The many lives of Crete

The known history of Crete goes back to 7,000 BC. Flash forward to around 3,000 BC, and there was the Minoan civilization, the first in Europe, and the first to build a palace. Those are some major firsts.

But things change and the life of Crete changed with it. It followed the ancient Greek organization and developed city-states, then became part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, an autonomous state, and then part of modern Greece. Not every step along the way was voluntary.

We started our day in Crete on a very positive note, as our suitcase decided it had had enough freedom and deigned to join us early this morning. We forgave it for wandering and welcomed it back with wide-open arms. (There is just nothing like fresh underwear.)

It was a lovely day for a stroll, and we saw a busy commercial center on our way to the Historical Museum. The Venetian touches, like the Lions Fountain and the ruins of the Dermatas Gate in the old city wall, do keep reminding one of the complicated history of this island. Today, even the wall art (otherwise known as graffiti) is exceptional.

The museum exhibits range from the 4th century AD to WWII, and contain some very stunning icons and religious art, with mementos of many of the conquerors of Crete. (Forgot to mention the Germans during WWII.) The city of Heraklion was originally known as Candie, and it featured large in the stories of early travelers, amazed at its wealth and beauty. There was also a section on Cretan folk art, as well as the library and many first editions of the work of  Nikos Kazantzakis, of Zorba the Greek fame.

The museum would have to be five times as large to truly cover the remarkable history of this island, to which we owe our own culture. But it was a good overview, and it came with an overview of its own – right next to the sea. We strolled along the sea front to the Venetian fortress at the key point in the old harbor. The arches in the background are also Venetian – built for ship storage. However strong, the fortress couldn’t withstand the assaults of the Turks.

After lunch, we did more window shopping, including a stop in the Venetian city hall, now restored.

We also saw the church of Agios Titos- a good example of changes over the last 700 years in Crete. It began as a Byzantine church, then became a Roman Catholic church under the Venetians. The Ottomans converted it to a mosque – with a minaret instead of a belfry – and today it is an Eastern Orthodox Church, dedicated to St. Titus, the patron saint of Crete.

It was a good day in Heraklion. We even had time for the rooftop pool after our walk home.

Don’s Food Corner

Today was more like it, foodwise.

We found a place on the waterfront, recommended in a guide book, that promised to serve up unusually fresh and unusually good fish dishes.  We were not disappointed.

We started with some bread and a tuna fish salad and garlicky humus paste, then moved to a platter of lightly battered and deep-fried zucchini, sliced paper thin, and a simple platter of ultra-fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.

I next had a platter of grilled sardines.  I love that intense fish taste and if you slide the flesh off that little spine you get no little bones. (I learned how to do that in the south of France, which was the last place I remember finding grilled sardines.) Nothing left but the skeletons when I was done.

Jo went for a special of the day, which was described by the waitress as “toke.” We’re not sure exactly what type of fish this is because we’d never heard of it and a Google search didn’t help. But it was roasted and served as you might see halibut steak — cut across the fish with a center bone.  This fish, however, was much lighter in texture and sweeter than a halibut. And it was perfectly cooked.  Flaky, juicy, and tender.  It came with a room temperature potato salad that featured a good amount of dill and a magical lemon butter sauce.  We balanced all that with a carafe of Greek white wine, which I would describe as hearty.

At the end, they brought us a plate of fresh pineapple, a slice of a pastry with a hazelnut crust topped with a layer of creamy cheese and fruit topping and a little bottle of raki.

A true feast and an incredible bargain at $40.



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