Chóra Sfakíon Gallery—Monday and Tuesday, September 26–27

  • In the Chaniá bus station
    In the Chaniá bus station
    The PA system was a little hard for foreigners to interpret, but Dorothea found some nice ladies who promised to tell us when our bus’s number was called.

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  • Full storage capacity
    Full storage capacity
    Old travel stories had made us wonder if we'd have trouble finding a place to put our bags among all the chickens and goats, but Cretan buses are quite up to date, and compare favorably with Greyhound's.

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  • Cushy carriage
    Cushy carriage
    This was obviously no place for livestock. We were traveling from the city to the country, of course, but it was clear that country people have other ways to bring chickens and goats to town nowadays. They'd never be taken on board this vehicle. The TV was never turned on, which was fine with us—riding through Crete's White Mountains (Léfka Óra) was a spectacular as well as comfortable experience.

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  • End of the road
    End of the road
    The road into Chóra Sfakíon goes past the parking lot where the buses stop and ends at this little roundabout near the water. We rolled our bags down the hill, passing on the right a side street that serves the houses and shops built on the steep hillside. To get to the Xenía Hotel, we turned right at the roundabout and walked along the town's short waterfront: a passage with shops, hotels, and restaurants on our right and the restaurants' dining areas, overlooking the water, on our left. Not just the dining areas, but the whole passage was either roofed or under awnings, producing the pleasant impression of a cool tunnel paved in shiny marble.

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  • Tables with a view
    Tables with a view
    It was afternoon when we arrived, and the dining areas were empty. I stepped into one of them to take this picture of a fishing boat at the pier that was next to our hotel.

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  • The Xenía Hotel in context
    The Xenía Hotel in context
    This picture, taken from a restaurant at the opposite end of the waterfront, focuses on the Xenía, which occupies the west end of the waterfront. There is a beach beyond here, but to get there without a boat you have to climb the hill to get around the rocks that jut out just beyond the hotel. Thanks to the foreshortening created by the camera lens, the multiple switchbacks that bring the Anópoli road down to the town's level seem very close.

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  • The Xenía Hotel by itself
    The Xenía Hotel by itself
    The Xenía was originally built and opened by a government agency during a campaign to encourage tourism, but after the government decided (probably wisely) to get out of the hotel business, it was sold to private owners. They've enlarged it, and it's quite a lovely place. Our room was in the small section you can see right above the hotel sign in the picture; we had one of its two balconies, behind a flowering bush and under a tile roof slanting down to the right. The kitchen was good, and diners, at this uncrowded season, had plenty of choices of seating, as you can see. Not only are there both shaded and unshaded seats on the quayside, but there's a large dining area behind the awnings at the left center—not exactly indoors, but under a roof and close to the kitchen. (There may also be an indoor dining room, for rough or chilly weather, but the weather was so nice that we had no occasion to find out.)

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  • Balcony
    Balcony
    Here's the balcony outside our room, perfectly equipped for sedentary readers such as ourselves. As you can see, the wall was short enough to permit passage between our balcony and its neighbor, which might be fine for big family reunions. However, since we weren't acquainted with the guests on the other side, we ignored this opportunity, and so did they.

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  • From the balcony
    From the balcony
    The view consisted mostly of this palm tree—which sheltered us from fierce sunlight in the morning—and other flora. The greenery was relaxing to look at when we raised our eyes from our electronic texts.

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  • From our room
    From our room
    Our room wasn't what you'd call ornate, but it was large, comfortable, and well appointed (note hair dryer). We liked the easygoing ambience.

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  • Waterfront restaurant view
    Waterfront restaurant view
    This picture, taken in one of the waterfront restaurants, looks eastward toward a war memorial (the flags in the distance) and the ferry landing (partly visible at the far right).

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  • Flags of remembrance
    Flags of remembrance
    From left to right, the flags of Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and Greece. (The Greeks’ flag is a little bigger than the others, but it is their country after all.)

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  • Memorial tablet
    Memorial tablet
    Parked cars unfortunately prevented me from taking a decent picture of the whole memorial including both flags and tablet, so I had to do it in two parts.

    As the inscription says in Greek and English, British, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers were evacuated from Chóra Sfakíon, after retreating across Crete, on the nights of May 28–June 1, 1941. Greeks, Australians, and New Zealanders, including a Maori battalion, fought heroically to cover the retreat and keep the pursuing Germans at bay, but four nights was all the time they could buy. The ships could come only under cover of darkness; in the daytime they were at the mercy of the Luftwaffe, which had full control of the air. Five thousand men were stranded here and captured when the Germans arrived, but many more than that (including some Greek troops) had been gotten out in time and conveyed to Egypt.

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  • View of a small town
    View of a small town
    Although Chóra Sfakíon is the metropolis of the region of Sfakiá, it's a very small town crowded between the mountains and the Libyan Sea (the name given to this part of the Mediterranean, south of Crete). You can see a good part of it in this picture, taken from a point near the ferry landing. Our hotel is dead center in the picture, and above and to the left of it you can see a road snaking down from the mountains and running across behind the town. It isn't the main highway that we'd traveled on the bus, but a minor road that connects the town with the mountain village of Anópoli. (At least some buses from Chaniá go there after stopping in Chóra Sfakíon, and this must be the route they take—there isn't any other.) The bigger modern highway didn't exist in 1941, but the road in the picture may have, and the Greek, British, and Commonwealth troops who retreated here to be evacuated after the lost Battle of Crete would have had to come down it, or perhaps avail themselves of goat tracks and the like.

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  • Waterfront from the east
    Waterfront from the east
    As you can see, the beach is made of little stones ("shingle," as the English say) rather than sand. This is pretty common in Europe, and no one seems to mind. Americans are too used to sandy beaches—another example, I guess, of our being spoiled by abundance. The porch jutting out at the right belongs to the Delfíni ['Dolphin'] taverna, where we were soon eating lunch.

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  • The Delfíni taverna
    The Delfíni taverna
    Here’s how the Delfíni looks from the west end of the waterfront. Above it you can see the upper-level parking lot where all the buses stop.

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  • Bright barrier
    Bright barrier
    Dorothea took this picture from our table at the Delfíni. The variety of colors in the rocks suggests that they were brought from somewhere else and dumped here to serve as a breakwater. Interesting as the view was, we paid more attention to the excellent fish soup (psarósoupa) they served.

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  • East end of the waterfront
    East end of the waterfront
    At this end, the covered marble walkway makes a turn toward the Xenía Hotel, which was behind me and to my right when I took this picture.

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  • Wine on tap
    Wine on tap
    The grocery store where Dorothea took this has bottled wine too, of course, but most places in Greece outside large cities sell local wine as well, and they often do it this way. The cups aren't drinking vessels; they're liter and half-liter measures. People fill them from the tap and then pour the wine into whatever containers they've brought with them. We often ordered local wine (frequently referred to as chíma—'juice') and found that it always went well with local food. However, we make no claim to oenological expertise, so if you're a subscriber to wine magazines, you'd better check with someone else. Locally made rakĺ was also available—in bottles, not on tap.

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  • The Xenía's semi-outdoor dining room
    The Xenía's semi-outdoor dining room
    We never needed to find out whether our hotel had a dining room within the walls, but this big roofed area served the purpose well. It was especially a good place to eat breakfast, when the sunlight on the east-facing quay where the outdoor tables were was too hot and brilliant to deal with. I also spent some time here using the wi-fi connection, which didn't reach our floor, though it was available in other parts of the hotel. Even though it was open to the air on one long side, this area remained cool and pleasant. (I think there must be an equation somewhere that reveals how many BTUs of air conditioning can be replaced by how many square feet of marble tiles—which are, alas, much more expensive in the US than they are in Greece. Quite a lot of that country seems to be made of marble.)

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  • Another part of town
    Another part of town
    This picture, taken from the Xenía dining area, shows a part of the town that our other pictures don't: the hill that looks down on the bus lot, beach, and waterfront.

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  • Fishing boat
    Fishing boat
    When we arrived on Monday afternoon, we saw this boat docked next to our hotel.

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  • ΓΕΡΟ-ΜΕΡΗΣ II
    ΓΕΡΟ-ΜΕΡΗΣ II
    On Tuesday, we took some closer pictures of the boat. Its name is a puzzle that has defeated our pile of Greek grammars and dictionaries. The name is hyphenated on the bow, but not on the sign attached to the wheelhouse. It may be a Cretan phrase. Although Cretans understand and speak standard Greek perfectly well, among themselves they use a variety inherited from the Dorians—closer, therefore, to the language of Sparta than that of Athens, from which modern standard Greek descends. (And I wouldn't be surprised if the independent-minded Sfakiots had a slightly different version of their own.)

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  • A working boat
    A working boat
    Men were at work on the boat, stacking boxes and sorting out nets, which they managed with a power winch. But we don't know when they went out, or even if they did. We left on Wednesday morning, and now can't remember whether the boat was gone at that time. Perhaps it went to sea after our bus left, or perhaps it went out every night and came back before we were up. I don't think it did, but I can't prove that. Chóra Sfakíon is a very relaxing place, and we slept well there.

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  • Docked ferry
    Docked ferry
    Here you can look past the Yero-Meris II and see the Daskaloyiánnis moored at the other end of the harbor, protected from rough water by a modern jetty of concrete tetrapods. These were invented in France in 1950 and have been used all over the world since. They make a more stable barrier than rocks because their interlocked strength enables them to dissipate the waves’ force without being knocked out of place. Although ferries were running while we were there, we never saw this large vessel go in or out. It's probably too big to be needed for the number of passengers at the end of the season.

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  • Going uptown?
    Going uptown?
    At the point where the waterfront walkway turns toward the Xenía, it also connects with a road running uphill toward another lofty part of the town. We had no idea where it went, since Chóra Sfakíon is so small that neither of our guidebooks had a map of it. But before dinner on Tuesday evening, when I decided to take a snooze, Dorothea took a walk instead, and went up this hill to see what she might find.

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  • Late in the day
    Late in the day
    The light was beginning to change as Dorothea set out.

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  • A beach too far
    A beach too far
    Lo and behold—a beach we didn't know existed. (This isn't surprising, since we lost interest in beaches some years ago, and didn't collect information about them when we planned the trip.) This one is as stony as the other, but it's much wider.

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  • Late swimmers
    Late swimmers
    Watching the sunset from above the beach, where swimmers were beginning to pack up their gear and depart, Dorothea spotted these two heads still in the water.

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  • Sunset (#1)
    Sunset (#1)
    Words are unnecessary.

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  • Sunset (#2)
    Sunset (#2)
    Ditto.

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  • Meanwhile, back at the hotel...
    Meanwhile, back at the hotel...
    This was actually taken the next morning as we waited for bus-catching time, but I believe it's how Dorothea found me when she returned from taking those great pictures.

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  • Goodbye to our hosts
    Goodbye to our hosts
    After our last dinner at the Xenía, Dorothea took this picture of Vana and George.

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