Category Archives: Crete

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.

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