Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chania

It's October. The summer has passed way too quickly and I am absolutely not ready to either put away my flip flops or dig out the cold weather clothes. I could stay put in Miami and enjoy our perpetual summer but staying put anywhere is not really my style. It was time to hope for warm weather destinations and at least prolong the illusion of summer.

The travel gods listened to my pleas (or maybe it was the weather gods..whoever it was is getting an extra candle).  I was presented with a chance to spend four days in Chania, Greece.  Best of all, not only was I avoiding the cold, I was doing so with great timing.  Do you know the only thing better than summer in Crete?  It is the "not-summer" in Crete.  Had we been there a couple of months earlier, the island would have been over run with European tourists.  Now in the off-season, we still got the spectacular weather but without all those pesky sunworshippers to get between us and the choice tables at the seaside spots.
We were staying blocks from the old Venetian Harbour, a scenic stretch of waterfront lined with side by side cafes, pubs and small shops.  It is so-named, obviously enough, because it was built by the Venetians between 1320-1356 in order to control the sea of Crete from pirates.





Today, the closest they have to pirates are the restaurant and boat tour touts that compete for business.  As I mentioned, this was off-season so there were enough people to justify keeping all the businesses open but not much more than that, resulting in what I like to think, was a kinder, gentler variety of tout.  There were signs in front of some restaurants advertising things like "no pressure", "no hard sell" and my favorite "we don't talk" (which incidentally had a guy out front who chatted us up every time we walked by) but we never actually experienced the level of pushiness the signs seem to suggest is the norm.

Instead, everyone was very chill.  Locals, fellow tourists and the healthiest stray cats and dogs I've ever seen, all seemed to be languidly enjoying the day.  It was like everyone was either about to take a nap or had just woken up from one.











Being this close to the water, we could not pass up the chance to go boating and at 10 € for an hour-long glass bottom boat, it was a bargain.  I assumed that they would make up for the low price with an inflated bar menu.  I assumed wrong.  When we asked about drinks, the guy pointed us to the mini-market and even offered to hold the boat while we ran to get provisions.


All of the boat tour operators offer essentially the same outings at the same prices.  One curious thing that they all promise during the one hour tour is a "fish show" which would hint at them having trained fish on the payroll, willing to do tricks for our amusement.  The truth is not too far off, On our boat we had a British guide, who at a designated point,  jumped off the boat and swam underneath the glass bottom and proceeded to blow rings, splash around and do his utmost to attract the 8-10 fish living in the Cretan sea who have successfully avoided becoming an entree.

British guy not pictured.
In addition to the "fish" show, our tour featured some historical background into the nearby islands, a lovely sunset and an introduction to the Brit's conch friends.




Even in the waning fall months, there is still quite a bit of nightlife to be had...or so I hear.  If you happen to be traveling with an oversized Pollock who is easily distracted by either shiny things or ample cleavage, you may find yourself at a cheesy bar that is hosting "Sexy nurse night". This might even happen two nights in a row.





On our second day, the weather was still perfect, making it a great time to go back out on the water. I decided to get closer to those 8-10 fish we had seen via glass bottom boat and sign up for the 3 1/2 hour snorkeling trip.

The itinerary included stops at three dive sites and a chance to see the kri kri.  Although the name seems best suited for discussing naughty bits with a child (ie Did that priest touch your kri kri?), it is actually a small goat native to Crete.  The Cretans (which I believe is what they are called and not a slight on their character) are unusually proud of these little creatures and after killing them to the point of extinction are now doing their best to protect them.   Theodorou Island has been turned into a sanctuary inhabited by hundreds of kri kri and their one caretaker. With the exception of one day out of the year (June 8th), visitors are not permitted to step foot on the island, meaning that for 364 days out of the year, the island consists of just one lonely caretaker playing with his kri kri.


We sailed slowly around the island trying to spot these mythical creature (the kri kri not the caretaker) but struggled to do so, even when our guide was pointing them out because 1) they blend in perfectly with their background, so much so, that I think part of the protection plan is to issue them little rock costumes and 2) the reason the costumes would need to be little is because these things are tiny.  We did see two of them, walking on impossibly steep cliffs, but the second they would stop moving,  they would disappear entirely into their surroundings so zooming in enough for a photograph was an impossibility.



The first stop was good in that it allowed us to cross “swam in the Cretan sea” off our list of things to do.  Had the category been modified to say “swam with fish…”, it would have to remain unchecked. There was nothing but sand and other snorkelers out there.  I thought maybe I was missing something, so I began my own fish census, asking others “Have you seen any fish?” No one had.

Stop #2 was an airplane wreck which is proudly advertised by the tour touts.  It is a German plane that was shot down by the Brits. I imagined diving down there and maybe even swimming into cockpit. The visibility was great,  so even if it had been in deep water (which it wasn’t), you  could have made out every detail.  Which makes it all the more confounding that what we saw looked nothing like a plane.  It looked more like a loading pallet that had fallen off of a passing ship and no one had bothered to pick up.  It was while grumbling about the dud plane that I realized that the underwater camera I’d been lugging around had no batteries.  You want to know how lame the “plane” was.? My camera was dead and I did not care.

Stop #3 was by Lazaretta, an island once inhabited by lepers.  This was where we had stopped the day before for our “fish show”.  Today we were the show.  In all fairness, today there really were plenty of fish- small ones but lots of them. They were all around us.  I would like to think that this is a sign that the ocean is recovering from very obvious overfishing but I think this had more to do with our guide sprinkling us from above with half a loaf of bread.  I think I may still have a crouton tangled in my hair, but it did make for a cool experience.




On our final day, we opted to walk way from the busy waterfront, following the shoreline and eventually going up into the hills.  This was both a way to check out the more local parts of the island and a test for my new iphone pedometer.







10.62 miles later, it was time to treat ourselves. After one final Alpha-infused sunset, I was determined to check out a place that had intrigued me from day one.


On the way from our hotel to the waterfront, there were not one but two fish pedicure salons.  These are spas where you dip your feet into a tank full of garra rufa fish and sit back as they munch away on all the dead skin.  I had already done this once in Amsterdam but I don't remember the fish being particularly large.

That is where one salon in Chania ups the game.


For 8€, you can dip your feet for fifteen minutes and allow these ravenous podiatrists to have at it. I don't know if during the busy season, they are so overfed that they become lazy and contented (and obviously fat af) but this was October and these little guys were on the job...between the toes, under the nails...they showed a work ethic that would make a Chinese sweatshop owner proud.


I don't know how much longer I will be able to stave off the cold but for this month, this had been ideal. We had enjoyed everything Chania had to offer while avoiding the crowds. While others were beginning to bundle up,  I was going home tanned, with a belly full of olives and feta and sporting some of the softest feet around. To that I say, Opa!!

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