Wednesday, May 26, 2010

GREECE: Dining in Old Town Chania

My family and I traveled to Greece a few weeks ago visiting Crete and Athens...  On our first full day in Greece, we bravely ventured out on the roads of Crete in our rental car that had in some previous life lost its hubcaps and must have become very close with a few walls.  No worries, after driving to the hotel from the airport the night before, we were ready for the roads.  We knew the rules now.  Straddle the line between the actual lane and the shoulder, blind turns mean nothing, a "two-lane" road is in fact a four-ish lane road, and keep your eyes on the road -- not on all the pretty scenery that surrounds us!  Once we hit the road, it was clear that my dad was instantly a pro as that he was very quickly zipping past cars, passing them with oncoming traffic, and shifting gears with ease. 

We made it to Chania in about an hour -- we vaguely knew our way to the old part of Chania after accidentally driving through town from the airport to the hotel.  Chania, the second largest city on Crete, is now a fairly sprawling city, but is also one of the prettiest cities on Crete.  That is the old part of Chania.  In Chania, you see the distinct influences of both the Venetian and Turkish empires, with remnants of the Venetian walls, a picturesque harbour, restored Venetian townhouses, and Ottoman-style timber buildings.  Before locating our lunch destination, we walked along the path to the lighthouse and by chance I think got the best view of the town.  From the lighthouse path, you can see all the colorful buildings lining the harbor as well as a well-preserved mosque and the Venetian fortress.  The day was absolutely gorgeous (as it was most of the days we were in Greece) -- blue skies, bright sun, no clouds, and a comfortable 70 - 75 degrees during the day.  The water is amazingly clear and blue, in sharp contrast to the bright white boats that sit in the Chania harbor. 

We were warned by many a travel guidebook to avoid most of the restaurants that line the Chania harbor.  They do all have lovely views of the harbor, but we were in search of good food.  My dad had one place in particular in mind (well, possibly two places), so we began the search down the narrow, winding roads.  There were tons of little shops to see along the way, perfect for peeking into while my dad and J attempted to decipher the street signs.  As it turns out, we happened to stumble across one of the restaurants my dad wanted to try -- Ela.  Ela is famous for being housed in a roofless 14-century Venetian building and serves a variety of Cretan specialties.  Sadly, the inside of the restaurant was fully booked by a group of local Cretans (although I suppose that was a good sign!), but they had a smattering of tables along the stone pathway.  Because it was so beautiful out, we decided why not (plus we were starving).  The waiter appeared with an umbrella for our table (much needed as it turned out under the sun!).

The meal turned out to be quite good.  We tried out some Greek beer -- Mythos -- which quickly became a favorite (I liked it better than one of the other Greek beers, Alfa).  Mythos is a light colored lager, perfect for the warm weather days.  Ela serves up a lot of different grilled meats - yum - I was tempted by the chicken souvlaki, but (perhaps mistakenly) opted for the grilled chicken.  The chicken was very tasty but a bit on the dry side.  The best dish to me was my dad's dish -- the pork souvlaki.  Succulent, moist, and flavorful, it was excellent.  J had the lamb chops and my mom had I think grilled livers.  Best yet, at the end came a panna cotta like dessert with blueberries on top.  We were happy with our choice of lunch spots -- and also happy about wandering into the store next door where they offered us free tastings of different kinds of raki.  Little shot glasses of a non-sweet, anise flavored liquor -- they had different "flavors" (so not just the plain raki), but lemon (like limoncello almost), orange, honey (supposed to be the perfect remedy for a cold), and cinnamon (or as they called it, the "Christmas" flavor).  My favorites were the orange and the cinnamon.

After wandering around a bit more as well as popping into the archeological museum (as it turned out, free on Sundays!) that had some lovely well preserved mosiacs, we journeyed back to our hotel, tummies full, but ready for a little beach time...

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