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Thursday, February 28, 2008

The ebb and flow of Crete's cafe society

Crete's cafe life is tidal. It ebbs and flows throughout the day and night. It follows a rhythm, a regularly recurring pattern of activity. But each cafe, in each different town, dances to a beat of its own. By day it's rhythm is directed by the movement of the sun and the cycles of the seasons. One cafe may be more popular at a particular time of day simply because of its terrace in the sun. It may be packed in the morning when the sun shines on the tables outside while the afternoon sees it empty when it's in the shade. In summer, it's a different story when the locals welcome the warmth of the morning sun but in the afternoon seek shelter from the sweltering heat. And then there are the winter cafes that only open in the evening when their patrons head inside to take advantage of an open fireplace. Unless you stay in a place at least a few days it's impossible to pick up the rhythm, to identify the time of the tides. You may follow a guidebook suggestion and wonder why you're the only couple lunching at 1pm. When the locals start to arrive at 3pm as you're finishing dessert and the place is packed when you ask for the bill fifteen minutes later you'll understand why. Our first night in Rethymno we went out around 10pm in search of a restaurant for dinner. All of the tavernas recommended to us by the hotel staff and listed in our guidebooks were empty. We took a risk at one anyway, only to find the place filling as we were finishing close to 11.30pm. The next night we went out at 11pm and all the tavernas were buzzing. It was much easier for us to make our choice. Midnight we were in the thick of the local action and able to gauge the scene so much better. By 1am we were enjoying our raki and sweets with the last of the regulars. A good case for slow travel and taking time to get to know the rhythm of towns.

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