Saturday, July 11, 2009


I took the main road south off of the National Road to reach my destination. It seemed like it would be much more straightforward than the route that begins nearer to my house, therefore lessening the chance that I would get lost along the way. It was, and I didn't. Frankly, I was also a little unnerved by the minor earthquake we experienced here the morning I left, and I wanted to travel on a wider road. I had visions of another quake hitting while I was rounding one of those blind bends on a narrow strip of road with a sheer drop off, sending my car off the side.

The ride down was uneventful but pretty, and I enjoyed driving through some new villages. It wasn't until the very end that I was able to glimpse the blue of the Libyan Sea through the cleft in two hills.

Once in town I drove around a bit to get my bearings, and eventually found the hotel where I hoped to stay, The Aris Hotel, which came recommended as a quieter place in a garden setting in my Rough Guide. They had a couple of rooms available for me from which to choose, and I picked the one with the garden view versus the sea view because the sea view rooms were on the second level, not as private, and much warmer than the lower-level garden rooms.

As soon as I settled my things into my room, I went in search of lunch. Again, working off the guidebook recommendations, I quickly found Caravella, described as the best seafood place in town, set on the water, and serving chilled barrel wine from the Kastelli/Kissamos area. The walk to the restaurant along the seafront was hot but picturesque, the sea a crystal-clear, turquoise color with rocks jutting out here and there. I was greeted by a friendly employee and we agreed that it was "poli zesti" (very hot) today. Then the equally friendly waitress showed me the fish of the day, I chose one and proceeded to have a wonderful lunch in an unbelievably relaxed atmosphere. I sat in the shade looking out over the water, and the ceiling fans they had running on the deck cooled things off immediately. I don't know if it was the wine, or the atmosphere or what, but I thought to myself during my meal that I could happily spend the rest of my life on this island.

Lunch begat a nap, which I took in the airconditioned coolness of my hotel room. This was the first a/c I've experienced (other than in shops and supermarkets) since arriving in Greece. I'm not really a big fan of a/c, but it felt good. It really was very hot. I woke at about 5pm and went for a late afternoon swim at Pebble Beach. The rocks weren't the most comfortable place to dry off afterwards, but I hadn't felt like walking the 10 minutes through town to get to Sandy Beach. I wasn't feeling particularly well (girly stuff) so my sense of adventure was muted. The water did feel really nice though, and it was fun to watch two young guys snorkeling nearby. They were rather awkward and dorky, and reminded me of an Eastern European version of Napolean Dynamite.

Afterwards, I went back to my room for some more downtime, and for a few more pages of Atlas Shrugged, which I'm thoroughly enjoying, although it does get a bit melodramatic and sanctimonious in places.

Then a much needed shower, and back to the promenade to find Mesogios, touted in the guidebook as the only authentic Spanish restaurant in Crete, and purported to have a wide range of Spanish wines. I was seriously psyched about this.

Except that it's gone. I wandered back and forth several times, sure that I had fixed the location properly in my mind when looking at the map earlier, and eventually facing the fact that it's now called Calypso, and serves the same greek food that every other restaurant serves. My second choice had been a place down at the far end of the promenade called Oriental Bay, which was also supposed to have a decent wine selection, but I decided to just go to what used to be Mesogios, because I noticed three other people eating alone there, and I like it when I'm not the only person eating alone. My meal was fine...lamb slow cooked for six hours and stuffed with red peppers and rosemary, a small green salad and a half-carafe of the house red. There were street performers that moved up and down the promende and stopped for a while in front of each restaurant to entertain, coming around with a hat at the end to collect donations. As is my m.o. when eating alone, I was off to the side and not very noticeable, which spared them coming around to me. Which was good, because the smallest change I had was a 5 euro note, and they weren't good enough to warrant that. I watched the moon rise over the water as I ate, and then set out to find the open air cinema that I had read about.

I rambled through the quiet, residential streets, listening to the sounds of the locals chatting on their patios, of the cicada's singing and of the leaves in the trees rustling softly, and caught the heady scent of gardenias which lined the streets. It was as I thought to myself that the serenity of the walk through the neighborhoods was a pleasant enough end in itself that I saw the sign that said "Cinema" with an arrow pointing to the right. Shortly thereafter I came upon a tall wooden fence, beyond which I could hear the sounds of a film. I looked at the display out front, and found that they were playing "El Greco". The film had begun at 10pm, and it was now almost 11:30, so there was no one at the box taking the 5 euro entrance fee. I chose a seat in the back row; there was just a handful of other people in the "theater", and we were all clustered in the last 5 rows, leaving about 20 or so empty in the front. The theater is truly open-air, surrounded by tall trees and with a star-filled sky for it's roof.

Perhaps it was because I came in so late that I couldn't get into the film, or because I was being munched on by mosquitos, or because I kept looking away from the film to watch two young kittens happily torturing a cicada, but I only stayed for about 15 minutes and left before the film's end. Maybe the movie just sucks, I don't know. But it was a really cool place, and I would go back again in a heartbeat, on time for the start and armed with mosquito repellent.

I took the long way home, along the Sandy Beach front and around the tip of the promintory and it's rather industrial looking docks. I observed at one point how interesting it was that I felt completely safe and comfortable doing this, despite the fact that the road was nearly deserted and there was very little lighting, save that coming from the moon rising over the small cliff on which stands the Castle, a fort build by the Venetians in 1279 and destroyed by Barbarossa in 1539. I have read and heard time and again that Crete is a very safe place in regards to violent crime (unless you're talking about family vendettas, but I think I'm OK on that front) and I have to say that so far I haven't seen or felt anything to contradict that. The men do not leer, the younger kids are not obnoxious, and everyone just seems to want to go about their own business. Of course, this thought was quickly replaced with the realization that there could be a pack of wild dogs lurking in the brush, and I did startle myself when I came upon a herd of goats, but I made it home shortly and safely, and smoked a cigarette on the rocks across the street from the hotel while I watched the moon continue to rise over the sea, leaving a silver wake on the water while the sillhouette of a lone olive tree moved slowly in the breeze.

My plans to spend the next morning at "Sandy Beach" were thwarted by really uncomfortable cramps, so instead I simply grabbed a quick breakfast and coffee from the hotel's buffet, and then headed back home. However, I fully intend to return to Paleochora because I really did like the town a lot. In fact, if I did decide to extend my trip for a year, I might consider moving to this town since it's supposed to be a bit warmer during the winter.

I took the more westerly and winding route home, through some beautiful, remote farmland and forest, and eventually along the road that Merit and I had taken to get to Elafonisi. Just before hitting the tunnel I passed the cave of Ayia Sofia, and reminded myself that I want to visit that and some other caves here, soon.

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