Exploring Chania, Crete
The first thing I noticed about Chania was the mountains, and how close Santorini appears when landing in Crete. Santorini’s south coast was inviting as it loomed in the distance. You can in fact get to Santorini easily by ferry from Crete. Crete itself has rocky edges, cliffs seemingly rising out of the brilliant blue sea. Crete’s history dates to the 7th millennium BCE. The Minoan Civilisation originated here, and it is the oldest known civilisation in Europe. The nearby eruption on Thera (Santorini) effectively ended the Minoan Civilisation and Crete became part of different empires – the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman–before finally becoming part of the modern country of Greece. It has influences from each of these time periods.
I got my bag and made a beeline for the taxis before everyone else could get there. I had a lovely taxi driver named George who told me about the difficulties faced in Greece. He admitted that life is easier on an island, far from the hustle and bustle of large cities on the mainland. The Chania I initially saw looked rather old and abandoned – Chania’s airport is an example of this. There was barely an airport employee in sight as I walked through the airport, which looks unfinished. George told me that it had been a work in progress, with an upgrade having been planned but works stalling due to issues with money.
I settled on some gifts for my family and the owner offered me a shot of local rakomelo (a traditional alcoholic drink) as a thank you. Shots at 8:30am! That’s the way.
My hotel turned out to be in a quiet neighbourhood close to Nea Chora beach. It was a very short walk to get there and also just 15 minutes from Chania’s old town. It was a lovely walk from my hotel along the beach. I rose early, the sun having just risen. It had a bright glow as it rose further on the horizon. The glow was dazzling reflected in the blue, clear waters. There are people swimming at Nea Chora beach and some walkers and joggers. Otherwise, the road was quiet, as it was still early.
Crete is both mountainous and traditional, while also being a seaside haven. The night before, the beach had been busy, filled with both locals and tourists enjoying the water. Nearing the Old Town, it is the iconic lighthouse that has prominence. It rises up on the edge of the harbour, a well-known landmark in Chania. The other unmissable landmark is the Turkish Mosque Yiali Tzami (or Giali Tzami). It is the oldest Ottoman building in Crete, erected in 1645 when Crete was captured by the Turks.
Travel tip: Rent a car from a local car rental company and drive through the stunning island. It’s a special experience you wont regret.
Men were sitting on the edge of the harbour wall, fishing lines out. The cafes were open for the early risers such as myself. I had a light breakfast with a delicious frappe at a café along the harbour before looking around a bit. I looked up a side street and saw a souvenir shop. I settled on some gifts for my family and the owner offered me a shot of local rakomelo (a traditional alcoholic drink) as a thank you. Shots at 8:30am! That’s the way. I downed it quickly, the taste quite nice, unlike the strong flavour of ouzo. You taste the sweetness of honey and spices combined with traditional raki liqueur.
The Old Town is filled with cafes, restaurants and stores selling clothing, jewellery, souvenirs and local products. Later in the day, the streets were buzzing with people, as Crete is a popular destination with tourists and Greeks alike. The seaside, the sandy beaches with clear waters combined with traditional villages, mountains, olive groves and the Venetian harbour make Chania the place to be. Crete is a large island and you need many days to discover all of her charms. The few days I had here were just enough to whet my appetite for more.