After a reversed scenic journey over the White Mountains, we got off the bus in Vrísses, a narrow and well-watered town: Vrísses means ‘springs,’ and the main street—the road to and from Chóra Sfakíon—crosses a small river. The guidebooks told us there were places in the town to get good rotisserie chicken, speaking especially well of the tavernas nearest the river.

It was much too early for Greeks to eat lunch; it was even a bit early for us—but we were planning to catch a 1:00 bus to Réthymno, the next city along the west-to-east highway. If we waited until we got there, we’d be more than a bit late for lunch. Rather than suffer such misery, we decided to partake of the poultry in Vrísses.
Vrísses’ river park
The bus had dropped us at a nondescript tavern named Stathmós (‘Station’) a little way uphill past the river, but we decided to take the guidebooks’ advice, and walked back down toward the bridge. The riverside was landscaped like a small park, and we were attracted to a taverna set well back from the narrow but busy main street. It had a few outside tables overlooking the stream, in which a few ducks were paddling.

All of this would have had somewhat more charm had the sky not been dark and the air on the cool and damp side—rain looked like a real possibility, and we had even felt a few drops as we walked down the hill. But that lasted only a moment. It wasn’t too cool for eating outdoors, and we decided to risk it, knowing that we could move into the taverna should the need arise.
Alt Tag
Again taking our cue from the guidebooks, we ordered chicken and French fries. Dorothea sensibly asked for fresh orange juice, but I ordered local wine. Due to a miscommunication of some kind, the waiter brought red instead of white, but I decided to go with it rather than make a fuss. Although I don’t remember it now, Dorothea’s notes indicate that, although the wine was dry, I found a hint of mavrodaphne (a sweet Greek wine) in the taste. This hint certainly wasn’t strong enough spoil the occasion, or I would remember it. (And as you can see in the picture, I was in a good mood, though in fact we can't recall whether it was taken before or after the meal. It doesn't really matter, though; I was quite contented before and after.)

At that time, shortly after noon, we may have been the only people eating lunch in Vrísses, or at least in that part of it, for we soon attracted a circle of at least four cats and two dogs, all more than willing to accept our hospitality should we choose to offer it. The most willing of the cats even jumped onto the table and had to be firmly evicted. The food was good, and we selfishly declined to share it with any of these mooching quadrupeds.

The rain held off, though the wind was gusty, and I can’t deny that our surroundings looked a bit desolate with no other diners present. Dead leaves here and there made the scene rather mournfully autumnal, as the first picture above suggests. But the food was cheering, and so was the wine, regardless of color. We’d have had plenty of company at the Státhmos taverna, but it was small and crowded, so I think we were happier eating where we did.

The waiter clipped the tablecloth down to keep it from blowing away. We often saw these clips in seaside restaurants, but I guess in a country where almost everyone prefers to eat outdoors when possible, the seashore isn’t the only place that wind can cause tablecloth problems.

We were back at the Stathmós in time for the 1:00 bus to Réthymno. Alas, the young man in charge told us, an accident had blocked the road, and the bus couldn’t get into Vrísses. But he could show us how to get to another place where we could catch it. Following his directions, we rolled and carried our bags down an alley, turned left, and followed the road up a long hill, at the top of which our guide—having caught up and passed us on a motorbike—directed us across an abandoned athletic field and over a path that led through some bushes—at which point, Dorothea said later, she began to worry that we were being led into a thieves’ ambush. But the path came out on the side of the main Chaniá-Iráklio highway. He assured us that the bus driver, whom he knew, would stop for us, and went back to work.

We were almost under a bridge, next to a small shrine (possibly marking the spot where the body and soul of some unfortunate motorist or pedestrian had parted company). And we were uneasy. This was, after all, a limited-access highway. It's true that such limitations are sometimes interpreted more broadly in Greece than they are at home, and the place where we were standing had a trampled look suggesting that pickups (of various kinds, perhaps) were not unknown there. On the other hand, we could see a sign declaring the speed limit to be 70. This was 70 kilometers, of course, but most drivers seemed to be reading it as miles.

Nevertheless, we stood our ground , and in a few minutes along came a bus with a Chania-to-Iráklio sign on the front. (Such buses always stop at Réthymno, which is between the other two cities.) We waved excitedly, and the driver, never slowing down, waved back at us with his arm and hand arranged in the position that means, universally, “Nothing doing.”

We waited a few minutes longer, hoping that this wasn’t the bus we were supposed to flag, and that a friendlier one might show up. But that possibility was pretty hard to believe in—for one thing, we knew that buses coming this way left Chaniá at least half an hour apart—and we soon retraced our steps and schlepped our baggage back to the Stathmós.

Another bus was due at 2:00—by which time the road would be open—so we sank gratefully onto chairs at one of the taverna’s sidewalk tables to wait for it. Dorothea kept herself amused by observing the social interactions of the local adolescents, who had just been released from school, while I read Barchester Towers on my iPad.

A bus showed up at 2:00. It looked just like the comfortable buses we had been riding, and we thought it was ours, but instead it picked up all the schoolkids who’d been hanging around—the older boys (maybe aged 16 or 17) sitting at a sidewalk table and teasing the younger ones (13 or 14) or giving them errands to do—the younger ones playing the role of interns rather than serfs; learning how to behave in the world. Meanwhile the girls had strolled up and down the sidewalk in twos and threes, no doubt paying careful attention to who was noticing whom, though giving no sign that they took the slightest interest in such matters. Just about all of them, girls and boys, got onto this bus that wasn’t ours, and off it went.
Rethymno bus terminal
But our bus came immediately afterwards. We got on without a problem, and were delivered to the Réthymno station in due course, which was about an hour later. It's no tavern, but a real terminal, with buses coming and going, a crowded terminal building, toilets, a snack bar, and all such civilized amenities.

The station even had a taxi stand (out of sight to the right in the picture). Instead of taxis it had a neatly printed cardboard sign reading ”ΑΠΕΡΓÍΑ—STRIKE.” (Both the Greek and English words were on the sign.) People whom Dorothea asked confirmed that the taxi drivers of Réthymno were indeed staging an industrial action.

Dorothea called our hotel and asked how we might get there. Walk, she was told, by someone who assured her that the distance was only 600 meters. On our visit to Croatia a few years ago we had learned that such estimates should be doubled, and so it seemed in this case. 1.2km (about ¾ of a mile) seems about right. At least there were no steep hills to negotiate, but before we got to Réthymno the sky had cleared and, whether or not it was autumn in Vrísses, it was summer now in Réthymno—hot, sunny, and (for Greece) pretty humid.

About halfway through our trek to the hotel, we stopped in a tiny park to rest in the shade for a moment. An old woman (clad in black, of course) was sitting on the only bench, but there was room for us, and she invited us to occupy it. Dorothea, wanting to check our directions, asked her the way to the hotel, but she replied that she didn’t know, she only came here occasionally “to cool off.” She also referred to taking a bus, so we figured that "here" meant Réthymno, and that she must live in some inland village that the sea breezes don’t get to. A couple of days later, however, we saw her out in front of our hotel. She gave no sign of recognition. Perhaps that bus trip to Réthymno that she told us about had happened decades ago.

On this day, however, we sat with her in the park for just a few minutes, then resumed the trek, and by the time we finally reached the Idéon Hotel with our two rolling suitcases, two small valises, and two sizable backpacks, we weren't good for very much. (My shirt looked and felt like I'd been swimming in warm dishwater.)
Alt Tag
The Idéon was the fanciest hotel we’d been in so far, exceeding the Plaka in the capaciousness and luxury of its ground floor public rooms. Our room, though it was neither large nor lavish, provided comfort that, as Dorothea noted, seemed like luxury. The bath facilities, for example, matched those of an American hotel—no athletic feats were required to keep from soaking the sink and toilet when taking a shower.

I’ve supplied a stress mark over the e in the hotel’s name although it can’t be found in any of their web pages, official documents, or the sign over the door. Everything they publish is in English. However, a local web page in Greek refers to it as the Idaíon Xenodocheío. The word Idaíon means “pertaining to Mount Ida,” as seen in the name of the cave on that mountain (“the Idaean cave”) where Greek myth says that Zeus was born. Idé was the name of one of the two nymphs who nurtured him when his mother, Rhea, had to hide him as a baby to protect him from his father, Kronos, who—being disinclined to fulfill a prophecy that his sons would overthrow him—had adopted the cautious policy of devouring them as soon as they were born.

Somewhat confusingly, however, Idé’s protective hiding and nurturing of baby Zeus are supposed to have taken place in a different cave, off in the east of Crete, so it's hard to know why this cave and mountain are named for her. (I suppose confusion is natural given the details of this story, not all of which I’ve reported.)
Mount Ida, a.k.a. Psiloritis
Another point that might cause visitors some confusion: Although Cretans all know the ancient name of Mount Ida, what they call it nowadays is Psilorítis, meaning simply “high mountain.” It is the highest peak on Crete, part of a great massif with many peaks that is shared between the districts of Réthymno and Iráklio. But this peak, the acknowleged altitude champion and the site of the famous cave, belongs to Réthymno, so it’s fair enough that a hotel in the capital city be named after it. (The picture here is from the Web.)

After checking in, we sat on the tiny balcony of our room and refreshed ourselves with some dried olives that Dorothea had bought at the airport in Athens and some crackers she had packed to fight off travel sickness on the transatlantic flight, but fortunately had not needed. The balcony, 3 floors up, was a nice place for cool breezes (which we could at last feel, being unburdened of our luggage), but the view wasn’t quite entitled to two thumbs up. Off to the left we could see the Venetian Fortezza on its height above the Old Town—you have to be pretty far away from the Old Town to miss that—and straight ahead we could see the blue Cretan Sea.
Our view of the sea
But we could see it only over a barricade of rooftops jam-packed with TV antennas, hot-water tanks and solar panels. An arresting feature of the 6 or 8 tanks we could see (more than I could fit in the picture) was that, although each tank bore the name of its manufacturer in vivid display type, no two tanks had the same name. It looked as if the Cretan counterpart of Consumers Union had chosen this neighborhood as a testbed. The front of the hotel faced the water without such intervening obstructions, but our room and its balcony were on one side. That’s probably why the price of the room and breakfast was quite reasonable. I have to concede that the balcony wasn’t large enough for entertaining, but our plans didn’t include that.

This had been a far more athletic day than we’d expected. We knew before starting out that we’d have to haul our stuff up the hill in Chóra Sfakíon, but we weren’t expecting the futile excursion to try to stop a bus in Vrísses (conducted at as close to a jog-trot as we could manage while fully burdened, and begun when we had just hauled everything up the hill from the place where we’d eaten lunch). Nor had we counted on taking our luggage for a long walk in the heat of the Réthymno afternoon.
We took advantage of beds as well as balcony to rest up before dinner, and by 8:00pm decided that we’d bounced back somewhat. We took a stroll on the seawall, watching the waves crash on the rocks that lined the shore a little way out. We ate at the Fanári (‘Lighthouse’) taverna, just around the corner from the Idéon. Like many seaside restaurants in Crete, its kitchen and indoor dining room is on the landward side of the street, and on the seaward side is a tented dining area where, when the weather allows, as it did this night, most people eat. (I should add that the weather allowed mainly because a clear plastic curtain was partially closed to keep the wind off while permitting at least some of the seaside ambience to get in.) The waiters have to dodge traffic to carry food and dishes back and forth. I don’t know how this works out during the high season, but things were fairly quiet now.

Seated next to the seawall and sheltered by the plastic curtain, we began by sharing saganáki made with graviéra cheese and a “Cretan salad” whose ingredients were mixed greens (wild from the mountain) called tsitsirísta, tomatoes, graviéra cheese, and balsamic dressing. For a main course, I had a whole fish: gray snapper (called tsipoúri) from which I removed the bones myself, fortunately not a hard job. Rice went with it. Dorothea had baked stuffed eggplant topped with cheese—both mizíthra and graviéra—and a side order of rice to eat with it. All the food was good, and the salad—like most we’d had in Crete—was transcendant. We shared a half-liter of house white wine, mildly resinated and quite pleasant. To finish up, they brought us chunks of watermelon.

A fine finish to an occasionally difficult day.