28.03.2015 - 31.03.2015
A mid sized university town, Rethymno has an old section of narrows alleys and old houses, in various states of repair and disrepair.
We met a man in this tiny Greek church in the walls of the old city, and talked philosophy. He said he had been coming to this charming place since he was a boy.
Inside the church
The Fortezza, a Venetian Fort, parts of which date back to the 1200's, sits high on a hill overlooking the town, harbor, and the sea. It was built to protect the occupants from Barbarosa and other pirates.
We spent several hours in the warm sun of the afternoon on the grounds around the Fortezza.
Looking out at the sea from Fortezza grounds
By contrast, the modern city spreads out along the beach beyond the harbor, and has a number of hotels and cafes, many of which were closed at this time of year.
As we noticed in Heraklion, the Greeks seems to have a schedule which approximates that of the Spaniards and the Argentinians. That is, a late and big lunch between 2-4 PM, when all the stores close. Often, it seems they close between 1 PM until almost 5, but possibly because this is the off-season. Things don't get started until at least 9 or 10 PM, with dinner and music, and it is not until 11or 12, when things really get hopping.
Tonight we had dinner at Vasilli's, a tiny old place at the base of the Fortezza.
Looking up at wall around Fortezza from sea road. Vasilli"s was on the other side
We happened there yesterday afternoon when they were closed, and promised the owner we would be back the next night. He and his daughter Eleni gave us a big hug after with chatted with them, and so we were bound to return. Vasilli is a big mustachioed man, more or less our age, who used to run a restaurant close to the port, and more recently has opened this place, where mezes and tapas, are the specialities. He is a larger than life character, more or less as I imagine Zorba the Greek, which I am now re-reading after many years. Zorba it turns out, was from Crete, as was his creator Kazantzakis.
Of course at 7:20, the place was empty, but he started a fire in the tiny and smokey wood stove so that we would be comfortable. We ordered a bunch of small mezes, including his special salad, fava beans, Greek meatballs, etc., more than enough food. Around 8, a group of six friends came in, and there were smiles all around when they saw us. One of the women, Despina, came over to our table to talk. She is a young, pretty woman in her late 20's, who is a psychologist at the local hospital where she works with schizophrenic patients. Her parents are divorced, and so she is more or less on her own, and wants to complete her education in Integrative psychology. We both felt an instant connection to her, and she to us. Unfortunately her present job lasts only another two months, and like so many young people in Greece, she has no money to pursue further education, even though she is desperate to do so.
Before long, the larger group had bought us extra wine and insisted we join them and share their bottles of raki, an offer we couldn't refuse. We laughed and talked, despite their generally poor English and our non-existent Greek. Much wine and raki was consumed, and I felt a strong connection to these, and other Greek people, who seem so very warm and generous. We also spent time talking to Eleni, who at 22, is quite sophisticated and aware of what is happening, not only in Greece, but in other places. Thanks to her father's hard work, and her own, she has been fortunate to spend time in Istanbul. This is interesting, when you consider the antipathy between the Greeks and the Turks, which she clearly doesn't feel.
Harbor at sunset
I was thankful that we had spent a few days in Rethymno, despite some chilly weather. It is occasions like the dinner at Vasilli's that I most look forward to in my travels. Thank you Vasilli, for giving me this opportunity, and I hope to spend another night or two at your restaurant.