Category Archives: Crete

August 15 celebration for the Virgin Mary

DSCN0783This photo from 14 August 2017 shows the evening service at the famous Byzantine church, Panagia Kera situated just before Kritsa. It is dedicated to Mary the Mother of God and this service is the prelude to one of the most important religious celebrations in Greece on 15 August, to mark the Dormition of Virgin Mary. On the Greek Orthodox calendar this date marks the moment when Mary, Christ’s mother, ascended into Heaven. This religious and public holiday is a celebration for the reunion of the mother with her son.

Many Greeks prepare follow a fasting regime from 1 to 14 August. The fast is broken on the 15th so we expect to hear much partying around Kritsa with the tempting smells of barbecues.

As you might expect, 15 August is the name day for women named Maria, but only if they’re married. Those called Despoina celebrate too as their name refers to ‘the Lady’. With so many women in Kritsa named Maria, Despoina, Despina, Deppy and Pipina, 15 August is a very festive affair. Don’t feel sorry for the unmarried women and girls called Maria or Despoina as they’ll enjoy their celebrations in November.

The famous Faneromenis Monastery, circa 35 km from Kritsa, is very important to these celebrations. It is traditional for people to make a pilgrimage here and many still make the trek overnight to arrive at the monastery for the morning service. This is where Rodanthe, real life heroine of my first novel set in 1823, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa attended the secret school in this monastery.

Screen version Rodanthe's GiftIn my second novel, Rodanthe’s Gift there is a chapter based on a group of women making the pilgrimage to Faneromenis Monastery. It features Rodanthe’s mother as a young woman making an important meeting with a young man called Mathaios. Here is excerpt from that chapter…

Faneromenis Festival

Brother Michalis stood at his favourite vantage point, at the high gatehouse window of the fortified monastery, willing his failing sight to penetrate the dark cloak of night. He anticipated the first pinpricks of light from oil lamps heralding women from villages as far away as Kritsa.

First to appear around midnight were those from the nearby hamlet below the monastery. These hostesses had justifiable pride in the feast they’d prepared to feed pilgrims after the service held that very morning, on the fifteenth of August, to celebrate the Dormition of the Panagia when Mary, Mother of God, fell asleep. The previous two-week fast banning meat, poultry, milk, cheese, eggs, fish, oil and wine produced an abundance of ingredients for their baking and making. Local menfolk never attended this service out of respect for the many women craving an opportunity to kiss the monastery’s miraculous icon of the Panagia, Mother of God. Despite this, cheerful men set prime hogs to roast, in certain knowledge they’d make short work of the leftovers. Brother Michalis sniffed the air. Yes, there was a faint aroma proving the fat porker was above the firepit. His belly rumbled as he remembered the youthful hours he’d spent turning the spit, and he rubbed his arms as if the memory pained him. Sandals slapping on stone steps made him smile. ‘Might have guessed you two would join me. Ever since you realised visitors brought cakes and pastries you’ve been too excited to rest between services.’

As he stepped back from the window, Brother Michalis feigned protests. ‘I’d have thought soon-to-be deacons above hugs and kisses.’

Instead of gaining cheer from the easy familiarity, Mathaios felt tears prickle and moved to peer from the window. He wondered if this was the right time to tell these dear people his news. One stood instead of a papa and the other as his adopted brother. As he swallowed the lump in his throat he decided not to spoil the festival, reminding himself there was time to spare as he’d assured the abbot he’d tell them before September. In a cheery voice, he masked his emotions. ‘Lamplights head this way. Come, Nikolaos, let’s greet them.’

The distance between women of the Kritsa group belied the fact they’d set out as a closely formed unit full of chatter and anticipation. Those unable to face the final steep climb until first light took advantage of hospitality in the nearby hamlet of monastery servants. One spurning rest was Irini, and as she crested the last mound her weariness evaporated at the sight of lamps with dancing flames set along the monastery’s steep steps. With her arms sweeping, she spun. ‘God is so near. Those stars invite us to touch the heavens. Since we passed our village sentries, I’ve felt free as a bird, and enjoyed every step of our trek.’ Giddy, she clutched her friend Katerina by the arm. ‘Our pilgrimage is more enjoyable for having you to walk with.’

‘How could I refuse when you explained about kissing the icon famed for aiding women?’

Sad in an instant, Irini hugged Katerina. ‘Your plea is an easy guess. Two stillborn boys is unbearable.’

‘Place your palm here. Can you feel it? My prayer is for a girl babe.’

‘No wonder you agreed so fast when I suggested we wear our looser white cotton smocks without aprons and take waistcoats for church instead.’

‘Your gift of a long white scarf kept the worst of the sun off me and felt more comfortable than our usual face-binding kerchiefs.’

‘You’ll see more women wear them tomorrow for the service. So many women wear the constant black of mourning, I was surprised the first time I saw Grandma wear a white scarf at the monastery. Of more importance, does my cousin know about the baby?’

‘I’ll tell him when we return.’ As superstitious as most local folk, Katerina made the sign against the evil eye. Frightened by speaking her dream aloud, she changed the subject. ‘Lights head our way.’

‘I expect it’s the lads. It’s two years since our last pilgrimage from Kritsa, and I’ve missed them.’

With an ease forged in childhood, Irini kissed the tubby youth, Nikolaos. Not expecting Mathaios to have grown so tall, Irini blushed, grateful for the cover of darkness as she took his proffered hand. In her confusion Irini forgot to let go and failed to make introductions.

‘Hello, I’m Katerina. I married Irini’s cousin and settled in Kritsa.’

A group of six including Irini’s mama drew near and Nikolaos called out to attract their attention. Puffed from exertion, they flung themselves on the brittle remains of sunburnt grass, clamouring for the water flasks the thoughtful youths carried. When the rested group walked on, none noticed how a young pair lagged, chatting in quiet voices with tinkles of laughter.

Reverend Abbot, twenty monks, five novices and eight pupils of the secret school filed to stand in front of the small church in the cleft of the rock. The congregation took it in turns to enter the church to kiss the revered icon after the monastic population had paid their due respects. On their return to the courtyard, the audience sought shade from the hot sun. Settled under the soothing tones of melodic chanting, Katerina risked a whisper. ‘I made my special prayer when kissing the Panagia.’

Irini delivered a hug. There was no chance to answer as the crowd hushed to see the icon placed on a bier decorated with dried flowers and grasses. Carried aloft by monks, it toured the monastery precincts. When visitors filed behind monks, novices and schoolboys, Irini’s mama realised there’d been a muddle because Mathaios was out of his rightful place, walking with her daughter at the rear of the procession.

Later, as they sat digesting an amazing array of food, Irini’s mama said, ‘Shall we take our leave, Katerina? Distance seems greater on our tired trek home.’

‘Not yet. Irini says schoolboys and novices plan to sing mantinades: rhyming couplets to commemorate brave rebels who plotted against ruling Venetians, long before Ottoman oppressors took control of Crete.’

Irini saw her mama’s eyebrows arch, and nodded. ‘Mathaios told me. A recent earth tremor dislodged stones behind the refectory to reveal pots of hidden verse written on fine goatskin.’

Flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes didn’t escape sharp eyes. ‘Tsk, retire behind the female rest screens. Don’t return until you’ve retied your dishevelled scarf – your hair is showing.’ As Irini rose, those nearby resumed gossiping, pretending they’d not witnessed her chastisement.

Performers bowed low to signal the recitation’s end, and as applause fell away, Irini whispered, ‘Today’s men should heed those words. It’s time to resist the Turks.’

‘You’ve been listening to your papa resenting paying bail to guarantee our return. Did you think it worth it, Katerina?’

‘It was everything promised, and more. How can we thank the monks and the generous folk who’ve treated us so well?’

‘Let’s sing a chorus to repay their kindness.’

Although proud of her daughter’s voice, Irini’s mama was aghast that she’d dared to perform a soft lullaby outside family confines. Desperate to hide the indiscretion, she rose and stretched out her hands to her neighbours. ‘Come, let everyone sing thanks.’

*

Once the monastery’s great studded gate thudded shut, the women set off, chattering and laughing until caution on the steep path kept them quiet as far as the hamlet. Safe here, they milled to bid a proper farewell to friends and family they might not see again until their next trip. While waiting for a Kritsa grandma to deliver a matchmaking message, Irini noticed her friend hunched over and pacing. A second glance took in the tears. ‘Are you too hot? Shall I fetch water?’

Panagia Mou, Mother of God, help me. My prayer passed unnoticed among the many. This babe doesn’t want my love.’

*

Happy to toil in the hot courtyard Mathaios pushed his broom around in a daze, not noticing busy hands had already completed the task. In an uncharacteristic moment of idleness, he watched a cat crouch, stare fixed on a small bird enjoying his trilling. ‘Ah, cat. Sweet Irini has a voice to put songbirds to shame.’

After speaking her name aloud, it fixed in his head. Such a lively girl, not giggling and silly. He sighed. No doubt she’d make some lucky man a wonderful wife. ‘Ouch, that thought hurt.’

‘Hey, are you talking to yourself?’

‘Sorry, Nikolaos. What shall we do next?’

‘Help me stack planks used as food trestles.’

Midway through the task Mathaios discovered a large basket under bushes. ‘This must be Aunt’s. My bed cushion, a gift from her, has the same embroidered design as this cloth cover.’

‘Is anything important in there?’

‘Ha ha! I should have guessed. There’s enough food here to keep my uncle going for two days. I’ll take it down for them, the walk will do me good. Tell Brother Michalis I’ll stay overnight and be back in time for matins.’

Ahead of him a multihued sea with bands of turquoise, azure, cobalt and cerulean stretched to the grey-lined horizon. Whenever he walked to his aunt’s he stood mesmerised on this jutting rock above the five dome-roofed stone dwellings of the monastery servants and shepherds. From his elevated position he could see the ever-changing scene among the bays created by the headlands known as the Five Fingers. This late afternoon, white foaming waves surged into the bays at differing speeds and angles and, to the far right, slapped the foot of the rounded Thripti Mountains, now caressed by a pink hue of the reflected setting sun. In the stillness he heard a distressed whimper beneath his rock ledge.

‘Irini? Whatever is wrong? Why are you here?’

In her wretchedness she clung to him without realising her scarf lie by her side. Instinct had him caressing her back, his hand under her long tresses, soothing her until her sobs ceased.

‘If it’s true God manages everything, I don’t understand.’ At his gentle squeeze she continued. ‘Katerina wants a baby. Is that too much to ask?’

Lost for words, he didn’t answer; whatever the issue, he wanted to continue holding her.

‘Mama fears for her life. Blood loss was disproportionate for the tiny babe, another boy.’

Not registering Mathaios held her, she accepted his hemmed and pristine white cotton square.

‘Who knows what God plans for us. My mama died in childbirth, leaving Aunt to care for me among her brood until I was old enough to join the monastery boys.’

Despite her words – ‘I shouldn’t sit here with you, someone may see,’ – she moved closer, resting against his arm which embraced her shoulders. ‘Trouble is, there’s nowhere else I want to be.’

Not trusting his emotions, he kept quiet, eyes closed, enjoying her closeness. With a start he realised they needed to move. ‘Night falls and I fear you’ll slip. Let me escort you downhill.’

‘Whatever will people say?’

‘I carry Aunt’s basket of food. No one will comment, if you replace your scarf.’

If you’d like to read more, just Click Here.

DSCN0831Another local church that is well worth a visit to participate in the celebrations is the church dedicated to Panagia Koprakiani on the Katharo Plateau. You can find more information and directions in my non fiction guide, Explore Kritsa.

Whatever you do to celebrate 15 August, have fun. x

 

Explore Kritsa, Crete

Explore-Kritsa_screen versionI’m proud to announce publication of my latest book on 27th July 2019, and this time its non-fiction.

The Kindle version is at a launch price of £1.99. via this link viewbook.at/ExploreKritsa If, like me, you prefer a ‘proper’ book this is the link: http://mybook.to/ExploreKritsa

This book reflects my love for Kritsa, a village on the Greek island of Crete where I’ve enjoyed a home since 2001. Since then I’ve enjoyed many varied experiences and walks that I’m happy to share. While researching for my novels, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa and Rodanthe’s Gift I accumulated a range of information about Greece and Kritsa and the book includes some of this insight.

Presented in three parts, the book has a month by month guide to my view of Kritsa life, 15 local walks ranging from gentle strolls to strenuous hikes and useful information such as where to eat and drink.

Explore Kritsa is available in both paperback and Kindle versions via Amazon and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the book will soon be on sale in Eklektos Bookshop, Elounda and shops in Kritsa – I’ll update as and when I get more information.
Here’s the July chapter from the month by month guide to give you an idea of what to expect…

July, Brings Summer Festivals

Here we are in peak season, and high temperatures drain energy. Me? Well I spend part of most days at the beach. With Agios Nikolaos only a bus ride away it’s easy to access beaches, and if you’ve a car then you’ll discover a good variety within thirty minutes. You can choose a beach with full tourist facilities or a quieter retreat where it’s appropriate to take your own sunlounger and snacks.

July sees the start of the Meltemi season when winds blow from the north. A tip: if you find it too blustery on a north-facing beach, select one facing towards the east. Sad to say you’ll sometimes encounter a shore covered in plastic refuse brought in by wind and waves. If this happens, the best option is to choose a beach facing a different direction. On organised beaches there are often staff on litter-picking duties to resolve the issue. I’m not saying this to put you off the fabulous local beaches, but I’d hate you to see rubbish and think that it’s a permanent blight.

In this hot weather it’s good to explore Kritsa early morning, when shady kafenions beckon. Another excellent time to visit is late afternoon when the sun passes behind the mountains. I’ll confess to enjoying a room with air conditioning for two hours mid-afternoon. Then, with a long, warm evening ahead, we’ve energy for a stroll. Funny how we seldom make it home without stopping for a cold beer. There are so many great kafenions and tavernas, and we enjoy visiting them all as the summer progresses. Some places use fans to waft air around and I always hope they have another for the cook.

Keep your eyes open for posters advertising Μαγεροτσικαλιάσματα, Magerotsikaliasmata, one of Kritsa’s annual festivals. I recommend you arrive after 9.00 p.m. to enjoy local music, dancing and food. The venue is the schoolyard and you purchase tickets on the way in. Wine, beer and raki are available to buy on site. Look around the various cooking demonstrations to see food cooked over open fires. When you’re ready to eat, hand over your ticket and volunteer waiters will bring your meal. Once the music starts, people take to the dance floor. Other people have said it, but the way children dance makes you think it’s in their DNA. Cretan music and dance are customs handed down from one generation to the next. I’ve heard a local musician practising from the time he was a boy. At first, we winced as we passed; now we stand and listen to appreciate his incredible playing. If you fancy learning to dance, there are local classes with an open invitation to participate. Me? I prefer to watch. During these festivals the musicians play for as long as someone keeps dancing. I’ve been on our balcony at dawn and heard them – what stamina!

If you’re finding the excessive heat hard to cope with, try a trip to the Katharo Plateau where you’ll find it several degrees cooler than Kritsa. Blast out the car’s air conditioning or open windows wide for the 16 km trip up a twisting asphalt road. Once there you’ll find three tavernas serving rustic refreshments.

A good choice for a sundown stroll is the village of Kroustas, 4 km further on from Kritsa. Our walk starts with views towards the Thripti Mountains. Here you’ll have a fabulous, iconic view that captures attention as the reflected sunset turns the mountains a delicious pink. Hidden depths and contours stand out more than at any other time of day. As you watch, the shadow creeps upwards until it snuffs out the light.

In this heat I’m keeping my walking recommendations short and sweet:

Walk 2: Panagia Kera, the Famous Byzantine Church – 2.2 km. This is an ideal morning stroll through the shady olive groves, ending with opportunity for rest and refreshments.

Walk 4: Kroustas Views and Backstreets – 2.2 km. As mentioned above, this is ideal for late afternoon/early evening. Afterwards you can enjoy refreshments in Kroustas’ main street, where arches of shady mulberry trees keep the heat at bay.

The second part of the book has walking directions and sketch maps for 15 walks ranging from strolls to uphill hikes. There’s a walk for you if you’ve only a short time in Kritsa and want to know what you’re seeing as you stroll by. Then, if you’ve time and energy to spare you can choose walks to suit your fitness level and interests. As well as directions, the walking guide gives snippets of information about the churches, historical sites and views that you pass. One of my early readers thinks people with no intention of walking will also enjoy reading the directions/information to gain insight from the comfort of their armchair.

Although I make walk suggestions to suit the season and topical information, you can do more or less depending on the weather, your interest and fitness.

I used an app called Wikiloc to record the routes and give details of how to download information to help you stay on track. For an example Click here.

In the third section, Useful Information, I cover how to get to Kritsa, historical snippets including when there is free admission to local archaeological sites, places to stay in Kritsa and where to eat.

Whether you’re an armchair traveler, planning a visit, arrive for a brief tour, book accommodation or have a home in the village this book is for you – just Click Here.

Click here for more information and I hope you enjoy Explore Kritsa.

New novel, Rodanthe’s Gift

screen version rodanthe's giftI’m proud to say my latest novel, Rodanthe’s Gift, is now on sale in Crete at Eklektos Book Shop, Elounda, and Nikitakis Gift shop in the upper square of Kritsa. Both the book and the Kindle version are available from Amazon via this universal link – viewbook.at/Rodanthe

The atrocities in Milatos Caves and the terrible siege of Messolonghi on mainland Greece are woven into this historical novel. Although the book follows on from Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, it is a stand alone story.

Milatos Caves, now house a chapel to remember those who were massacred.

The Garden of Heroes, in Messolonghi on mainland Greece is now a haven of peace within the city walls. The stacked caskets represent the kegs of gunpowder a brave man used to blow up the old and infirm rather than allow them to be captured by the besieging Turk and Egyptian force.

Here are three of the early reviews on Amazon.

Mr. R. Clark 5.0 out of 5 stars Rip-roaring historical adventure

 

Suzi Stembridge 5.0 out of 5 stars Ever imagined how it must be to be caught up in war or massacre?

Minoan Heights – Kastro

dscn7000The first February weekend in Crete saw the weather turn from snowy wet winter to spring. For us this meant one thing, head to the mountains. Our friend and walking guide, Phil is very keen on Minoan history and he chose a fabulous hike ending at the ancient site of Kastro. This was an especially interesting route for us as we can see these mountains from our balcony in Kritsa.

We started from the village of Kavousi where there are notice boards to direct you to an ancient olive tree and three different Minoan sites.

This little church dedicated to Agia Paraskevi, Saint Friday, made an interesting stop. The notice board explained it was once a monastery for nuns. Our path continued behind the where there were outbuildings, possible the monastery accommodation.

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dscn7052At the top of the path we crossed a ‘saddle’ to look down the other side of the mountain where we saw many other tempting paths. This time we headed left to Kastro. Unlike many Minoan sites we’ve visited this one has good signage to explain the remains and provide insight to the lifestyle.

 

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In the hazy distance you can just see our scorpion shaped village, Kritsa. Most of the white covering the mountains is cloud but you can just see a smudge of snow top right.

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If you have a smartphone you can download Wikiloc, free of charge and use the route I uploaded to do the same walk.

https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/spatialArtifacts.do?event=view&id=32732274&measures=on&title=on&near=on&images=on&maptype=HPowered by Wikiloc

Elounda seen from Mount Oxa

2019-01-19_10-27-21January in Crete has been much wetter than in previous visits at this time of year. As soon as we see a brighter day forecast we plan a walk, never knowing when we’ll get the next opportunity. This fabulous walk was in the company of good friends, Hilary and Phil and as he is a walking guide we benefited from a lesser known start to this famous walk. For road directions from Kritsa CLICK HERE

For full walking direction with a Wikiloc map you can download CLICK HERE.

From start to finish the 15k walk took us six and a half hours although Wikiloc says we were only moving for just under three hours. We filled the ‘gap’ with stops to take photos, eat a picnic, explore Minoan ruins and catch our breath on some of the very steep paths.

The more popular walking route to climb Mount Oxa starts in the centre of Elounda and if you visit Eklektos Bookshop you will find walking guides for the area.

Our day proved warmer than we expected and our hats, scarves and gloves were soon consigned to our rucksacks.

2019-01-19_11-49-57Here Phil ponders whether to take us on a shorter or longer route. Of course the longer option suited us all. If you would like a personal guide for walks or excursions in the Lassithi area contact me via the form below and I’ll pass the information on.

I am writing a guide to walks in the Kritsa area and I’ll share details about this in due course.

Meanwhile, here are some of the photos of our walk to Mount Oxa so you can enjoy a virtual tour.

After walking through flat countryside we saw Mount Oxa ahead and could just see the church at the top. There is a very clear sign at the start of the path up.

The first glimpse of Elounda and Spinalonga below us was a Wow moment. We enjoyed the view over Agios Nikolaos while we ate and then more of Elounda when we walked around the headland to explore the Minoan remains. There are also remains of a church that predates the current one dedicated to Timios Stavros, the Holy Cross. According to Phil’s research there were at least 100 cisterns to serve the peak community with water and we saw several remains among tumble-down walls. Alas, we didn’t find the one reputed to have a stash of gold.

DSCN6717This photo shows the distant snowy tops of the Dikti Mountains. How lucky we are to have the health to climb to such wonderful places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Reads Set in Greece

Short days and cold nights make it an ideal time to snuggle up with a book, and a mug of hot chocolate. My crystal ball tells me there are some great new books heading for publication in 2019. How do I know? Well, I was proud to act as a beta reader for some authors I admire and I’ll give details in due course. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share information about the books I’m most looking forward to reading in January.

Before I do this, I’ll mention  my first novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa has a revised cover. Thanks to advice from Nikos, my favourite bookseller at Nikitakis Gift Shop in the centre of Kritsa, the fonts are now easier to read. I hope some customers in Aristidis Cafe across the road spot it while enjoying their refreshments. 

Kritsotopoula screen versionRodanthe, the feisty daughter of Kritsa’s pappas (priest), spent her childhood longing for her father’s approval without appreciating his efforts to keep her safe under Ottoman oppression.

Years later, the ruling Pasha orders Rodanthe’s kidnap intent on making her his wife. Determined not to yield, Rodanthe tricks the Pasha and then flees to the mountains dressed as a young man.

After joining rebels as Spanomanolis (Beardless Manolis), she draws on her unusual experiences and rare education to maintain her disguise throughout daring raids.

The crisper Greek meander design matches the one on  Rodanthe’s Gift to make the link between them more obvious.

Screen version Rodanthe's GiftFour mourners stand over the shrouded body of the exceptional female rebel, Rodanthe. Each suffers the loss of a daughter, friend, lost love or valued ally. Her injured papa, Mathaios, kneels at her graveside, begging forgiveness for his sinful decision to keep her baptismal gold a secret. He later bequests the remaining coins to her young friend Petros. A gift with consequences beyond imagination. Kostas loved Rodanthe, but only realised this truth moments before her death. Now dependent on others for his mobility, he resolves to play a significant role in the continuing conflict.When rebel leader Captain Kazanis leaves the graveyard, his focus is on leading the local fight for freedom. However, betrayal and grief take him far beyond his beloved Crete.

Right, that’s my update and here are the books I’m looking forward to reading:

carpetI loved Kathryn’s The Embroiderer and I’ve high expectations of The Carpet Weaver of Usak.

Set amidst the timeless landscape and remote villages of Anatolia, The Carpet Weaver of Uşak is the haunting and unforgettable story of a deep friendship between two women, one Greek Orthodox, the other a Muslim Turk: a friendship that transcends an atmosphere of mistrust, fear and ultimate collapse, long after the wars end. 


saintMarjory McGinn’s travel memoirs are first class and this one, A Saint for the Summer is her first novel. 

Journalist Bronte McKnight visits a hillside village in the beautiful Mani region of Greece to help her estranged expat father Angus with a medical problem. She soon discovers that Angus, has lured her to solve a mystery from the Second World War, when a family member disappeared. 


phaedraI’ve admired Beryl Darby since I first read Yannis, her epic novel set on Spinalonga, Crete’s leper island. (Yes, other novel’s set here are available, but Yannis IMHO is best.) Beryl keeps her readers hooked and book 23 is Phaedra

Phaedra is born a healthy girl and followed eighteen months later by an equally healthy boy. Although there is bad feeling between Eleni and Maria, their enmity comes to a head when Maria’s daughter is found to have leprosy and transported to Spinalonga, giving rise to tragic occurrences.

storm

Effrosyni Moschoudi has created her own genre of spooky Greek reads. I have read the first two books in The Lady Of The Pier Trilogy and I’m looking forward to book three, The Storm.

When Sofia falls in love, a mourning spirit haunts her. The Storm is the concluding part of the trilogy that merges the stories of Sofia and Laura into one. 


These will keep me busy for a while, and if I enjoy a book I will of course add a review on Amazon. It only takes a few minutes and I know only too well how important it is for an author to have feedback.

Help me decide what to read next, what can you recommend?

Kritsotopoula Museum in Good Hands

dscn5767Rodanthe, now known as Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa is the heroine of Kritsa. She lived and fought disguised as a young man until the fateful battle against a combined Turk and Arab force in 1823, when her dreadful injuries led to the discovery he was in fact a she. All these years later, Rodanthe and her fellow rebels are remembered at an annual memorial service, and the main road through the village is called Kritsotopoula Street in her honour. Eventually the street becomes an alley and at the far end you will find the Kritsotopoula museum. Open Monday to Saturday, 10 to 3.00 the museum is managed by Maria, whose family tree runs back to Rodanthe’s family. Maria loves the opportunity to chat to visitors and, if she’s not too busy, you’ll be offered a coffee. This private museum depends on donations so I do hope you’ll leave an expression of your thanks in the basket provided.

143725467Popular novelist, Beryl Darby, author of Yannis and over twenty other novels set in and around Elounda, recently paid her now annual visit to Kritsa. You can click on the book image, left, to learn more about this excellent set of books. Once again we visited the museum, this time with a group of friends. Despite our visit coinciding by a large group who had arrived in Kritsa via the little blue train from Agios Nikolaos  Maria made us very welcome, offering refreshments and giving us access to a lovely courtyard.

dscn5761Among our group was Lin Lucioni an ardent fan of Beryl’s books. As Lin, and her husband, Paul were celebrating a wedding anniversary it gave me a great excuse to bake a cake.

 

After thanking Maria for her time and the very welcome drinks we moved on to continue our Kritsa visit.

If you would like to see more about this lovely museum you can visit the Facebook page by clicking here.

 

Freedom Fighter Honoured in Latsida

Many people have an avid interest in the war-time history of Crete, much is documented, and novels based on the heroic resistance efforts are very popular. Less known is the dreadful civil war that engulfed Greece between right and left-wing factions. As in any civil war persecutions, fighting and tortuous deaths tore communities and families apart and left a huge scar that time slowly heals.

During the Nazi occupation of East Crete a brave lady, Maria Lioudaki who lived in the small village of Latsida played an important role supporting the resistance. Before the war she taught local children, loved folklore and collected matinades the two-line, fifteen syllable poems created as a spontaneous response to events. Sadly, Maria met a horrible death during the civil war.dscn5723All these years later, her local community decided they wanted a fitting memorial to such a brave lady. British Kritsa sculptor, Nigel Ratcliffe created this beautiful marble relief, unveiled to the public on 10th September 2018. During the speeches one eminent local stated,  ‘She left her name indelibly written in the “book” of those who gave their own lives for the next generations to live free.’

We visited the village a couple of days later to admire Maria in situ and as a bonus enjoyed the best chip omelette ever from the taverna next door.

Latsida is a village we’d only driven through previously so it was lovely to have a reason to explore. Next time you’re passing stop for a stroll…but not at 1.00 p.m. the village was full of quad bikes as people enjoying a fun safari stopped in one of the village tavernas for lunch.

There must be so many unsung tales of resistance and bravery from the war time in Crete. If you know of any snippets, probably not recorded elsewhere then I’d love you to share them via comments.  Best wishes, Yvonne

 

Patsos, Home of Cretan Heroes

I belong to INCO, the International Community Association of Agios Nikolaos and the wider Lassithi Region, a Not For Profit Organisation providing the legal framework to support social, cultural, charitable and community activities. On 1st/2nd September I joined a group of fourteen INCO members for a weekend in Patsos, in the centre of the Rethymno prefecture, Crete.

dscn5593Our host was Vasilis of the Patsos Taverna, an ex paratrooper who is passionate about local Patsos history and environment. Vasilis ensured we all had accommodation in Patsos, provided wonderful food courtesy of his mama, Mrs Maria, and guided us for local excursions. 

Ill metPrior to the trip I re-read Ill Met By Moonlight, by W Stanley Moss, about a hazardous war-time mission in Nazi-occupied Crete.  A young British officer, Major Patrick Leigh Fermor, led the kidnap of General Kreipe, Commander of the Sevastopool Division, and narrowly escaped a German manhunt, to get the prisoner off the island – a major coup for British intelligence.

The reason behind my reading was our visit to the hideout where heroic Patsos folk kept the group fed and hidden for two days despite pressure from Nazis. The photo of our guide, Vasilis (above) shows him sitting in exactly the same spot as a photo of General Kriepe taken by W Stanley Moss and included in his book. A plaque on the cliff wall commemorates the event. Somehow the single red poppy left by the family of an AnZac soldier was more poignant.

During the early evening we explored the village before meeting up to chat the evening away…would you believe it, the evening ended with me as the raki waitress!!

The ruined church in Patsos has the remains of wonderful icons. They have been removed for restoration and will be returned to the village in due course. The small olive tree was recently planted as a memorial to the wartime efforts of Patsos villagers who maintained essential secrecy.

The next morning we visited a church dedicated to Saint Anthony nestling in the rock face. This church is reached by an easy path at the top of Patsos Gorge – then the hiking trail starts.

After a photo call on the bridge we enjoyed a downhill walk at a pace that allowed everyone time to enjoy the beauty of the rock formations, cliffs, river bed with a still tinkling stream and wonderful trees.

dscn5698After about 1.5 k we had a breather and then walked back up to the church. In theory we could have carried on walking until the gorge bottomed out at a reservoir. Instead we drove near to the reservoir to walk along a gentle path next to bubbling springs. The time and energy saved by the drive provided opportunity to visit a new local enterprise, a winery in its second year.

Yep, you’ve guessed it, not only did we follow the grapes journey from delivery to wine bottle we had a wine tasting lesson too. At present they make white and rose wine – mm, hard to choose, so I bought both.

Ooops, we spent rather too long over our wine tasting and Vasilis had a phone call from his mama asking where we were as lunch was waiting – the tastiest stuffed tomatoes ever. Also on the menu was a fab aubergine dip we’d enjoyed the previous day. Thankfully, Mrs Maria was not one of those cooks who keeps her recipes secret – I’ve made some since getting back to Kritsa.

After a very leisurely lunch some of the group stayed over for another night in Patsos, some headed home and others headed off to holiday in other parts of Crete. I shall certainly return to Patsos as I’d like to walk more of the gorge, and in a year’s time the winery will start selling red wine too, and I need to taste that for completeness.

If you spend time in East Crete and would like to learn more about INCO, you can use the contact form below.

To find out more about Patsos, the opportunity for accommodation guided tours you can visit Vasilis’ great website – https://patsosescape.com

And finally, here is the Aubergine Dip recipe…

Ingredients:

Two Aubergine together weighting 500g

1 large clove of garlic

40 ml mayonnaise – I used low calorie

Half a small lemon – juiced

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon wine vinegar

I tablespoon chopped parsley

Method:

Set oven to 200c

Prick aubergines all over and place in hot oven for 45 mins – turn over halfway through.

Let aubergines cool, then cut in half and scoop flesh into a food processor.

Add chopped garlic and lemon juice

Blend in 10 second bursts until there is a smooth paste – Tip, put a large handful of parsley leaves in with the final burst and then there is no need to chop it.

Scoop puree into a bowl

Add mayonnaise, olive oil and vinegar and stir briskly.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the dish of dip with cling film and let it rest in fridge overnight.

ENJOY

 

Eastern Crete – A Notebook

517D17qjCKL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ One of my favourite travel writers, Richard Clark has a new book out focusing on my favourite region of Crete. Well, I live there so I cheerfully admit my bias. Richard has a knack of taking you on a journey through his eyes that either makes you nod in appreciation with a ‘Yep, that’s what I thought/saw about that place’ or ‘Mmm, I must visit there.’

Many guidebooks about Crete are unfortunately out of date and only skim the places they mention. Richard brings a fresh approach, and gives more detail while encouraging your own exploration. I’m proud to say I was able to make a small contribution to the book and thoroughly recommend it.

To learn more about the book Click Here.

The photo on the book cover was taken in Elounda and I’m looking forward to standing right there to soak in the view. Congratulations, Richard for capturing ‘my’ end of Crete so well.

When I visited the Amazon site to copy Richard’s book cover photo I noticed the price of my novel Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa has a limited price reduction on the Kindle version so it is an excellent time to buy if you want to add to your summer reading – Click Here.

Happy summer reading. X

 

 

 

 

Kritsotopoula Memorial Day

The second Sunday in May is one of my favourite events, held near Kritsa, Crete. Villagers hold this annual memorial to celebrate how Rodanthe, now known as Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa and her fellow rebels fought against a combined Turk and Arab force back in 1823.

DSCN4250.jpgWhen we first came to Kritsa the only memorial to this significant battle was the date, 1823, daubed on a piece of pipe at the roadside. It is still there, but now a magnificent sculpture by British Kritsa resident, Nigel Ratcliffe provides the centrepiece for the memorial service.

 

DSCN4182Local children, and other key participants in the event, were transported the 3k from Kritsa to the battle site near Lato in the popular Little Blue Train.  Once there, smiling teachers had a task, similar to herding cats, as they organised the youngest ones for flag carrying duty.   They looked so proud as they led the procession and then stood patiently beside the memorial during the service and wreath laying.

DSCN4180I’d not even switched my camera on when I saw this tot. At least I caught enough of a photo to show how tiny she was. To me it was as if she’d stepped out of the pages of my novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. She looked just how I describe young Rodanthe the Christmas she received her first and only complete set of new clothes.

Ceremony over, participants and audience enjoyed a lunch of local foods, while Kritsotopoula enjoyed her solitude once more.

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If you’d like to read my novel, based on the true story of this remarkable Kritsa woman Click Here.

Hamorprina to Krassi Hike

Although we left Kritsa in sunshine, there was a cool wind and we thought it would be a good day to do a hike that has languished on our ‘must do’ list for a long time. If you take the road from Malia towards the Lassithi Plateau and drive uphill for 4.5k you will reach this layby/picnic area. DSCN3482.jpgThere is a clear sign showing you are in Hamorprina, and there is room to leave two or three cars off the road. From here we could see it was still sunny down at the coast, but clouds were gathering over the mountains. With hindsight, it would have been best to put the hike of until another day as the breeze was chill and the overcast views disappointing.

DSCN3485.jpgThe clearly marked path was a doddle. The difficulty came from the steepness of the first two kilometres. When we stopped for a coffee, I checked my Wikiloc route tracker and my husband said it wasn’t working as it had barely recorded 2k. In fact, it was working well and our total walk in the day was 10.6k. To view the map and details on Wikiloc Click Here.

 

As we neared the bottom of a peak loose dogs made me nervous. I had no need to worry, the owner of the smallholding watched us approach and kept the dogs under control.

After this, we enjoyed a stroll to the village of Krassi, famous for huge platanos trees, Venetian water cisterns, and an atmospheric scene in Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa when Christian rebels enjoyed a night of revelry.

 

The high spot of the day was in Krassi – yummy coffee with cinnamon cheese pies, drenched in honey. Well, we needed the energy burst!

The thought of walking back over the mountain, and down very steep scree, was not attractive. We decided to walk along and down the main road – not something I’d recommend in the tourist season when roads are busy.

This hike is back on the ‘must do’ list. Next time we will team up with friends to leave one car in Krassi, and then we can all go down to the start at Hamorprina. As long as we choose a bright, cool, and windless day we’ll have fun exploring further up the mountains and skip the road walk down.

Agios Nikolaos Myths Debunked

Stand by for shock revelations…. the gem of Agios Nikolaos, Lake Voulismeni is NOT bottomless, and it has no link to the volcano in Santorini. DSCN3417.jpg

How do I know this?

I joined a dozen other members of INCO, (the local International Community association) for a walking tour of Agios Nikolaos, led by one of our fellow members, Tony Cross a keen geologist. Throughout our 5k walk Tony kept interest levels high pointing out the geological evidence to explain how the town is built on limestone, the exposed remains of underwater landslides, shaped by fault lines and water erosion.

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Our group met in a cafe by the marina and hadn’t walked far before Tony pointed out the first evidence of underwater landslides.

Lucy the dog enjoyed her walk but showed no interest in the rock formations.

 

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So, in summary, and I hope I listened carefully, the nearly 50m deep lake is not a volcanic crater as many suppose. It was once an underground cave, formed when water from a spring created mist to dissolve the rock above. When the cave roof collapsed it left a sinkhole. The tall cliff  at the rear of the lake is the scarp slope of a fault line. Although once a freshwater lake, it became stagnant when an earthquake cut off the water supply and blocked the outlet.  During the 1860s French forces stationed in the town dug the canal making it a saltwater lake.

INCO logoIf you spend time in and around the Agios Nikolaos area and would like to know more about INCO, the local International Community organisation you can use the contact form below to request details.

I thoroughly enjoyed the morning looking at Agios Nikolaos through different eyes, thank you Tony.

A Climb Up Roza Gorge – Crete

DSCN3244.jpgGreek Orthodox, Easter Monday in Crete was a perfect hiking day. With Kritsa friends Hilary and Phil and my husband, Alan we set of in two cars for the Roza Gorge. This gorge is 50km southeast of Heraklion, in a wooded area of ​​North Dikti Range, next to the road leading to the Plateau of Lassithi. This walk is 3.5 km with a climb of 300 m.

After leaving our car at the top of the gorge, above Kera village we piled into Phil’s car to drive down to this start point, easily accessible from the village of Gonies – as we found out after driving down the scary way!

DSCN3279These stone slabs made an excellent place to stop for a drink. Over the years many people must have enjoyed a rest in this spot and I’ve an inkling a character in my third novel might just pass by this spot. What third novel? Well, I don’t know yet…

Anyway, no time for idle thoughts, onwards and upwards.

DSCN3281After a winter of low rainfall it wasn’t a surprise to find this waterfall dry. It certainly made this part of our climb easy. Good job as the toughest part came next. Although it was very steep, the route was clear, with a few patches of loose scree to scramble over.

We were intrigued by the odd snails, next to a pointing finger in a photo above. I’m fortunate to have a friend who is a keen amateur naturalist and he says thay are called Door Snails as they seal themselves up with a little door inside their shells when conditions get too dry.  Steve writes an excellent blog about Cretan Nature CLICK HERE and I’ll whisk you over to his 2016 post mentioning Door Snails.

Back in the Rosa Gorge – Near the top we needed to walk along a narrow ledge where metal posts and a wire fence provided some reassurance as we watched Griffon vultures, a buzzard, and crows.

What a delight to find this lovely look out point near the end. It certainly made a fabulous picnic spot. It is reasonably accessible from the road near the village of Kera so we can revisit to share the view with people who are unable to climb the gorge.

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I’d always thought the name Roza Gorge was due to the pinkish colour of the rock faces. However, one of my favourite Crete based websites, Cretan Beaches explains how the gorge once served as a place for disposing of sterile animals. In light of this, local people referred to the place as “Stira Za” meaning sterile animals, and this was later paraphrased to “Sti Roza”. Anyway, however it got its name the Roza Gorge is a fabulous place, and I thank you for joining me. X

Still Life in Crete

20140703_134951.jpgDriving off the beaten track in Crete often brings lovely surprises, and in this post I’ll look back to the time we found the remarkable village, Avdou. Why did we stop there? No idea. I can’t remember if we were driving through the pretty Lagada Valley on our way to or from Lassithi. It is a lovely road with access to for off-roading, horse-riding, hiking, walking and bird-watching.

However, for something completely different, I recommend a visit to Avdou if you’re in the area. Don’t go midday day in July if you’re hungry though, we only found a small supermarket open, and that was the delight.

We hadn’t wandered far before we saw painted ‘shop’ signs. Some, outside a kafenion or shop made sense, others were fixed above empty properties. Once we realised these the signs told the commercial history of the village, the quest was on…

 

Each sign had a pictorial description and the dates of operation. Some, like the tinner, had closed their doors many years ago, while the most recent I saw had served local folk until 2002. The slide-show below shares a good selection.

 

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20140703_133900.jpgBack in Kritsa I showed the photos to a couple of local people and they laughed aloud at this one. No, I didn’t realise, it was the place to get your rams castrated!

There are many empty shops in Kritsa and I’d love to see an initiative like this. Not only would it be a great contribution to local history, it would encourage visitors to wander beyond the main street of shops and imagine what a vibrant village it must have been when people worked and shopped locally.