All posts by kritsayvonne

Living a dual life between the UK and Kritsa, a village in Crete that provided the inspiration for my historical novel Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. Happy to share knowledge and experience about living in East Crete, I'll answer your questions and/or guest blog.

Kritsa based novels

In these uncertain times, it’s hard to comprehend the scale of upheaval and distress all around the world. Like many others, I have just cancelled my plans to travel to Crete. Aegean Airlines have been great at communicating and offering alternative flights, even though I had bought their cheapest fare that doesn’t allow any changes in usual circumstances. Guess it is better for their cash flow than making so many refunds.

As many people have extra time on their hands, I thought it a good idea to feature my historical novels Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa and Rodanthe’s Gift.

The first book is Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. I based this story on Kritsa’s real-life heroine, Rodanthe. By using skills and knowledge gained during an unusual upbringing, she maintained her disguise as a beardless youth to fight among Christian rebels. Rodanthe is so important to Kritsa that villagers call her Kritsotopoula, meaning girl of Kritsa. There is a monument at the site of the 1823 battle, where the village holds an annual memorial service for her and her comrades. My header photo is of the amazing stone carving of Kritsotopoula created by Kritsa resident, Nigel Ratcliffe.

Popular author of novels set in Crete, Beryl Darby said this in her Amazon review. “Yvonne creates a sensitive and accurate portrayal of village life in the 1850s under the repressive and brutal Turkish occupation. Battle scenes are depicted with plenty of blood and gore, but show the determination, courage and bravery of the ordinary Cretan people to regain their independence. The book brings history to life as it relates the true story of a young girl who lived in Kritsa and joined the revolutionaries, working as both a spy for the Cretans and a fighter against the Turks.”

To find out more, Click Here.

Kritsotopoula screen version

Although the second book, Rodanthe’s Gift, continues the story, you can enjoy it as a standalone novel. Once again, it features my home village of Kritsa. Another real life character, Captain Kazanis, led Rodanthe and her fellow rebels. He survived the Kritsa battle to fight at the famous siege of Missolonghi on mainland Greece.

I am so lucky to enjoy the support of several authors I admire. This is what Richard Clark, author of both fiction and non-fiction set in Crete, had to say in his Amazon review. “Yvonne Payne has managed to weave many of the major events in the battle for Greek independence into this rip-roaring historical adventure. Her novel reaches epic proportions as the struggle for freedom shifts between the island of Crete and mainland Greece. The author is a great storyteller this, in harness with her great attention to historical detail, makes Rodanthe’s Gift a terrific read.”

To find out more, Click Here.

Screen version Rodanthe's Gift

Did you know you can buy Kindle books as a gift for anyone with an email address? Instead of clicking “Buy now”, click “Give as a Gift”.

Listed below are some books I’ve either just finished, or am looking forward to reading. A click on their title will take you to their Amazon page.

Return to Turtle Beach, by Richard Clark

The Eggs of Saramova, by Steve Daniels

The Crete Connection, by John Manuel

Truth and Lies, by Janet Ellis

… and finally, when I knuckle down to write more myself I shall dip into my favourite, A History of Crete, by Chris Moorey.

To find all my books in one place, Click Here.

Stay safe everyone and remember, all it takes to make an author grin is a brief review on Amazon.

A walk to Agios Nikolaos Bay

Agios Nikolaos, the capital of the Lassithi prefecture in Crete, is a vibrant town with plenty to do all year. Summer visitors know it for the many beaches, lakeside cafes, seaside tavernas, boat trips and the Little Train.

We love living in the village of Kritsa, and one reason is its proximity to Agios Nikolaos. Visits to the town include shopping in the farmer’s market on a Wednesday, coffee by the lake or sea, snacks/meals in a huge choice of different restaurants, summer visits to the outdoor cinema and a variety of coastal strolls.

Even if we are just in town to visit the bank, we park up above the marina and walk around the headland into town so it feels like a treat, not a chore.

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In the cooler months a favourite destination is Agios Nikolaos bay, home of the small church that gives the town its name.

We last enjoyed this 6 km flat stroll in January and set off from the car park near the port. Locals and visitors alike enjoy the huge statue of Zeus in the guise of a bull carrying Europa that has pride of place at the edge of the parking area.

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Zeus, the father of all gods, fell in love with a beautiful Phoenician princess named Europa. He took the form of a white bull, as only gods can, and approached her while she was playing with her friends. Europa caressed the friendly animal and for some strange reason climbed on his back. With his trick complete, Zeus the bull rushed into the sea. He carried her away to Crete, where he regained his human form and fathered Minos, the first king of Crete.

After leaving the car park we turned right, and walked past the port and along the waters edge, keeping right until we were on the junction at the small bridge by the lake. Here we turned right again to continue on the pavement towards Ammoudi.

NOTE: People who want buses to Elounda must now go uphill to the main bus station, although this may change at some point. Cars can no longer turn right here as a one way system is operating. Vehicles enter the one way system on the coastal road from Ammoudi. Vehicles leaving the port/town centre drive up the steep road that exits by the hospital. Here is a film clip courtesy of Anatolh on line to clarify the road change.

We walked the length of this path to Ammoudi beach and were pleased to find kafenions open for a coffee en route.

As these two photos show, it is a good path no matter the weather but perhaps a sunny day is the better option.

On reaching Ammoudi turn right – this means walking behind the beach and you need to take care on the road.

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Keep following the road, there is a path on the left, until you see Agios Nikolaos bay on your right. 

Cross the beach with the children’s playground and turn right to continue on the far side of the bay.

Soon after you join this road look out for steps rising beside a bar called Spilia. At the top of these steps is the small church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos.

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I’ve yet to be in Crete on this church’s name day, 6th December, when it’s a local holiday for the town.

Continue to walk along the footpath.

To your left is a popular hotel complex, so I imagine this is a very busy path during the season. In winter it is a tranquil spot and the sheltered bay gives safe mooring to the boats that ferry people to Spinalonga during the summer.

Land’s End!

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Here we clambered down to a small sheltered beach to enjoy our picnic and a look back at Agios Nikolaos. We looked around the corner, towards Elounda, but couldn’t walk further as the hotel had shut off the footpath.  Never mind, we’d had our stroll in fine weather, but dark clouds building over the mountains gave us reason to step it out back to the town.

There is so much to Agios Nikolaos – I’ll feature more aspects in future posts.

Anatoli, gem of southeastern Crete

Living in Kritsa, we take daily walks through pedestrian streets to reach our car parked on the edge of the village. Our route passes between ruined and renovated houses on either side of traditional homes.

Sometimes, just for a change, we drive to another village and take a stroll around restored, ruined and traditional houses. 😀

Last September we drove 27 km from Kritsa to Anatoli, the village named for eastern views. It is a very scenic drive through Kroustas, then on the ‘scary’ narrow road alongside a ravine. You need to cross your fingers in the hope there is nothing heading your way as you slowly go round the blind bend on the narrowest stretch. Once on the beautiful pine clad hillside, it is worth pausing to photograph the far-reaching views down to the Istron coast. We have seen colourful and crested hoopoo birds here, but you must take my word for it—I’ve never been quick enough to take a photo.

Then on through Prina so famous for its honey to reach Kalamafka with a high rock chapel if you’ve energy to to spare for the climb. Take the junction signposted to up Anatoli or you’ll head down to the coast at Ierapetra instead.

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After parking and walking along the main road of Anatoli, we enjoyed far-reaching views down to the south coast at Ierapetra and out across the shimmering sea to Chrissi Island. All the plastic greenhouses on the lower levels look a bit of an eyesore but perhaps forgivable when you realise how much produce they generate for domestic use and export. The thing that bothers me about them is that no one seems to collect and recycle the plastic once a greenhouse is no longer in use. Let’s hope the growers are working on ways to replace plastic with more sustainable materials.

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This village has the same name as the local newspaper that also provides an excellent online version. How fabulous that I can catch up on Crete news no matter where I am. By using Google chrome set to translate I get a good gist of events. To view the online version of Anatolh click here.

Anatoli has an active cultural society that encourages sustainable development. Sad to say, I think this one may be too far gone!

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I can see why people would choose accommodation in Anatoli. Fabulous views of the mountains and the sea, local tavernas and some very welcoming hotels/apartments.

Towns such as Ierapetra, Myrtos and of course, Kritsa make for good days out from this base. A word of warning about Chrissi Island – daily boat trips from Ierapetra are very popular but once on the tiny island costs are out of proportion—a tatty parasol and two torn sunbeds were €20 two years ago. My advice is enjoy the trip but buy a picnic and a cheap sunshade before you board the boat.

For a different experience, you can visit the nearby donkey sanctuary. While they like visitors, it is best to contact them in advance. To visit their website, click here.

Anatoli was important in the fight against Ottoman oppression and there is a memorial to their brave sons at the far end of the village. Just downhill from this is a disused olive mill, and with old stones and equipment outside it seemed like an informal museum.

Here are more photos from my visit.

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More snow, this time on Lassithi

After another dose of snow fell in the mountains, we were keen to drive up to the Lasithi Plateau to enjoy the scenic views. However, the first couple of days after the snow were dull and grey, so we waited. Then, when the sun shone, we had prior arrangements.

Friends from a nearby village took the drive to Lassithi and posted lovely photos on Facebook. Their young dog enjoyed his playing so much he must have thought the snow was especially for him. My thanks go to Mark Lloyd-Jones for his kind permission to use the above photo and the one in the header.

If you visit the Skapanis Taverna with its wonderful views out across the plateau, ask to see their photo albums full of dramatic snowscapes. I took the lovely blue sky photo below, the last time I visited this taverna in September 2019. My almost black and white photos are from March 2011, so there is still time for more snow.

The lush green of the plateau, freshly saturated by snow melt, looked fabulous rimmed by the circle of snow-topped mountains and reservoir was full.

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With no snow for us to play in, we took a drive around the perimeter road to enjoy views from different vantage points. Without seasonal visitors, most kafenions/tavernas were closed. As we passed a kafenion called Castello, on a V junction just before the village of Agios Georgios, we saw a group of local men enjoying coffee outside in the sunshine. Minutes later we were soon on the table next to them.

We soon deduced that the main topic of conversation was the cost of using phones. Instead of phone bills being sent to each home, a huge stack of envelopes languished at the kafenion. Each man sifted through the pile, took out their bill, opened it, made exclamations and passed it around for comment. Then, without exception, they shrugged, drained their coffee and started chatting on their phones.

As you’ll see in the photo below, it was a lovely spot to enjoy our refreshments. Those trees must create lovely shade in the summer—we’ll return later in the year for a cool drink on a hot day.

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As we had driven up to Lassithi via the road from Neapoli, we descended on the road to Stalis to enjoy a different set of breathtaking views on the way down.  As usual, we agreed how lucky we are to get out and about to see a face of Crete that hot summer visitors find hard to imagine.

Spinalonga, once visited, never forgotten

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Spinalonga is an island at the mouth of an inlet of water that forms a natural harbour for Elounda in the east of Crete. Since ancient times it has been of strategic importance for coastal defences. By the time the Venetians held Crete, piracy in the Mediterranean posed a huge threat so they built substantial fortifications on the island. Their works started in 1570 and much of structure used existing Minoan remains for the foundations.

By 1630 Spinalonga was a substantial fortress with 35 cannons. This firepower kept the island under Venetian control even after the fall of Heraklion to the Turks in 1669, a position they sustained until 1715.  The safety provided by the defences of the island proved attractive to Ottoman families who settled here.  When Crete became an independent state in 1898 the government forced the remaining Muslim inhabitants to move, leaving the island abandoned.

Despite its long and varied history, most people know Spinalonga as the leper island. People suffering with this cruel disease first moved to the island in 1903 and the facility didn’t close until 1957.

Now the island is a popular tourist attraction with boatloads of visitors from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka. Over thirty years ago, author Beryl Darby wrote the first guidebook to the island. An updated version of the book is available from Eklektos Bookstore in Elounda and via Amazon – Click here.

With luck, the next development for Spinalonga will be to gain UNESCO World Heritage status in June 2020.

Let me introduce you to Callumn Anderson – someone with a vivid memory of his first visit to Spinalonga.

Callumn has an amazing knowledge of Crete and he runs a successful Facebook group called The Magical Island of Crete. This group has the feel of a club with high levels of participation, excellent photos, information, recipes and theme weekends.

I am delighted that Callumn has joined us for a virtual chat reminiscing about his first visit to Spinalonga.

Thank you for taking the time to join me today, Callumn. When you are in Crete do you always choose the same resort?

No, the joy of Crete is to base ourselves in different places. When we first visited Spinalonga, we were staying in Sissi.

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Ah, Sissi (also spelt Sisi) is one of my favourite places. I know from the fabulous dawn photos that you post on Facebook you are an early riser. I bet you set off early for Spinalonga.

Indeed! We set off from Sissi heading east and drove towards Agios Nikolaos before taking the turn to Elounda at the lights/junction just before Agios Nikolaos. Some views on the way to Elounda made the drive worthwhile in themselves.

DSC04629Did you take a Spinalonga boat from Elounda or Plaka?

We chose Plaka. Once in Elounda I followed the one-way road through the car park and turned right for Plaka. As soon as we reached Plaka (before 9 a.m. which included photo stops on the way) I parked up and bought ferry tickets at a desk outside a taverna next to the car park. We had read that the first boat left at 09.00 but on the day we went it was at 09.30. This gave us plenty of time to top up the sun cream and have a quick walk along the shoreline. The sight of the old taverna at the start of the street and the ruined houses on the right immediately made me think of the characters in books set on Spinalonga, The Island and Yannis.

You did well to get an early start: you must have missed the crowds.

Apart from a lady who worked at the small church on Spinalonga we were the only ones on the ferry (more a fishing boat) and the crossing took less than ten minutes. No sooner had we stepped ashore than the boat reversed back out. This put shivers up my spine as I thought of how lepers would have felt being abandoned there with their belongings thrown on the shore.

I bet everyone who knows something of the sad history of Spinalonga tries to imagine what the first few moments on the island must have been like for a newcomer. 

You are right. I don’t have the words to describe the eeriness and atmosphere as we walked through the entrance tunnel and out on to the empty streets of Spinalonga. The size and scale of the streets utterly moved and mesmerized us. It was easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the town as the leper community went about their daily lives only a short distance from Plaka. On we walked, passing the bakery, the church, the disinfection building with the locked gates out to the shore and then on up to the two dormitories built to house lepers. After this we doubled back to climb the hill to the hospital. We entered the hospital with trepidation, not quite sure of what emotions we would feel or sights we would see. The experience was truly humbling and thought provoking as we looked out of the ward windows down to the streets, with the sea, Plaka, and families beyond. All the time I tried to imagine what was going through the patients’ minds. There were tally marks on a wall, a pile of empty medicine bottles in a corner and what was left of the kitchen and oven in another room. It was an experience and emotion I will never forget.

From the hospital we made our way back down the hill to the main street by which time there were hordes of people streaming up the street as the large boats from Agios Nikolaos and Elounda had arrived. We were so glad that we reached the island on the first boat to experience walking those streets on our own. We quickly skipped ahead of the groups as we had already been to the end of the street before we had doubled back to the hospital. Now we slowed down to walk the circumference of the Island via the various fortress walls and turrets. We then reached the smaller church at the other side of the island before we encountered our next spine-tingling moment when we first gazed at the cemetery. We just stood, contemplated and in our minds paid our respects to those they buried here, and those who died before they created a cemetery.

I remember the views above there are spectacular.

Yes, we climbed up to the top of the island. The climb is so worth it as the views from the fortress and the very top are unbelievable. As I stood on the top looking back down to the main street, my mind couldn’t help but drift to that of Yannis when he first climbed to the top to survey the derelict houses-I know he is a fictional character but I am sure most of the events will have really happened. We then made our way back to the main street via a maze of derelict streets and houses. Just back off to the left and towards the cemetery is a house which I am sure would have been the governor of Spinalonga’s house-yes, I know my imagination was off and running again.

How long did you spend on Spinalonga?

We left Plaka at 093.0 and got back at about 12.20 after spending an incredible time exploring Spinalonga.

I bet you took some great photos.

Yes, I did. Now I’ve used them to make a YouTube video. I’d love you to take a look.

Thank you so much for sharing your first memories of Spinalonga and that fabulous clip. How can people see more of your photos?

As well as posting many in my Facebook group, The Magical Island Of Crete (new members always welcome) I use flickr to store and organise my photos. If you’d like to see them, click here.

While I follow Callumn’s links to see more photos, I’d love to know of your memories and emotions from visiting Spinalonga. If you’ve Spinalonga photo’s that you’d like to share then pop over to  The Magical Island Of Crete.

 

Kritsa Alps – Katharo in the snow

‘Watch out’ says kind hubby. ‘The snow here has turned to ice.’

Even before he finished saying it, I’d gone down. Of course, I put my hand out to save myself… ouch! Two weeks later I’ve still got swelling and bruising from a sprained wrist.  Luckily, I can type with my other hand.

We knew there was snow on Katharo as we’d seen photos from other people. As soon as we had a blue sky day, we drove the 16 km up from Kritsa to Katharo. After about 10 km  farmers had worked hard to clear the road.

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The car thermometer read 12c as we left Kritsa but it had dropped to 7c by the time we reached Katharo. Never mind, we had wrapped up well. Faced with snow bound tracks we left the car and set off for a walk.

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Sun was melting snow to cause rivers that blocked the path causing us to double back and take different paths. It didn’t matter as we were not intending a hike anyway, we just wanted to enjoy being in the crisp sunny paradise.

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We enjoyed a flask of soup in a sheltered spot outside Panagia Koprakiani, a church with an old WW2 bomb case used as a bell. By now my wrist was very painful, so I packed snow around it to reduce the swelling.

In April 2018 I took a photo of daisies around vines because they looked like snow. Now it amused me to take vines surrounded by snow to compared side by side.

Since that jaunt we couldn’t get out and about as Alan succumbed to Cretan man flu! After being laid low for two weeks he is feeling better but now the rain has set in. This probably means there’s fresh snow in the mountains so we look forward to the next blue sky day and we’ll go exploring in another area, probably the Lassithi Plateau.

 

 

Ruined coastal path between Sisi and Milatos

Between Sisi and Milatos is a large hotel called Radisson Blu. Sad to say, they have destroyed a coastal track that used to connect the villages for cars and pedestrians. It is a shame that the bulldozed roadway probably means many people holidaying at this hotel are unaware of beautiful Sisi with fabulous views, bars and restaurants.

When the road was first blocked to traffic a few years ago, we could still enjoy a walk between the two villages, especially off season. During November 2019 we couldn’t even pass by the hotel by dropping down to the beach to scramble back up to the track. Erosion caused by the bulldozers has altered the terrain so much the final narrow strip of beach was under water.

I wondered if the hotel senior management even knew of the situation so last November I emailed their Director of Corporate Communications, PR & Reputation. I received an out of office message telling me this lady was on holiday, but nothing since. During January I emailed again to ask if she was back from her holiday yet. Although I got no direct response, she must have forwarded my message to a local manager who responded by threatening me with a lawyer! Seemed heavy handed as I was just asking a question. I replied to ask for clarification and the subsequent answer had a better tone. However, the upshot is the alterations to the roadway is on the hotel’s property and it seems they gained permission for this circa ten years ago.

DSCN1312As Greek law gives free access to any beach, they can’t stop us going down to check if the water level has fallen enough to allow us to pass along the edge of the sea. Meanwhile, we shall still enjoy strolls in both Sisi and Milatos but not along the cliff path between the two villages.

Here are some photos I took on that grey November day when I visited Milatos—someone has gone to great effort to decorate the harbour wall.

 

Oranges and lemons galore

This is a fabulous time to be in Crete if you enjoy citrus fruit. I’ve read that people of Crete eat six times more of these juicy fruits than the average resident of other Mediterranean countries who themselves eat six times more fruit than residents of north European countries. Greek mythology says oranges were the gift of Gaea, Earth, at the wedding of the father of the Gods, Zeus with Hera.

Like European travellers who arrived in the island in the 19th century, I revel in the variety of oranges and lemons of the island. Although the west of Crete is renowned for oranges, we have a good winter crop where I live in the east. Navel oranges, bitter oranges, blood oranges, tangerines, mandarines, kumquats, lemons, bergamot, grapefruits and pink grapefruit are all enjoyed in my village of Kritsa. Although unripe lemons look like limes, I’m not aware of any growing locally.

Citrus colours cheer up a grey day and are so full of vitamin C I feel healthier just by looking at them. Vitamin C is necessary for the growth and repair of body tissues and used in the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.

orange treeAs vitamin C supports a healthy immune system, a deficiency can leave you more susceptible to colds. However, the jury seems to be out over whether taking vitamin C while you have a cold speeds recovery. I’m not taking any chances! While I have the opportunity I shall pick fruit for an instant snack when I pass a tree while walking in the country and gratefully accept gifts from generous neighbours to make fruit based recipes. Off the top of my head I can think of marmalades, lemon curd, lemon meringue pie, lemon chicken, orange and chilli chicken, and a wonderful orange based tonic.

Fellow blogger, Amanda Settle lives on Rhodes where they have an annual orange festival so it’s not surprising that she knows some excellent recipes. One of my favourites is her tumeric, ginger and citrus tea recipe. With Amanda’s kind permission here is the recipe:-

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons sliced thinly and quartered
  • 1 orange sliced thinly and quartered
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 inches of ginger grated
  • 1 cup of local honey

Method

  1. Thinly slice the lemons and oranges then quarter the slices
  2. Place in a jar with the rest of the ingredients and mix well
  3. Leave in the fridge overnight, liquid will come out of the fruit.
  4. Place a good spoonful of the mixture in bottom of your glass or cup and add hot water.

IMG_20170120_170137Keep the jar in the fridge and use daily.

I’m in the mood for recipes now so here are a couple more:-

 

 

 

 

Lemon Curd 

Ingredients to make 2 x 250 g/9 oz jars

  • 4 lemons, zest and juice–if you are not using local lemons make sure they are unwaxed
  • 200 g/7 oz caster sugar
  • 100 g/3½ oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

Method

  1. Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter into a heatproof bowl.
  2. Sit the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Stir the mixture every now and again until all the butter melts.
  3. In another bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolk together. Remove any visible ‘threads’ of egg white.
  4. As soon as the butter has melted stir in the egg mixture and combine thoroughly.
  5. Leave to cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring every now and again, until the mixture is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  6. Remove the lemon curd from the heat and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally as it cools.
  7. Once cooled, spoon the lemon curd into sterilised jars and seal. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.

TIP: To sterilise jars, put through the hot cycle of a dishwasher. Or, wash the jars in very hot, soapy water and then place the jars onto a baking tray and slide into an oven set to 150 C/300 F/Gas 3 for 10-15 minutes.

The following recipe for marmalade is courtesy of Steve Daniels who once posted it on his blog Crete Nature. I use it every year but adapt it to whatever fruit is available including blood oranges and grapefruit. I swap the brandy for Metaxa and use raki in grapefruit marmalade. Big navel oranges are great and if I use smaller oranges, I add an extra one or two.

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I once spoilt two lots of marmalade by over cooking them and my husband used a lot of effort to chip away at the resulting solid mass to rescue the pans. I treated myself to a jam thermometer to prevent recurrence. However, without a thermometer pop a saucer in the freezer when you start the cooking process. Then, when you think the marmalade is ready, put a teaspoonful of the mixture on the cold saucer. After 30 seconds use a spoon to push it along. If it wrinkles up, then the mixture has reached setting point.

I’ve got a nursery rhyme going round and around in my head now – join in if you wish.

 

Oranges and lemons

Say the bells of St. Clements

I owe you five farthings

Say the bells of St. Martins

When will you pay me?

Say the bells at Old Bailey

When I grow rich

Say the bells at Shoreditch

When will that be?

Say the bells of Stepney

I’m sure I don’t know

Says the great bell of Bow

Bramiana Reservoir – circular walk on a dull day.

Early November 2019 we wanted a walk even though skies were grey. Our choice was the reservoir created by the Bramiana dam, near Ierapetra in south east Crete. On our previous visit, a year earlier, we saw impact of eighteen months drought when the water level had dropped significantly.

Torrential and sustained rain during early 2019 had restored the lake and on this walk there was no sign of the church. We set off under very grey skies, clad in waterproof jackets, that thankfully proved unnecessary.

DSCN1157On the road that passes the reservoir between Kalamafka and Ierapetra there is a good size layby that makes an excellent place to leave the car if you will walk around the lake. Although there is a substantial wooden building here we’ve never seen it open. Information boards detailing wildlife are weather damaged beyond use—let’s hope the appropriate authority replaces them.

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The stone ‘tower’ in the above set of photos is an old water mill proving the worth of this area to agriculture in the past and today. Another photo shows a derelict picnic area. Extreme weather with raging winds, rain and baking sun have destroyed the wooden shelter, picnic tables and herb gardens. We still sat and watched waterfowl while we had our lunch but next time we’ll find a more comfortable spot.

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This unusual bug seemed to think the rusty fence could be a suitable mate. The colouring wasn’t typical of a dragonfly so I wondered if it was a damselfly. After looking in The Quick Guide To Creepy-Crawlies I decided it was a dragonfly as its wings were out while resting.

Heavy rains in January have already removed any danger of the reservoir drying up for this year at least.

If you fancy doing this walk, you can find my route on wikiloc.

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Focus on Camera Club

In my last post, I featured a day out with a group of friends from INCO, the international community association based in the east of Crete. This made me think about all the other INCO activities I enjoy and high on my list is the weekly camera club.

It doesn’t matter that I’m not in Crete all year; I join in when I can. Our informal Monday morning meetings are in the Christinas Taverna, Limnes. Each member takes 4 – 8 photos on a memory stick to plug in the TV screen.

I’m not a good photographer by any means and use a modest bridge camera not an SLR. However, I recognise my ‘eye’ has improved since joining camera club and I learn from seeing the great shots by our better photographers. Some members have very expensive kit, others use the camera on their phone. Photo editing is an important aspect for some people whereas I stick to the odd bit of cropping and straightening.

Before the meeting closes, we agree the topic for the following week. I really enjoy this aspect as it makes me keep my eyes open for photo opportunities. Sometimes the topic sounds obscure and I think I’ll not find suitable photos, but then something ‘clicks’ and I snap away. It is always good to see how the different members interpret each theme.

What makes a good photo is subjective – these are my personal favourites from those I took to the camera club during 2019. The text under each photo reflects the theme.

A Movement
Movement
B weather
Weather
C Steps
Steps
D Wood
Wood
E Amimals
Animals
F Art
Art
G Reflections
Reflections
H Flowers
Flowers
I B and W
Black and White
J Shapes and angles
Shapes and Angles
K Explore a new place
Visit
L Through
Through
M Spilli
Holiday
N Autumn
Autumn
O Door furniture
Door furniture

The last subject, door furniture, was an absolute gift for me as anyone who has visited Kritsa will understand – I could have taken along thirty photos! My favourite photo is the two squacco herons on a wall in the Elounda salt pans. I had gone there specifically because I thought there’d be good reflections in the water but the posing herons were a delightful surprise.

I’m back to Crete soon and I’m looking forward to getting the camera out again.

If you’d like to find out more about INCO you can use the contact form below.

Katharo to Lassithi – the dusty way

I am fortunate that my husband loves off-road driving and often takes us on fun adventures. These are a few magnificent sights from mountain tracks.

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We are members of INCO an international community organisation in East Crete, offering a range of clubs and activities throughout the year. In October 2019 a group of INCO members joined us for an off-road jaunt.

After meeting in Kritsa, we took the 16 km asphalt road up to Katharo Plateau pausing to view the theatre next to the ancient Kritsa/Katharo path. Used for an annual party in September, this area is near the road but unseen by most people.DSCN0905

 

 

 

Once on the dirt road of Katharo we turned towards the Lassithi Plateau. Before leaving Katharo we paused at the head of the Havgas Gorge. It was a good job we didn’t plan a refreshment stop here as the picnic tables were otherwise engaged.DSCN9358

 

After bumping along the dusty road we paused at the bend 300 m above Lassithi to take in the dramatic view.

Inquisitive goats came up close and here are my three favourites. 

Half way down the track towards Lassithi we diverted to a remote place called Aloida to see a remarkable sculpture by Kritsa resident, Nigel Ratcliffe.B

During the early days of the rebellion against Ottoman oppression this spot was the hideaway of Captain Kazanis. Nigel’s monument shows Captain Kazanis leading his men, including Beardless Manolis a female in disguise.  This heroine of Kritsa is the subject of another wonderful sculpture by Nigel called, Kritsotopoula, meaning Girl of Kritsa sited 3 km from Kritsa.

In the photo below, my husband is sharing information from Nigel to explain the importance of this special place.  Sadly, I didn’t know about this rebel haven when I wrote my first novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa and one my motivations for writing Rodanthe’s Gift was to describe this fabulous place. Here’s a link to my books.DSCN0917

Back on the asphalt road of Lassithi we piled into Skapanis taverna for drinks and their famous orange cake. This photo is from a different day, but it has blue sky!DSCN0315

Our next stop was the village of Mesa Lassithi to view the newest work by Nigel Ratcliffe.DSCN0322

 

Although this features a woodcarver called Marakis the monument honours the whole tradition of religious woodcarving between 1860 and till 2nd World War. How clever that Nigel has old Marakis carving his own monument.

Our trip ended in the village of Krasi where we enjoyed a delicious lunch before we went our separate ways. It was a fun day and we’re already planning more drives.

We welcome new members to INCO – with a wide programme including information sharing, quizzes, camera club, gardening club, bowling, ballet, opera, walking and now driving there is something for everyone. You can use the contact form below to ask for more details.  

Finally, here’s a road winding south across the Thripties – do you want to drive it?DSCN0929_optimized.jpg

Watch out for Creepy-Crawlies

Until I met naturalist, Steve Daniels the only time I thought about bugs was to swat them away! Now I am much more likely to notice their colour and habitat. Steve lives in south east Crete, and he’s another person I ‘met’ via blogging before we became friends. I am delighted that Steve has joined me on the blog today to tell us about his great new book, The Quick Guide to Creepy-Crawlies

skinkBefore we start, let me warn you that Steve has an uncanny knack of attracting creatures so you might like to check there is nothing slithering, scampering or buzzing around you. This little chap is a skink. I once sat with Steve, and his late wife, enjoying a seaside lunch in Crete. when, Steve rescued one from a cat. The skink then recovered resting on Steve’s arm while he ate food crumbs.

Now I’ve checked you for unwanted guests, Steve we can start our chat. How long have you lived in Crete?

We moved over in 2004 so it must be fifteen years now.

I know you live near the south-east coast, what made you choose that part of the island?

We first visited in 2003 and based ourselves in Bali on the north coast. We then hired a car and headed east, intending to circle the island clockwise. When we came to Ierapetra, we fell in love with the town and decided that here was where we wanted to be. It’s a working agricultural town with not a MacDonalds or a KFC in sight.

When did you develop an interest in the creepy-crawlies and bugs that make most people scream or flap?

I’ve had a passion for the outdoors since I was a boy but my interest in creepy-crawlies really started out here in Crete. There are so many of them, with wonderful colours and designs and amazing lifestyles. Plus, the great majority of them are not only benign but essential for our own wellbeing.

Creepy crawliesHow do you describe The Quick Guide To Creepy-Crawlies?

It is a signposting book. The biggest problem in identifying ‘bugs’ is knowing to which of the thirty or more major groups they belong. Many of them change their appearance radically during their lives, think caterpillars to butterflies for instance, and many of them are very good at mimicking members of other groups. The Quick Guide allows you to place any of our little friends into the correct group and from there, you can go on to identify them to family, genus or even species level.

It must have been a huge undertaking. Where did you gain your inspiration?

I really began writing the book for myself. I had notes all over the place and just wanted to get them all into some sort of order. When I started seriously studying the world of the very small I found that I was reading great long scientific texts and getting nowhere fast. What I needed was a simple set of keys to tell me what was what. There wasn’t a book that covered everything in simple words so I wrote one.

How did you go about collecting the photos and information?

Most of the photos I took here in Crete in the course of my research into the fauna and flora of Lassithi. This I contribute to the world species database via iNaturalist and also use for my Crete Nature BlogAs for the information, I drew some from scientific papers but most comes from fifteen years of actively observing these little creatures in the wild.

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The key to this book is the clever cross referencing that allows a reader to deduce what they have found. It must have been hard work to achieve this. How did you go about it?

Just with three simple questions;

  1. What is the one easily identifiable thing that makes this group of animals different from all the others?
  2. Can they possibly be confused with anything else? And, if they can, 
  3. ‘How can I tell them apart?

These questions, along with notes on whether they are beneficial or harmful, whether they are likely to bite or sting you and whether you can eat them (a question asked with increasing frequency of late) is the essence of the book.

Ha Ha! You should send a copy to the next batch of contestants in I’m A Celebrity Get me Out of Here!

Meanwhile, with Christmas fast approaching your book will make a brilliant gift for anyone interested in the wildlife around the–whatever their age and wherever they live. Where can people buy your book?

It is available through Amazon CLICK HERE and you can find it on my Author Page along with my previous and, eventually, future publications.

After a well-earned rest, what are your plans for 2020?

They are very fluid at the moment, Yvonne. I rather suspect that they will involve switching between Crete and the UK. I have several writing projects in the pipeline, and I dare say I will be blogging again in the new year but from where is a mystery—even to me!

Well, I certainly advocate a life split between the UK and Crete. I’m sure many people will still refer to your successful blog, http://cretenature.blogspot.com/ as it’s a great read about your life in Crete. Wherever you are living, how can people keep up with your work?

They can follow me via my Naturalists Group on Facebook or on Twitter @cretenaturalist.

Thank you for joining me today, and I look forward to our next catch up whenever we are both back in Crete.

Thank you very much Yvonne.

Greek cookery book with a big difference

Although social media has many critics, I love the way it allows you to ‘meet’ and get to know people from all around the world. Via our very different blogs, I corresponded with Greek American chef Krystina Kalapothakos and soon became Facebook friends. Back in August 2017, Krystina holidayed in Crete and we jumped at the opportunity to meet up. I’m glad to say social media friends became real friends that day.

How brave, or foolhardy, was I to bake a cake for a chef? The cake I chose was Fanouopita a traditional Cretan recipe for the name day of St. Fanourios on 27 August. With a splash of Metaxa and grated apple it keeps moist so I could bake it the day before.

During this visit we swapped books and Krystina’s Back To My Roots has pride of place in my Kritsa kitchen.

Along with Krystina’s friend Leilani , we visited the Kritsotopoula Memorial so I could give them insight to the true story behind my novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa.  After this, we drove the 16 km up to Katharo Plateau for a simple lunch of chip omelette and salad. Krystina was in her element and was soon ‘cook-side’ chatting to Despina.

coverKrystina’s new book, A drop of ladi & My Greek Soul has 315 pages of recipes, insight to four areas of Greece and guest contributors… including me and my cake recipe for Fanouopita.

I am delighted to say Krystina has joined me on the blog today so we can learn more about her wonderful new book.

 

 

img_3773Mmm, is that Kourambiedes, Christmas cookies you’ve brought with you? I made them after seeing the recipe on your blog, Kouzounas Kitchen.

Well, we’re into December so I thought we could treat ourselves, and the recipe is in the book. 

While I lick the powdered sugar from my lips please describe your book. 

A Drop of Ladi & My Greek Soul is much more than just a cookbook! It encompasses Greek recipes, intertwining traditional and modern styles to bring the best of Greek cooking to your table—perfect for a beginner or intermediate foodie who appreciates Greek cuisine.
I have filled the book with 100+ unique recipes from four different regions of Greece and beautiful family stories. As head chef, I take readers on a Hellenic adventure, perusing traditional foods, wine pairings, travel stories, and the appreciation for Greek culture by beautiful people around the world. 
You can earn how to make rustic phyllo dough or maybe even feta saganaki with an ouzo honey sauce. Let your taste buds say Opa!

It certainly is much more than a recipe book. I love the section of Crete travel stories and friends! I’m ashamed to say I laughed at your tale of getting marooned on Spinalonga Island, but we’ll keep that between us and the people who read about your misadventure. I’ve never seen a book like this. Where did you get the idea?

My inspiration to write this book was for many reasons but the main one was to share my Greek culture and recipes with the world and to help promote Greek family businesses too!! Although this is my second cookbook, I yearned to share more Greek recipes and family stories from Greece. 

How many of the recipes have you cooked yourself?

I have cooked every recipe from the book including the featured recipes provided by other people. 

Wow! Your family must have enjoyed a lot of lovely dishes. Good job you checked my recipe as I’d forgotten to give you the quantity of sugar.
You’ve created a beautiful book. Not only is the cover enticing, the colourful inside pages are so well laid out. How on earth did you collate material?

Thank you, sweet friend. Well, the idea was to create a cookbook not only with a mixture of modern and traditional recipes, but to include many beautiful Greeks around the world, while intertwining my stories to go along with it. 
As I was testing recipes in the kitchen last year, I said to myself, well the first cookbook doesn’t have this specific recipe. Then I imagined a bigger version of BACK TO MY ROOTS to include passion and beauty from Greeks around the globe. This time I went BIG with 350 pages of amazingness. 

With Christmas fast approaching, your book will make a brilliant gift for foodies and people who love Greece. Where can people buy your books?

People can purchase direct orders from me via email (kouzounaslive@gmail.com) or go to Amazon and purchase a copy of the book there. 
This is the link for Amazon worldwidehttps://www.amazon.com/Drop-Ladi-My-Greek-Soul/dp/0578554755                                                                                                              This is the link for Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Drop-Ladi-My-Greek-Soul/dp/0578554755

After a well-earned rest, what are your plans for 2020?

HA, well so far, I am pretty busy with book signings, book orders, and catering. I am not sure when I will have some down time but if I do, I would like to enjoy with family and friends. My goal is to revamp the new online store, and carry some new Greek handmade jewelry, and aprons. 

How can people keep up with your work?
People can connect with me on my food blog (kouzounaskitchen.com) as well as social media platforms. (Instagram/ Facebook/ Twitter) 

I have always enjoyed reading recipe books, and this one is a delight as there is so much information along with the delightful recipes. Thank you so much for joining me on my blog today.

Thank you for inviting me, I look forward to meeting up when I next visit Crete.

I certainly look forward to seeing you. Meanwhile, I’m off to the kitchen!

EYELANDS BOOK AWARDS 2019 – FINALISTS

Screen version Rodanthe's GiftOh my goodness! Excited and delighted to find Rodanthe’s Gift has been shortlisted in the Eyelands Book Awards 2019, published historical fiction category.  Now I shall hold my breath until 20th December!

Eyelands Book Awards

 We are glad to announce the finalists for the Eyelands Book Awards 2019.

ΕΒΑ - 2019First of all we would like to thank all writers for their submissions. Last year in our very first time to launch the contest it was a surprise to receive so many books. This year with even more submissions our …problem was that we received so many good books and it was very hard work for us to choose the finalists. Once more we wished we could include more books in this list but we just can’t. The only thing we could do, as we did last year, was to nominate a few more books as finalists for the novels category due to the greater number of  books submitted to this specific category.  

Congratulations to all of you, for all your great books.  

These are the finalists for every category:

EYELANDS BOOK AWARDS  –…

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Zaros, a scenic gem

Zaros collageIf you’ve been to Crete, there’s a very good chance you’ve taken a drink of prize winning Zaros bottled water. It comes from underground springs in the village of Zaros, nestling beneath Mount Idi in the Psiloritis range of mountains.

It is a stunning area and the small lake provides a tranquil oasis for a stroll. From platforms around the lake edge you can view fish, terrapins, dragonflies and waterfowl. There is also a taverna to relax and enjoy the view.

We have visited Zaros and the lake several times when driving between Heraklion and the south coast. I’d previously noticed the tempting sign pointing towards the Rouvas Gorge but it had never been the right weather or circumstances to hike.

INCO logoAt last I’ve walked the gorge along with some fellow members of INCO, the International Community Association of Agios Nikolaos Region, (and surrounding areas). As well as being an informative and supportive group we also enjoy a range of clubs and activities.

In the middle of October our group of eleven people stayed for two nights in the amazing Idi Hotel, situated midway between Zaros village and the lake.

Prices are competitive for bright and well appointed rooms. Breakfast had a good choice and we enjoyed an evening meal in the taverna/fish farm alongside the hotel.

DSCN0770Some members had a relaxing stroll and/or sunbathing in mind while seven of us set off to walk circa 6 km each way in the gorge.

This sign made it clear parts of our route would be tricky! Our most petite member found the steps cut in the rocks too steep and returned to the lake. Another person returned a while later leaving five of us to continue up.

Sometimes, long sloping stretches gave us a chance to catch our breath before the path zig-zagged up again. The forestry commission has made sturdy bridges and ramps to cross the most difficult drops and these were in excellent condition.  Although the effects of water gushing down the gorge are clear to see, the gorge was dry at the end of summer. Right at the top there was a boggy patch to prove how the water drains from the forested slopes around the church dedicated to Agios Ioannis. This shady area had welcome picnic benches to use while we ate our lunch. We were about ready to start our walk down when a large group arrived with a guide – this signaled we’d have to share the path on the way down. That said, we only passed about a dozen people.

Here is a slideshow of the scenery enjoyed on our hike.

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dscn0866Have to say, the last 1 km downhill was accomplished at great speed – some keen to get back to the hotel for a swim and others wanting a cold beer by the lake.

On our second evening we walked down to Zaros village to eat a wide variety of food at the Vegera restaurant where the exuberant, Vivi made us very welcome.

Zaros water bottling plantOn the final morning, before we all went our separate ways, we enjoyed a pre-arranged tour of the Zaros water bottling plant. The local community and employees own the factory and, as water is a free resource, this felt absolutely right.

Perhaps it’s not something you’d think of adding to your holiday itinerary, but all agreed it made a fitting and interesting end to our Zaros break.

If you live in the Lassithi prefecture of Crete and would like to know more about INCO, you can either email incocrete@yahoo.com or fill in the contact form below.

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I think I’ll make a large print of this photo for my home in Kritsa, it will remind me of a fabulous break.