The last part of our bus ride from Réthymno was along a waterfront road busy with bars and tavernas, heading for one of Iráklio’s two bus stations. The other serves shorter routes to outlying villages, but this one, close to the ferry port, handles the buses that run back and forth along the east-west highway that connects the major cities on the island’s north side. As Crete’s metropolis, Iráklio gets most of the island’s incoming and outgoing traffic, both airborne and seaborne.
Only by way of a long detour perhaps tripling the length of the journey could we avoid the stairs. We spent a little time exploring to confirm that this was really so. While Dorothea watched our bags, I walked past a long, vaulted Venetian arsenalo that’s now cut off from the sea by the waterfront highway. The sidewalk was overhung by a narrow part of the vault of another arsenal that once stood next to it, but appeared to have been demolished in order to build the highway. (It’s possible, of course, that the rest of that building had fallen down, or been demolished in the bombing of 1941.)
I found no easy route in that direction, so we resigned ourselves and retraced our path to the foot of the stairs, where we resolved to take the ascent slowly (as if we could have taken it any other way). When we got to the top both of us were still breathing, and only a short haul remained to get us to the hotel.
As Dorothea’s notes record, the Lató was the most expensive hotel where we’d made reservations for the trip. Despite that, however, everything in it was fairly small—room, balcony, hallway, even the elevator—but the staff was friendly and welcoming, and as she also noted, commercial space is probably more expensive in Iráklio than anywhere else in Crete. When we were making plans, we weren’t sure we wanted a hotel with boutique in the name, but the location was attractive, and—once we had made it up the hill—it did turn out to be very convenient, an easy walk to most of the things we wanted to see in the city. (Even the public stairs weren’t much of an obstacle when we weren’t carrying a load of baggage.) And, unlike any of the hotels we’d stayed in up to then, it had free Wi-Fi access with a strong signal right in our room. Elsewhere, we’d always had to go downstairs to a public area. The Idéon, in Rethymno, had also charged €2 per hour for the connection, which, of course, didn’t always work. (This may have saved us a few euros, but that was hardly the point.)
The bus had let us off at 2:30pm, and it was getting to be late afternoon by the time we were settled into our room. We decided to forget lunch, and sat on our small balcony eating the second little bag of dried olives I had bought in the airport at Athens, along with some bread that Dorothea had intelligently saved from our last evening meal in Réthymno. Our luggage was now devoid of snacks.
Beyond the fort the mole narrows again and extends for about another mile, bending alternately northeast and east, to protect a huge dock area that accommodates the many ferries and freighters required to support modern life on this large and populous island. The opening at the distant eastern end of the harbor is wide (about a thousand feet, if I’m interpreting the Google map rightly). Obviously, ships don’t have to negotiate a bottleneck to get in.
Like nearly all restaurants it had a place to eat outside, but nobody was doing that. The front was closed, as it is in the picture (from the Web), though on warm days and nights the windows on both sides are folded back all the way to open the inside to the plaza in front. This night was by no means warm, and we knew that it was time to break our string of outdoor meals. We gladly joined the other customers, who included both locals and tourists, in Ippókampos’ interior dining space. We shared a horiátiki (‘village style’) salad, some kolokíthia keftédes (or zucchini croquettes), and saganáki. For a main dish Dorothea ordered regular keftédes (the meat kind) and I had grilled sardines. In our part of the world canned sardines are so universal that it’s hard to imagine eating fresh ones. I was surprised to find that they tasted pretty much the same, except less “canned”—by which I suppose I mean that they weren’t too oily. The bread basket, Dorothea remembers, “had an interesting variety”: paximádi of various shapes and kinds, some like little cookies, others like rusks, and others like crackers, plus both white and whole wheat breads. A half-bottle of retsina didn’t quite suffice, so we added a glass of house white.
The complimentary dessert was brownies with vanilla ice cream, a foreign delicacy from exotic America, although the grapes on the side were a slight surprise. To our great joy and gratitude, complimentary rakí was also put on the table: the taps of heaven had mercifully opened once again. I had begun to fear that we'd been blacklisted by some Cretan restaurateurs’ guild for violating a rule we didn’t know about—for instance, that diners should never consume all the free rakí they were given, but should leave, say, a third of the carafe to be taken back to the kitchen and reunited with the Mother Jug. But it seems that serving complimentary rakí is something that’s just not done in Réthymno. (Another possible explanation, I suppose, is that our visit happened to coincide with an industrial action by the rakí-distillers’ guild in that district.)
When we returned to the Lató, we found our bed turned down, and a plate of tiny díples—deep-fried pastries sprinkled with honey—as well as a little bottle of rakí left for us. Having had a comparatively bibulous dinner, we didn’t choose to open the bottle. We thought we might find a later occasion for that, but the restaurateurs of Iráklio were unanimous in seeing that we never went without the after-dinner gift of a little carafe—so the hotel’s bottle remained unopened. The maids probably thought we were teetotalers.
We had seen several reviews of Iráklio lodgings whose writers complained of being kept awake at night by the roar of jets from the airport, which is quite close to the city. It was about 1.3 miles or thereabout from where we were, a distance at which airport noises might have been audible, but we were never bothered. Perhaps this was because our room was on the side of the building away from the airport, or perhaps it was simply that the tourist season was coming to an end—this was the beginning of October, after all. Whatever the reason, we encountered no difficulty sleeping in peace and comfort, and that’s what we did.