Next stop on our 5-day jaunt down memory lane and the islands of Greece is Chania. Chania is the second largest city in Crete and once upon a time it was the capital of the whole island before the honour was bestowed on Heraklion in 1971. It lies along the north coast of the island, about 90 miles west of Heraklion and 43 miles west of the tourist resort of Rethymno.
We were staying at the far end Rethymno in a relatively flash hotel and were picked up outside reception by a double-decker air-conditioned coach with a guide on board at 9:30am. We had booked the trip with our hotel rep for 15 Euros each. We expected to be back by about 17:00. It may have been cheaper to just catch a local bus, but we were determined to be “5-Star baby” and I’m not into hiring cars abroad.
The couch journey involved a couple more pickups and took about an hour to get to Chania. It’s pronounced ‘hania’ the ‘c’ is silent. We were dropped off in a busy area outside the market place which our guide told us was modelled after a building in Marseille.
We entered through the front, ate a vanilla slice, looked at some tourist tat, went out of the back and down leather street – Skridlof – not to be confused with Skid Row. It was immediately clear to us that there is a strong Venetian influence in Chania’s narrow streets and tall balconied buildings with a slice of clear blue sky above.
Leather Street stank of, yes you guessed, leather goods – anything you can think of including wallets, coats, aprons, man-bags, purses and leather baseball caps. We took a right down Halidon Street and found St Mary’s Cathedral on the right. Again, the Italian influence is clear – it’s not the usual cross shaped building with a dome. There were some flamboyant decorations and murals inside.
Then we went into the nearby archaeological museum to see what a Greek urns, coins, statues, Hercules’ willy, necklaces and Minoan bulls. A lot was off-limits photographically and so I got a cheeky shot off at the door while making it obvious that’s what I intended. No one told me off and believe me they were enforcing it for specific exhibits like the bulls. You can see them in my photo and if I had a telephoto lens then that would’ve tricked them.
There was another church buried away in an enclosed courtyard on the same side as the museum which was nice and cool with Phantom of the Opera style music playing. After a quick look around, we walked down into what one of the many pieces of graffiti announced was Touristland. There’s a bloody Starbucks for Christ’s sake! It made the Port area of Rethymno look like a historical preservation area.
It’s a shame because there is so much history to see in the Venetian harbour behind all the tavernas’ and coffee bars’ chairs, tables and awnings. We took a walk right around the harbour area and along the sea wall to the lighthouse. Then we went back around the other side of the harbour and along some of the narrow streets toward the fortress where Chania Rock Festival was scheduled.
For lunch we stopped at Mikro Sarai a corner cafe bar just back from harbour front. The sound of drums was coming from the fortress and we realised they were doing sound checks for the rock festival which featured bands such as Rotting Christ, Holocaust and Carthagods. We saw a few fans wandering around, sweating their arses off in obligatory black tee-shirts.
I had Dakos for lunch – a salad of tomatoes and feta on top of crusty Cretan bread. Siggy had a ham and cheese croissant sandwich. Milkshakes were on the menu for 4 Euro and we had low expectations as a result (since the average price hovered at around 7 Euros for anything half-decent) but they turned out to be excellent – ice-cream based, thick and tasty.
After lunch, we walked around the fortress walls and around the bastions where we could see some of the damage caused by the severe weather they had recently experienced – a section of the ancient wall had fallen down and also knocked down another wall alongside the road. Piles of ancient stone and earth. It was a shame to see something that has been standing for centuries reduced to rubble.
Then we just had a good wander around all the narrow streets and came across a minaret left over from the Turkish occupation of the island. We had some ice creams from one of the many little ice-cream cafes and later had a couple of cappuccinos next to St Mary’s at Vilelmine. An electronic sign outside a pharmacy said the temperature was 32C.
The pickup for the return trip was precise and the trip back uneventful. Just before the pickup, I panicked and rushed into a corner cafe to use their toilet. I was told that it was just for customers, so I bunged the waiter 2 Euro to use the facilities. It was not one of my proudest moments, but I needed a slash and wouldn’t have been able to hold it for an hour’s coach ride back to Rethymno.
All photos (C) 2019 Matthew Haynes.