Every summer, for as far back as I can remember, my parents sent my two sisters, some cousins, and me to visit our grandparents in Greece. We spent this time living like natives in Arna, a little village on a mountaintop where my ancestors are from. Arna is located on the southern mainland of Greece and holds many people and memories dear to my heart.
Some years my parents made the trip as well where in addition to Arna, we would visit the island of Crete, where my mother’s family is from. Our trips to Crete are always about the senses—sights, tastes, smells, sounds and touch. The most vivid sensorial trip to Crete occurred in the summer of 2008. Our first stop was the Althea Village Hotel http://www.gtahotels.com/hotels/althea_village_hotel_chania.htm# in the Kato Daratso section of Chania in the northern part of Crete http://www.crete-pictures.com/kato-daratso.htm. The Althea is very close to the beach with a pool and a mini-golf course. Looking into the distance we could see the White Mountains which separated the north from the south.
We woke on some mornings to the sight of steaming plates of sugar-coated cheese pies called bougatsa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bougatsa. The aroma of cinnamon, sugar and cheese was astounding. The best place to get this tasty treat is the renown Bougatsa Hanion, and I assert that it lives up to its reputation. Even Anthony Bourdain, the great chef and author, visited this wonderful sweet-spot http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Pa560b0fnk and showcased it on his No Reservations television show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Pa560b0fnk.
Lunch and dinner included a variety of Cretan foods that fill the senses. Whether sitting by the pool at the Althea, or in a restaurant at the Chania limani (port) http://www.teflgreece.com/gallery/g1/01_Chania%20Limani.jpg, or at a relative’s house, the aroma and taste of all we ate was incredible. One night we went to the village of Mournies near Chania where the architecture has changed little since Byzantium. We went to the Andarti taverna and had a wonderful meal (andarti means rebel in Greek). I remember trying a viscous spread made from goat’s milk fat called staka, and it was amazing.
We left the Althea and crossed the White Mountains to the southern coast to visit Loutro http://loutro.com/ , built on the base of a mountain, accessible only by ferry from Chora Sfakia http://www.sfakia-crete.com/sfakia-crete/sfakia-crete.html. My grandfather was born in this beautiful place that has only one pedestrian street winding through it. On the rocky beach we rented kayaks and voyaged out a bit onto the Mediterranean Sea. My sisters and I faced our collective fear of heights by climbing nearby cliffs and diving into the beautiful water. As in Chania, the restaurants in Loutro have amazing Cretan food, including grilled meats, fresh fish, salads, potatoes, olives and goat’s cheese.
Last stop was a deserted beach and campsite east of Loutro called Fragokastelo http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-west/EN-Frangokastello.html. We hiked over hills to get to this spot where the water was crystal blue and freezing compared to the northern beaches. My uncle who lives in Chania met us there along with his family and some friends. We barbecued, swam, told stories, and listened to classic Greek blues music called rembetika http://www.greecetravel.com/music/rembetika/. That night, in this place with no street lights, we stared at the endless stars in the sky. I couldn’t see where the ground ended and the sky began and I was content.
Not long after, we left Crete and went back to Arna and soon we were back in America. When I reflect about this trip to Crete, in my mind’s eye, I try hard to see, hear, smell and touch all that I love and miss.