This morning we were treated with a delightful surprise: Christos’ return! Our bus driver from our pre-trip, Christos fast became family and his unscripted entrance into our hotel lobby had many of us pre-trip participants squealing like teenagers at a rock concert.
Christos chauffeured us across town to the National Archeological Museum, where we immersed ourselves in the greatest Greek art collection in the world. Having spent years in Italy studying and teaching about the Renaissance—the rebirth of classical tradition—everything came together in the presence of the statues that sculpted ancient Rome, Renaissance Italy, and ultimately our own civilization. Unlike the Romans, who mostly sculpted copies of Greek statues in marble, the Greeks cast their statues in bronze. It is rare to find an intact bronze sculpture from any point in antiquity as most were melted down and recycled for other purposes, but this collection has an impressive number of them, many even with their ivory eyes in still place.
After a quick bite to eat at the museum café, we were off to the airport to fly to the first of our island adventures: Crete! The quick flight was smooth, and I would say uneventful, except that the Greek Orthodox Church was having their first world-wide gathering in nearly 1,000 years and they happened to be hosting it on Crete, in Chania, next door to our hotel! More on that in a later post…
After settling into our hotel on the marina, we enjoyed a dinner together of Cretan specialties, including a savory chestnut stew, zucchini blossoms stuffed with rice and minced meat, an astounding array of Cretan cheeses, the usual Greek salad with its delectably fresh tomatoes and cucumber, and our choice of entrée (ranging from squid to rabbit to lamb!).
A few words about Chania. I am no expert on Greek history, but this lovely little town is the embodiment of the timeline we assembled on our first night. Initially an important Minoan settlement, it was taken over by the Myceneans, experienced a period of dark ages, was reborn in the Hellenistic era, assimilated by the Romans, became Byzantine, then Arab, then Venetian for nearly 400 years before Greece attained independence. The layers of history may be seen, felt and tasted. Active excavations are unearthing one of the largest Minoan palaces beneath the modern town of Chania. Narrow, wandering city streets reveal a medieval floor plan punctuated with minarets, ornamented with Gothic windows, and embraced by a Venetian fortress. The marina, our home while visiting, is lined with excellent fish restaurants serving up grilled sardines, fresh sea bream, and plenty of octopus while the traditional restaurants serve specialties uniquely influenced by oriental spices and Arab ingredients. I imagine one could spend weeks here digging into the history, or the food, and still not be satiated.
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