One of the highlights of my time in Crete was a short visit to Anogia, a very traditional village in the mountains (about 40 km SW from Iraklio) that has a reputation for its machismo. The village rose up against the Turks and later resisted the Germans during WWII, even participating in the kidnapping of a German General. For that, the Germans eventually killed all of the men in the village and burned it to the ground. The village was rebuilt, and its rebellious spirit lives on. Even today, the village occasionally gets into armed standoffs with the police, sometimes related to illegal cannabis cultivation.
I was excited to visit Anogia, which I expected would provide a taste of real, rustic Crete. And a taste of the delicious roasted sheep raised by many of the villagers.
The drive through the mountains was absolutely beautiful. It was like a movie. On more than one occasion, we had to stop to let sheep cross the road.
I found the people in town to be quite friendly, especially when I greeted them in the few words of Greek that I have mastered. Just like the statutes memorializing the town’s history, most of the men were sporting thick, bushy mustaches. The main street was lined with cafes full of men drinking coffee, smoking and talking. As I walked up and down the street, I could hear the quiet clink of the worry beads that many men here constantly fidget with. The air was filled with the smell of the lamb roasting in the windows of several tavernas. We picked one based on aroma alone, and our noses did not lead us astray.
We scarfed down several portions of roasted lamb that practically fell off of the bone, a plate of lamb liver that was fatty and flavorful, a little empanada filled with locally grown greens, and topped our bread with a spicy, soft cheese and roasted peppers drenched in olive oil.
It was a delicious meal, except for the Raki that we felt obliged to choke down afterwards. Raki is moonshine that is popular in Crete and often provided after meals. While it seems rude to refuse (and some people will not let you refuse!), it is not good. And it burns long after you get it down. I took a few little swigs and chased it with my Mythos beer. I suppose it was a small price to pay for a glimpse of life in Anogia.
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