But first (and you will sense a trend), breakfast.
Bougatsa at Phyllo…sophies, a very successful bakery on the central square. Mizythra wrapped in pastry and fried, with honey and nuts. Simply, yes.
Also, some strained yoghurt with the same honey-nutty treatment.
Charlotte takes advantage of the free wifi to skype her bf Max. I say hi too, and drink some tsái ton vounoú, mountain herb tea. Complex and delicious, something like a hórta brew.
Mires is a couple hours southwest of Irakleio by bus. It is, in the words of our host there, a ‘Cretan cowboy town’.
There is a market.
We cook a mid-afternoon meal with Vasilis of favas and peppers stewed with olive oil, and crusty bread. Vasilis works as a teacher, and his students bring him fresh vegetables and olive oil. He opens a bottle of wine from his family’s vineyard in northern Greece. It is common, he tells us, for families to have their own vineyards and olive groves. He remembers the back-breaking labour of working in the fields in the summertime when he was younger. The wine is his first taste of the 2009 vintage. It turns out it was a good year.
Later on, Vasilis takes us to this amazing shop the next town over that sells all manner of dried herbs from around Crete. It is a library of herbs. I am immersed. Charlotte buys some mint. The man gives us a sample of lemon sugar.
At night, we hang out with his friends at the Anekathen Kafé, kitty corner to his apartment in Mires. It is the ultimate neighbourhood haunt, pool table, late 60s decor, and curved bar. There is raki and raki.
The next day, we head to Phaestós, a smaller Minoan site than Knossós but in excellent condition. It’s still a pretty cool place.
Temporary roofs to cover parts of the ruins still under excavation. I sort of find myself among them. They are quiet, the air is hot and still. Bugs and dust.
Layers of dated reconstruction.
A ‘lustral basin‘.
We drive with Vasilis and his friend to Matala, the nearby beach town. It is famous for its sandstone cliffs, filled with caves, at first Roman burial sites, and more recently shelters for recluse expat hippies. Apparently thousands still gather there every summer.
The cliffs rear up at an angle, layers of sediment in lines, and disappear into the deep.
In places it is hard to tell what is carved and what is weathered away.
Vasilis and his friend hang out on the beach, enjoying the sun. When we return, he shares some prickly pears with us, which he gathered from cacti at Pheastós.
They need to go a local soccer match. We thank them and they leave. I hope to see him again.
Charlotte and I explore the town a little deeper.
It is the off-season.
Few places, if any, are open and serving food. I’ve been hankering from some ahinosalata (sea urchin salad), but it seems to be out of season. That’s fine, we’ll make a picnic.
On a rock. In the Mediterranean.
It occurs to me that this is the beginning of the end of our adventure. Every step we take after this moment will be a step moving closer to home. This is the furtherest point we will reach: a rock off a cliff off a beach in Matala, off the road from Phaestos off the road from Mires, across the mountains from Irakleio, across the sea from Athens, across the sea from Istanbul, across the world from New York.
It is a moment of scale and vastness and good flavours and that first feeling of summer sun on the skin.