joi, 1 septembrie 2011

White and blue, sun, sea and food

Deciding where to go on holidays... it went something like this: A train trip around Europe with stops in the Czech Republic, Germany, UK, Ireland, France and somewhere around Croatia. Changed my mind after finding out the ticket for getting to the railway station for the departure on this "eurotrip line" was actually more expensive and challenging than the rest of the trip. So, we'll go to Sweden... settled then. Made all the plans, what to see, what to do... but Sweden is so cold in the end of August. Then... maybe Spain? Too expensive. Oh we'll go to London. Found cheap flight tickets and cheap accommodation at a friend of a friend. But London... rainy and I'd like to swim somewhere in the sea. How about Turkey? oh look... Greece!
And so we went to sunny Crete.

(if you're hungry I suggest you get something to munch on while reading the rest of this post)

Got to the hotel at around 7 in the evening, changed into bathing suits and jumped right into the sea. After that, we went to eat. We heard about a nice Greek Tavern called Tarantella and we decided we'd give it a try. It wasn't that near to our hotel as we thought, but the search was worthy. The typical Greek style with blue wooden chairs, white walls and pots all around. We were greeted at the entrance by a nice waitress and after trying the local Mythos beer we ordered some food - I went for Gyros as I was really craving for one and my mum had a dish called Syrtaki which was actually a plate with soutzoukakia (delicious Greek meatballs made with beef, bread, red wine and spices), one souvlaki, some tzatziki, salad, veggies, rice and fries. The dishes were huge, prices were reasonable. Not a cheap place to eat but considering the amount of food you get, it's acceptable. I think the Gyros was around 8 euros and the Syrtaki plate around 12 euros. What I loved about that place was the atmosphere and the staff. Such friendly, happy people - the tavern is a family business - there were only 3 people taking orders and serving - including the boss - and everything went quite fast. After this delightful dinner we were "saved" by some Raki shots as a gift from the house. I normally don't even touch anything with more than 17% alcohol but as my stomach was on the point of popping from too much food I thought some digestive drink would be fine. And my God did it work! We left satisfied and happy.

We spent most of our days laying in the sun and diving into the amazing waves in the sea. One night we tried the Veranda restaurant. The setting is gorgeous. Right by the sea, small cozy tables with little oil lamps. Prices though, shoot all the way to the moon. Not really... but it's quite expensive. One grilled dorada, 4 grilled barbuni, one kataif and a pot of white wine were around 40 euros. The fish comes with a side dish with fries, salad, rice and veggies. The serving is beautiful, everything is really nice and the staff, as everywhere in Greece, friendly, joyous and welcoming. The food is cooked beautifully and it tastes as well. As for the kataif ... there are no words to describe how good that was. Sweet but not to glue your teeth together, and the syrup was fresh and perfumed... I can only say it was the best dessert I've had. 

One day we took the bus to a near resort, in Malia. We were told the beach was awesome there. Well I have no idea how the beach in Malia looks like because the road to the beach seemed never ending, shadeless and the sun was literally frying us. So instead, we went to the old village in Malia which was fantastic. So quiet (in the day time, as I heard it gets crazy in the night time)! With beautiful old Greek villas, taverns, classy restaurants. The restaurants don't open until 6pm. You see the owners sitting on the terrace with a glass of water or a cup of coffee but the place it's closed. Until 6 in the evening nothing and no one moves. All the locals are outside, sitting on a chair in front of their houses and talking or reading a book. You can feel the summer laziness in the air. It's all I want to do one summer. When you walk by, they smile and greet you, Kalimera!
After walking around the village 2 or 3 times we got hungry and since there wasn't any place to eat we got the bus back to Hersonissos. But before, we saw an open place and stopped to have a beer. It was an Irish pub, ran by a man from Ireland and his wife from Crete. We switched from the Greek mode we were on and had a beer and watched a bit of rugby.

Back in Hersonissos we had lunch at the "Greek Tavern" - a very nice, shady and not that expensive place where they serve a good Mousaka. Spent the rest of the day at the beach.... actually in the sea. And at night I went "clubbing" with some guys I met at the hotel, danced and had a bit of fun.

The next day we went to Agios Nikolaos. The next city from Malia. There we went with some friends we made - Patricia and her mum - from Sibiu, and Alina & Bogdan - from Campina. We got to Agios Nikolaos at midday and decided it wasn't a great hour to go the beach so we did a little tour of the city. Nothing that impressive but it's a nice place with a small port.

We went looking for a nice beach and found one. Very small but the water was so still and almost white-blue. I nearly fell asleep there with a cute dog sleeping right next to me, when I felt something crawling on my foot. It was a colorful lizard which ran away and hid in the sand before I got a chance to get a picture of it.

We had a great lunch at a tavern near the beach (I forgot the name...). Quite cheap, huge meals and delicious. For starters we had what all 6 of us agreed to be the best tzatziki ever! It was just perfect! Then, I had a mushroom cream soup which was awkward at first but then after getting used to it... i think it was the best cream soup I ever had. And I got some stuffed tomatoes... oh yummy! I loved the fact that the tomatoes were baked in the oven and a bit dried not boiled the soul out of them as some do. The stuffing was rice with some crunchy stuff in it, onion and lots and lots of seasoning. But the taste was just great. It had something fresh and very aromatic in it. Mum had a lamb souvlaki and it was one of the best lamb dishes I tried. The meat was so tender it melted in your mouth and the seasoning was perfect. It came with the already traditional side dish - rice, salad, and fries. But it had something extra that I adored. Baked onion and baked peppers.
This would have been a great place if we wouldn't have got the end surprise on the bill: 6 euros for 6 slices of bread we actually didn't order but were served along with the dishes. Otherwise I do recommend that place (I don't know the name but if you're interested I could mark it on a map or explain how to get to it).

With our tummies full it was time to go back to Hersonissos. After a quick shower we went up the road from our hotel and got to the prettiest and loveliest place in the area. The Koutouloufari Village and the Piskopiano Village. 
After staring in awe at the wonderful terraces and restaurants, we toured the villages and returned late in the evening.

The next day we decided we had to get all the sun possible so we spent the whole day on the beach with other two people we befriended at the hotel misses Jeni & mister Luci from Jimbolia. In the evening we dressed all fancy pansy and got up the hill in Koutouloufari for the most posh dinner I ever experienced.

the pork dish

my greek pla
We stopped at a restaurant I set my eyes on the night before. Galini Restaurant. At a first glance it looks quite kitschy but still fitting. The terrace is surrounded by Greek columns and an imitation of the Knossos temple. The waitresses are dressed like Greek goddesses - with a white dress and a knitted belt, a short cape attached to the shoulders and wearing Greek sandals. The waiters are dressed with a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and black pants with a red waistband. At the entrance we were greeted by a nice Greek goddess who turned out to be a girl from Barlad. She took us to our table, and after we sat down we each got a welcoming cocktail from the house. The waiter placed the napkins on our laps which made me realize this was actually a serious restaurant. Before bringing the food, the waitress gave us one warm towel with jasmine essence to wipe and refresh our hands. It took us quite a while to pick something from the menu and I went for a Greek Plate which had: moussaka, a stuffed   pepper, some chopped pork with fresh onions, stifado, salad, rice and baked potatoes. My mum had an Oriental Lamb which also included salad, rice, baked potatoes and some veggies. Jeni & Luci each ordered pork with plums and pork with raisins. We also got one tzatziki as a starter. But that one accompanied the starters from the house that you get if you order a main dish. So we got a plate with aubergine salad, roe salad and avocado salad, some olives and a few butter curls along with another plate with 4 or 5 types of bread. I'm an eggplant hater but I always try things before I make a pledge and this salad was so good I couldn't stop. It was a bit different than our traditional salad which I still can't stand... it had a bit of mayonnaise and a bit of lemon i suppose, but it tasted fantastic. Same for the avocado and the roe.
We ordered one white wine to go with the starters and one red wine for the main dishes.

 In the meantime, after the red wine was finished, the boss gave us another one from the house.
After we stuffed our stomachs with pure joyous food to the point where breathing was becoming a problem, we were offered a big cup of diced cool fresh fruits from the house.
fruits from the house
So we decided it was going to be a long night out and while chatting and waiting for a bit of room for the fruits a lovely waiter came with some traditional Raki and poured one shot for each of us and one shot for him and cheered with us. Yamas!
miss Jeni, Pascale the happy waiter and me

 A few fruits later he comes again this time with one small pot of Raki and leaves it for us. Happy happy joy joy, saying we left that place satisfied would a major understatement. All this pampering was a lot cheaper than eating out in Hersonissos at an ordinary tavern (between 12-15 euros/dish), the atmosphere, the serving, all the attention every customer gets.. everything is perfect!

Pascale - he knows some Romanian poetry - "cutzu cutzu na grivei mamaliga daca vrei"

The last day, we did what I promised myself I would never do and I was right thinking that way. We took a group trip to Knossos. There is a reason why I hated group trips without even going to one and now after making this mistake I know I was right for thinking that way.
Anyway, on a brighter note, the Knossos temple is amazing. I'm not a fan of antiquities, spread rocks around hills and other stories about it. But this really got to my heart. And not because of the history behind it. But because of how amazing and bright the architects and engineers were around 4000 years ago. Building such a massive palace with so many different levels and communications between rooms and different parts of the palace and making it resist for so long, making such an efficient ventilation system and a water supply system along with one for getting rid of all the manure... that's astonishing!

Ended the day and the holiday with a final swim in the sea and with Greece with all its wonders in my heart. What's sticking to me as symbols from Crete: the deafening sounds of the Cretan crickets, the blue of the sea, the smell of gyros at every corner, the amazing waves, the Star Beach and the Meltemi beach, the 208 terrace - that is the balcony from our hotel room in which we had dinner a few times from the supermarket and in which we would spend time every night with a beer or a drop of ouzo.
All in all, Crete was a great experience and I'm really glad I tried it! It is on my list of places I'd go back to.