Read accounts of trips to Crete
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Author: Paul R Rodway, UK
Date: Sept 2000
I come back to CRETE every year, I don't know why but there is just something that draws me back year after year. I have been all over the world but I just can't wait to get back to this island, there are more beautiful islands then CRETE, but there are no more friendly islands.
I have found in CRETE a place which is all that a person needs in life, good food, good weather, peace, and the recipe for long and happy life. I hope to take early retirement soon and CRETE is the only place I am thinking of spending my days.
While I am at work the thought of spending my later years in CRETE keeps me going, and this WEBSITE is my inspiration.
Author: Ray Fearnley, UK
Set the scene: We are going to Crete for the 5th or 6th time and some friends who live there, have organised an apartment for us. The instructions are to go to the mini-market in ### and ask for Manolis who will know all about the arrangement.
Following an horrendous journey, including a delayed night flight, we are now into the 14th hour since we locked our front door at home and set off. We are tired, dirty, thirsty and in desperate need of our 'home' for the next 3 weeks. The taxi driver has taken us to a Mini-market and we have tried (in our not-so-great-Greek) to establish contact with Manolis, right name-wrong Mini-market! There are about a dozen within a couple of miles and I've just about had it, grown man close to tears, but I thought hiding it well.
The man-mountain of a taxi driver took one look at me exiting the Mini-market and leapt out of his cab and gave me the biggest hug I've had since I was a child and said "Don't worry my friend, I will find this Manolis and everything will be ok, I know every Mini-market here, the next one will be the right one". Talk about a quivering bottom lip!!
Anyway, the next one (2 minutes) was the right one and the remainder of the holiday was wonderful. That taxi driver epitomises everything that is Crete, he was sensitive to my mood, CARED that I was upset, was determined to solve the problem, and was as delighted as we were when he'd solved it. A totally genuine human being. Crete is full of them. They will laugh with you and cry with you, but it's much better when they laugh with you. You see all of Crete in a Cretan's smile, and when you've seen one - it's hard to live without one. Isn't it?
Author: Spiro Polomarkakis, USA
Date: Summer 98
The priest mumbled something in Greek, but I couldnt make it out. I should have been listening, considering I was baptizing a child, but I was too busy worrying. Worrying about whether I would say the right things, worrying about becoming a Godfather and most of all worrying that I would let my father down. After all it was he who offered my services to become a Godfather in the first place.
I woke the day of the baptism with a ghastly feeling. I knew the day would come sooner or later, but I put that in the back of my head until it hit me hard like a hangover. I rose to the refreshing morning sun of Greece as I had for the last two months, only today was the big day. In Greece it is an honor to baptize somebodys child. It is a symbol of respect and trust. However, I only learned those things after I had baptized the 6-year-old boy I had never before met. His name is Sophecles. I wondered why I was chosen to be the Godfather. Having grown up American I questioned if I was suitable for the job. I was at the time, and still am, very influenced by American culture. The newest and freshest culture, some say. But Greek culture is one of the oldest and most respected. It is hard to find a common ground between the two. In Greece traditions are respected, as is the older generation. There, family and religion are focal points of life, while in America those aspects of life, although still important, seem to be fading away. My father grew up in a very old village with very old traditions. His village did not feel the heat or see by the light of electricity until the 1960s. It was there that I was baptized almost 20 years earlier. In contrast, I was raised with heat and air-conditioning, something that still hasnt really caught on everywhere in Greece. I had the advantage of modern electronics and medicine. The line that divides my childhood and that of my fathers and familys in Greece, is a very thick one. However, now Greece too has almost become completely submerged in American culture. The next generation of Greeks are now sporting Nike and Tommy Hilfiger. But in some places in Greece, mostly islands, you can still find ancient customs and culture very much alive. The people on the island of Crete, where my father resides, still adhere to those old traditions. It has taken me a long time trying to marry my American and Greek cultures. It has become much easier because of the rapid changes in Greece, but I still feel an inner-strain sometimes. Sometimes when I am in Greece I want to speak English so I can be understood more and sometimes, while in America, I want to speak Greek so no one can understand what I am saying. The problem always seems to be that I have no one in Greece to really speak English to and in America I have no one to speak Greek to.
Upon arriving on Crete I was told by my father that I would be baptizing his friends son. He had told me that Sophecles father had asked him for me to be the Godfather. To this day I dont know why. It was something that really went in one ear and out the other. I didnt want to do it. I was scared. I have been visiting the island during the summer months, almost yearly since birth and had finally begun to recognize the importance of being Greek. The baptism would be a true test of that recognition. Not only was I expected to speak Greek in front of many people, something that scares me to this day, but I also had to perform certain customs throughout the ceremony, I was told. Religion is very important in Greece and a baptism allows one to become a Christian in the eyes of the church and of God. At the time I did not know this, but a baptism is the bestowing of a name. My father took care of choosing a baptismal name and I took care of the baptizing. Baptisms are an ancient ritual in which the priest calls on the Godparent to be a guardian over the baptized. The Godparent is required to repeat prayers after the priest, meant to protect the child. The child is then considered a Christian when his nude body is emerged in a mixture of water and oil. After that his intellect, senses, affections and actions are all dedicated and blessed by the Godparent.
I tried to muster something nice to wear, but soon realized that I had only packed clothes for lounging on the beach or visiting the local night clubs by my fathers house. Things that I was used to doing in Greece. I found a casual blue button down shirt and paired it with some white pants I found at the bottom of my bag. I looked like a tourist and here I was going to baptize Sophecles. It was a pitiful feeling. I knew, however, that the experience would be something I would never forget, so I tried to turn my pitiful feeling into a more positive and proud one. The day started slow. We gathered together with me, my cousin Maria, my cousin Marco and my father in one car. We were followed by my two sisters, Maria and Alexi, my mother and my friend Jeff in another car. Forward we drove toward an experience that would change me forever. Our first stop was at my own Godfathers house where we were greeted with open arms and a full meal, the typical welcoming of Greeks. My Godfather, Manoli, is a bear of a man. A huge belly and wild hair accent his irreplaceable smile. He gave me a hug and greeted the rest of his guests. I sat quietly by myself, contemplating what was in store for me. The contemplation, however, started to slow down after I was offered some raki. Any time you visit a home, restaurant or bar on Crete, you will surely be offered some raki. Raki, arguably could be considered the drink of the island. It is a strong liquor made from the stems of grapes that hits you with such power your eyes begin to water. So you could imagine that all my worrying blew out the door by the time I threw back my third shot of raki. We stayed at my Godfathers home and ate and drank. At one point he grabbed me to the side and told me that everything would be fine. Most Greek men that I know would not do this, but my Godfather was a different kind of Greek. His smile never went away. I took his words to heart and thought about him baptizing me 20 years earlier. We said our thanks and said our good-byes. I was definitely feeling more at ease with the situation. Maybe it was my Godfathers kind words or maybe it was the raki.
We loaded back into our cars and got back on the road again. We traveled on old roads through villages of whitewashed houses, whose exteriors were faded from the hundreds of years of scorching sun they have survived. I traveled the same roads often as a young boy. The same roads that used to confuse me because of what I saw on them. In America we never had to stop on any road, let alone a highway, to allow a herd of goats to pass. We never saw 80-year-old men sitting sideways on donkeys traveling home from work. Those are the images I see in Greece everyday and they always helped further accent the differences between Greek culture and American culture, consequently creating a confusing void in my life. But then, in my twentieth year, I understood the roads and was beginning to understand the buildings and their meaning too. I was beginning to understand the people and my family. The buildings represented a foundation, strength and beauty with age. The same thing my family in Greece represents. I was chosen to baptize Sophecles for a reason. It was an act that would connect us as family too. We finally reached our second pit stop; a little family owned restaurant outside the town of Dareavana is one my father and I still visit. There we were treated like royalty once again. An old couple, Nikos and Heriklia own the tiny restaurant. They are distant family whom I see only a few times a year, but they came out to greet us like they had been waiting a whole year for us to return. Inside we ate and talked about the baptism while the old man poured a few more shots of raki for the group. By now I was ready to be a Godfather. (Again, the shots must be taken into account. Most times my father would cut me off after a couple of shots, from fear that I would fall into a drunken stupor. This time he didnt seem to notice. Either he was so proud of me or he himself had felt the effects of the raki and didnt bother saying anything.) I felt like a man amongst men. By this time we all had such bright smiles on our faces that we could have drained the whitewash off a whole village. The old couple wished me luck and yelled a phrase I remember hearing my Grandma always say. Sto kalo. Meaning, towards the good. I yelled back efharisto, thank you, as we pulled away. I felt almost as if I were being rooted for like the New York Yankees in the World Series. I realized how much the baptism meant to a lot of people and in turn realized what it meant to me, yet I was the one who had disregarded it for so long.
We pulled up to Sophecles parents home which was the first time I had seen it. And all of a sudden his parents were kissing me and hugging me while others seemed to be waiting their turn. I looked at my dad in amazement, but he just looked at me like I would know what to do next. I greeted everybody with pride and finally I was introduced to Sophecles. He seemed to be at ease in his red shirt and white shorts. Totally oblivious to the fact that I would be the one, who in a few hours, would be dunking his naked body into a tub of water while hundreds looked on. I gave him a hug and talked to him briefly and before I knew it we were off to the church. The church, although not extremely large, was full of pictures of gods and prophets. I was surrounded by my family and the Greek Orthodox priest. The priest wore a royal blue robe with a stunning gold and orange shawl. He seemed to resemble the nobility of the prophets on the walls. I was told to put my right hand on Sophecles shoulder while the priest delivered the ritual prayers. Sophecles still didnt seem to notice that he and I were the center of attention. The priest would deliver prayers which I was to respond to. This was made easier with the help of my father standing over my shoulder. The priest would speak so fast and with my not-so-perfect Greek, I would get lost sometimes. But before I knew it I was dunking Sophecles into the tub of water as he finally came to the realization of his baptism. I had done it. I had made him into a Godson and he had turned me into a Godfather. From that moment on Sophecles and I have been family. Another link in a chain of many. And in ways Sophecles had turned me into a man. On that day I saw the most proud look on the proudest man I know; my father. He gave me a big hug after the ceremony was complete. A hug, that to me, was a welcoming to manhood.
Author: Lars, Sweden
It is early morning and a quick look behind the blue curtains is telling that this is a perfect day for starting a new tour. Behind the curtains the sun is sending down its first warm beams for today to the landscape of Crete.
There is still some snow left on the high peaks of Lefka Ori, no wind at all and sea is like a mirror with some small dots here and there; the fishermen in their boats are early today.
Having yoghurt from Vrises with honey from Anopoli, a cup of tea and a sandwich on our balcony overlooking all this makes you feel good at heart and ready to explore.
Loading the Vitara ( Vitality would be a better name)with our things is easy and made very efficiently by my excellent co-driver and wife Sofia.
A quick look into some maps,yes some maps, she would not trust only one, because through the years she has become very professional and experienced. Then the sign; her thumbs in the air, and off we go.
We are driving through Chania, the streets are almost empty and the air feels cold and clean. Close to the center taxistation we pass the place where some men from Albania are waiting for someone to offer them work for a day or two. It is season for oranges, time for building, painting, gardening and so on and the chances for a job are good. It is a strange world.
No traffic on the high-road and we are passing Aptera the old town, Vrises with the best yoghurt in western Crete and Georgioupoli where the tourists always seems to be waiting for the buses to Rethimnon, in good speed. It is a beautiful road with the sea on our left side and the hills dressed in green on the other.
After Retimnon we turn right and are heading for Perama and the Melidoni cave, which unfortunately is closed. It is yet too early, the new season just started a couple of days ago and there are not enough tourists around. What to do?
"Let´s try to find little Eleni, now when we are going by jeep." My co-driver is studying the maps again. "What was the name of that village again?" "Kateriana, I am sure." A couple of years ago we visited an almost deserted village, where we after a short walk among the houses, met a little very nice 5 year old girl by the name of Eleni. She was sitting, together with her grandmother and her grandgrand-father in front of a house, playing with a small toy consisting of the loose part from a small bus. "Kalimera sas, ti kaneis? Simera, y mera einai poli orea" "Nai, poli, poli! Apo pou eisai" A few words and the Cretan world was opened.
We were invited for a cup of coffee,Greek of course, metrios. I tried to fix the toybus and Eleni looked at me with her big dark eyes; yes I really needed her full support. Unfortunately we were unable to get the bus run properly again but we have tried our best and we did it together.
Before we left, she sang a very pretty song to us. I showed her the pictures in my videocamera and she looked very proud. We promissed her to come back the next time we were going to visit Crete and now here we are trying once more to find the village of Elenis.
Actually we had tried once before, when we brought the Volvo along but the roads were too bad to carry on searching. "We have to go to Garazo and then turn left in Omala, drive on to Faratsi and finally reach Kateriana" She is very determined, my co-driver. Garazo is easy and so is Omala but then the roads becomes one of those millions of dirtroads you will find in Crete. "Well, left or right?" "Left!" The road is very bad but the Vitara has a nice vitality for roads like this one, but is it the right road? "This cannot be right, I think we better go back" "Yes" very short. The glasses on my co-drivers nose are very deep down into the maps. "These da... maps are not accurate" Whoops, what has become of my cool and calm co-driver?
We return to the crossing and now we turn right. Soon we recognise the very bad road and after 5 minutes of driving we reach the point and the houses, where we had to turn back last time, when we were trying to find the village. In front of one of the 3 houses we can see some women, young and old, chatting and also a little girl playing. The place is very nice and peaceful with high trees, a lot of flowers all over and somewhere in the background we can hear the sound from running water. Crete is dressed in its best Spring-gown.
Disturbing the peace though is a dog barking all the time and therefore we have to step out of the jeep in order to make ourselves heard and understood. We are asking about the road and if it is ok to continue. The youngest woman with lipstick and almost dressed for a party answers: "Yes I think it will be ok" A man in a blue shirt, black trousers, big glasses and below his nose a big black moustache, is coming towards us with a smiling face. "Geia sas,apo pou eisai" he says in a dark voice. We tell him, that we are from Sweden and again we ask about the road. "What are your names?" "Well my name is Lars Magnusson but in Crete I am Leonidas Manousakis and this is my co-dr... sorry wife and her name is Birte but in Crete she is Sofia" "Bravo, elate, come" We enter one of the houses and in front of us is a table covered by food, wine and fruits.
Around the table there are 6 men of different ages. "Say hello to my good friends Leonidas kai Sofia Manousakis from Sweden" We are presented to Manolis, Georgos, Dimitris, Antonis, Jannis and Kostas and in seconds there are two more chairs around the table. The men has already finished their meal but we of course have to eat. A plate, fork and knife, chicken, lambchops, brisoles me patates, salad, kalitsonia, cheese and wine. Everybody is looking at us, waiting for what? A twinkle to my wife and we grab a lambchop each......with our hands and start to eat. Laughter, cheers and applause;"You are real Cretans! Bravo!" They are all very curious and we have to tell them about Sweden, why we come to Crete and so on and so on .........in the Greek language....I think...at least some of it.
Georgos, the oldest, with a fantastic charisma, is telling stories from the old days and also from the war. He even show us his old rifle, which is rather small but very heavy. When we empty our glasses, they are very repidly filled up again with a superb..and strong local wine. Why all this food and wine, why this celebration, someone having his nameday or what? A very quick answer from Georgos: "No,no we are celebrating our church Agios Ioannis" There are only two people living in Faratsi today; Georgos and his wife. They have many friends visiting them, especially when it is time for celebrations like this one today.
It is now a very festive atmosphere and the spirits are running higher and higher. My videocamera is also running and the men don´t mind at all. Sofia is placed next to Georgos and he is looking deep into her eyes and here comes the mantinades, one after the other. He is fantastic, 81 years old, and acting like a young boy. A kiss on his cheek and he continues, everybody is smiling and joking and we have a great time together. It is a pity though, that we cannot understand everything. Time is flying and what about little Eleni and her village? "Leave now, no, no you can stay a little longer, Kateriana is very close from here" It is time for some sikoudia; jamas, skĺl, si´gia,via Manousakis, viva Georgos, viva Antonis, viva Sofia. Suddenly a telephone-call. It is from Athens and Georgos´wife is telling her son all about the cele-bration and about the quests from Sweden. Very politely we have to tell our new friends that we have to leave but first I am showing the videotape to them, more laughter and smiling eyes. "Leonidas kai Sofia Manousakis you have to be back September the 26th to celebrate Agios Ioannis again. You are my friends and you are very welcome" "Of course kirie Georgos we will be back" "Before you leave you must have somthing from here" He is telling his wife, a nice little woman dressed in black, to bring us a bottle of his best wine.
We have learned our lesson also and before we leave, we hand over some of the chocolate, we always have in the jeep when we are driving around like this, to the little girl and she is very happy. Even the dog is waving his tail. "Yes the road is ok for a jeep. Kalo taxidi" Finally we got the answer to the question we had put 4 hours ago. Off we went! Well what can you say? After a couple of hundred metres we stop and look at each other and start to laugh. Can we really continue? What about all that wine and tsikoudia? We emptied as much as possible and as there is no traffic what so ever on our road we carry on. The hairpin-bends are absolutely very easy and the road has become rather nice.... at this stage. We cannot find Eleni in Katriana. It is not the right village and I don´t recognise the landscape. We continue to Drosia and Theodora, where we meet with our ladies from last year´s visit. Hugs and kisses and coffee! Tsikoudia; no thanks!
This time we also meet with all youngsters from 2 to 6. We offer them ice cream and we have a relaxing time together. The youngest boy though cannot get the ice cream into his mouth, he has it all around in his face. It is time to find a place to spend the night and we decide to go to Anogia. On our way there the landscape is changing and I am sure we are somewhere very close to Elenis village. Ahead of us pointing to the left we can see a sign saying "Kamariotis". We turn and there is the village but this time without Eleni. Anyway we are very pleased to see some new houses but also some old restored ones. Let´s hope it will continue like that and the village will survive and maybe next time we will meet Eleni.
Late that night, when I am putting my head on my pillow, I can hear my co-drivers silent laughing. "What?" "Kalinichta Leonidas Manousakis" "Kalinichta Sofia mou, kalo ipno" Kriti stin kardia mou.
Author: Patrick, UK
Date: July 1990
Having read Erno's travelogue, I had to write as it is at time of writing, 50 days or 25 days twice till we go back to that heavenly place called Crete. It seems longer than 1,200 hrs till we arrive, but that is only 72000 minutes, so it isn't that long I suppose.
We had our first taste in 1990 of Sfakian hospitality. When on going to Crete for the first time and "doing the gorge", we got on the boat from Agia Roumeli all worn out and looked forward to a nice trip back to our room in Maleme. When the boat arrived in Sfakia we got on our coach only to find the road out was blocked by pickup trucks. The phone lines were down and there were these menacing looking men in long boots with big moustaches parading around the car park. We were told not to get off the coach and don't say anything that might antagonise them. They held our coach along with numerous others for over two hours. The reason being that we just got off the boat and got straight onto the coach without buying coffee or gifts. The tour reps knew of their gripe as this had happened before, all they wanted was a bit of business from us in return for clogging up their village every day with coaches. Well, so the story goes*, the boat started going to Sougia instead, so the Sfakians thought OH NO YOU DON'T. They blew up the jetty at Sougia and held the captain of the boat at gunpoint (Sfakians like playing with guns) and made him take the boat to Sfakia again. Maybe now the reps say "see you on the coach in 10 minutes". This little episode really made our holiday. We always stay in Maleme now and eat at Bachus taverna on the main road, which is owned by Stelios Koukouvitakis from Sfakia and his family who make us feel really welcome. It is a real treat for us to go to such a beautiful place and be treated so kindly by people. When we were in Suda bay military cemetery a couple of years ago a little old cretan man all in black came up to my wife Sheila and said 'YOU ENGLISH?' when she said yes, he took her hand and said "Thank you". We don't seek this sort of appreciation for the past, but it sure does bring a lump to your throat.
(*webmaster's note: this story has never happened really: it's just an anecdotic description of what might have happened if the interests of the Sfakiots are in danger. The ferry company A.N.E.N.DY.K is Sfakia based and all shareholders are Sfakiots; Sougia lies in Selinou, the neighboring county)
Author: Lars, Sweden
Date: May, long time ago
It is early May and we are ready to leave our hotel and the sea behind and drive to the mountains and explore them a little closer. A new, black, shining Samurai jeep is loaded with cameras, binoculars, jackets, a few bottles of water, some fresh bread from the bakery and of course my wife.
Away we go and we will try to drive from Chania up to Omalos and on to Kallergi back again across the Omalos Plateau, down through Prasés, Nea Romata, Derés, Maleme and finally Chania. My wife is very eager and has already two maps in her hands. "Just comparing the roads, but they look the same on both maps". She is a very clever co-driver my wife and I feel completely safe.
We are passing the famous jail in Agia and now on both sides of the road there are orange trees all over and they give a very nice scent to the air. We reach the village of Fournés and my co-driver is telling me to turn right and then follow the road straight ahead. She is right again; the roadsign says Omalos, bravo koukla mou. The landscape is now slowly changing and it is time for the Samurai to show a little of its muscles. We are climbing and the road is getting narrower. I have not yet told my wife about the coaches returning back from Omalos and the entrance of the Samaria Gorge. We will for sure meet them before we reach the plateau. On our left side the view is nice, we can see the village of Mesklá down in the valley and a little higher up the village of Zóurva. After 10 minutes of easy driving we are coming to a small and picturesque village called Lakki. I propose a metrio at the kafenion and the co-driver is accepting with a big a smile and a twinkling. She is in a good mood.
We are the only tourists around and the old men are inspecting us from head to foot. All of them playing with their komboloi, round and round or just letting the marbles drop one by one. Ok boys, I have one of my own and I know how to use so here we go. Smiles and laughter......and then the first tsikodiá of today. Viva Crete! On the road again and my co-driver is not so comfortable anymore because of the steep mountain slopes, now on both sides. The road leads up, up and soon we are driving inside the mountains and in a covered hairpin bend we meet the first coach. A scream from my right must have scared the life out of all goats and kri-kri´s (if any) in the neighbourhood. Meeting a coach in a bend is the best place to do it and the Samurai is easy to handle, in other words there are no problems what so ever. I can see my wife moving her lips but I cannot hear what she is saying....yet.
Over the last ridge and in front of us we have the Omalos Plateau, large and very flat. We are passing a couple of tavernas and continue straight ahead on the left side of the plateau. On the fields we can see some people digging and collecting something but we don't know what. A quick stop and an old man show us what he is doing. He is collecting xorta, which is used for salads (very nice. Actually we have plenty of it in Sweden and now we pick it every spring). He is also showing us where to find the road to Kallergi. It is a dirtroad leading up up and up to the snow and my co-driver is screaming: "Are you going to kill us both" The poor hearing on my right ear is back again....unfortunately. From Kallergi we have a wonderful and overwhelming view over the White Mountains and Samaria Gorge down under. Up here it is a lot colder and my wife is shivering from the cold or..? There is a toilet at Kallergi. My wife went inside and came out again very quickly saying; "It´s impossible, there is no bottom to this toilet". It is really an adventure in itself to enter this toilet because the view from the "hole" is fantastic. Next time you go there try for yourself.
On our way down again we have the most spectacular view of the Omalos Plateau and we also notice a road across and decide to choose that one. Almost at bottom we stop for a pause. There are flowers all over and especially the anemones in deep deep blue, violet and red are just fabulous. Strong colours like the one from flowers in the Alps. The sounds of singing birds are mixed with the bells from goats and sheep. Life is very beautiful. Across the plateau we find a small taverna, which we enter. It is time for some food. A young boy, Michalis, 6 years old, his grandmother, dressed in black, and his grandfather, dressed in grey trousers, black shirt, black boots and a sariki on his head, are welcoming us. Kreas (meat), patates (potatoes), xorta (salad special), beers and bread. The old lady is whispering something in Michalis ear and away he runs.
There are some houses 200-300 metres away and he is fast. I jump into the Samurai to fetch him back as he is coming out of one of the houses with some loafs of bread which he is testing with a bite of each. He is a little shy and will not join me in the jeep but halfway back we meet with his grandmother and they both jump inside. The food is very nice and Michalis is very curious standing at our table all the time. After the meal he is showing us the small kitchen together with his grandmother. Before we leave we drink a tsikoudia together with the grandfather. In the jeep I have a new blue Riley sportscap, which I hand over to Michalis and he is jumping of joy. He is lucky to have two ears to stop the cap from hiding his face completely. Anyway he is happy and so are we. Nice boy Michalis!
In my driving mirror I can still watch Michalis waving his cap in the air as the Samurai is taking us up on a small hill. The dirtroad seems to be new and waiting for asphalt. We are not sure where this road will take us but the landscape is fantastic so of course we carry on. Up here it is still spring, with a lot of water coming down from the melting snow. The new leafs on the trees are still a little shy to come out but the warming sun above is making its best to make them show. We decide to take a short walk and between some hills we find a small and green plateau, covered by yellow and white flowers. With boots on our feet we start walking and halfway down we discover a small house or what once used to be a house.
The colour has flaked off and the house has almost become a part of the mountain behind. There are 3 rooms and a kitchen; it must have been a rather nice house but is now abandoned. Maybe once there was a happy family living here, proud of their house. Kids running around playing games between the rocks or picking flowers. Today it has become a shelter to the goats and the floors are covered with darkbrown pellets (nicer words for goatshit). Down here is no wind at all and the sun is warm and nice. We are closing our eyes for a couple of minutes and are enjoying every single second.
Time to leave but first I have to use my camera while my co-driver start to climb towards the jeep. It is my lucky day, behind some rocks I discover an old, complete goat-bell with a beautiful and rich clang. Of course I have to catch up with Sofia and tell her about my discovery but in my mind a naughty plan is coming up. With the bell behind my back, sneaking behind some rocks I am slowly closing in on her. She is looking to the right and to the left but not backwards, her speed is becoming faster and faster and it is impossible to catch up with her. When I reach the road she is gone, but next to the front wheels of the jeep I can see her feet. " Why are you hiding?" " There was a goat following me all the way up and by the way where have you been?" "Me? I have been behind you all the time. Look what I have found, nice eh?" If eyes could kill I was very dead at this moment but my plan worked to 100%.
I am now driving in a slow and nice speed just to calm down the nerves of my co-driver but still she looks anxious. "Anything wrong?" "I am not sure about this road, what do you think?" After a while the sight is free and far away to our left the sea is visable; what a view this is. To our right we still have a longish hill and there is also a small road. "Let´s turn right just to have a quick look". "All right you are the driver". As we drive along, we can observe many small roads zigzagging their way down the slope to the bottom of the valley below. It seems impossible to guess which road to choose, but....
About 200 metres in front of us there are 3 men, all dressed in black, discussing something; it is easy to tell from all their gestures. I drive towards them. "Are you crazy", we have a lot of money, two cameras and one binocular and look at the men. Don´t you understand they will rob us"? "Ok, they look a little wild but these men are mountainmen and they are supposed to look like that". She is acting very fast and in seconds everything is hidden. Two young men and one old are coming towards the jeep, window up on one side but down on my side. I try to ask about the road to Prasés and there is immediately a huge smile on the old man's face. He is willing to show us the way and in two seconds he is in the backseat. "Pame" (Let's go). We are now driving down the hill and the road is very very bad and kind of soft. I can feel the right-side wheels sinking in the mud. This is good, very good!!! My co-driver has changed into a pale-face whispering: "He just wants us to drive him home. Then he will leave us to ourselves and we will never find our way back". From behind we hear the man saying: "Apo pou eisai" (where are you from?).
The silence is broken and we have now also reached the bottom and it is very nice down here. Everything is green and yellow-coloured flowers cover many of the bushes. Some of the trees, maybe fruittrees, are dressed in white flowers. A brook is running along the road and we have to cross it a couple of times. There are also gates to open and Sofia is doing a great job and our passenger in the back is smiling and happy. Chestnut trees, a blue sky and a yellow warming sun above, what could be better. It is almost like a garden. It is really very beautiful and not a sound is disturbing the peace, except for the Samurai-engine spinning like a cat and the songs from the birds. After half an hour in "Cretan Paradise" we are climbing again and a couple of minutes later we reach the village of Prasés. Our passenger is home and invites us for a coffee at the local kafenion. He is very kind and friendly of course and my wife is very grateful to him. He has solved our problem in finding the right road and what a road it has been. It is very easy to make new friends in Crete. A big hug and a kiss from Sofia and we leave him happy together with his friends.
It is time to go back to Chania and as we are now driving on the main-road, we have no problem finding our way. The sun sets in the west and gives the mountains a colour of gold. When we reach our hotel a new minor problem occurs in finding all the stuff that my excellent co-driver has hidden in the jeep. The problem is soon a memory and I give my wife and co-driver a kiss on her nose-tip: "Thank you, what would I do without you" Crete is fantastic! Love it and take good care of it. End of a true story.
During the night, I am sure, that she is back in the mountains again trying to avoid the horns from a big black goat. The funny sounds from her bed tell me this.... or are the 3 men, dressed in black, chasing her down the slope?
Author: Harry Kuperberg, USA
Date: September 21, 1999
Right about now you should probably be askin' yourself the following question: 'Just what the hell is Tsikoudia (pronounced `tzee-koo-dee-yah')?' Chances are, unless you find yourself hangin' with some hardcore locals on the island of Crete , you've never heard of it.
Ya see, whenever I travel I make it a point to get a true taste for the local flavor of where ever I am (and by that I mean whatever provincial booze the natives might drink). Anyway, to find this elusive beverage, you've got to hit the port town of Hania, in Crete, which is technically part of Greece, but really almost a country and culture all its own. Yeah, I know what you're sayin' right now - Greece = Ouzo, and I wouldn't argue it, but in Crete it's a different story. Sure, there's plenty of Ouzo to go around, but the real deal is Tsikoudia, a.k.a. "Cretan Fire-Water".
When you hear about Greeks whippin' plates against the wall and yellin' "HOPA!!!" this is the motivating factor. Before y'all proceed any further, keep in mind that the good stuff is specific to Crete (the booze they call "Tsikoudia" on the mainland of Greece just ain't the same), so if you find yourself thirstin' to try some, you're just gonna have to same up some serious drachma and catch the next flight over seas.
So how did I come to discover this enchanting libation? Well, while on one of my many travels, I found myself chillin' in this tiny tavern in Hania. The place is almost like a cave inside - curved stone ceiling, about a dozen wooden tables, and weird-lookin' stringed musical instruments hanging up on the walls. In the corner is a dude jammin' on a bouzouki (a Greek acoustic guitarish-type thing) and singing. It's only about 10 p.m., and I can tell by my well-trained eye that the crowd of about a half-dozen locals are already dancin' and gettin' pretty loopy. So when the waiter/owner staggers up to me to ask what I'm drinking, I tell him "Whatever the guy doing cartwheels on the dancefloor is having." A bottle of clear vodka-lookin' stuff (no label) suddenly appears at my table with a shot glass.
I'm noticing that folks are starting to grab instruments off the walls creating an impromptu jam-session, while the others continue to do the Cretan version of the Cabbage-patch on the dancefloor. At this point I'm thinkin' that whatever the hell's in this bottle, I'd better start slammin' some because it's probably gonna take at least a gallon of it to catch up to these cats. I take my first shot - not exactly what I'd call 'smooth' but not horribly rocky either. It tasted a little like wine, a little like vodka, but really didn't taste like either. And then there was a whisper of something I couldn't identify but knew I'd had before - some kind of herb or spice or something. Of course I just had to have to do another shot so that perhaps I could figure out what the familiar yet mysterious taste was. Hmmmmm...Nope, still nothing, so I poured myself another shot. Hey, how come I didn't notice how hot that fat chick is in the corner? O.K., I definitely know that flavor..... just one more.... and... whoa.. I think the gal in the corner keeps lookin' at me. You know she's not really even fat, maybe just a little short for her weight. Yeah, that's it, she's not fat she's short, I can live with that. Maybe I'd better go try to practice slurring my Greek with her, you know people always like it when you try to slur their own language.
...DISSOLVE AND FADE TO BLACK...
It's the next day, and I'm feeling surprisingly good. No wicked hangover, no fat chick, but not quite sure where the tail end of the evening went. So I resolve to soberly investigate what this cryptic beverage I so eagerly imbibed-in the previous evening is all about.
Upon my return to the States, I meet a guy named Emmanuel who, as it so happened, was born and raised in Hania. He knew the scoop. Here's how he laid it out to me. First off, Tsikoudia is a distilled liquor with a wine base. The hint of herb I couldn't identify, but knew I'd tasted before, was none other than thyme. And while he knew all about the drink, he had no idea how I ended up with the fat chick. But I digress. Anyway, the locals make it from scratch, kinda like our toothless kin-folks in the Appalachians makin' moonshine in their backyard.
Here's the procedure: Gather up the grapes in a barrel and start stompin' 'em, except instead of retaining the grape juice, they keep the grape skins. Next, dump the skins in a big barrel lined on the inside with plastic and seal it up (in plastic) letting 'em ferment for about a month. After fermentation, comes the distillation. The key here is that you want to burn the dried branches from the grape plants to heat the mixture (for some reason, this creates the perfect temperature for the distillation). Flavor with thyme. BOOM! - you're done. Now who ever said that fire and water don't mix?...
"Hard Hittin'" Harry Kuperberg is currently in Ireland tracking down the motherlode wellspring of Guiness.
Author: Lars, Sweden
Date: many years ago
It is April in Crete, one week before Easter. We have come down to meet and to celebrate the Holydays together with our Cretan families, but also, as usual, to explore the island.
The sky is blue, Lefka Ori covered by snow, the landscape below fresh and green and we are saluting the sun, now warming the air to a very pleasant degree.
The covered Samurai Jeep we have rented looks eager to take off, as if it knows today will be a funny day. We are leaving Chania behind and are driving along the road towards Rethimnon.
It is still early in the morning and no traffic at this hour. We are travelling through a beautiful landscape, on the left hand side we have the Souda bay, today like a mirror, on our right hand side the White Mountains with the green valleys below. After 40 minutes we turn to the right towards Lake Kournas, the only one (personally I am not sure of this though) in Crete. As we have been here before we continue towards the village with the same name.
Halfway there we stop for a pause. Now we can see the lake from above. The water is very bright close to the shores, then lightblue and almost black in the middle. You can almost hear the mountains surrounding this mirror say: "Mirror, mirror tell who is the most beautiful mountain in the island of Crete". The mirror though is clever saying nothing.
We pass the village of Kournas and are heading for Kastellos. The road is narrow and on both sides old houses. In Kastellos the road ends up just in front of an old kafenion. A man with a huge black beard has heard the sound from the jeep and is asking us if we need some help.
We leave the jeep and follow him to the kafenion where the owner, a very old lady, asks us what we would like to have. The answer is very simple: "Dio metrios, parakalo". She almost staggers back to a table where she prepares the coffee in a "briki".
It is served strong and perfect in small cups with kaimaki (froth) on top and katakathi (grounds) on the bottom. There is a big toothless smile on her face when we tell her how much we like her coffee. The men sitting around looking at us are asking a lot of questions: "Apo pou eisai (where do you come from), Pou menete (where do stay)" and so on. We are trying to answer, but also tell them how much we like their village, in Greek language.
We pay and leave the kafenion for a walk in the village. There are many old houses, some without roofs, some with just three walls and some abandoned. From the village you can see Georgioupoli down by the sea and in the other directions the villages of Kournas, Episkopi and Patima. As we leave Kastellos behind, we yet don't know, that this village is the home village to one of our best friends.
Here we will from now on always celebrate Easter days, harvest grapes and olives and sometimes even enjoy New Years day. It will also be the place where my wife will get her new name Sofia from a dear friend, father Kostice.
On the road again and when we reach Argiroupoli we stop and ask for the road to Kallikratis and if it is ok to drive there at this time of the year. The answer is positive and we carry on.
There are two roads to Kallikratis and we choose the left one. After 1 kilometre the asphalt road is changing into a dirt road and after 1 kilometre more this dirt road is changing into "dirtriverroad with huge holes".
The face of my wife is also changing.....its colour, while the Samurai and I are smiling together. Finally we have found an exciting road and it is even without grass in the middle. This looks good! As we continue my wife is screaming out loud that we have to turn around and go back. The luck is on our side though, we are meeting another jeep driving in the opposite direction, The Mountain Police.
My wife is desperately trying to convince them that we have to go back but the very kind policeman says that it is ok to drive on because: "You have a good and strong jeep". Vrooooooooom BrooooooooooomVroooooooooom says the Samurai and we are on our way again.
The road is now really bad and there is a lot of water coming down from the melting snow. On the other side, across the valley, you can see Asi Gonia and the mountains behind. It is very beautiful. After a while there is a crossroads with no visible road sign. Which way to go, right or left?
Luck is still on our side, on the ground we find a wooden sign saying Kallikratis, but is it pointing in the right direction? We make our choice and continue on the left road and soon we can see the plateau, the houses and the church in Kallikratis.
The landscape between the mountains is beautiful, green and flowers all over. The trees though are still naked and look a little frozen, but soon, very soon the warming sun will give them new life and beauty.
My wife has survived and is telling me to stop at Nikitas Manouzelis kafenion next to the church. Maybe she will have a raki or two and then enter the church to say her prayers. No, she is running towards the kafenion, enters and disappears. When she is coming out again she looks relieved. No wonder...maybe?
During the time she is disappeared, we, the Samurai and I, have come to the conclusion that a raki maybe would calm her down. While I am using my videocamera, my wife and Nikitas have a good time drinking raki together. When I get back there is food on the table. A whisper from my wife: " I think it is liver, you have to eat it all". Poor girl, it is not her day today, she hates liver and I love it. I have never ever had a better liver than this, simply deliciously made by Nikitas´ wife. Time to pay and leave. I hand over 5.000 drx and without showing any expression whatsoever Nikitas puts the money in his pocket and asks if he can join us in the jeep: he has some sheep to look after. All of us are smiling and away we go. We just love these Cretans. After 5 minutes we drop him and we are on our own again. The road is nice ....at least for the moment.
Now we have to climb in order to get to Asfendos and Askifou. In the distance I can see the road leading up, up, up but... what the he.. is that in middle of the road? It is a big lorry and in front of it a big road grader. Silence! Not a word about this to my wife, she will soon find out anyway.
We pass a crossroads not marked on the map and therefore we continue straight ahead. A lot of old houses and ruins all over and none to ask about the road. We are closing in on the lorry and a scream from my left is telling me that my wife has now discovered what is ahead of us. We have to stop behind the huge lorry and on trembling legs my wife walks towards the lorry to ask the driver if this is the right road to Askifou. She looks like a midget compared to the lorry but she is brave..and I love my brave woman!!!!! Yes we are on the right road so it is just to pass the lorry! "W H E R E!!" a new scream from the left. It is deep down on the left side and the mountain on the right side. "Please darling close your eyes, the Samurai will fix it" is my answer. Before she even notices it, we are safe in front of the lorry and the road grader. In every 100 metres there are now high heaps of gravel for the road grader to work on. The wife is now almost unconscious and silent.... and the views from here are truly stunning. Crete is fantastic. Finally we reach the road from Chora Sfakion to Vrisses.
The natural colour of my wife's face is slowly coming back and it is possible to communicate again. We continue to Karés to visit Maria, the old mother of our landlord Stavros. Again we meet the warm smiling eyes of hers, we just love this old lady. She lives in a very nice house overlooking the Askifou plateau, where you find the villages of Askifou, Ammoudari and Goni. Warm goatmilk and some cakes are served. The expression in the eyes of my wife is telling me that warm goatmilk will not be her favourite drink in the future.
The road back to Chania is like a ladder to heaven to my wife. Hallelujah!!! This happened many years ago and since then we have been to Kallikratis many times. My wife has gotten used to the roads (but still she does not like when I am driving with one hand and using the other for my videocamera) and I have no problems showing her remote places up in the mountains.
Kriti stin kardia mou.
Author: Martin, Germany
Date: November 10, 1999
Why am I still here? Why not the usual nomad routine, a tour of Crete in 2 or 3 weeks' time? What makes a town like P. such an attractive place?
No - it's not exclusively the idea that I might be totally bored in (now) lifeless Ch. Sfakion, and even more disappointed in (now) one-tavern Loutro. It's a mixture of many things, facts, impressions, half-dreams.
There's LIFE to this place. A liveliness even after tourists have left. A real small town, Greek as Greek can be - and it's said to be Crete's madhouse during summertime! Streets lined with beautifully trimmed medium-sized trees. Old cafes, new cafes. But almost all of them have learned the lesson. NO plastic chairs, or tables. Everything looks the traditional style. Large yellow mailboxes every 200 metres. Banks, tourist agencies that change even Russian money, Many Greek-style small supermarkets. Specialized shops, too. Hardware, clothes, shoes, even flowers. Two bakeries, also serving Gavdos Island, 2 pharmacies, a GP, a dentist. Two petrol stations, 4 or 5 hairdressers. Tavernas galore, 5 or 6 of them open now, in winter, as people start saying.
Old men in black boots, "riding" trousers, black beret or cap, walking with a shepherd's stick. Lots of younger people, some of them very friendly. Girls really unspoilt, a bit shy but not self-conscious. Two Papades (priests).
Sometims a nice parea (get-together). You meet the expatriates, like Andreas, owner of the PC Corner internet place, or Jimmy, the American who makes a living working hard for little money. You get Drs. 1,000 an hour. Or Niki, the henna-haired shop owner who gave me a great warm smile.
And all of these lovely dogs you make friends with. Nice cats too, some very poor.
The big olive grove at the northeastern tip of the village. Huge trees swaying with the wind. Big black nets spread all over the ground. Olive harvest about to begin. Tiny green fresh olives.
Then the fishermen out of job because of three windy, stormy days. They are usually selling their catch right down by the pier, the small docking place on the eastern side of town.
I hope for the Gavdos people that there'll soon be a boat going there providing them with all the basic foods, and especially some fresh bread. The sea has calmed down now after last night's two-hour inferno.
Many poorer people too. The asylum seekers, doing the menial jobs. Here a married couple from Albania, beautiful people. There a guy from Egypt, or Serbia, or even Russia. The nicer women labouring in kafenia to serve as attractions for men, even the old ones. Some of these women looking like aristocrats, one or two like they were offering the other kind of job, you know. But I can't really tell for sure.
My option is the Internet place, rather. One of the reasons why I'm staying so long. Another real change in weather, this morning. Sunny sky. Calm sea. It's almost getting real hot. But let me be careful not to make any forecasts now. Quick changes of weather seem to be the rule during winter. This is exactly what winter means here, it seems.
This morning all the spaces beneath and beside all kinds of trees were covered with thick green carpets of leaves and twigs. Tamarisk nedles blown to the ground by the incredible thunder- and hailstorm. Looked like they had been purposely spread out for drying up - herbs for tea, etc. Sandy beach was also covered with green carpets because of the many tamarisks there.
People's lives, animals' lives, and the elements displaying full force.
Isn't it something to watch? It's Kriti, i megali agapi-mou.
Alan L. Boegehold, USA
Date: unknown, permission not yet granted (source)
The town bus from Khania stopped in Kriovrisi a little before the old stone bridge. Nicholas Merk, three rows back, looked out the window. The soft driver got down from the bus and delivered a brown paper package to a bakery across the street. He left the cloth or bread or whatever it was, came back, and slumped behind the wheel in his ten-minute rest posture. When he turned his head Nicholas admired a rich dark mole on his cheek. From ten feet away, it could have been a hole, a good beginning on the dissolution of his face. Nicholas ran his fingertips over scars and pits on his own face. He looked ahead to a short column at the side of the road, on its top a marble bust of a man with a brave moustache.
"Who is that?" he asked a man in the next seat. "Ah, you speak Greek. Where did you learn it?" "I have spent much time in Athens." "You speak Greek very well." "Thank you. Who is that man on the column?" "He was a Secretary for the Town Council of Kriovrisi. He has been memorialized for his heroic resistance work during the Occupation. He was a Communist." "There is a long tradition of resistance to tyranny in Crete." "Oh yes. You will see on the other side of the bridge another column exactly like this one but with a different bust, a man also looking across the road. He was President of the Town Council. His work during the Occupation was equally heroic. He was a Royalist."
Nicholas looked over at the stream bed under the bridge, mostly rocks, which two springs kept damp and cool even in this hot season, the beginning of June. He put in place on a game board in his mind pieces labelled Communist, Royalist. He thought of sightless stone colleagues facing east, whose lines of vision were parallel (but they were sightless) and could never converge except maybe at infinity, and pure water in rocks under the bridge, and the luxuriant countryside of western Crete, and drier land to the east. But he could not get satisfying patterns. He wanted his heroes blind, but he also wanted the parallel lines of sight. And there were other things wrong too. He gnawed at his right index finger. The second joint was sore and tattered from long use.
He opened his guide book again and read about Frangokastello, "...a Venetian fort in the eparchy of Sfakia, built on a stony plain near the sea. It is rectangular in plan with square towers that rise four meters above the wall at each corner. Over the gate, there is a relief sculpture of the lion of St. Mark. The inner structures were built by the Turks on top of Venetian foundations. Today it is a deserted mediaeval monument that reminds the visitor of a history, ancient and modern, soaked in blood. Near the fort, toward the sea, there stands the ruinous church of St. Charalambes."
He read on, skipping, practically knew it by heart anyhow, "...built in 1371.defended valiantly against the Turks by the Papadopouli until the Catastrophe.In 1828, it was in the hands of the insurrectionists. Dalianis elected to stay. 'I and my lads are enough to teach a lesson to the Turks'.The Turks cut off his head and gave it to the Pasha who had attended the progress of the battle from Thyme. The fort is a blood-soaked altar of Greek Freedom."
Nicholas put down his book. The bus had started again, and he wanted to look at the country as they climbed. He looked out and let landscape flow over him, green fields and olive groves that passed and left no mark. Then from the corner of his right eye, he sensed a threat, heavy and out of control. A bus, rocking from side to side, rushed down on the other side of the road. It was askews. An approaching bus should have roughly the shape of a square when seen from in front or even slightly to one side. But the lines of this bus slanted. The sides were not perpendicular to the ground, the line of the roof not horizontal. It passed suddenly, and Nicholas realized he had not seen anyone in it, not even a driver. But there must have been a driver. But all the windows had been black. You couldn't see in. He turned again to the man in the seat beside him, "Did you see that bus?"
"Oh yes. Awful old wreck, wasn't it?"
Nicholas started to ask if there had been a driver in the bus but stopped. If there had not been a driver - Nicholas was sure there had not - his seatmate could not have noticed. If he had, he would have said so. Or would he lie? He saw there was no driver but would not say so for fear of being thought irresponsible. In either case, Nicholas would have gained nothing. So he shut his mouth. Then he thought to ask about the black windows. But he had already shut his mouth, so it stayed shut.
They climbed on into the White Mountains, taking short turns and switchbacks in low gear. They were still among olive trees when the bus rounded a turn and ground slowly past a house that Nicholas thought he knew. Built of roughly trimmed blocks of gray, local stone roofed with umber terra-cotta tiles, it stood back from the road a few meters. There was a door in front with a tall window on either side. All perfectly ordinary. The house, however, had been stifled. Someone had stuffed door and windows with rocks and earth loosely cemented together. It was now a dead man's face, mouth and nose and empty eye-sockets full of earth and stones. Where had he ever seen this house before? This was his first visit to Crete.
He turned again to the man beside him. "That's an odd thing to do to a house," he said, and pointed.
"They are like that here," the man said. "Two brothers lived in that house, and one of them, the younger, caught a man cutting wood in his lot. He killed him. Shot him dead. Then the dead man's father laid an ambush and cut the younger brother down. So the brother who was left, the older one, had to kill the father. It's the code here. Then he had to go far away. He's still alive, but he lives in another country. The relatives of the father and son closed up the house like that."
Nicholas tried again to think where he could have seen such a house. He could not.
The bus made its slow noon descent to the narrow plain where Frangokastello stood. The Venetians had named it the Fort of St. Nicetas, after a neighboring church, but locals from the start had called it the Fort of the Franks, their generic name for western foreigners. The Venetians tried to turn this into Castel Franco, but the old local name won. Frangokastello it remained. The bus stopped. Nicholas got out and started for the fort, a kilometer away, now a rectangle of golden sandstone walls, within which rubble walls of the old Turkish barracks subsided year by year into grass and brambles and wild cucumber.
At evening, Nicholas ate his bread and cheese. He found water from a spring in low cliffs nearby that rose from a shrouded sea. He opened his guide book again and turned to the pages that had drawn him here. Drosoulites, the Dawn People.
"On the plain of Frangokastello, when there is a calm on the sea and a stillness in the atmosphere, from the ruins of the Church of St. Charalambes, principally in the second half of May and especially on the eighteenth, by the old calendar, a little before the sun rises and after a period of humidity when a north wind is about to blow, there are observed shadows of human beings in a long file, dressed in black, with guns that flash and helmets and swords, footsoldiers and cavalry, that come from St. Charalambes toward Frangokastello, to the field, Thyme, as though performing military drill. When anyone comes near them, they retreat and disappear towards the sea. The phenomenon is visible only from the plain, at a distance of about one kilometer. It is not visible from the heights. The people call these shadows drosoulites or drosites since they present themselves at dawning."
Nicholas looked west to the plain of Thyme. He was sitting with his back against the warm stone of the fort. He looked at the date on his wristwatch, June 6; May 18 by the old calendar as a priest in Athens, Hilarion, had told him. "And when it happens that they appear on the eighteenth of May (old calendar) it is believed that they are the shadows of the three hundred and eighty-five Epirotes of Hatzimichali Daliani and the other Cretan fighters who were killed precisely that day of May on the same spot."
He wanted to see these people. Maybe they had something for him. A woman had once said to him, "You bite your finger to convince yourself that you have substance. You doubt it sometimes." He thought then and later that he was more likely attacking his own substance, wanting to annihilate it.
"This phenomenon is attributed by specialists to mirage. They say, to wit, that soldiers are practising their military drill on the shores of Libya on the other side of the African Sea and that their images are reflected at Frangokastello. But this explanation is not adequate" - Nicholas nodded agreement - "because the phenomenon is observed every year under definite atmospheric conditions and in a definite period of time, which cannot possibly coincide with the drill of the Libyan army."
Nicholas climbed into his sleeping bag and waited with old patience for sleep to come. He had passed forty years on this earth waiting for sleep, and he knew now how to wait for circuits to short out and close down the system. Some day all the circuits would fail, and then he would have blessed sleep forever.
He drifted off into sleep and almost immediately had a dream full of clamor and fear. People he could not see rushed by near him. Cloth moved on cloth. There was a sound like wet sheets on a clothesline being whipped by wind. A white horse reared up high over him. Its dark rider, a black Arab with red cloth wound around his spiked helmet, looked down upon him dangerously. Beating, feathered wings were smothering him. He smelled burning flesh. He awoke.
It was just before dawn. He moved warily, as always, anticipating insult or hurt from cramps, mysterious rashes, strained tendons. But no, he felt light and free. He stood, stretched, and looked westward towards Thyme. The air over there seemed dense and hard to see through. He thought he saw darker places in the general dimness. They almost seemed to be taking on shapes. There were dim flashes as though from light-struck metal that was muffled in thick air.
He ran towards Thyme without any sense of his own motion, or even of the stones under his feet. There was nothing in his mind but dim flashes and the dark places that now had almost recognizable form. He heard the sound of voices, but he could not tell what they said. Orders called to troops at drill? Now he was among the inchoate shapes and voices, and yet he was still outside. What should have been voices were mere impulses of sound carried slowly as though underwater. The dark places did not after all become shapes. A rumor, an impulse stronger than the rest, moved through their confusion. Nicholas distinguished it. He could not be wholly isolated from these presences for he knew their rumor signalled "alien."
They were receding. They were going to disappear. Nicholas turned around and around trying to see something actually going off in one direction. Choosing by instinct, he moved forward in the uncertain air until he was brought up short by a stunning blow to the face. He stumbled backward a few steps, throwing up his hands to ward off another blow. When none came, he peered forward and groped. Sunlight in a short flash illuminated the mist, and he made out a blue wall that rose up in front of him. He ran his hands over it - iron - and found a handle that turned. A door opened, and he stepped through to a smell of grease and gasoline and mildew and earth.
He was inside a bus that looked as though it had been used up a long time ago. Wherever there had once been cloth, there were now loose tatters that shifted a little in the movement of air that came in through a crack. Nicholas looked at the driver's seat from which springs hung out limply like dead vines in an exhausted garden. He picked up two gray boards from the floor and put one on the seat and the other against the seatback. He sat down in his improvised chair. He looked ahead. The mist was clearing a little. He could make out the direction of an asphalt road. If this bus could run, where would it take him?
There was a key in the ignition. He turned it. The motor kicked over, backfired, and settled into a series of promising explosions. He had known it would. He released the hand-brake and pushed the long gearshift lever into first position. The bus started forward. There were friends behind him in the bus - he knew it - and a rendezvous somewhere ahead.
The way ran flat for a while and then turned north, up into the White Mountains, a gradual ascent, possible for a very old bus grinding along in first and second gears. In half an hour or so, Nicholas had reached the top of the pass and had begun to descend by tight turns and switchbacks that led down to olive groves and finally to Khania and the Cretan Sea. He could see brilliantly now - a wind from the north had scattered all the mist - and his whole body moved easily, as he shifted gears and turned the heavy old steering wheel. He was in transit, almost - he could think - free of his body, bound for somewhere fine. Release of his own true, light spirit was imminent.
He passed the stone house whose door and windows were sealed with rocks and cement. He had seen that house before. No time to stop and consider where or when. He had to go on.
The winding descent continued for another fifteen minutes, and then, as Nicholas was shifting down from second gear to first on one of the last steep descents, he found he could not engage the gears. He tried to shift back into second, but he could only get a terrible gnashing sound. The momentum of the bus increased with fantastic speed. Nicholas had to forget about the gearshift and concentrate on the next turn. He made it, rocking from side to side on the narrow road. Lucky there was no one coming up on the other side. He jerked at the hand-brake. A faint scream maybe, but no perceptible slowing. No gears. No brakes. Practically free fall. Nicholas felt exhilaration. The faster he went, the sooner his rendezvous. His reflexes were functioning with superhuman efficiency. He flashed by the bust of the President of the Town Council of Kriovrisi and had time to look deeply into the image's sightless and undeviating stare, and still had time to guide his rushing, lopsided, old juggernaut over the bridge, salute the Secretary of the Town Council of Kriovrisi, and keep enough to his own side of the road to avoid the town bus from Khania that had stopped on the other side.
The driver looked at him as he hurtled by, and Nicholas felt keen regret. He knew that man and liked his face, but they were never going to get to know each other. His own bus was now totally out of control. The sun shone, and a spot of blue, the Cretan Sea, winked in the distance.
Author: Lars, Sweden
Date: March 1, 2000
It is early in the morning; the golden sun has just raised above the mountaintops in the east. The air in Anogia is still cool and fresh. The view from our balcony at Aris hotel is marvellous. The long shadows from the mountains are creating peculiar patterns in the landscape below and in the distance we can here a donkey saying "kalimera" to his master. We have paid in advance for our room and will try to sneak out without too much noise.
Not a chance, our landlady always on alert with narrowed smiling eyes, catch us when we put the first toe on the staircase. "Kalimera sas, don't you want some breakfast before you leave?" We explain to her that it is still too early in the morning after the dinner we had yesterday evening at the taverna near by. Why? In Anogia you eat makaronia me tiri kai kreas and after that you don't have to eat for many hours. Flowers, apples and a small bottle of tsikodiá are soon in our hands. You never leave Aris hotel empty-handed. Kisses, hugs and away we go.
The activity in Anogia is already high, not from young people, no; no it is the old ladies hanging up tablecloths, blankets, handbags, carpets and so on outside their houses. Soon the buyers, the tourists, will come and bargain. We leave Anogia behind heading towards Heraklion. No touristtraffic at this our, we only meet some Toyotas and Mazdas, always with 3 persons inside and the dog behind on the platform, on their way to the goats or to the fields. Before we hit the road to Heraklion, we drive a couple of kilometres towards the Nidaplateau, just to enjoy the fantastic views from Psiloritis and listen to the bells from thousands of katsikas. No disturbing noises from cars, aeroplanes or other technical machineries. I have said it before; Life is beautiful!
After a couple of hours we are on the move again and we can now feel some emptiness in our stomachs. It says "Astiraki" on the sign and we are turning to the left. The road is nice and after 15 minutes of driving we are in Astiraki. A crossing of 5 roads is the centre of the village and there we find two kafenions. The one to the left with a big tree in front seems very empty. The one to right is more lively, one old man outside drinking his first metrio of the day and inside a woman dressed in black running around looking for something. The man calls for the blackbird to come out to take the order. We ask if there is a possibility to have something to eat, an omelette, some bread and tea or coffee. Parakalló????? OXI!!!!!......just coffee, black. The man next to us enters the scene again and hits the table with his fist and tells the blackbird something but we are lucky enough not to understand a word. Anyway she is running away and after five minutes she is back with her apron full of eggs and bread. Antonis, our saviour, is a nice old man and he tells us a lot about the village and the surroundings. He has also been to Germany a couple of years so the language we use is swegergreek. It is a funny language I can tell you and it works quite well. Our little blackbird is serving us a perfect breakfast and when we explain to her that it is really delicious, she gets in a better mood and sings like a blackbird back home in Sweden a warm evening during springtime. We offer Antonis a beer and we enjoy ourselves in his company.
Time to have a look at the village under the guidance of our new friend. We walk trough the narrow streets and we notice that some of the roofs are covered of grapes. "Stafida". The village is not big but it has a hotel of its own. We meet with the owner and Antonis says if we come back again, we shall stay the night and there will food, music and dance. Outside his house we meet with his sister and her daughter. They are cleaning stafidas and of course we receive some to taste. Antonis is a little bit naughty. While I am taking some photos of the ladies, he puts his hand on my wife's butt. He is lucky we are in Greece, in Sweden nowadays we would call it sexual abuse. I am telling my wife, that this is the way the old men do in Greece, I have read somewhere. She is smiling back to me!! Life is nice! Anyway we bid them all farewell and returned to our jeep.
The year after this we returned again to Astiraki. Now the kafenion to the left is open and there are about 5 old men sitting under the big tree drinking ouzo or tsikodiá. Antonis is recognising us immediately and is offering us a beer. After a while we are 15 persons around the tables and we offer them a glass of tsikodiá and soon the heat is on. Laughter, singing, stories of which we understand just a little, more tsikodiá and fun, fun, fun. Looking out behind the corners here and there, we can now see faces of curious ladies. What is going on in the village???? Soon we find small groups of women chatting together pspspsp ....psps. My camera comes up and whoops they are vanished. As I sneak closer to a corner I can hear them... pspspspspspsp. When I show myself to them they are all smiling and I ask them to line up for a photo. Giggling like 10 years old girls the women gather up and the photo is taken and another one and another one. The filmstars of Astiraki in action. Hollywood what's that.?
Antonis has again put his hand where it should not be. He will never give up. Manolis is asking us if we can guess how old the fellows around us are? Well they look somewhere between 65 and 85 so that is our answer. Laughter!!!!! I am the youngest, Antonis says, I am 73 years old. So that´s why he still has the power. Now we can understand why they call us "paidia" all the time. Manolis himself is 103 and reads without glasses. Amazing! Time to leave Astiraki for this time. They all jump to their feet and yes we have to promise we will come back; "If you all will be here next year, we will also be here". The last words are from Manolis, 103: "I will be here, but I am not too sure about you, paidi mou"!!!!
This is what we all can enjoy when we go to Crete.
Author: Julie, UK
Date: January 21, 2000
The young taxi driver who drove me from the airport into Chania said 'We Cretans love Crete, but even we don't really know it. No-one really knows Crete, it is a mystery.' That remark stuck with me, and I thought about it, through the whole of my trip, my first in winter and I think the first of many.
I spent one evening in Chania before heading down to Sfakia...a brilliant, cold, starry night, the town looking beautiful. A delicious plateful of fried sardines at Dino's, and then off to the Cafe Kriti in Kallergon where the owner and his young son were playing bouzoukis - pleasant but not exciting. Then in walked Dimitris Vakakis, whom I'd heard and loved in Loutro last June, and his two co-players, and gave us an hour of terrific lyra and guitar playing. He told me that he plays there only occasionally, so it was my lucky night.
Next day, Thursday, was Epiphany, there would be no bus to Chora Sfakion, so I had arranged a taxi with Pandelis Amiradakis, who met me at the bus station and drove me down. Two days there - rain, icy winds, bitter cold, interspersed with brilliant sunshine. On Thursday I walked part way up the Ilingas Gorge, and on Friday to Komitades, wishing all the way for a woolly hat: the wind was fierce! But I enjoyed Sfakia, and Giorgis Perrakis at hotel Stavris was pure kindness, a lovely man. Cretan generosity...
While it rained all Friday morning, I burrowed into the little bar next door to the Xenia where Chrisoula, the owner, had a nice warm stove. She made me a dictamo, and brought me some of those round white delicious special Christmas biscuits on a little plate. I stayed all morning, reading and waiting for the rain to stop, and when I left she would not let me pay her. 'From me', she said. Then to Loutro on the 'Sfakia'. It was still cold and windy in Chora Sfakion, but halfway to Loutro the sun came out and when we got there it was WARM! And people were standing on the sock in shirtsleeves. Talk about micro-climates - it's three miles down the coast, but it was like coming to another country. I flung off my fleece and gloves and sweatshirt and settled in to six perfect days, one after the other. Warm sunshine, clear skies, gentle breezes, temperatures around 16-20. Halcyon days.
Perfect walking weather. There were no other tourists there, so I had Loutro pretty much to myself. The village is a building site at the moment, all kinds of repairs and renovations and new projects going on, and there was a nice working atmosphere which I liked - actually better than the 'Shangri La' holiday atmosphere in the season which is slightly unreal. I've spent many holidays over the past eight years in Loutro, and I love the hills and never get tired of the walks. This time, though, it was special. I think this was at least partly because there were no distractions: no other tourists, no shops, no restaurants, no postcards to write, no nothing, only the hills and the sheep and goats and their shepherds.
I walked to Marmara, to Glyka Nera, to Anopolis, to Livaniania and down the Aradena Gorge, and into Sfakia once to replenish my provisions. I've never been so happy. I went several times to Marmara, passing Likkos on the way. I have friends there, Theo Nikoloudakis, who keeps 150 sheep and 300 goats (and, with his brothers, the Nikos taverna and rooms) and his young Irish wife Aidin and their two-year-old daughter Ioanna. Every time I passed their beautiful new house I was invited to stop for a cup of tea and a talk with Aidin, who told me a lot about the community and the web of inter-relationships in the villages, and about the animals, and this all intensified my deepening sense that I was 'getting closer' to the mystery of Crete. She also pointed out, which I'd already noticed, that in winter not only the people, but the animals, are more relaxed. They aren't so afraid, and don't run away when you come close. So I several times found myself standing in the midst of a flock of goats (the sheep were a bit more skittish) who paid me no attention, just went on doing whatever they were doing. They were good company on my walks, especially the little ones. They all had babies, of all ages from one hour to three weeks. They were delightful! One day a pair of new-born coal-black twins decided I was their mother and started to follow me, their real mother bleating urgently at them till they finally turned around trotted after her.
I swam every day, at Marmara or Glyka Nera, sometimes both. The water was not as cold as it is in April - it felt about like it does in June. Those of you who know Glyka Nera - try to imagine what it's like to be totally alone on that vast expanse of beach with that tremendous towering cliff. Mind-blowing!
On Friday the weather suddenly changed. Rain, wind, the sea in furious turmoil, banging and hurling enormous waves and stones from the beach against the houses. It was obviously going to go on like that for a few more days, so I decided to leave the next morning, on the 'Sfakia' if she went, on foot if she didn't. She didn't, and I took the advice of Maria who said not to walk the coastal path, which would be dangerous in the wet windy weather, but to walk up to Anopolis and get a ride down to Sfakia. It's a slog, and I'd already done it once and didn't particularly want to do it again, but off I went, this time with all my belongings on my back, the climb, mostly in soft rain, enlivened by the company of Sofia and her daughter Metaxia from the KriKri restaurant, going home to Anopolis.
Cretan generosity...after I arrived in Sfakia in the afternoon, the sun came out and it was so warm and nice I decided to go up to Ilingas beach for a final swim. I was nearly there when it started to rain. I kept on, hoping it would stop, but it kept on too, and by the time I reached the beach it was a steady downpour. I abandoned the swim and turned back, by this time soaked through (a bit of a disaster as I had no way of drying things). I had gone only about a quarter of the way back to Sfakia when a bus drew up alongside me, and the driver stopped and slid his door open, beckoned me in and took me down. It wasn't a regular bus, he just happened to be going somewhere and stopped for me. Where else would this happen...
I stayed that night in Sfakia and was reunited with Giorgis and Pandelis, sharing a drink with them in the Alkion restaurant when the electricity failed (only for an hour or so). And Giorgis presented me with a bottle of tsikhoudia, my prize for being the 10,000th visitor to Erno's great website. The next day was Sunday, so again no bus, and another convivial taxi ride with Pandelis back to Chania. I spent three days there and enjoyed them thoroughly, getting to know the beautiful town better. I bought books and CDS of Kriti music, and went to see friends from Loutro, Manoussos and Eleni and Maria Sakellariou and had lunch with them; and spent an evening with Alison from the Porto Loutro and her son George and daughter Sofie in their Turkish mansion in Papanastasiou Street. I stayed at the Amphora Hotel in a terrific room on the top floor with an immense view of the harbour and towards the Lefka Ori. Magnificent at all times of day and night. And quiet, which it would not be in the season, and half the price. I went once more to the archaeological museum, and for the first time to the Naval Museum, which has an excellent exhibition of photographs and memorabilia, including weapons, German parachutes, etc, of the Battle of Crete, which I found very moving; as well as the entire maritime history of Crete, told in beautiful model ships.
Cretan generosity...when I left, having spent a good couple of hours, I said to the young man on duty 'What a wonderful museum'. He smiled, and said gravely, 'Yes'. And then 'You can come again tomorrow (pause) on the same ticket'.
My taxi driver's remark about Crete's mystery stayed with me all through the trip, as I've said. I see now that what I've been doing ever since I started going to Crete 20 years ago is trying to penetrate that mystery. And I think the difference this time was that I stopped doing that and began to let it penetrate me. Thanks for listening, those who've got this far with this much-too-long posting.
Crete in winter...would you like it? It was an adventure and a pleasure and I loved it. And will do it again. The adventure ended in the Acropolis Executive Lounge, to which I was given a consolatory pass to compensate for the inconvenience of having to spent the entire day in Athens airport: British Airways had cancelled my flight and amalgamated it with one leaving four hours later. I curled up on a comfortable sofa and read my book and consumed excessive quantities of (free) food and drink, to the accompaniment of murmured executive conversations on mobile phones and the gentle tapping of laptops. A bit like the sea. Very strange!
Author: Lars, Sweden
Date: January 7,2000
Today the weather here in Chania was rather nice and we dicided to go for a "volta". Good boots on the feet and then away to the mountains. The Volvo made its choice; from Chania to Fournés, Skinés, Prasés, Agia Irini (where it started to rain ...again), Rodovani, Moni and down to Sougia,where we turned to the right and followed the road as far as possible. It ended up in a small harbour.
The rain had stopped but the sky was still grey so we brought our raincoats along (we had learned the lesson from the Irini gorge). We left the car and entered a small but very nice gorge. At this time of the year everything is fresh and green. It was easy to walk but we had to take it easy because the stones were a bit slippery from the rain. After about 30 minutes walk we turned left (there are red dots painted on some of the stones so you cannot miss the path) and now we had to climb the gorgeside. On the top the landscape is flat with mountains in the back and in front of you, you can after a few minutes walk, see the sea. Walking the flat area takes about 15-20 minutes in a slow pace.
Now the Lord in heaven above made us happy because he drew the grey curtains away and lit the sun. As I have said before; life is good. We now came to the edge of the plateau and we looked down to Agios Kyrkos bay and the small valley. A fantastic view over the old town of Lissós. The path down is narrow but we took it easy, stopped a couple of times just to enjoy the view over the sea, the music from the bells of the goats descending the oppsite side and of course the warming sun. We spent at least 4 hours at Lissós. There are many things to explore, the temple of Asklepios with a mosaicfloor, basilicas, theater, tholo-tombs and much more. It was really worth going there.
Time to get back and climb up again. All over the ground we saw a lot of fresh xorta and the pastic bags came in good use. It was easy to fil them up and off we went down into the gorge. On our way back, we noticed two katsikas on one of the gorge walls, jumping around looking for a good meal. The wall was really a wall straight up and and down and high, it is amazing how these animals can walk up there without falling down (some do though).
We reached the car just when the sun went down. On our way back to Chania we stopped at the small taverna, where we a couple of weeks ago had entered looking like drowned cats. This time the owner was very friendly and we had a nice chat together. He offered us a bottle of his best wine and he explained about his future plans for the taverna. It is a nice view from there, so why not build a outdoor place. He also wanted the road to be in a better shape (I think it is OK as it is) but what could he do about it. We bid him farewell and the Volvo took us safely back to Chania again.
Author: Erno, Netherlands
Date: October 29, 1999/ June 3, 2000
I'm back from Crete now since 9 days and 6 hours....sigh. But my heart seems to be still there. Twelve years ago we visited Crete for the first time, for 3 weeks. We ended our round trip in Sfakia and since we liked it a lot we decided to start our next Cretan round trip the following year there...And since then we never left, that is to say: now we return every year two times for three weeks. The rest of the world we probably will see 'our next life', because we cannot imagine a better holidays than in Crete. And now the long winter is ahead of us. Our Cretan presents we brought back (18 kilos of Tsikhoudia, 10 kilos of olive oil and 4 kilos of natural sea salt) hopefully will cure the pain of missing Crete! How many days 'till next May?
Spring 2000 update: we've just returned from another great trip to Sfakia. After landing in Chania late in the evening we meet Giorgos again, one of the Sfakian taxi drivers. He remembered our last ride and knew we would be thursty, so a small beverage collection was already waiting for us in the taxi. A refreshing trip through the White Mountains brought us...not directly to Sfakia: a short stop in Imbros was our surprise: inside the taverna some friends were waiting for us with a table full of mezes, small plates of local specialties, in this case wallnuts, delicious cheese and pastries. We enjoyed some 'new' Raki, the production of last November and a bit dizzy we continued to descend the mountains towards our next stop in a gentle pace, the small plateia in front of Hotel Stavris, where more friends were waiting, puzzled what took us so long. It was great meeting again after the long winter and everybody was very fresh at the start of the 'new season'. Very late at night we finally got to our room and enjoyed a well deserved rest.
After a breakfast with fried eggs and bacon, fresh Greek yoghurt with honey and lots of coffee it was time to exchange the last experiences as webmaster of this site with the 'owners' of it, quite a difficult operation, as computers are very rare in Sfakia and the Perrakis family does not have one...
How amazed I was though to hear from Aristotelis, the oldest brother, he just bought one the last week! Immediately we were invited for dinner and a short teaching session on how to operate such a machine. So, uphill to his nice house some days later. While Sofia, Aris' wife, continually called us for dinner (4 of their own chickens were sacrificed that afternoon for a delicious 'chicken pilaf'), I found myself in the spare bedroom amongst Aris and his 4 children, trying to show them for the first time their own web site. It was very exciting, also for me trying to operate the Greek version of Windows: where could this menu be? Thina, Aris daughter, helped me, having learned very quickly over the last week.
During and after dinner we enjoyed 4 different kinds of 'open red wine', starting with a 4 years old and ending with a 12 years old, very tasty and strong as sherry. With 'rubber legs' we started the short descent to our room, feeling very 'arrived' in 'our' village.
In the days that followed 'Internet' was the keyword. Some other families heard the news of this site and also wanted to have one, so suddenly I was in the middle of a huge 'business program', having meetings throughout the village. I felt it very hard to explain to all this nice people that maintaining this site is just a hobby of mine and that I have no commercial interest with it and also not the time to start more. Four dinner invitations later they gave up and I still feel a bit guilty. But I do not want to mix business and holidays and that's final...
No, not exactly. Helping Sfakiots without accepting something in return is very much against their culture. So this was the start of some other surprises.
After dinner in Jannis' taverna The Three Brothers, one of the 'members' of this site, he invited us to join him next morning for a trip to Chania. Since we would leave at 8 in the morning, a little before our normal schedule, we were at first not so eager but accepted. So off we were, and enjoying the very scenic ride back through the White Mountains in early morning heading for Chania. Already after nine we were in the old Agora of Chania, the Venetian market building, formed as a cross.
Agora of Chania
Jannis had some business to do, so we had some time for ourselves, doing some shopping. First we went to the old harbor, refreshing our memories, since it had been 10 years back since our last visit of Chania, and for some coffees to waken up.
We went back to the Agora and within 10 minutes found everything we were looking for: books and Cretan music, all in short distance. In the bookshop of Petraki (Chadzimichalli Giannari 68, tel/fax 57044) I found the beautifully illustrated English translation of Erotocritos, the famous love poem by Vitzentzos Kornaros (published cica 1640 and translated by Theodore Ph. Stefanides, published in 1984 by Papazissis Publishers, Athens) as well as The History of Kriti in pictures, over 500 pages of old drawings, maps and photographs of all regions of Crete (published in Heraklion in 1993 and collected by Georgios I. Panagiotakis, ISBN 960-85196-5-9) in which I was also happy to find 2 rare pictures of Chora Sfakion from 1900, which none of the villagers had ever seen before.
The History of Crete by Theocharis E. Detorakis (Heraklion 1994, ISBN 960-220-712-4), George Psychoundakis' The Cretan Runner (Penguin Books, ISBN 0-140-27322-0) and a booklet about the Island of Gavdos (Mathioulakis, Athens) completed the loot.
Not far away was Studio A, a shop completely dedicated to Greek CDs and music cassettes with a huge collection of traditional Cretan music. I could have spent my complete holidays budget there, but confined myself to some CDs only of Klados, Garganourakis and Byzantine church music. Studio A is at Apokoronou 16-20, Tel. 86788, just south of the Agora.
A half hour later we met again with Jannis and we went back again to the harbor to see the progress on the building of his new fishing boat. We entered an old Venetian ship yard in the far east corner of the harbor and were amazed by the mystical athmosphere inside this old building and the craftsmanship to build such a huge ship all by hand labour.
We left the dock and just when we thought we were heading back for Sfakia a funny smile showed in Jannis' face. "Volta", he said, meaning we would not reach Sfakia before the end of the day, but start touring around in search of 'compania', meeting with old friends. We left the main road for Vamos and stopped at a small taverna for lunch. Jannis seemed to know everybody there and all who passed the old road soon joined us for eating. After Nikos hit the place lunch gradually changed into a party and I do not know how many times I heard 'Viva', a dangerously invitating form of 'cheers'. Three hours later Nikos decided not to go back to work, digging holes with his Caterpillar, but to invite us to his house and 'private museum'.
We did not know what to expect, so we followed his old war time German BMW motorbike with Jannis in the car and stopped at his place. As soon as we got out of the car we heard some heavy shooting from very nearby and all of us were flat on the road. The hilarious laughter of Nikos coming out of the shed in the back of his yard learned us the nature of his museum: everything, really everything that reminds of the Battle of Crete was packed in this 'museum', together with huge barrels of wine and raki. Bomb shells were all over the place, torn uniforms, bajonets, hundreds of riffles and guns, hand grenades, German 'Pantzerfauste' etcetera.
We had a lot of fun but were also a little afraid, specially after Nikos put a grenade into my hand, plugged out the pin and ran out in a hurry. I knew I had to keep my hand closed, not to trigger the mechanism and felt very nervous. Nowhere I could find the others and I walked with my arm as far streched from my body as possible. I shouted that if he would not help me I would throw the grenade through a window in his house and this was exactly the place the others were hiding. Their immense laughter could no longer be kept silent and Nikos crawled out of the door, rolling on the floor, trying to explain to me I was just holding an empty metal shell.
To make up for this joke -a good one, I was able to admit after some while- the table was put in the veranda and filled with all kinds of small plates and drinks. Manoli, Nikos' 12 years old sun and very fluent in both English and Greek, translated all remarks vice versa and we enjoyed the company very much.
Late afternoon we headed back for Sfakia, taking several side roads. We really had to force Jannis not to stop again in Vrysses, since he spotted another group of friends there. All day we tried to invite the others back and all money we threw on the table was summoned back to our pockets immediately, with fierce looks. We took a late siesta and fell asleep with a huge smile on our face: what a great day!
I could tell you about following events: to dinner at Andreas' with an ancient BMW bike with side car, 57 mosquito bites at Giorgos' place, the full moon party up at Embarko, the catch of a 450 kilos shark near Gavdos, but I will keep this for later.
Our last day had come (yesterday) and we were waiting for our taxi transfer under the Tamirsk tree in front of Hotel Stavris. Gradually the place filled with all the people we met this holidays and we had trouble not to show how we were overwhelmed with all this kindness. The taxi showed up and we were handed over several presents after kissing good bye. "Kalo taxidi and see you again in September". At Chania airport we had to unload the trunk of the taxi and were completely puzzled: how to carry 60 kilos of hand luggage presents into the plane? Raki, wine, olive oil, honey, sea salt, nuts, enough to start a taverna here. But most of all we carried back the thoughts and feelings of yet another great Sfakian holidays. Only 16 weeks to go for the next meeting!
Author: Erno, Netherlands
Date: May 1997
About the walk from Chora Sfakion up to Aradena and down again to Loutro: I did this walk several times over the last years: twice up the asphalt road up to Anopoli from Chora Sfakion (sometimes called Katopoli by the locals :-) ), twice up the old Venetian path and once up and down by car (not the Loutro part). I have no problems with vertigo here.
Only the crossing of the Aradena bridge I did once and it scared me a lot: I waited until the others were already at the other side and out of sight. I walked in the middle of the bridge, taking care to focus straight ahead and not to look down a single time and I made it. For a small moment I was rather proud of myself, until I realised I also had to go back! I considered walking on to Agios Pavlos and to find a way down to Agia Roumeli, take a room for 1 night there and come back by ferry the next day... OK, I crossed the bridge again. In the middle I heared a car coming from behind me with great speed. Help! I could not look and also not go to the side of the bridge, so I started running. And the car did not reduce speed! Just after crossing the bridge I was just able to jump to the side of the road when the car just missed me and finally stopped. The driver's door opened and for a moment we looked eachother in the eyes. Next moment we hugged eachother !? This man was equally afraid of this bridge, but had to pass again. His wife advised him just to throw the vehicle on it and step on the gas without any hesitation. And there he saw me in the middle...and told me he would not have stopped if I would not have managed to stay ahead of his car. So, never this bridge for me again!
I waited for the others to return from Aradena village and we went back to Katopoli in our car. They enjoyed it all very much, since this was their first time on Crete. We went back to Anopoli and walked up to the church of Agii Katharini, for its beautiful views down to coast and to Loutro. Walking back the path to the village square an old man stopped us to beg for cigarettes. "Sigaro, sigaro", was the only thing he screamed. He made us laugh and coming closer it was clear he had a mental problem. "Sigaro, sigaro", but on we went, since nobody had any and we could not explain him. Maybe it was our laughter, maybe the Sfakia spirit, or just the fact that we did not give him a sigaro, but obviously he had gone mad and sent his dog after us, kicking it first and then released the chain with which it was tied to a pole. The dog came straight after us and if somebody would have been there with a chronometer we still all are sure we would have been the new world champions 100 meter downhill. We enetered the square at the same time as the dog. A little boy sitting at the taverna to the right hissed at the dog, that returned immediately, howling intensely. Saved again! Now we really needed a Raki, and another one.
It started to get dark already, so back to basis with the car. Just outside Anopoli I told the driver: here to the right is Sweetwater beach, pointing down from the cliff. She did not see me do this...turned suddenly the wheel and the car went right. An emergency break saved our lives. She had not realised the beach was 300 metres down, not behind the rocks. Enough for my system and since then I've never returned there!
(The accompanying pictures can be found here).
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