Friday, December 05, 2003

This time, last year: Crete Day 3

Awoke to a bright and sunny day. It was difficult to believe that we were in December. After breakfast, we caught a bus to the Port in Iraklion and from there, a bus to Aghios Nikolaos (2 and a 1/2 hours). AN is a bustling cosmopolitan town in southern Crete with smart hotels and cafes. Although it’s history dates from ancient times, in the 15th century, the turks gave it, its name from the Church of Saint Nicholas, which stood on the small peninsula in the harbour. It was relatively empty being off season.

From the tourist office, we learnt that we had chosen a bad day to come to AN. Had we come a day later, we would have been able to take the ferry to the nearby isle of Spinalonga. In winter, ferries run only on Thursdays and Fridays. (We had come on a Wednesday). And our hotel was organising a trip to Spinalonga, the next day…the one we didn’t want to take. So we sat at one of the cafes on the edge of lake Voulismeni (which is linked to the sea by a canal) and pondered over what to do next. Spinalonga was the place everyone went to; A former Venetian military outpost converted in recent times to a leper colony, now of course empty. We decided to check out Plaka, a nearby fishing village (although, I can’t quite fathom why we chose Plaka over anything else).

We took a taxi since everything else was closed or not running on that day and we were not sure when the bus would arrive. Our road curved up and down with the sea on one side and a continuous row of holiday homes, villas and hotels on the other. At places, the single lane road was so narrow that we had to pull off it to allow the cars from other directions to pass by. We arrived in Plaka within 15 minutes. It’s a small sleepy fishing village of about 50 odd houses. All closed for the winters. We found two restaurants open. Our driver Yanni (what else) dropped us at one and said he would be back in 45 minutes time to take us back to AN. We were the only two tourists in the whole of Plaka. The restaurant was run by a plump jolly aged couple. The husband set up a place for us in the verandah behind the restaurant, bang on the edge of the sea(the waves were lapping at the walls), with a fine and unobstructed view of Spinalonga.

The lady let us select the fish – to the extent of A telling her we want the fish and not calamar (squid). Then she added the extras and the bill came to a nice round 79E (!!) After a bit of haggling by A (while I stayed away…painful memories of the carpet shop), the bill was settled at 60E. Not cheap. But the fresh grilled fish, the view, the solitude and the waves lapping at our foot….it was possibly the most memorable lunch we have ever had.

It was not so wonderful for A however! He has a cat phobia. He had been attacked by a cornered cat as a child and never got over it. Our restaurant(and indeed Crete) was crawling with fat, greedy and extremely tame cats. A kept getting up from his chair and running here and there. The couple finally came and stood guard while A finished his meal!! And what a meal it was. 3 types of fish grilled over charcoals, fresh bread, greek yogurt with garlic and cucumber and red wine!! Ah! The man asked us the usual questions: where were we from, where have we put up etc. On learning we were from India, he said he had once been to Mumbai and said he liked Indians – they were nice people at heart. Aren’t we? Specially us. We practically forced them to open their restaurants, ate fish they caught for themselves and paid for it!! But they were very nice. As were generally all of the locals everywhere in Crete.

Yanni was back in 45 minutes and brought us back to AN. He told us that during summer months, the road was packed with 1000s of tourists and their cars, making this 15 minute more like an hour’s! Quite believable(though a bit weird since only we two seemed to be visiting). Apart from the hotels and villas, we saw plenty of new ones being constructed!! Endless signboards for car rentals, bike rentals and boat rentals dotted the house tops. All shut now. Did a bit of a shopping in AN. Picked up olive oil bath soaps, an enormous loofah at a charming shop selling soaps, loofahs, wines, olive oil, and sponges, all attractively priced. The way back to Iraklion was nice since we took the old route which ran alongside the shore – the incredible blue surrounded by small mountains or perhaps they were hills, fluffy white clouds dotting the blue sky. Olive trees, date palms, cacti, pink hibiscus(jaba to us Bengalis), banana plantations (actually plastic covered sheds), a strange blue flower – a regular pot pourri.

Back in Amoudara, we went to find out about the Jeep Safari to the mountainous northern Crete only to find out that it had left early that very morning and would again be available same day next week(by when we would be back in France). Not content with telling us that we had missed it, he also told us that 4 couples from our hotel had the supreme fortune and good sense to go on that trip. No he didn’t put it into so many words!! We could of course hire a jeep for 48E per person and he would make us a trail for us complete with directions. And we noticed that 39E for 3 days for a car had gone up to 49E for three days, thankyou very much! The owner had been answering all our questions with lots of enthusiasm till A wanted the jeep for the rate of a car. At this, he promptly ended the conversation by saying “You are crazy”!

Dinner for us was mainly ‘ghas-phus’ (greens) and then a lengthy walk around the front drive and one outside to supermarket past the noisy geese. (The enormous spread, the salty water and no bed tea had us both constipated). A heard English being spoken at quite a few tables at dinner and decided that the new hiked prices of the car rentals was courtesy this new group of tourist from UK.

To be contd…

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