After 2 flights across deep blue Mediterranean waters, I arrived at Heraklion airport on the Greek Isle, Crete. It was late afternoon with warm summer temperatures and for a second as we were approaching to land, I wondered whether we would make the runway as we seemed very low as we passed over the harbour and cruise ships below.
Ahhh…the island of Crete: steeped in history, charm and character and my first experience on the island was being spat on by a gypsy boy! I was innocently minding my own business walking from the bus stop en route to my hostel when a young boy on a scooter whizzed in my direction and spat on me – utterly disgusting! Luckily, for me, it landed on my bag only but it was so gross and needless to say I was very weary of all children from then on. Although it was not a highlight for me, I can definitely add that experience to my lists of “Firsts” and “This is travelling”. Haha.
I dropped by bags in my room and headed out for a bite. My first meal here was a lamb pita from Izmir Kebab – Trip Advisor approved – which I realise was more Turkish influence than traditional Greek cuisine but it was so good and with the blend of influences over the years, it was a local cuisine now. For dessert: Bougatsa, a semolina custard sandwiched by delicate phyllo pastry and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon – very similar in flavour to the Sfogliatelle that I found myself hooked on not too long before in Napoli! I sat on a bench in the nearby church square, shaded by the tree overhead, my mouth watering at the prospect of enjoying this sweet treat. The pastry crisped as my plastic spoon pushed through the top, then cut smoothly through the custard, until I could grab a piece and stuff it in my face – it was that good!
Crete is one of the biggest of the Greek Isles with lots of land for agricultural practices and so it is one of the main sources of olives and olive oil products. I witnessed this when I travelled to Knossos to see the Palace ruins. After a quick look around I ended up strolling the streets of the neighbourhood that overlooked acres of olive trees. It was beautiful for its expanse of trees stretching over the hills before me and for its dusty green hues against the clear blue sky, rich in terms of the fruit it would bear. There are also a large variety of herbs and teas grown on the island and used by the locals living in villages away from the main cities.
I always seek out food markets when I travel to new places and this time was no different. I walked through the narrow market on pedestrian street 1866 where they sold fresh produce, olive oil products, local cheeses, breads and lots more. I bought individual boxes of olive oil soaps, each adorned with a magnet in the form of a greek ruin – a lovely gift from Greece I thought. I stopped at a small store (window) where a lady was preparing Loukoumades: deep-fried handfuls of dough and drenched in honey and finely chopped nuts that surprisingly wasn’t as sickly sweet as I had expected it to be.
A definite highlight of my short stay here was a conversation shared with the woman who ran the hostel, talking about the food culture and life in Heraklion. She told me of how they ate olives daily because of its health benefits and that she often made her own cheese and butter. She spoke of the challenges of the young people who struggled to get work after university and she introduced me to “Dakos”: a toasted bread slice topped with tomato, feta cheese, oregano and caper berries. It was a special end to my trip. The next day I departed by ferry.