17 April 2024

Back in Rethymnon
for five days after
an absence of
almost three years

The Hotel Brascos in the centre of Rethymnon is beside the Municipal Gardens and a few steps from the Porto Guora

Patrick Comerford

It has been an early but busy Easter, but Greeks are still in Lent, and Easter Day here is not until 5 May. I am back again in Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete for a short, five-day visit on my own.

Today’s journey has been a long one, leaving Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes at 1 am in the depth of the night to catch an early morning flight at 6 amfrom Luton to Chania, and then taking a 90-minute bus from Chania Airport along the coast by Souda Bay and through Vryses and Georgioupoli to Rethymnon, arriving here in the early afternoon.

I have missed Greece, I have missed Crete and I have missed Rethymnon over these past two or three years. I have not been back since I spent about 10 days in Tsesmes in September 2021: a stroke six months later, my retirement from parish ministry, the move from Askeaton to Stony Stratford and some difficult personal problems put paid to all those plans to catch up on the visits to Greece that were cancelled during the Covid pandemic.

In the intervening time, I have co-authored a book in Greek on the Philhellenes that was published in Thessaloniki, and I have written the introduction to another book on Greek folk songs about to be published this year, also in Thessaloniki. But this is the longest period I have been away from Greece in almost 40 years.

Seeing the dome of the Fortezza aa I arrive back in Rethymnon is almost like a feeling of being back home again. I have been a constant visitor to Rethymnon since the mid-1980s, and I have lost count of the number of times I have been back here, staying in apartments or hotels in this old charming town or in suburbs such as Platanes and Tsesmes, 7 km to the east. I have missed the smells, the sounds, the colours and the very look of the people, the buildings and the shopfronts, the blue sea and skies, the olive trees, and the rocky indents on the coastline.

This time I am staying for five days in the Hotel Brascos in the centre of Rethymnon, next to the Municipal Gardens and a few steps from the Porto Guora or old gate leading into the old Venetian town, with its labyrinthine network of narrow cobbled streets and squares. In addition, in the past, I have stayed in the hilltop villages of Piskopiano and Koutouloufari above Hersonissos, in Iraklion, in Georgioupoli half-way between Rethymon and Chania, in Kolymvari west of Chania, and in Paleochora on the south coast.

I stayed once before in the Hotel Brascos in Rethymnon for a week 10 years ago (2014). The hotel stands on the corner of Moatsou and Daskalaki Streets (Μοάτσου και Δασκαλάκη), and this time my room has a balcony overlooking busy Moatsou Street. The old Venetian port is only 350 metres from the hotel, and the beach – the longest sandy beach on the island – is a mere five-minute walk away.

All the rooms in the hotel have balconies. Sadly, the roof garden and bar are closed this month. They offer panoramic and dramatic views over the old town with its Turkish minarets, Byzantine towers and Venetian fortezza, and out across the harbour. In addition, the small swimming pool has been drained and is being refurbshed.

After checking in, I strolled through some of my favourite streets and side lanes of the old town, and had lunch in Sarlo, a favourite haunt on Paleologou street, between the Venetian loggia and the Rimondi fountain. Some of my favourite places over the years are no longer on the map: the colourful peripteron or kiosk on Tsouderon Street has disappeared without a trace; the medical centre around the corner that one treated refugees and migrants seems to have moved elsewhere; and Avkri, a much-loved taverna in a laneway off Souliou Street that I have known since the 1980s, has not yet opened but (hopefully) has not closed.

Over the next few days, I am looking forward to more walks through the old town or around the harbour, swimming in the sea at Pavlos Beach in Platanes, and watching the sunsets from the balcony of my room or at a nice taverna I know beneath the walls of the Fortezza.

Hopefully, there may be exhibitions in the Fortezza or venues like the Kara Mousa Pasa Mosque on Agnostou Square in the Old Town. There may even be time to visit a monastery I know in the hills above Rethymnon, or perhaps to visit Chania or Iraklion, and perhaps even lunch or dinner with some old friends in Platanes and Tsesmes, or even in Iraklion and Hersonissos.

After that early start this morning and such a long journey, I plan to take things easy this evening, with dinner in the old town, and perhaps a drink near the Fortezza, enjoying the view of the domes, bell towers and minarets of the old town and across the harbour.

The roof garden in the Hotel Brascos offers panoramic views across the old town and out to the Venetian harbour … sadly, it is closed this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No comments: