Sunday, January 13, 2013

E4, where are you?

You could look at this day and think --  ah, well, an aborted adventure. Maybe I have a rose tint to my glasses because for me, it was a superb day. Despite the aborted adventure.

First, the wake up. That's always great. For the countless times that I ask for rooms with views, I am sometimes successful, sometimes not so much. But I think it will be a long, long time before I again have a view as good as this:

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sunrise over the Venetian harbor

And the breakfast? Fantastic! Matina's assistant prepares a huge platter of scrambled eggs with bits of ham and it is so good that Ed, who does not in the normal run of things eat ham, consumes every last scrap of it.

And if you think that was it for breakfast -- not so! The assistant (she does have a name: I resolve to figure out how to ask about it tomorrow) then whips up these lovely blintz-like flatcakes. With honey and (goat) cheese! -- she shows us how Cretons eat it.

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Utterly delicious. With a large pitcher of fresh juice at the side and the usual array of breads, cheeses, olives, cakes...

We day dream about taking Matina's assistant back home with us. We wonder if she'd mind living in the farmhouse. Whether she'd come up with something new for breakfast every day of the year, just as she so effortlessly does here. In the alternative, understanding that she would probably prefer to remain in Crete, we could maybe settle in at the Mama Nena permanently and come down for breakfast like this every day, at 9:45, as seems to be our style, following the scent of coffee, cake and bread, warming in the oven...

Alright. Piggish thoughts. Time to move on with the day. And it is a lovely beginning of a week-end.

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People are out and about. Many with sun glasses against the strong sun that is promising temperatures near sixty.


We have been mulling over the possibility of hiking on the south shore of the island, but each day, I put it off for the next day, or the one after. It's the drive that holds me back. We'd have to cross the mountains to get there and truly, even the most careful driving here makes my heart race. The turns are treacherous, the surfaces slick, potted, narrow. And there is plenty of evidence that I am not just my usual difficult passenger self. All along the roads you see small chapels -- memorials to those who did not survive a deep bend in the road. A reminder that others before you have tried and failed.

It is possible to take the bus to the south (if you cling to the belief that a young Creton driver will fare better on the twists and turns), but to return the same day, you would have to leave at 5 and come back long after sunset. So now you're in a bus, navigating said roads in the dark. And you miss out on a Mama Nena breakfast. I just can't get myself to make that kind of a committment.

So I suggest a compromise -- drive just to the northern tip of the island and pick up the beginning of the great E4 -- a trail that has one end in southern Spain, then crosses all of Europe and ends right here in Greece.

Two things about that plan: it ignores the threat of rain that I keep reading about on my trusted weather site. And it ignores that this is Greece, after all and trail markings here -- well, I wrote about that already: they're scant.

We spend quite a while driving on narrow roads in search of postings. We interrupt olive pickers.

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We disturb sheep herds (this herd seems as if it's part of some eery still life: gnarled trunk and sheep, frozen into eternity).

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And finally, as a result of nothing more than dumb luck, we find it: a marker for the E4.

The problem is that we cannot find the next one. Roads and paths spin off this way and that way and we try to follow each in the hope that there will be a confirmation that we are on the right path...

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...but inevitably we will find ourselves on a scraggy hill, or in the midst of someone's olive grove (and btw, the green of the undergrowth is that intense -- a bed of clover-like flora that is just as radiant as the photo above indicates)...

And now the skies are showing some serious turmoil up there.

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Who will win -- the gentle whites or the rain-soaked grays?

The grays have it! The rain comes down. I have a rain jacket. Back at the Mama Nena. (Ed doesn't even have that: he threw his little pouch into his backpack. Turned out it was a pack cover, not a jacket.) We're getting soaked. We run back to the car, laughing at ourselves and at the ill fated walk. (It's easy to laugh in a warm dry shelter.)

We return to Chania where the rains are more intermittent.

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And the children ride their sailboats in the harbor, oblivious to it all.

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In the evening Ed asks me to search out some interesting eateries. Greek seafood (where the seafood isn't just octopus) would be nice...

I pick out three beloved by reviewers suggestions. We visit all three. They're closed for the season.

But it's not as if Chania lacks restaurants. There are dozens of places, big and small. And still,  they avoid fish as if somehow that was for the the everyday home meal. Grilled fish -- ho hum. Tell us another!

Never mind, we'll load up on fish in Istanbul. We stop at a place that has an inviting counter. You can watch the cooks do their thing right on the other side. It's not really a taverna. More of a modern Greek place with other Mediterranean twists to it. And we're thrilled with the food. A sumptuous salad, a Mediterranean pasta dish and a wonderful grilled chicken with hunks of grilled cheese accompanying it. (We share each of those three dishes.)

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It's a satisfying and inexpensive meal and as we finish (at around 9:30), we notice that people are only now starting to come in. Crete is like Spain in this regard. You don't even think of food until the last hours of the day. Though they share this with the rest of Greece -- the restaurants here, once they open (at around 1 pm), they stay open. For twelve hours. If you're hungry at 4, you eat then. If you want to wait until 11, that's fine too.

It's a lively evening at the cafes of the old harbor. We know that the sounds of laughter will reverberate across the old harbor all the way until 3 or 4 in the morning. A comforting sound of youthful joy, out there, under the now starlit Cretan skies.