The Hotel Palazzo
The Hotel Palazzo (which comes out in Greek as Palátso or Palátzo) is named, like many others in the Old Town—not only in Chaniá but in other Cretan cities as well—to recall the island’s Venetian heritage. That’s understandable, as the old towns were largely built during the four centuries of Venetian rule (from the 13th to the 17th century). After that, the Turks ruled Crete until the early 20th century, and did further construction in a similar style. So some buildings like the Palazzo may be Turkish rather than Venetian legacies, but very few hotels have names that reflect that heritage.

This, too, is understandable. The Cretans in general were unhappy with both foreign overlords, but when they finally fulfilled their ambition to become part of the modern Greek nation, it was after a long and bitter struggle against the Turks. Their grievances against the Venetians, who had been gone for centuries by that time, were an old story and easier to forget.
Theotokopoúlou street from our balcony
Whatever the building’s history, the Palazzo is a small hotel (it has 11 rooms) in what was once a mansion on a street named Theotokopoúlou. This formidable polysyllable begins with the usual title given to the Virgin Mary, equivalent to “Mother of God” as the western church generally expresses it, but in Greek it means more literally “[the one who] gave birth to God”). Adding the suffix -poulos, however, meaning ‘descendant of,’ turns it into a surname, and the street name honors a great Renaissance painter who came from Crete: Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known to us Americans by his Spanish nickname, El Greco (‘the Greek’). Every town of any size in Crete has a street named for him. Like a good many streets in Chaniá's Old Town, Theotokopoúlou is crowded with hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, and souvenir shops. The effect is by no means as garish as that inventory might make you think—only a few hotel signs were at all large, and these were old enough to look more quaint than commercial. The street was paved with square stones in a diagonal pattern and enlivened by greenery and flowers set in big pots or planters outside the buildings or on balconies. In the warm September sunlight, it was idyllic.
Our room
We were delighted with our room, which was on a corner of the building’s first floor (i.e., the second, to us Americans). It had a very Mediterranean ambience: glassless windows with only wooden shutters to open or close, cutwork curtains that billowed in every breeze, spare but tasteful furniture, solid wood floors polished to a golden brown glow, and a finished wood ceiling that echoed the color of the floor. Here’s a picture Dorothea took. A French window opened onto a little balcony from which we could look one way and see the Mediterranean (this part of which is called the Cretan Sea) and look the other way to see the street receding down a modest slope.
An even narrower street named Ángelou (‘Angel’) joined Theotokopoúlou at the corner where our room was located. From the window on that side, we could see, only a few feet away across Ángelou, a similarly small hotel named “Casa d’Amore.” Despite this intriguing name, however, we never observed anything especially romantic going on there. Our front windows and balcony looked down on a small restaurant named Kalderími on the other side of Theotokopoúlou. We didn’t eat there until our last night in Chaniá, but we noted that it was always full of diners, many of them Greek, at lunch and dinner time.

Theotokopoúlou runs parallel to the west side of the harbor (insofar as a straight line can run parallel to a curved one), whose quay is the main Old Town promenade, a tight loop of restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels. Side streets like Ángelou connect Theotokopoúlou with the quay at intervals.

The Outer Harbor
This location was a great convenience. Coming out of our hotel’s door, we could turn right and walk toward the seafront, past the small Byzantine museum, to the point where another right turn would take us, around the wall of what had once been a Venetian fortress, to the mouth of the harbor and the beginning of the quay that encircled the small part of it called the Outer Harbor. This walkway takes visitors around a loop packed with eating, drinking, lodging, and souvenir-shopping places, which despite its commercialism radiates a quaint and slightly antique charm. On the far side it leads past the Mosque of the Janissaries (at the left of the picture) to the quayside of the Inner Harbor, which is much larger.

If we turned left instead, we had a choice of immediately taking another left to follow Angelou down to the harborside, or continuing straight down Theotokopoúlou (past, among other things, a hotel named El Greco) until the street ended at Zambéliou—a narrower street that sometimes becomes a stairway. This street was full of restaurant tables and colorful goods hanging outside shops, and also (as on Theotokopoúlou) plenty of green and growing things.

But we didn’t start exploring immediately. When we came downstairs in the morning, Anastasía served us a fine breakfast that included a fresh peach, grapes, a banana, slices of ham and cheese, a basket of baked things (two each of white rolls, paximádia—dry toast somewhat reminiscent of Melba toast or Zwieback—and slices of pound cake), yogurt (the good, thick Greek kind) and honey. The honey was in little foil packets, like jam, but there was enough to pour onto the yogurt, and it too had a Greek flavor—a slight tang that cuts the sweetness just enough. This combination is a long-standing favorite of mine, and I considered it the highlight of our morning meal.

After breakfast we were still a bit logy—the aftereffects of our transcontinental flight and our long day in the airport had not yet dissipated. So we returned to our room and rested for a few hours. Dorothea sat on the balcony for a while, but came back in when a brief sprinkle fell. We read some, and just lay around, comforted by a cool breeze (thanks to our having windows on two sides of the room), and charmed rather than disturbed by conversational sounds drifting in from the street and the restaurant just across it, sounds that Dorothea’s notes accurately describe as “amicable.”

We didn’t feel ready to venture out until 2:00 in the afternoon. The sun was now shining and although there were clouds in the sky there was plenty of blue between them, and no sign of precipitation.
The lighthouse
We went left and followed the shortcut down Angelou about a hundred yards to the quayside, where we first walked back toward the harbor mouth a short way to get a better look at lighthouse tower on the other side. A brisk wind was blowing from the north (which, we were later told, is the direction from which Crete gets most of its weather), and waves were breaking with impressive force on the rocks at the base of the lighthouse. The Outer Harbor lies directly in front of the opening between the lighthouse and the Venetian fort (called the Firkas), so the waves, though slightly weakened in force, were coming straight in and sometimes splashing up onto the stone quay, putting anyone who was slow-footed in danger of being wet-footed as well.
The Inner Harbor afforded more protection from the waves; to get to it a ship must turn left as soon as it gets past the lighthouse, and then pass through another entrance about 50m wide. The harbor is sheltered not by Nature but by a long mole, or seawall, which the Venetians had built. As the old view (1664) in the section heading shows, the original mole zigzagged to follow natural rock formations, but it has been at least partially straightened. The present mole is about 700 meters long, nearly half a mile. About 200 meters from the lighthouse, ships pass through an entrance about 50 meters wide, formed by a pier extending from the landward side and a wall connected at right angles to the mole. Beyond that, the Inner Harbor is about 400 meters long and 150 meters wide. Big ferries from Piraeus and Kalamata dock there, and so do many pleasure craft (although I don’t remember seeing any fishing boats). A number of Venetian naval arsenal buildings still stand on the harborside, long vaulted brick buildings, each of them large enough to keep one of Venice’s oared war galleys completely out of the weather. Plans exist for putting these arsenali to various uses, but except for one that now houses a reconstructed Minoan ship, they are still idle—most likely for lack of funds.

The Venetians certainly had a lighthouse in their time, but it’s gone now, though the base of the present lighthouse was part of it. The tower we saw was built in the first half of the 19th century by the Egyptians. (That’s right, I said Egyptians. Though these particular Egyptians may have been Albanian. Click the button to learn more.)
After snapping a few pictures from beside the Firkas, we walked down the quay toward the bottom of the Outer Harbor, carefully avoiding the occasional waves that washed over the rim. (No doubt because this is not a rare occurrence, the quay is slightly canted toward the water, so it doesn’t get very far from the edge and doesn’t stay wherever it gets to for very long.)

It was time to look for lunch. A little way down the harborside we came to the Amphora Hotel, with its restaurant occupying a canopied space in front of it. The guidebooks had suggested that the food was good and the sell softer than at most harborside places. We took seats that gave us a nice view: in the background, the harbor with its lively waves and in the foreground, the people walking past.

Although the fabled hordes of July and August were absent, there was a good-sized crowd of visitors on this late-September Friday. Our Arizona friends, whom we would soon meet again, told us that they had been at the harborside early that morning and seen an army-sized tour group tramp past, listening to a guide address them in German. We didn’t see any groups quite as homogeneous as that, but there were plenty of international as well as Greek visitors on the quay.

We shared a Greek salad and a dish for two: boiled goat with Cretan rice. The goat, cut into small pieces and left on the bone, was tasty and tender, and the rice was like a risotto, thick and creamy with a gentle taste of lemon; we enjoyed both greatly. (Coming from a country where goat is seldom eaten, we might have expected it to be tough, though it wasn’t. But we had once eaten some extremely tender goat at Cooper’s Barbecue in Llano, Texas, so we didn’t hesitate to order it and were not astounded to find it chewable.) A half-liter bottle of retsina from a growers’ cooperative in the Chaniá district went perfectly with the meal.
The Pórtes restaurant, inside the old city walls
After lunch we walked up one of the streets that led away from the harbor and spent some time wandering in the Old Town. On Pórtou street, just inside a part of the Venetian city wall that still stands, we found the Pórtes restaurant, where we planned to eat dinner that night. (The restaurant name means ‘gates’ or ‘doors,’ and the street name, Odós Pórtou, means “Street of the gate.” We didn’t notice any gate, but Google Maps suggests that we were not very far from one, or at least from a street that leads beyond where the walls used to be.

However, we took a different turning, into a street running back to the harbor. We came to the signboard of another restaurant, To Cháni (‘The Inn’), with an arrow pointing down a short side street, little more than an alley. Although it was too new to be mentioned in either of our guidebooks, To Cháni had generated considerable enthusiasm on the Trip Advisor site, and I was quite interested because some of the reviews had mentioned live Greek music. We thought this was most likely a feature of the high season that hadn’t continued into September, but we walked down the alley just to check. A friendly woman whom we found chalking the evening’s menu up on a blackboard assured us that musicians were still playing there every night, and we resolved to come that night after dinner at Portes.

To Kháni was on the corner of the alley and another equally miniature street. Directly across from it was Etz Hayim, Chaniá’s only surviving synagogue, a memorial, going back to the middle ages, of the city’s vanished Jewish community. Only a handful of Jews live in Chania now, so the synagogue doesn’t house a congregation, but it has been lovingly restored and furnished as a monument. Unfortunately, this has been necessary more than once, as the synagogue was set on fire twice in January, 2010. The second fire did the most damage, including the destruction of some 2,000 books. Two Britons and one American were charged with the crimes, and another American, said to have left the country, was also wanted by the police. The four were identified by a young Greek man, who had participated and was also charged. All were in their 20s except one Brit, who was 33.
We didn't take any pictures at the synagogue, but there are some on its website. Here's a link:
We began circling back in the direction of our hotel. Dorothea remarked that the Old Town of Chaniá was very like the Old Town of Lovran, a small Croatian town on the northern Adriatic which we had visited in 2008, although Chaniá’s is much larger. We remembered that both places had been built by Venetians, who occupied most of the cities and towns—and founded some— along the west coast of the Balkan peninsula during their republic’s heyday. Chaniá (and for all I know, Lovran as well) has a more ancient history, but the inhabitants who preceded the Venetians have left no obvious visible traces above ground in either place.

We got back to the Palazzo at about 4:30 or 5:00, took it easy for a while, and at 7:30 headed for the Portes restaurant to have dinner. We hadn’t made a reservation; not only were we in the waning days of September, but 7:30 was, as far as we knew, well before the Greek dinner hour.

But our confidence that we’d have no trouble finding a table was misplaced. We found the tables outside the restaurant, ranged along the wall on the opposite side of the tiny street, all occupied, and it was too pleasant an evening to eat indoors. While we were trying to decide whether to move along or try waiting, we saw David and Carol, the Arizonans whom we’d befriended in the airport at Athens, waving to us from a table where there was room for two more. They had just ordered, and invited us to join them.

We did so, and settled into a delightful, long meal with good wine and conversation, so delightful and so long that we forgot all about going to To Cháni in search of music, and sat over dinner until 12:15. For an appetizer, David and Carol had ordered dolmádes as an appetizer. This name applies to several kinds of stuffed foods, including the grape leaves filled with meat and rice that Dorothea had ordered in Athens, as well as smaller ones eaten as appetizers that are traditionally stuffed with rice and other flavoring ingredients, but without meat. These are usually called by the diminutive name dolmadákia. (In either form, big or little, the name has a “hard d”--as in English—at the beginning, but a standard Greek “soft d” in the middle. It’s based on a borrowed Turkish word that means ‘stuffed.’) Our friends’ dolmádes were wrapped in zucchini flowers instead of grape leaves, and they shared these with us. We got some of the standard grape-leaf variety to share with them. Both were served with yogurt. For the main course, I had rabbit stewed with prunes (tasty if a trifle bony) and French fries; Dorothea had chicken meatballs, in onion-lemon rather than egg-lemon sauce, and rice. The unresinated white wine was flowery, but not sweet. History does not record, nor does memory recall, what dessert we were offered with the complimentary rakí, but both were appreciated.
David, Carol, and ourselves
One dish was brought to our table by a woman with auburn braids, a proprietary air, and an Irish accent, so I asked if she was the owner (whom one of our guidebooks had identified as “Susanna from Limerick”). She was, and we all expressed appreciation for the quality of the meal and the restaurant’s ambience.

David, a tall and long-armed man, told us he had developed a certain skill in taking group pictures that included himself. He borrowed my pocket camera and demonstrated, with the impressive result shown.

It was well after midnight when we got back to the Palazzo. Its door had been locked since 10:00, but Iríni had provided us with a key of our own.