and wacky things one can do with one’s life. This time, I was enticed by the slightly more academic reason of learning about a branch of Christianity I know very little about. Ok, thoughts of sunshine and raki had something to do with it as well, but only a little bit. Honestly.

Finding a last-minute cheap flight over the Easter period wasn’t easy and so we ended up flying out early on the Saturday morning. The whole week leading up to Easter is celebrated in Greece much more than it is here, so unfortunately we did miss quite a lot. But at least we were there for the main event.

As we’d been up most of the night due to our early flight, once we arrived at our accommodation we had a bit of a snooze in order to gear ourselves up for the night. Consequently, the first I saw of Paleochora, the small town on the south-west coast where we’d chosen to spend the weekend, was after dark. The main street was lined with bars and shops and had mountains looming over one end and the church looming over the other. People were feeding into the main street from the  many side streets and flowing in an ever-growing crowd in the direction of the church. There was a frisson of excitement in the air, probably made more palpable by the dark shadows and my lack of knowledge as to what lay down the darkened narrow streets that peeled off to my left and right. 


We went with the flow and headed towards the church. We’d have known it was the church even without having a crowd to follow, as it was the brightest thing around. Illuminated by numerous spotlights, it glowed whiter than a white shirt in a Persil ad. As we got closer we could hear the chanting from inside and slipped in through the double doors to find out what was going on.

Inside, the church was bathed in a muted golden light. It shimmered off the gold chandeliers and gold-haloed icons. The icons, mostly painted directly onto the walls, covered every inch apart from a section of the ceiling. Men were choosing an icon and kissing it as they came in. Women were taking slim white candles from a box near the door, slipping a coin into the cash box slot, then lighting their candle and offering up a prayer before blowing it out. Children were playing hide and seek in the lectern and behind the curtains of the confessional. The priest was to one side, singing and chanting in the ancient Greek that is the sound of worship. Recent discussion brought up the idea of holding services in modern Greek so more people could understand them and ideally encourage more young people to attend, but this idea was dismissed as the ancient language adds a mystery and tradition far too important to be discarded for the sake of modernity and upping recruitment.

I grew up attending Catholic Mass. I always found it staid, boring and stiff. The service here was anything but staid, boring and stiff. People came and went as they pleased; moved around; chatted quietly to their neighbour; let their children play; all the while seeming to be involved in the devotion. The priest continued to sing. By the end he’d been going for several hours straight and how he wasn’t hoarse, I don’t know.

After a while, we left the church and wandered back down the main street. The church was getting more crowded now and we were going against the flow. The street was much fuller, but still everyone was going in the same direction. Except us. We went into a bar for a rejuvenating cup of mountain tea and sat on bar stools chatting to the bartender. Just before midnight we left our mugs in his care (he was very trusting as we hadn’t yet paid) and went back down to the church.

Burning Judas


As midnight struck, the lights went out and people began to stream out of the church to join the crowd outside who hadn’t been able to squeeze in. The priest came out, still singing, and continued his chants at a shrine in the church yard. Fireworks exploded above our heads and the bells donged noisily. On a cliff rising directly behind the church are the remains of the town’s old fortress. It was here that the bonfire was lit. As we burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes on Bonfire Night, the Greeks burn a life-size effigy of Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, on Easter Saturday night. Gazing up, I could just about make out the humanoid form in the flames. 

People leaving the church


It is at midnight that the candles are lit to symbolise the resurrection of Jesus and, no doubt, also symbolising the more pagan beliefs of the new life and light heralded by the onset of spring. This is no ordinary lighting of candles. No whipping out a Zippo or striking a match here. Instead, each candle is lit from a flame that originated in Jerusalem a few hours ago.

Waiting for the candlelight to be shared

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed by Christians to be the site at which Jesus was buried and resurrected. Believers claim a flame spontaneously bursts from his tomb on the day before Easter Day to show that Jesus has not forgotten his followers. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is the main guardian of this ritual. Each year he enters the small tomb where Jesus is believed to have been buried and waits alone for a blue light to appear and ignite the flame. Before he enters, the tomb is checked to ensure that there is no way the flame can be lit by human hand.

The candlelight is spreading

The flame from this ‘Miracle of Holy Fire’ is used to light 33 candles – one for each year of Jesus’ life – and from these the candles of the many worshippers who attend this ceremony are lit. Also lit are a set of lanterns that depart on a special flight for Athens. From Athens the flames are circulated to churches throughout Greece and it is at midnight that this flame is used to light the candles of the worshippers in each church. The light is passed from candle to candle; people chatting and smiling as they share the sacred flame. Seeing this I understood why the women I’d watched lighting candles earlier, had blown them out once they’d finished their prayer. 

Spreading the joy


Eventually all candles were lit, the flames of the bonfire died down, the bells stopped ringing and the priest stopped singing, the lights were back on and the fireworks had finished. People started to move away sheltering the flame of their candle with a cupped hand. Some would be travelling home in cars with their lighted candles. We weren’t so reverential and, blowing our candles out, returned to the bar to finish our tea and pay our bill.

Guarding that flame!


I didn’t take photos inside the church as it seemed disrespectful to be taking pictures during the service. I went back during the daytime hoping to get some photos, but it was all locked up.