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krisek Chania - A travel report by Krys
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Chania,  Greece - flag Greece -  Chaníon
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krisek's travel reports

Chania - a Venetian city, once the Cretan capital.

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Chania used to be the capital city of Crete. Its history dates back to the Minoan times. Then, it was known as Cydonia. Fortunately, Chania was attractive enough to make up for the previous hit-and-miss (definitely miss) places on the island.

Venetian harbour
Venetian harbour
When the Minoan civilisation collapsed, following the eruption of Thira (also known as Santorini) and the conquest of Crete by Mycenaeans around 1450 BC, the city quickly re-gained importance as a major harbour. It flourished during the Hellenistic, Roman and Venetian times.

When the Venetians took Cydonia in the thirteenth century, they renamed it La Canea and completely rebuilt it. They erected several fortresses and strongholds. The city harbour gained new shape and grand edifices around it. The majority of them still stand there. This makes Chania among the most attractive places to see on the entire island. Losing its capital status must have served it well, otherwise it might have been over built with concrete monster blocks, just like Iraklio.

I arrived in Chania at the end of my trip to Crete. It was the perfect conclusion. The city was very picturesque (read: photogenic). The Venetian mansions and terrace houses were painted in vivid colours and there were so many of them that the architectural style did not matter that much. But the architecture was great, too. What a combination!

Favourite spots:
Chania travelogue picture
The old town of Chania is just a maze of narrow streets lined up with old Venetian houses, which have been restored with a little help from the European Union. The streets are atmospheric and although many of them are just stretched shopping centres, it is pleasant to wander around them. The many boutiques and petty shops nicely blend with the old Venetian architecture. Almost as if they meant to always be together, like there could not possibly be another purpose for them.

Once you are wandering around those narrow alleys, no modern building can be seen. This is great for a holiday in an historic town, which creates an aura of mystery, almost, and a thought that those edifices must have seen a lot in their lives. It feels like a step back into the times of the Renaissance, when art and science finally remarried after a long break since the Antiquity.

What's really great:
Venetian Harbour
Venetian Harbour
The old Venetian port in a semi-circular shape is a great spot. I could just sit there on a wooden bench, close to the water and marvel at the grand buildings reflecting in the clear waters of the harbour. Or better yet, sitting at one of the tables belonging to one of the many bars and restaurants there, and drinking cold beverages. Or even having seafood dinner when the port’s lights gently illuminate the remarkable architecture, and the music from the restaurant adds to the overall mood. This must have been the favourite spot of the Minoans and the Venetians several centuries back. Its size is optimal. One can go for a short walk around it for a few good minutes, without losing sight of what is happening around it. Yet it is big enough that someone sitting at one end of it, should not recognise anyone sitting at the other end. It is also big enough to house a good number of cafes and restaurants and still to allow for a few benches and stands for the amateur fishing rod fishermen.

Old warehouses
Old warehouses
Well, apart from exploring the old town and sitting at the picturesque harbour, there isn't an awful lot to do in Chania. Not in the historical district, anyway. And I mean that shopping is not an holiday activity. According to my rules and principles, of course. Letting myself go and seeing the town, taking pictures and watching people are definitely my favourite ways of exploring places and being on holiday. So, this is not a complaint!

In terms of 'regular' sights, Chania has an interesting Mosque of the Janissaries, Anaryiri Minaret, a small minaret in a different part of old town, a lovely church of St. Nicholas, a grand cathedral, Sachiavo Bastion - all within old city walls, two sets of them - the inner and the outer.

The sights can be grouped into the eras of the prehistoric times (the Kasteli dig), the Byzantine period (city walls), the Venetian (plenty of those - churches, arsenal, docks, fortifications, temples) and finally the Ottoman rules (lighthouse, baths, mosques).

An old car
An old car
Chania has three different styles of accommodation. One - the concrete monstrosities-cum-resorts along the western beaches. Two - the flamboyant, grand and expensive boutique hotels set romantically in the old mansions. And third - the cheapish (good value) hotels-cum-hostels located slightly away from the core centre in villas in the residential areas or delightfully hidden in a terrace house in the heart of the old town. Oh, and the fourth type are the furnished rooms and apartments, and villas for rent. There are a few of each kind in Chania. There is even a campsite, approximately 4 kilometres from town, near a decent beach.

I stayed in one of the cheapish hotels, which was fine, but nothing to write home about. I remember well the hotels I stayed in Iraklio, Rethymno, Agios Nicolaos, Ierapetra. But this one in Chania escapes my memory.

Harbour at night
Harbour at night
Chania is a place for night owls. There are so many night bars, clubs and discos that it would take several long nights to check half of them. Even reasonably demanding clubbers would find a place to party. Many of the more decent places, including bars with terraces, are located right by the harbour or somewhere within the old town walls. Certain places go out of fashion and others pick up the crowds. It all depends on the season. Like anywhere else on the planet.

The Scorpio and the Fraise tend to maintain good level of popularity. So does the Fagotto, which is the place to listen to some live jazz music. It is so great and the sound spreads over a few blocks of the old town, creating an unforgettable atmosphere.

For discos, which do not get going until wee hours of the morning, the Millennium enjoys good reputation, and the Ariadni - both are located right in the heart of the old town.

Cafes around the harbour
Cafes around the harbour
If beaches are not your thing, and there are two large beaches - at both sides of the town, east and west, then almost continuous string of cafes and restaurants around the old Venetian Harbour, with their little tables under the canopy marquises and not under them, give plenty of room for lounging over various nectars of Dionysus and watching the people go by. (what a long sentence!). There are so many that it is hard to choose. But some of them are very popular with the locals, which is a good indication for the quality of food, if you want to nibble on something. Otherwise, for sipping the nectars, there are some very good ones with comfy sitting. Perfect for slouching.

There are also a few little plakas, like the 1821, the Syndrivani, the 1866, the Katehaki, as well as the bastions around the Byzantine Museum, which are superb for killing time.

Restaurants along the circular harbour at sunset
Restaurants along the circular harbour at sunset
Fortunately, the beach-going crowds of package tourists tend to stay in many of the concrete hotels outside Chania itself, which makes the town somewhat calmer than the number of visitors would suggest. This is great, because as a result it is quite easy to get a table at one of the Old Harbour restaurants without booking. Some of them are better than others, but few are really bad. The difference is usually in the price. The Antigoni at the tip of the harbour, near the mosque, is nice and often busy, but it charges slightly more than other places in the immediate vicinity. I liked the restaurant Plateia closer to the Plaka Syndrivani. It h ad padded armchairs, its service was efficient, food was good and it was not overpriced. They did try their usual con with bread and olives but at least I was into that stuff at the time, so I did not complain. Particularly when watching the sunset across the old harbour (picture opposite) and sipping cold, cold beer.

Other recommendations:
Part of the harbour, where the tourist-trap submarine trips were waiting.
Part of the harbour, where the tourist-trap submarine trips were waiting.
And then, we discovered submarine trips. Well, semi-submarine trip, as the boat did not go under water completely at any time. It was not designed to do so, in fact. Instead, it had large windows and seats below the waterline. The company was promising an unforgettable and great experience. Pictures on their posters presented the abundant sea world, full of colourful fish, some of it large, beautiful and some wonderfully scary. The cruise map suggested the boat was going far away from the shore. A good looking Italian skipper kept luring gullible tourists to come on board for this spectacular and superb trip. It turned that it was all a lie a -typical tourist trap. The yellow semi-submarine, extremely hot inside, was cruising in small circles some five meters from the harbour. What one could see from the windows was laughable. It was very hard to see anything at all! The fish was small and unremarkable. The light from the surface was too weak to reveal any colours.

Published on Tuesday December 9th, 2008

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Sun, Dec 28 2008 - 02:08 AM rating by bootlegga

Nice photos!

Thu, Dec 18 2008 - 05:20 AM rating by bineba

It certainly looks more Italian than Greek. Nice report and pics.

Tue, Dec 16 2008 - 07:35 PM rating by eirekay

Up to your usual high standards. The pic of the harbor at night is magical!

Thu, Dec 11 2008 - 04:05 AM rating by robynallen

Your reports are always very informative and a pleasure to read. Love the pictures of the habour and cafes and buildings.

Wed, Dec 10 2008 - 03:06 AM rating by pesu

Haha, at least, the skipper was good looking... (fear this will cement Yuliang's opinion about Italians ;-)). I loved to read this report about an evidently nice little place (even the long sentences...) You described that feeling to go back to former times very well. And - as always - the pics are great (very interesting old warehouses).

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