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Friday, 25 September 2009

From Hania to the Hania (Από τα Χανιά στα Χάνια)

It may look as though I haven't left Hania, but depending on where the stress mark is placed, Hania becomes a different place. HA-nia (not my own town of ha-NIA) is a small mountain village located in the Pelion mountain range in central Greece. It is a popular winter resort with a ski-field; in the summer, it is less popular with the (mainly Greek) tourists, who prefer (naturally) the coastal areas. How fortunate for us, as this was the perfect place to get away from the high temperatures (we were travelling during a heatwave) and the crowds.

Hania (in Pelion) gets its name from 'hani' (χάνι), meaning 'stopover inn, a place to rest', which was the original purpose of this place: a place to rest, sleep, feed and water your donkey and yourself, before continuing the long tiring journey over windy narrow roads to the other side of the Pelion mountain range. The 'hani' used to play a similar role as that of the English coaching inn. Such places existed in central locations all over Greece during the years when the donkey was an important means of transport.
In Hania (Crete), for example, there were 'hania' for donkey tie-ups up until some time after the second world war.

hania pelion central greece
It feels strange seeing my hometown's name in another part of Greece, especially when it isn't pronounced in the same way...

The Pelion Hania's significance may have lost its original value over time with the new transportation methods, but the ski field located close by has allowed this popular stopover to become an all-year-round resort. Hania - also (mis)spelt Chania, just like the Cretan town - is now a bustling resort village with a few hotels and restaurants built along the main road which passes through the village. It is located in the intoxicatingly beautiful pine-forested mountain range of Pelion, said to be the home of the centaurs, mythical half-men, half-horse creatures, on a large peninsular to the west of Volos, a seaside town in Central Greece.

front view from hotel near portaria pelion back view from hotel near portaria pelion
The different views we had from our hotel windows. Traditional style housing includes stone tiled roofs. All houses in the area conformed to the same architectural style - no aluminium window frame eyesores anywhere near the place.
mount pelion central greece

Even though it was at the end of summer time in Greece when we were visiting Pelion, the fireplace had been lit. Wintery meals are eaten throughout the year in Pelion. This should come as no surprise given the low temperatures that nearly always prevail in the area; the waiter told us that right throughout the summer, night time temperatures did not surpass 16 degrees Celsius. This is my kind of summer holiday - a respite from the searing high temperatures in my own Hania. The heatwave during the day could not be felt at these altitudes (1200m above sea level), where bears, foxes and wolves keep their home. Tourism was slow - summer visitors to Pelion prefer the coastal regions of the area instead of the heights - but there were a number of restaurants operating in the area. We were drawn to the one with a sign of Crete on the door featuring ZORBAS beer: the owner was originally from Eastern Crete, and decided to stay in the area once he finished his military service in the 1920s. He married a local woman and ran an inn, a restaurant and a local products shop, all of which are still operating today via his children, who have all visited Crete at some point in their lives.

local products from pelion pelion local products
Fruits preserved in syrup are very popular all over Greece; Pelion is one of the places known for their tradition in spoon sweets production, dried aromatic herbs and locally made pasta.
menu at pelion
When in Rome, eat as the Romans do; this menu looked tempting: fasolada, spetsofai, boiled goat soup (these form part of the local cuisine of the region), rooster in wine sauce, yiouvetsi cooked in a clay pot - wild boar, deer, beef in red sauce, lamb in lemon sauce, rabbit stew.

All regions of Greece have their local produce and specialty cuisine, and it is in the Pelion Hania where we first heard of and tried 'galotiri', a creamy white spicy feta cheese spread made with yoghurt. It is served in a similar fashion to tzatziki dip; perfect with those thick slices of still-warm toasted sourdough bread that appeared at the table after we ordered. In Central Greece, it is sold ready made (it isn't available in Crete due to lack of demand), but galotiri can also be prepared at home.

local pita and galotiri at pelion spetsofai wild boar stew and fasolada at pelion
Galotiri, greens pie with home-made pastry and lemonade (EPSA brand from Volos); boar stew, fasolada bean stew, spetsofai (sausage and pepper stew). The fireplace is used all year round in Pelion.
summer time fireplace in pelion central greece

Although fasolada and greens pie (hortopita) were also referred to as local specialties of Pelion in the menu, it should be noted that these are eaten all over the country, made in the same way as my own versions, which gives them a unifying character among all Greek people. To go with the hortopita, fasolada and galotiri, we also ordered spetsofai (spicy sausage cooked with peppers, a specialty of Central Greece, easily copied in your own home) and wild pig (caught in the region, now available in most supermarkets).

*** *** ***

If the food in Greece shares many similarities, then one would expect that so do the people. We were dining next to a table where a Greek woman was seated, loudly airing her views about the Greek people:

"... Of all the Greek people, it's the Cretans I can't stand, and I couldn't stand them ever since I was at primary school. My parents didn't like them either, so I suppose that's why I can't stand them too; we lived in a neighbourhood [in Athens] where there were many of them, and we just avoided them like the plague..."

Did she realise that the owner of the restaurant was Cretan? Probably not; the name 'Kokkinis' does not immediately denote Cretan origins in the same way that mine does (a common Cretan name suffixis -aki/-akis). And she didn't stop there:

"... because we're not all the same, are we? I mean, look at the people from Thrace - they don't even look like Greeks, do they?"

We didn't look like her either (she looked Irish to me), and yet we were all Greek; in her opinion, there is an Aryan race living among us. In any case, she sounded as though she was brought up on the assumption that discrimination is normal.

pelion running water

Before leaving the area to continue our trip (and hopefully hear less racist views about our own origins), we filled up our water bottles with clear spring water which was running freely at many points along the windy road.

Total cost of meal, with wine and sodas: 38 EURO, with loukoumades (Greek donuts) served as dessert on the house. We stayed at ADAM rooms (with traditional decor) near the village of Portaria (a few kilometres away from the Hania), 60 EURO a night (pre-booking not necessary in summer) in a 2-room 4-bed unit: 24280-99435.

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