Sunday, October 31, 2010

Crete: day 9

A full day in Milia. If it were possible to have one day that was the best day of this trip full of fantastic days, this would be that most amazing day.

The Milia website mentions cooking lessons, which immediately piqued our interest. The kitchen looked supremely inviting, and given the choice between cooking and doing just about anything, we'd choose cooking. (Scroll to the 12/14/07 post.)

So we asked Tassos (the manager and one of the happiest men I've met) if it would be possible to cook. He brought us directly into the kitchen and asked Manolis and Maria if we could work with them. The answer was yes.

People who know me consider me a take-charge sort of person. But I enjoy taking orders from experts, and both Manolis and Maria had much to teach us. They started us out chopping and grating, and ended up teaching us how to prep zucchini flowers for stuffing (remove the sepals and sex parts). We made boureki, stuffed eggplant, made squash balls, and stuffed zucchini flowers, talking all the while.

Here's the thing about Greeks: conversation is the be-all and end-all. Manolis is not only an excellent cook, but an enthusiastic conversationalist. Here's another things about Greeks: no topic is off limits. So I wasn't surprised when Manolis asked whether we both had children. As a voluntarily child-less Greek American, I was prepared for the rant that followed. I think Cayce may have been more surprised.

It didn't interfere with our cooking...all part of the essential conversation. Two hours later we adjourned with a cigarette outside by the brick oven.

We thanked Manolis for a wonderful morning, then met our menfolk before lunch.

That afternoon, Michael, Joe, and I took a walk up the facing mountain, while Cayce stayed behind to read in a hammock.

We walked to the top of the ridge just across from Milia, through the olive groves, and enjoyed the views.

Michael wondered if we could tell the difference between olives and goat turds. Both were in great abundance.

With a little time left before dominoes, Michael toured the solar array and was impressed by both the battery storage

and the adjustable solar tracking array.

I photographed our surroundings, trying (inadequately, I'm afraid) to capture the beauty and uniqueness of Milia:

The dining room was airy and inviting.

Our bedroom was cool and cozy, with a superb mattress, eco-LED lighting,

and a shower that incorporated a large rock into the rear wall.

Cayce & Joe's house had a reading nook with a skylight.

me: happy, on our front patio


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crete: day 8

We had another half day in Chania before picking up our rental car. And how did we spend that time? Eating, talking about eating, then eating again. The night before (at dinner) we'd talked with some fellow travelers (sounds better than tourists) who recommended the restaurant Portes. The food and service were excellent, and we loved the tables lining both sides of a pedestrian street.

In Chania there are tiers of restaurants. Waterfront places tend to be more touristy and expensive, although the food can be good. A few streets back from the harbor you'll find open air restaurants tucked into ruined buildings or simply set up in the streets. These places were generally smaller with very individual personalities. They were our favorites and Portes was one of them.

At 3 pm we picked up our rental car and headed for Milia.

Ten years ago we'd driven to Milia because my mother thought it sounded interesting: an eco-tourist spot built on the ruins of an abandoned village. We walked around only briefly but it made an impression.

Everything about Milia appealed to me: the mountain scenery, the lack of electronica, the native materials used to construct the houses, the emphasis on local foods, the energy self-sufficiency. I can't describe the place without gushing, and even then, I don't do it justice. Please look through their website. It is one of the most spectacular and unusual places I have ever been, and since we've been home I've spent at least part of every day thinking about how I can return.

There will be time tomorrow to tell you how we spent our days: unplugged and well fed. Here's a photo essay of our first evening:

our stone house

the terrace in front of our house

with a mountain view

wine, beer, and Chicken Foot

Joe brought his travel guitar. I was hoping he would.

the two youngest cats

The dining room is lit only by candlelight.

On the short walk back to our rooms, we could see the clouds of the Milky Way.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crete: day 7

Goodbye, Loutro. It took ten years to get back here and I hope we'll see you again before another ten pass.

We took the ferry to Sfakia and had lunch there before heading back to Chania. When the taxi dropped us off at the edge of the pedestrian zone, it felt like home. A quick trip to the market around the corner produced cheese, beer, and several bottles of Cretan wine. Antonis took great care to instruct me on which wine should be drunk with the cheese and which wine needed only good conversation to bring out its best flavors. Then he asked me to bring my friends back for a glass of raki.

We had supper at The Well of the Turk, a tiny restaurant tucked into a very hard to find alley in the old city. An inviting spot, but an unusual evening. First, a bird literally fell from the sky onto our neighbor's table. They looked quite panicked, so Cayce (being Cayce) picked up the bird and she and I looked for a safe place for it to recuperate. (Remember the hungry cats I mentioned in earlier posts?)

Cayce picking up the bird from our neighbor's table.

Cayce has chickens back in San Jose, plus she's a big softie (like me). On our way back from placing the bird in a nook, hopefully out of reach of prowling felines, we came across a wounded chicken. I held the cats at bay and Cayce picked up the bird. Leaving our men back at the table, we wandered through the alleys, looking for the chicken's owner. The neighborhood yiayias thought we were crazy. The young guys were happy for a conversation. The waitress in a neighborhood bar showed us to a yard where she thought the people kept chickens. We left the bird there, and headed back to dinner.

After an excellent meal (albeit one fraught with avian omens), we headed back to the hotel to play Chicken Foot. The dominoes were too heavy to hike with, so we'd taken a break from our tournament while travelling on foot. But on!

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crete: day 6

At last, a day of rest and relaxation.

We hobbled downstairs for breakfast with Koko, a 20-year-old African Gray, and the mascot of the Hotel Daskalogiannis.

Then, feeling we had earned some beach time, we rented an umbrella and chaises for the day. Greek beaches are mostly pebble-y. Some people find it difficult on the feet but I appreciate the lack of sand. The drop off here was fast and deep, and the water was deceptively clear.

Our manly men treaded water,

while we read and drank and ate potato chips.

The most difficult task of the day: deciding where to have lunch.

Wherever we ate in Crete, there were cats. Patient cats. Cats who were grateful for a skrid of rabbit or a piece of pork. Cats who have by now probably boarded that last ferry for Sfakia where they'll spend the winter in warmth and comfort.

And in the golden light of evening...

we discussed where to eat dinner.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

fresh eyes

We had guest this weekend. (no [sic]) And through the eyes of this guest, we had the rare chance to see our surroundings through the eyes of a visitor. It made me feel pretty lucky and a little unappreciative, so I got myself out and about to catch up on the appreciation.

Blueberry foliage and


both too late for foraging, but still food for the soul.

En route to the recycling center we saw that our faithful oyster mushroom log had indeed responded to the recent frost and subsequent rain. (Thanks mycelium.)

The silverberry was still producing fruit just perfect for jelly, wine, and the occasional loaf of bread.

Hopniss seeds, begging for propagating. Who am I to deny a pleading propagule?

Thanks Marie, for giving me a fresh perspective, and for being a generous and gifted culinary whiz in our kitchen. You are welcome any time.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Crete: day 5

If I were really smart I would have planned a day of rest between the Samaria Gorge hike and the hike to Loutro. But no.

The walk from Agia Roumelo to Loutro would take about 6 hours and would be mostly gorgeous, scrambling along ocean cliffs overlooking the Libyan Sea. It would also be mostly in full sun, and it was only after getting back to NYC that I read (in one of the guide books I left behind) that the walk should be started by 7 am to avoid baking in the brutal sun.

Alas, we started at 9:30. The first two hours were partly shaded as the trail wove in, out, and among olive trees and pines. Everytime we stopped to look back or down the view was obscenely beautiful. Jaw-droppingly so.

Asphodel was everywhere. The tops of the bulbs were visible at soil level, and they were giant. The size of a baby's head. Apparently nothing eats Asphodel because the goats kept everything else neatly mowed.

More research is required on this subject. In ancient Greek mythology, Asphodel is the food of the dead and also kept Hercules alive while he labored. Perhaps only the bulb is edible...anyone?
(Thanks to JPK, god of research, who provided the link above.)

The path was sometimes shifting and sandy,

other times rocky and teetering.

Four hours in and we were hot: truly, complainingly sweaty and deeply uncomfortable. Since Cayce and I do outdoor manual labor for a living, we'd built up some tolerance to sun and heat. Our desk-jockey husbands were less well prepared. Still, we were all greatly relieved to reach Marmara Beach and the taverna overlooking the ocean. Souvlaki and salad all around, plus Sfakian cheese pie.

Another hour and a half and we were in Loutro, a small village surrounded by fierce mountains and clear water. No roads lead to Loutro. You can get there by foot or by boat, and there's something remarkable about that. At the end of October, Loutro closes, opening again in April.

An early supper at Notos was excellent, although someone (Michael?) made the mistake of asking what happens to all the cats in Loutro when the people go home.

We hobbled back to the Hotel Daskalogiannis and to bed.

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