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.

Missolonghi Heroes

Missolonghi is a walled city, towards the Corinth Gulf, where British poet and philhellene, Lord Byron died in April 1824. A year later the city was besieged a third time by combined Turk and Arab forces. After holding out for twelve months, starved and desperate citizens followed their beleaguered fighting force in the now famous exit  on the eve of Palm Sunday, April 1826. Although circa 7,000 people attempted escape less than 1,000 made it to safety. Hundreds of women and girls became slaves, and a macabre display of severed heads adorned the city walls.

Many of those who could not flee, including children and elderly, gathered in the home of Christos Kapsalis, who ignited powder kegs to prevent them being captured alive.

RICOH IMAGINGThe ‘Sacred City of Missolonghi‘ has a wonderful Garden of Heroes. Once a battle site it now forms a tranquil space to stroll and contemplate. Among the plaques and marble memorials I found this simple stack of kegs a very moving tribute. These heroic acts are commemorated annually with a parade through the town culminating in a re-enactment in the Garden of Heroes.

These dreadful events inspired poet, Dionysios Solomos  to write his poem Free Besieged, the foundation of the Greek national anthem.

Research for a sequel to Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, sparked my interest in Missolonghi when I discovered that one of my characters, Cretan rebel leader, Captain Kazanis played a part in the siege. I soon realised fact was better than any plot I could dream up, now all I need to do is find a way to get him there…

Missolonghi sits on the edge of a huge lagoon – an amazing geographical feature.

Walking within Missolonghi’s walls gave shape and scale to a city far larger than I’d imagined from academic research. I even looked down cannon barrels to see where Ottomans camped . When Ibrahim Pasha demanded the city surrender their famous response was, ‘The keys to the gates dangle from the tips of our canons’.

In a garden full of memorials I was delighted to find the pillar dedicated to Notis Botsaris; in my version of events he and Kazanis become brothers in arms.

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Next stop, the Museum of the History and the Art of the Sacred City of Missolonghi. Lord Byron had a club foot, and thanks to the museum I’ve seen his shoes – I’ll certainly use this fabulous detail.

It’s no good, I can’t do Missolonghi justice in a single blog post. Come back next week when I’ll take you inside the museum to meet my new hero…

Bear Trail in Pindus Mountains

After two magical days in Meteora, we set off westward for Lake Ioannina to explore its fortified city. En route we drove through Epirus, a region in northern Greece that bore the brunt of severe wartime fighting. As we passed through amazing snow topped mountains on the edge of the Pindus range it was evident winters must be bitterly cold. A misty haze spoilt my photos, but at least we saw its splendour.

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On reaching  Metsovo we soon realised the town geared up for winter visitors. Shops sold sledges and fur-lined boots while hotels bragged of open fires in bedrooms. On the day of our visit the town basked in sunshine, while wood smoke hung in the air. After two summer like days in Meteora it was a surprise to see spring so delayed; the trees were still bare.

Tantalising signs for The Ursa (Bear) Trail gave helpful hints on what to do in the unlikely event of meeting a bear! What a dilemma, should we stay to explore and give up on the idea of spending the night in Ioannina? The Ursa Trail is too long to do in a day, and we were not equipped, so after a stroll and a delicious hot chocolate we moved on. The westward drive through mountains used excellent, virtually traffic free roads… just as well on some hairpin bends.

The outskirts of Ioannina were not inspiring until we glimpsed the lake. We quickly parked and set off to find the historic town centre. Mist shrouded mountains rose beyond the miserable, brown lake, home to a various waterfowl including a family of crested grebes.

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Mum was a floating nest, and dad darted to and fro delivering food. He saw a chick fall and whizzed forward to lift it aboard. Busy snapping away I captured dad rescuing the chick; unfortunately looked like he was eating it! I liked the photo above, but due to low light it was drab. Thanks go to my photo editing pal, John for finding their true colours.

Further along a gateway in the old city wall invited exploration. After wandering through twisty turny streets we emerged on a busy waterfront, with small boats plying the lake. As the holiday atmosphere in lakeside cafes bode well for the evening we set off for the car, aiming to find a hotel and return to the busy throng.

Where was the car??? It sounds unbelievable but we had no idea. We must have turned a huge bend as there were no mountains in view across the lake.  Our relief at finding the car was soon overwhelmed by disappointment at not finding a hotel with vacancies. Grrrrr. It was the only night I hadn’t pre booked. Not a good idea on a bank holiday weekend when the town was hosting a festival. Ah well, onwards and southwards for the next adventure.

We ended up in an enormous, grim hotel on the edge of a main road near Arta. The hotel was busy with coach loads of people being transferred from one day of sightseeing to the next. From the bun fight at the all-inclusive buffet we assumed they hadn’t eaten for three days! We took a plate of cheese and a bottle of wine to our room to enjoy the film, Mrs Doubtfire on the TV – not what we’d expected from our evening.

The next morning a lovely walk by the river in Arta got us back in the holiday mood.

RICOH IMAGINGAfter this we set off towards Missolonghi with a lovely morning coffee stop on the way.

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I don’t know how I’ll manage to fit everything about my amazing Missolonghi ‘pilgrimage’ in one blog post, but I’ll try next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meteora Greece

In early May we set off on a road trip around central Greece…what an adventure.

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We drove aboard the overnight Minoan car ferry from Heraklion, Crete to Pireaus, the main port near Athens. Bright and early next morning  found us zooming up the excellent motorway on a four hour trip to odd peaks named Meteora. Our aim was to see the monasteries that ‘balance’ between heaven and earth.  For the Greek Orthodox faith, this Holy area is second only to Mount Athos.

After checking in to the Kastraki Hotel for two nights ‘Wow’ was a common term.

I’d pre booked a sunset tour and it proved to be an excellent way to see many of the monasteries perched atop the peaks.  Hard to believe the top of the rocky towers were once the bottom of a lake. Close up you can see they’re an aggregate of mud and rocks.

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Day Two – Meteora Hike

After a breakfast we set off on a guided hike, organised by Visit Meteora and we’re still congratulating ourselves for doing so…it was excellent. Prior to our visit email communication with this company was easy and on the tours the guides were informative, and enthusiastic. Most importantly for our hike, the guides knew hidden trails to take us weaving through woods allowing us to ascend the peaks without a strenuous vertical climb. In three different places we saw a tortoise ambling along the path – I had a pet tortoise for 55 years so I loved seeing them in the wild.

Like the previous evening, our schedule included one visit to a monastery, and for me this was enough, I preferred the natural overawing beauty.

The final stage was a walk down through woods to our waiting mini bus. Instead of heading back to Kastraki we stopped off in the nearby village of Kalambaka for lunch and then took a €5 taxi back to our hotel.

RICOH IMAGINGAfter a siesta I woke to see my husband on the balcony peering through his binoculars. He called out ‘There’s people up there, climbing Spindle Rock.’

 

 

He was right!!

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If you are planning a trip to Meteora and think I’ll be able to help you can use the contact form below.

After Meteora we set off for the Pindus Mountain… more of that in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kritsotopoula’s Kritsa Launch

5-DSC06051Aristidis Cafe, in the centre of Kritsa, is right opposite Nikitakis Gift shop where my historical adventure novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa is on sale.

Although the location of Aristidis Cafe made it an obvious venue for a launch party, the main reasons I chose it are the hosts, Aristidis and his wife Irene, who go out of their way to welcome guests to Kritsa. Their comfortable seating and sun umbrellas make it a great relaxing point for visitors to the village, and of course, those umbrellas gave us good protection from the rain!

It gave me an extra thrill that despite the language issue, several local people came along to wish me well, including the Chair of the Kritsa Village Cultural Association, Νικος Κοκκινης and the Chair of the planned Kritsotopoula museum, Νικος Μασσαρος. Three local women, with excellent English language skills, also bought copies of the book so I await their feedback with a mix of nervous excitement!

2015-05-28 19.21.52This is me with Nikos, owner of Nikitakis gift shop. Even though he’d moved the book stand inside due to a rain shower, it didn’t dampen my spirits. I count myself lucky that Nikos chose to stock Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa right in the middle of Kritsotopoula Street.

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These traditional musicians added to the lively atmosphere, no one danced though, too busy chatting!

3-DSC06052Of course Nikos sold books during the evening,  and I felt like a celebrity as I signed copies. This is me signing the book bought by Steve Daniels, who writes one of my favourite blogs, Crete Nature.

Some guests even brought along books for me to sign that they’d previously purchased, either from Eklektos Bookshop in Elounda or via Amazon, shame I couldn’t sign the ebook versions!

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Just for fun we had a prize draw and winners now have an exclusive T Shirt, cap, key ring or pen, all sporting the image of the Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa book cover.

Here is the T Shirt winner, Jean Dugmore.

JessieJessie, the owner Elixirio, Kritsa’s quirky mezes cafe won the hat, and here she is modeling it beautifully. If you fancy an a relaxed evening, with a range of delicious home cooked mezes while you sip your drinks in a shady arbour, then I can recomend you pay a visit, you’ll find Jessie opposite Kritsa school.

My work in progress is a sequel called Rodanthe’s Gift which includes a mystery about the location of some hidden gold, so we had a free to enter game based on this. Thanks to my friend Ann, who managed to speak to virtually everyone during the evening, we gained many entries to find the hidden treasure. Arisitidis generously donated a meal voucher for the lucky winner, of the treasure hunt, Julie Pidsley.

DSCF6788Thank you to Crete Homes for supporting me via sponsorship for this launch event and for placing a link to my blog on their website. This is Hilary Dawson, from Crete Homes displaying Nigel Ratcliffe’s retelling of the legendary poem, Rhodanthe’s Song. I’m indebted to Nigel for generously sharing his translation of the early Greek poem, and for his wise feedback on my early drafts. Our collaboration will continue as Nigel and I have already discussed how I might use some of his work in my sequel, Rodanthe’s Gift. Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing both Rhodanthe’s Song and Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa next to each other in the planned Kritsotopoula museum.

Thank you to Robin Williams, editor of Crete Today Newsletter for allowing me to use this photo of me with Hilary. If you’d like this great monthly newsletter, please email Robin via mediaplus1941@gmail.com

Most other photos are courtesy of Cynthia Pay who gave me permission to use them. Thank you Cindy.

Sincere thanks to all of those people who came along despite the ‘iffy’ weather, and to those who couldn’t attend but still sent best wishes.

Finally, if you enjoy the book, please add a review to Amazon Reviews, they don’t mind if you bought it elsewhere, and it would mean a great deal to me. X

PS – a few days after the event, a report of the event appeared in the local daily newspaper, so thanks to the reporter, Leonidas Klontzas for attending during the event and for making such a full report. I have a cutting from the newspaper so that I can translate it. Meanwhile,  this link will take you to a shorter review on line and, if you can’t read Greek then Google translate will help you read it.

http://www.anatolh.com/lasithi-news/agios-nikolaos/item/102223-παρουσίαση-της-κριτσωτοπούλας