Easter in Hania, Crete
Trip Start Mar 14, 2007
30Trip End Apr 10, 2007
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Where I stayed
Advised by Matt Barrett, whose extensive web site about travel in Greece I heartily recommend, I had decided to stay in Hania instead of Iraklion during my few days on Crete. For that -- and many other invaluable Greek travel tips -- I thank Matt. I had read that Easter observances in Greece are not to be missed. It's the most important holiday on the Greek calendar, far more important than Christmas. The lighting of candles at the conclusion of the Saturday night church service, I had learned, was a sight to behold
Also advised that Greeks travel to the villages and towns of their ancestral families for Easter, making travel and lodging difficult to arrange on the spur of the moment, I had booked well in advance my ferry ticket to Hania and my room at Pension Lena. Those precautions proved to be wise ones.
Pension Lena, which I found through Lonely Planet, was simple but cheap. At 25 Euros a night, I certainly couldn't complain that the water wasn't hot enough for a long, relaxing shower. Lena herself was outgoing and helpful with suggestions for my stay in Hania on my first morning. Then she was gone for the rest of the weekend to take care of other business elsewhere on the island. The downstairs kitchen/reception area was adequately stocked for preparing coffee in the morning.
The highlight on my first day was an extended visit to the central market, housed in a cross-shaped building on the edge of the old town. With stalls selling local cheese, fresh seafood, breads and other baked goods, olives and oil, meat, spices and herbs, honey and other local delicacies, it seemed a focal point for local families preparing for the holiday. Mostly friendly shopkeepers and their employees offered samples and advice. A couple of cafes provided gathering places for the older men to have coffee and visit with old friends. The sights and sounds and smells made it a feast for the senses
I spent the rest of the day just exploring the old town, savoring the sunshine and blue water of the harbor, trying to avoid the tourist crowds on the promenade along the waterfront late in the day and into the evening. At about 9 in the evening, on the earlier advice of Lena, I stationed myself in front of the cathedral to watch the first service of the weekend, which ended with a procession out of the church and up the main street, with showers of white petals thrown from balconies lining the street over the soldiers and sailors accompanying a canopied conveyance and cross. Ancient chants emanated from loudspeakers on the front of the cathedral, where people crowded into the small square. Bells in the church tower rang solemnly.
I was out on the nearly deserted promenade about 9 the next morning when I happened upon an old man with a long, heavy line fishing for something in the waters of the old harbor. A younger man and his two small sons accompanied him, "helping" him spot his prey. I couldn't determine what that prey was until, with a sudden splashing and pulling in the line, I watched the old man drag a fair-sized octopus from the water and then stomp it to senselessness with his battered blue athletic shoe. The little boys huddled over the sea creature, daring to touch it with one finger before drawing quickly away. After letting the boys satisfy their curiosity, the old man dumped the octopus into a plastic grocery bag
The rest of the day, I explored leisurely, checked email and prepared for my departure early the next morning.
To secure a good vantage point for the Easter evening church service, I was at the small square an hour or more early. Soon a couple of military contingents arrived, one accompanied by a brass band. A bearded man in impressive religious garb arrived by limo. More and more people began to arrive, filling the square. Children sold candles in plastic cups (to catch the dripping wax). High-ranking military figures arrived, walking directly into the cathedral past the lines of soldiers and sailors.
The service inside seemed to reach a climax as the lights were extinguished, and then light returned in the form of candles in the hands of those inside, who began coming out to light the candles of those outside, passing a single flame to many. The priests conducting the service came out, too, and concluded the service with chanting and swinging incense censures on a platform in the square. The bells in the cathedral tower chimed and were joined by other church bells across town and fireworks exploding in the near distance. Television cameras caught it all from every angle.
And then, the most memorable sight for me -- each person holding a candle departed for home, some in small groups, down narrow cobbled lanes, past shuttered shops, under awnings that nearly touched the shopfronts on the opposite side of the street. It was another of those timeless scenes.