I usually approach travel in two ways: either I go unprepared, keeping an open mind to new experiences, adventures, people and surprises .In short – with the true explorer spirit. Or, I prefer to have a port of call, often in the form of a friend of a friend who has agreed to show me around or at least give me some hints and pointers and insider tips.
Going unprepared means that at least I know where to find the place on the map, whether to pack summer clothes (mostly) or warm clothes (as little as possible). An exception will be a trip to Patagonia sometime in the future because Adam’s compelling stories and fabulous pictures have caused a strong desire to go and see for myself, even if it means braving low temperatures and snow.
My trip to Crete fell into the category ‘port of call’. That had a lot to do with the fact that I was on a food expedition. For once I wasn’t going to climb around in ancient ruins (no shortage of those in Crete and worth another trip), meander through museums or even have a beach holiday. No, I wanted to sample Greek food up close and personal.
Moussaka, Tzatziki, Souvlaki, Horta, Domades, Spanakopita, the names alone are music to my ears. I can just picture Alexis Zorbas breaking into dance whilst his life’s achievement is crashing down around his ears. Who cares, he can still have the world’s richest Moussaka and a bottle of Greek wine.
So, it was a stroke of luck that a friend of mine has a close friend by the name of Philip Exadactylos who is the proud owner of a company called eat crete. He is based on the island of Crete and his company specializes in exporting the best of Crete food all over the world. A few phone calls and emails later and it came to light that he would be in Crete when I wanted to visit and happy to introduce me to the marvels of Greek cuisine.
We met in the delightful Marina Café in Heraklion and incongruously I started my food adventure with a dessert: one of the richest chocolate cakes I have ever tasted.
With typical Greek cordiality and laid back attitude Philip behaved as if he had known me forever and had all the time in the world to educate me in the delights of Greek food and the background of his company.
The truth was, that he was somewhat pressed for time because he had to go high into the mountains on a buying spree for his exports. “Why there?” I asked.
“Ah,” he said, “my success has a lot to do with the clever ladies of Crete. I only buy and sell the very best products and many of them are home made by the ladies who live in the mountain villages. They have formed small women cooperatives, cook and bake together making use of a communal oven and they even run tiny shops for retail where they sell the hand made and hand wrapped products. That way everybody benefits.Would you like to see it?”
He didn’t have to ask twice. I jumped at the opportunity. I had come to Heraklion with an alternative plan in mind should he not have been able to meet with me. The alternative was Knossos, but that was forgotten in a moment. I must be one of the very few visitors to the island of Crete who are all blasé about Knossos!! I did get a brief peek though, because he had to swing by and pick up a friend of his who was a tour guide in Knossos and who also wanted to go to Krousonas and stock up her larder.
Off we went on a hair raising road southwest of Heraklion and right into the interior of the island. What made the trip even more exciting was the fact that it was another day of strike in Crete. This time it was the lorry drivers who transported gas to the patrol stations and the result was that nearly all of them had run out of fuel. So had Philip and therefore negotiated the mountain road with one eye on the ravine and the other on a patrol station which might still be open and have some gas. Shortly before Krousonas we got lucky and found one, so at least the return trip was guaranteed should we not go over the edge before.
Just open the door to the shop of the cooperative and the scent of freshly baked bread, cake, fresh pasta, cinnamon and other spices makes you want to sample each and every of the many products on display. And sample we did. As soon as the charming ‘boss lady’ heard that I was a travel writer and had come to Crete to learn about the food, she took me by the hand and pulled me to the kitchen where I could see first hand how the clever ladies combined tradition and modern appliances to create their delicacies.
They all were happy to have their picture taken and I stuffed my face as if there were no tomorrow. Crete also has acres and acres of olive trees and olive oil is one of the most popular products Philip exports. Liquor is another one and a concoction the name of which escaped me but which is popular in summer with water and ice and in winter with hot water. A truly versatile drink which, as they assured me, heals all ailments including chargin d’amour. Helped along with a jar of exquisite honey and a handful of walnuts, nobody can be unhappy for long.
The car nearly sagged with all the goodies we loaded into it and then made the return trip to Heraklion, all in one piece. Back in the capital we tried to walk off a few of the countless calories, but gave up as soon as we came to this lovely café and sat down for a Greek iced coffee to round off a wonderful and successful day.