Tuesday was our last day in Iráklio. Before we left the hotel in the morning, we spent some time thinking about the long journey that we’d be undertaking on Wednesday. We planned to take a bus to the city of Sitía, at the far eastern end of the island, and from there to Káto Zákros, a tiny hamlet on the coast southeast of Sitía. There was bus service, but it was too occasional for our purpose, and it ended several miles short of our destination, at the larger town of Zákros. So we had arranged for a taxi to meet us at the bus station in Sitía and take us the rest of the way to Káto Zákros. Yánni Soldatos, the owner of Sitía Taxi, is willing to take passengers anywhere in Crete, and he speaks good English, acquired during a long residence in New Jersey. (But he hadn't acquired a Jersey accent, we noticed.)

The longest bus ride we’d taken so far was was the one that had brought us here from Réthymno. It took 90 minutes, which was very nearly more than my bladder could bear. But the ride from Iráklio to Sitía would take 210 minutes—3½ hours. The bus was scheduled to stop at Áyio Nikólaos, a large city about 90 minutes from Iráklio, but we couldn’t tell from the timetable whether the stop would be long enough to permit a restroom visit—and even if it was, the last part of the journey would be longer than the first.
Sitía Taxi
We decided to phone Yánni and see if he could meet us when we arrived at Ágio Nikólaos, and take us all the way from there to Káto Zákros. Fortunately, he was available and happy to accommodate our plan. The picture above, taken from the Sitía taxi website, shows Yánni at the wheel of his Mercedes cab.

Once again we were glad we’d bought the cell phone when we arrived. We’d tried getting in touch by email, but Yánni’s business keeps him on the move, and it proved much easier to reach him by phone. We now felt much easier about our travel arrangements.

We walked from the Lató up to 25th Avgousto. We knew that we needed cash, not only because we were running low, but because we weren’t sure we’d be able to find an ATM in tiny Káto Zákros, a beach resort that as far as we know shuts down every fall and doesn’t open again till spring. (It has an another attraction besides the beach and its tavernas—the ruins of a Minoan palace. But apparently that doesn’t attract many visitors in the winter.) Our plan was to spend three nights at Káto Zákros, mostly just relaxing, but we needed some Euros.

The Bank of Chaniá, where we stopped first, had no ATM. They referred us to the Bank of Greece—but, not being a commercial bank, it had no ATMs either. The officer we spoke to there suggested the Bank of Piraeus, where we finally found an ATM, into which (emboldened by the fact that the bank was open in case of an emergency) I bravely inserted my card and was able to withdraw €800. That amount could have kept us in Káto Zákros for a good deal more than three nights—but, as our elders had always told us, it’s better to be safe than sorry.)
1866 Square: Iráklio's market
From the bank we continued up the main street until we came to the market, as we had done on Sunday. But today, of course, all the shops were open. This picture gives an idea of the way it looked. We had decided to see if we could find a small piece of pottery that looked like a reasonably good replica of a Minoan original. One of the shops had a little pitcher that we liked. The potter had signed it, but the signature was hard to read—Dorothea eventually worked out that it was Lioúlias. The price tag said €69, and we hesitated to spend that much. While we were dithering, the clerk spoke discreetly to the owner, who lowered the price to €45. We felt like sharp bargainers, and perhaps we were. I hadn’t been aware of any strategic intent behind our hesitation, but Dorothea remembers the matter differently, so it's likely that I was the only innocent party to the transaction.

We were happy with our purchase, but immediately aware that getting it back to Boston in one piece might be a problem. One big store in the market offered a bewildering variety of kitchenware of all qualities and sizes, and we poked around it for a while in the hope of finding some kind of protective container. Finally, Dorothea decided on two stainless steel colanders that could be put together face-to-face and taped at the edges to form a stout capsule shaped like a flattened sphere, with room inside for the pitcher and some padding around it. (On our return flight, we packed this odd vessel in one of our checked bags, slightly fearful that it might look like a bomb to airport security screeners, but in the event no one ever asked us about it.)
American tourists
We headed back down 25th Avgoústo and turned left into another pedestrian street that led us toward the Historical Museum of Crete. It also led to the restaurant where we’d eaten dinner the night before, which is (at least in daylight) within sight of the museum. As we made our way down the broad and attractive pedestrian street, we saw another tourist couple (from somewhere in northern Europe, though we didn’t think to ask them where) taking each other’s picture. We volunteered to snap one of them together, on their camera. They returned the favor, on Dorothea’s, and here is the result. The street was so peacefully empty that we didn't hesitate to lay our burdens down outside the frame of the picture.
Tavérna Paraskevás, or Parasiés, or both
Across a narrow street from ‘The Courtyard of Deucalion’ was a restaurant that one of desk clerks at the Lató had recommended, and we decided to have lunch there before going to the museum. The clerk had called it Parasiés, and that name was on some of the signs and awnings, but others had Paraskevás. We weren’t sure whether this was a single restaurant displaying the surnames of two successive proprietors, or two restaurants sharing a single large courtyard, but wherever we were eating, we got a pretty good meal. (Our table was against the wall at the right, under the straight white awning. The sign above says “Tavérna–Ouzerí Paraskevás,” so if there were two restaurants, that must be the one we were in.)

Lunch began with a salad that combined pickled beets, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, and shrimp served whole, including the eyes and a full set of appendages like those of the crayfish in our high-school biology books—however, all of these impedimenta were easy to remove. Then we shared a dish of ‘bulbs’ (bolboí), onion-like roots that were picked, boiled several times, discarding the water each time, and finally marinated in vinegar. They’re tiny and bitter, served in the vinegar and sprinkled with fresh dill. This is a Cretan specialty that some like and others don’t. (I wondered if they’re similar to the wild onions called ramps that people eat in West Virginia. Though I’ve heard a lot about ramps, I’ve never tasted them, never having been to West Virginia during the spring, when they’re in season.)

We ordered zucchini croquettes, but instead got croquettes of potato, ham, and cheese. The kitchen seemed to be improvising. We also ordered mushroom pies, but the pies we got were filled with mountain greens (possibly stamnagáthi) instead of mushrooms. The croquettes were a great success, but we found the pies a bit heavy compared to the ones we’d had across the street on the previous night. Finally, we had pork souvláki, very tasty if a little too al dente, served with fried potatoes.

With all of this we drank a retsina from Salonika named Kechribári, whose name means ‘amber’—which of course is another desirable resin product, though, unlike the wine, it’s petrified. The waiter described Kechribári as “softer” than the very popular Malamatína. Dorothea concurred in this judgment, and pointed out that both were less sharp-tasting than the Cretan retsinas we’d had in several places. I confess that I liked them all, from one end of the sharpness spectrum to the other. The culminating rakí came with a huge slab of watermelon, beautifully ripe honeydew melon, and green grapes.
Historical Museum
After eating, we went into the Historical Museum, literally next door, as you can see in this picture. It has varied and interesting exhibits from periods that range from the Byzantine era to World War II and later. The museum is housed in a graceful building, a merchant’s mansion built in 1903—I should say "partially housed," because a glass-walled annex has been grafted to one side of the mansion, as you can see at the left.

Late in the afternoon, we walked back to the Lató. On Epimenídou, the street the hotel is on, we passed a vacant lot with several large dumpsters full of trash. A man was perched on one of these, busily slitting plastic garbage bags and shuffling through the papers that he found inside. One seldom has the opportunity to see an identity thief at work, but, being strangers in the city and the country, we didn’t try to raise an alarm—not because we felt any sympathy for the thief, but because we had no idea where to find a policeman, or how to make him understand what we were complaining about. So we passed with an exchange of blank stares, and without slowing down, leaving the man to his dishonest labor.

That night we decided to stay at the Lató and have dinner there. The hotel has a well-reviewed, rather avant-garde restaurant on the ground floor named Brillant (that’s French, not misspelling), but Brillant had closed for the summer season and hadn’t yet reopened. Instead, its staff were transferred to the hotel’s other restaurant, on the roof, which goes by a different name: “Herbs’ Garden.” Note the placement of the apostrophe: the word refers to growing things, not a proprietor named Herb.
Lofty dining at the Lató


As this advertising photo from the hotel’s website shows, the restaurant isn’t on the very top level, but is wrapped around a slightly lower one. It’s quite an elegant place; if it ever included a real herb garden, that’s no longer in evidence, and the few herbs we saw were all in pots. Diners on the water side are protected from any chilly breezes that might blow in from the sea by plate-glass barriers high enough to shelter anyone sitting down; there’s an open space above the glass where fresh air gets a chance to enter, and on the side where we sat (at the far left of the picture), wind barriers aren’t needed, and there are none. All this openness probably wouldn’t work in the winter, but Herbs’ Garden is closed then.

We had a superlative meal, first sharing a salad of lettuce, figs, walnuts and cheese, with a vinaigrette dressing. I also ordered a starter of anchovies—not highly salted—mixed with capers, tomato chunks, and green veggies, everything pickled, served on paximádi. Then we both had pastítso made of vegetables in tomato sauce over the baked pasta (very thin tubes about 2" long), with a cheeseful béchamel on top. Dorothea described it as “tender, flavorful, and just creamy enough.” We drank a dry yet flowery Cretan white wine named Onírikou, and shared two desserts. One consisted of prunes marinated in wine, suspended in subtly sweetened yogurt. The prunes were stuffed with walnuts, and there were chopped walnuts on top. The other dessert was a spectacular kataïfi (the “shredded wheat” pastry popular all over the Near East, whose culinary traditions lap over into Greece). It had the usual vanilla filling, plus vanilla ice cream on top. Neither of these fancy desserts was complimentary, but the rakí was.

Dorothea’s notes remind me that we saw “bulbs” on the menu, but the name given in Greek was not bolboí but skordoulákos. This is based on skórdo, the word for ‘garlic’: another sign of kinship with the ramp. Names like “wild garlic,” “wild onion,” and “wild leek” have been applied to both vegetables. (They couldn’t be exactly the same, as ramps grow only in North America, but they’re surely second cousins at least.)