Friday, 1 July 2016, The rest of the way from Tallahassee to Heraklion
Written 3 July 2016
Our flight landed in Rome at 6:30 a.m., half an hour before our scheduled arrival time. Our bags had been checked through to Heraklion, so we asked the young man at the information kiosk whether we would have to claim them and take them through customs there or not until Heraklion. He studied our bag-check receipts and said we'd do customs in Rome, so we followed the "flight connections" and "baggage claim" signs to baggage claim. Alas, our bags were not among those that emerged—not really surprising, considering how tight our Atlanta connection had been. The folks at the lost-luggage office assured us our bags would join us in Heraklion (we mentally filled in "eventually"), so we strolled out through the "nothing to declare" line with just our carry-ons and checked in for our Aegean Airlines flight to Crete. No Delta "TSA precheck" for that flight, so we had to get out all our electronics for the security check (computer, Kindles, Bose headphones, cell phone, camera, pocket recorder; everything), but no shoe removal and only a metal detector.
I took time to get out the camera and at least to remind myself we'd gotten this far. The structure in the left-hand photo, in the airport's lobby, is a large wooden sphere with a wooden representation of da Vinci's famous spread-eagled man in the center. At the right is a close-up of a section of wall at the entrance to a ladies' room (all the restrooms had the same sort of wall). A pane of glass covers a three-dimensional "aerial view of a forest" effect made of reindeer moss died bright green.
At that point, we finally had time to catch our breath for a few minutes before our next flight. I used them to check out the shop selling Italian products and souvenirs.
At the left here is an array of souvenir items—coffee mugs decorated with scenes of Rome, miniature helmets in silver and in bronze, model charioteers in a couple of sizes, columns topped with charioteers or models of St. Peter's or the coliseum, stand-alone models of the coliseum, and (in the green box in the center), what appears to be a wine cork topped with a model of the coliseum.
Mostly, though, they were selling food. This array of sausages and cured meats represents about 1/3 of the total assortment. A few cheeses were included as well.
Many, many shelves were arrayed with cans, bottles, and jars of Italian products: oils, vinegars, marinated white beans, olives, olive paste, pickles, anchovies, ragus (sauces) of many flavors, p^acirc;tés of many flavors (both of these last including wild boar and venison), and all sorts of other antipasta-type products.
And, of course, pasta, in a wide variety of shapes, some alone and some packaged with ingredients for a sauce recommended for that shape.
Strangely, many such packages were labeled, e.g., "shape X with pork ragu," "shape y with arrabiata sauce," or "shape z with putanesca sauce," even though, to my eye at least, the pasta shapes in the three packages looked perfectly identical and did not correspond to the pasta shapes I had seen those names applied to in the past!
I gave up trying to get a photo of every kind of food offered, even by broad class. For example, I have no shot of the cellophane packages of the many species of dried mushrooms.
Our two-hour flight to Heraklion was also on time, and—mirabile dictu—included a hot lunch! I didn't catch the name of the pastry we were served, but I've since seen something like it labeled "Traditional Cretan Pie"; it was stuffed with a white cheese of some sort, covered with sesame seeds, and accompanied by a crumbly, barely sweet anise (or fennel?) cookie. Delicious.
As we waited, not very optimistically, by baggage claim in Heraklion, I got this shot of a small mill (for olives?) being turned by a kid who was happy to demonstrate it for the photo.
To our great surprise, our luggage appeared normally on the belt, having—against all reasonable expectation—apparently come in on the same flight. We claimed it and walked out to the lobby without a hint of customs inspection, not even a "nothing to declare" lane. We had, after all, come in on an internal European flight. I have no idea whether the luggage was ever subjected to any kind of customs clearance at all.
We found the Avis counter without difficulty and rented a white VW Polo. The Avis shuttle took us out to the lot to pick it up, and we set out for the Aquila Atlantis Hotel, carefully prepared Google maps in hand. We almost made it, too, but missed the last turn, just a block away, and could find no way to get back—too many one-way streets and abrupt changes in topography that streets couldn't cross at all. So we followed helpful signs (all in both Greek and Roman letters) to the "Central Parking" garage, were we parked the car before walking and rolling our luggage the few blocks to the hotel. We didn't even have to do the parking ourselves; it was all valet parking from the entrance.
The hotel is comfortable and modern, is fully air-conditioned, and includes a conference center that will accommodate the meiofauna meetings. Here are views of the lobby taken from the same spot but in opposite directions.
At the left are the reception desk and breakfast room (and David); at the right are the seating area and bar. The conference-center lobby, with registration desk, is just beyond the bar.
In our rooms, we found little white "welcome" boxes that turned out to contain small packets of raisins and a little leaflet explaining, in four languages, that sultana raisins originated on Crete and are still proudly produced there. Sort of a condensed fruit basket, I guess.
From my hotel room window, I immediately spotted a bird I couldn't identify, but a little Googling around later revealed that it was a "hooded crow" (Corvus cornix). They turn out to be very common here and to sound pretty much like our common crow. They look like crows but with the coloration of dirty magpies.
On the tables in the lobby (and just about everywhere else in the hotel) were these little cardboard tent signs advertising the hotel's trademark "lobster burger," a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, and, yes, a lobster tail on top. They don't appear on the restaurant's lunch menu—perhaps you can only order them at the bar.
By prearrangement, we met our friend Françoise Favre in the lobby at 4:15 p.m. She still has her appartment in Paris, but she lives in Crete now for nine months of the year, in a tiny, out of the way beach village. She took the bus into Heraklion in honor of our visit and is staying at her favorite hotel, the nearby Lato Boutique.
Françoise wanted to take advantage of her trip to the "big city" to run some errands, so we all set off for a department store, but we stopped by the Lato on the way to reserve a table for dinner in their roof-top restaurant, "Herb's Garden" (yes, it's really called that, its downstairs partner "Brilliant Restaurant" is only open in winter).
After scouting future restaurant prospects and shopping for items that Françoise can't get in her village, like bobby pins and English-language books on Cretan history, we adjourned to our respective hotels to rest our feet until dinner time. Apparently the earliest you can get a decent dinner around here is 8 p.m.
At the appointed hour, we strolled over to the Lato and took the elevator to the roof. The restaurant wraps around three sides of the top of the building. Over Françoise's shoulder, you can see a little of the sea.
Here, behind Françoise and me, you can see part of the ancient fort, out in the harbor, and the mole that connects it to shore, just out of sight on the left-hand side of the image.
Later in the evening, when it had gotten dark, we saw this brightly lighted cruise ship leave the harbor, while its passengers dined.
The only disadvantage of the restaurant's rooftop location was that conversation had to halt every seven minutes as a jet roared overhead, taking off from the Heraklion airport. Once it got dark, we could see, in the distance, the headlights of the jets queued up to land. That airport's throughput is astonishing!
So was the food at Herb's Garden! David started with pumpkin soup with cashews and thyme, which he declared excellent. I had the grilled octopus starter. Françoise didn't order a starter, so I gave her a chunk of my octopus.
I'd ordered grilled octopus before, in places that considered it a specialty, like Santiago da Campostella, and always found it a little chewy and dried out from the grill. This one, though, was perfect! It was tender and succulent (except for the tiny tips of the tentacles, which were crisp rather than tough) and flavorful. The attractive lattice of sauce underneath it was carefully seasoned purée of fresh fava beans with a scattering of olives, scallion slices, and a single whole chive. Yummy!
David's main course was "tender lamb in a wine and thyme sauce" accompanied by smoked eggplant purée. It seemed to be a boneless lamb shank and had been braised to perfect tenderness.Françoise and I both ordered grilled filet of European sea bass (good old Dicentrarchus labrax, a favorite of ours and everyone else's). It came on a (differently seasoned) purée of fava beans, and between the two filets, a pool of olive-oil-lemon emulsion, in turn topped with a whole roasted scallion, and it was out of this world! The skin was crackling crisp and the filets perfectly cooked. Wow.
This restaurant, which had no pretensions to being authentically Greek or Cretan, had a dessert menu. We're told that, in most Cretan restaurants, dessert is not offered as a course, but that many establishments bring you something sweet, often fruit, with the check.
David ordered a vanilla "millefeuille" (Napoleon) with cinnamon. Françoise and I both had the caramelized white chocolate panna cotta with fresh raspberry compote. Very good but very rich, much heavier than your average panna cotta. With dessert, they poured us tiny complimentary glasses of raki, the Greek equivalent of the French marc and the Italian grappa—i.e., a fierce sort of clear brandy made from what's left in the press after the grape juice is drained off for wine. No way I, or even David, was going to try to drink that stuff, but I found that, if I dipped the tip of my spoon into it, shook off the excess, then scooped up a bite of the panna cotta, the combination was quite agreeable.
Definitely a worthwhile address: top floor of the Lato Boutique Hotel, Epimenidou 15, Iraklio (i.e., Heraklion), Crete.
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