In the morning, the Idéon provided us with a lavish breakfast buffet: according to Dorothea’s notes, it included “eggs, potatoes, bacon, watermelon, honeydew, orange slices, yogurt, cereals, honey (in the biggest honey-bowl I’d ever seen), prunes, jams, toast, paximádi, rolls, pound cake, coffee, tea, juice.”

We left our room at 10:30 or so and, before setting off to see the Fortezza, left a bag of laundry with the desk clerks, who said it would be done by that afternoon or the next morning.
The Fortezza and the city (Internet photo)
The Fortezza is Réthymno’s premier tourist attraction, and big enough to hold just about any number that might show up. It’s said to be the largest “castle” that Venice ever built, but it’s more a fortified enclosure than a castle. It covers the top of the city’s dominant seaside hill, which locals called Paleokástro (‘Old fort’), suggesting that the ancient city on the spot, named Rithymna, was built there—though no archaeological trace of it has yet turned up.

The Venetians built the Fortezza in the late 1500s to defend the city against the Turks, whom they expected to invade at any moment. However, the Turks didn’t come until 50 years later, and then—having already secured Chaniá—they came by land, bypassing the fortress and easily taking the city outside. The garrison, with nothing left to defend, surrendered the Fortezza a few weeks later and sailed away.
Fortezza artillery
Most of the official and military buildings that once stood inside the walls have been destroyed over time—the most notable survivor is the mosque, which the Turks created by converting and rebuilding the former cathedral. Their possession of Crete was never seriously challenged before the rise of revolutionary nationalist movements in the 19th century, so they never made much of a military investment in the Fortezza, though they did station some soldiers there, and they used one of the buildings as a prison. According to the Rough Guide, an English visitor in 1834 noted that the fortress’s guns were all useless; some of them (possibly to be seen in this picture) were relics from the Venetian days.
Bastion view
On the day we visited, which was ideally sunny and breezy, the site was far from crowded. We spent quite a lot of time wandering around and taking photos. We were high above the sea and the city, and the views from the ramparts and artillery bastions were spectacular. A shore road now runs along the foot of the hill below the Fortezza’s ramparts, as it certainly didn’t do in earlier centuries. We could see that the breeze was blowing as stiffly down there by the water as it was up where we were standing.
Inside of the dome
We went inside the mosque, which the Turks had named after Sultan Ibrahim Han, their ruler at the time the city was captured. It has been renovated recently. Dorothea noted its calm and beautiful simplicity. Whether it would have been quite so simple if it were still a mosque I can’t say, but it’s true that mosques often seem to be more plainly decorated than cathedrals. (The latter can, of course, be beautiful in a different way, as travelers to many European cities can attest.) There were not many objects in this mosque to attract the art-lover’s eye—just the mihrab (the ornamented alcove that indicates the direction of Mecca) and the unadorned dome—but the space itself was calming in its proportions, and the dome—one of the largest still intact in Greek territory—was plainly beautiful.
Street in Rethymno’s Old Town
When we got back to the hotel we were, as Dorothea recorded, “a bit footsore and knee- and hip-achy,” and we took a brief rest before we went back to poking around. The Old Town spreading out from the foot of the Fortezza’s hill, with its narrow streets and Venetian architecture, has a lot of the same kind of interest and attractiveness we had found in Chaniá. For some reason, we didn't use our cameras at all on this stroll. This picture was taken the following day.

We took a look at the outside of the Loggia, a kind of Venetian gentlemen’s club. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find a picture on the Internet that I could use.) The inside isn’t a museum-style restoration; instead it’s a gift shop selling high-quality copies of ancient artifacts. We looked in there only briefly. Later we would see Venetian loggias in Iráklio and Sitía as well. Crete was under the governance of the Doge and Senate of Venice, but local administration was the business of the appointed governors who were sent out from the Most Serene Republic. Although Crete had no local legislative bodies, governors generally relied on a consensus of the most powerful aristocratic families to keep things functioning smoothly, and the loggias were a place where the heads of those families could gather and discuss the colony’s business. Governors who tried to ignore the opinions and sentiments developed in these discussions sometimes ran into trouble. (See the Venetian Crete page in the history section for an example.)
Rimondi fountain
At the center of the Old Town is the Rimondi fountain, named after the rector who built it in the 1600s, about two decades before the Turks captured Réthymno. (Fortunately the Internet did offer a good picture of that.) It replaced an earlier fountain and was not just for show—in the cities of Venetian Crete, public fountains were the distribution points of the municipal water supply. Country-dwellers could dig wells or collect rainwater in cisterns, but this was harder to do in cities, where public access to water was a serious necessity.

We had lunch in midafternoon at a highly recommended little restaurant named Kyría María (‘Mistress Mary’) near the fountain on Moschavítou (‘Muscovite’) street, presumably named in honor of the Russians who had promised to assist the Cretan uprising of 1770, but never did. We sat at a table in the narrow street, beneath hanging cages with little birds inside. (Fortunately, only their occasional chirps and tweets descended on us.) We started with a shared dákos salad, which the waitress told us has a different name locally: koukouváyia. I had lamb in lemon sauce and Dorothea had a Réthymno variety of meatballs that were three times as big as keftédes. Called soutzoukákia, they were first fried, and then simmered in a sauce made with cinnamon and cumin. Both dishes were served with potatoes and delicious, lemony rice. We shared a half-liter of retsina, not heavily resonated. Dorothea considered her lunch the best meal she’d had since arriving in Crete.

Sitting at a nearby table was a little girl with her mother. The girl sang a song about a dog going ‘bow wow’ and a cat going ‘meow meow.’ Dorothea asked the woman where her daughter had learned the song, and she said the child had made it up. But Dorothea said she had learned a similar song when she was little. In response, the mother sang a traditional song in which the rooster said “kee-kee-ree-kee-kee” (instead of "cock-a-doodle-doo" like a good American rooster) and Dorothea recognized that as the song she knew.

After taking a look at the fountain, we browsed around the stores and bought a few gifts; I picked up three CDs with Cretan music. We had missed a chance to hear it live in Chaniá, and never found another, although we kept looking. (One person we asked later on the trip told us that probably the only way hear some Cretan music was to attend a wedding.)

Hanging outside a souvenir shop among a lot of other T-shirts, I saw one with a comment on the country’s prevailing economic situation:


The English isn’t perfect, but the self-mockery is easy enough to recognize.

It was about 5:00 when we got back to our hotel, and we took it easy until 8:00 or so, occupying ourselves variously. I worked on an e-mail message to be sent later—my fingers don’t exactly fly over the tiny “keyboard” projected on the iPad screen—and both of us dealt with the business of backing up the photos we’d taken so far.
From our table at To Pigádi
Around 8:00, we set out for a restaurant named To Pigádi, about which we had also read good things. We were still eating outdoors, or at least roofless, because the restaurant was set up in what had once been the courtyard of a Venetian house, and the well (to pigádi) that once supplied its water still stands in the middle of the restaurant, although it’s no longer functional. Obviously it wasn’t impossible, back in Venetian times, to get well water in the city—at least if you owned enough property and there happened to be an aquifer underneath. This house was only a short way around the corner from the Rimondi Fountain, but water is heavy stuff to carry, even a short way, and perhaps having one’s own fountain was a status symbol as well.

The courtyard had been enclosed at some time in the past—maybe it even had a roof, though it doesn’t have one now. But it’s surrounded by walls, and you have to enter through a door. The kitchen is behind a stone wall that presumably belonged to the original house, although it doesn’t go above the first story now. The walls on either side belong to the adjacent buildings, but both are decorated with spotlighted paintings, done in romantic 19th-century style, that contribute to the restaurant’s atmosphere. One is of a woman kissing a rose; the other shows a nude young man with wings departing from a bed in which another young man, also nude, is sleeping. Perhaps the wings make one of the figures allegorical, but the picture's eroticism is impossible to miss, although the antique style of the painting may have kept it from offending patrons. (We don’t recall feeling any outrage ourselves.)

The courtyard’s ambience was also enriched by numerous green and growing things, and it was overarched by a tree whose roots stretched across the narrow street, making it non-negotiable by any vehicle bigger than a motorcycle or scooter.

Yes, the restaurant did serve food—I’ve been meaning to get to that. We began with a soup of goat and trachaná, a sort of fresh pasta made into little balls, like German spätzle. The soup was lemony and delicious. After that, we shared a salad of tomato, scallions, paximádi, and haloúmi cheese, from Cyprus. The cheese was grilled and tasted buttery. I had shrimp on rice, in a tomato sauce flavored with feta; Dorothea had chicken stuffed with mizíthra, flavored with dill and topped with a sauce of sun-dried tomatoes. The house wine we shared was flowery but good. They brought us pieces of cake soaked in sugar water. It had coconut in it, but Dorothea, whose fondness for coconut has distinct limits, found it good nevertheless.

One thing that slightly surprised us about dining in Réthymno was that, although complimentary desserts arrived at the end of each meal, the little carafes of rakí we had come to expect did not. Apparently Réthymno, which has its own names and recipes for the dishes on the menu, also observes local meal service customs that don’t include this postprandial offering. Too bad—we had gotten used to the rakí (of which we were by this time drinking every drop we were given) and we missed it a little. But I have to say that the high quality of the food we got in Réthymno went a long way toward making up this deficiency.

When we got back to the hotel, we stopped at the desk to ask if the laundry we had left was done yet. Although it was supposed to be ready either today or early tomorrow, we found that it had not yet been sent for washing. This concerned us a good deal, because we were planning to leave on Saturday morning, the day after tomorrow. The desk people understood our problem, and promised that the laundry would be ready the next day.

We slept comfortably in our room with the window in the bathroom and the sliding door to the balcony open, lulled by the constant and pleasant sound of the waves (which, fortunately, neither the intervening buildings nor the water tanks that crowned them were able to block). Our room also had an air conditioner, but we switched it on only long enough to cool us off when we came in hot from walking; we never needed it at other times.