Category Archives: Crete

Tourloti, Crete – Worth a stroll

I don’t know anyone who has visited the timeless mountain village of Tourloti, 42 km from Agios Nikolaos just off the main road to Sitia. We paused to stretch our legs there during a drive to Sitia and will certainly return. DSCN0592We pulled over to the extensive parking area on the left as I’d spotted a water fountain to top up our bottles. Then, looking across the valley towards the village motivated our stroll.

Right from the start, it was obvious the people of Tourloti are proud of their village. It is neat, well maintained, free from rubbish and graffiti. We had already said it was like a step back in time when a look inside the local open all hours type of stores confirmed our thoughts.

There was a bakery and several tavernas making us regret we’d already had a drink and a snack by the car. We paused to enjoy a view back towards the mountain and saw piles of grapes drying on rooftops – probably destined as dried fruit for winter. This made me think of an infinity swimming pool for grapes!

DSCN0607

As we reached the end of the village, the road swept down towards the sea. Not fancying a long uphill trek, we decided to investigate another time. Instead, we made good use of these inviting and appropriately sited chairs, giving us a view right down to Mochlos and distant Elounda. Perhaps I could have used Photoshop to remove the cable from my photo, but it is more authentic to leave it there.

On our way back we realised how gourds grow- it is a wonder their slender vine can bear the weight.

DSCN0616

Tourloti is not a place we’d make a special trip to, but it is certainly worth a stop if you are passing by. We look forward to a return visit when we shall try a local taverna for our refreshments.

Sitia & Vai, with space!

Vai, in the east of Crete, is famous for its palm trees and the location of a dim and distant Bounty advertisement. If you holiday in the east of Crete, you’ll see coach trips to paradise being offered by most agents.

Sadly, the reality is often a long coach ride to a remote, but very crowded, noisy beach. We drove there once, years ago, looked around in dismay, bought some over ripe, over priced grapes, had a paddle, and left.

However, being in Crete during these odd corona virus times, we decided it would be a good time to revisit Vai.  As you can see, we were the third car in the car park at 10.30 a.m. Unusually for Crete there was a car park charge; a modest €3 for the day. The only people I know to have seen the car park this empty is my sister and her husband when they once left Kritsa before 5.00 a.m.! 

2020_0908_10272300

We cheated, rather than make such an early start we’d booked two nights in studio accommodation near Sitia.

To the left of the beach, there are steps up the rocky headland for an excellent view. The rows of neatly spaced sunbeds gives evidence to the usual number of visitors. When we paid for our sunbeds, (€10 for two ordinary or €30 for two luxury) the ticket seller said each lounger would have several occupants per day in a typical season. Perhaps just as well it was quiet as each set needs cleaning after use and is then left for two hours without occupants. Even at the peak, less than a third of the sunbeds were in use during our visit. This was good for us, but horrible for the local economy.

2020_0908_10284600

The crystal clear water was a shade cooler than at our local beaches near Istron, and even more refreshing. All the facilities including a restaurant, snack bars, shops and toilets were open.  However, thanks to our self catering accommodation, I’d made our picnic lunch, so I can’t comment on the quality of the Vai meals/snacks. 

If only I’d thought to buy a Bounty Bar, I could have had some fun taking photos of it on Vai until it melted (or I ate it). I searched on YouTube trying to find the original advert, but none of the clips I found seemed set on Vai. 

By mid afternoon we were ready for exercise, so we drove off to explore the nearby ancient remains at Itanos. To find out more, click this link to one of my favourite websites, Cretan Beaches

Our route back to Sitia was on the more desolate road that passes Toplou Monastery. I have lovely memories of visiting this place with my mum and although it’s off the beaten track, it is well worth a visit. Here is another Cretan Beaches link about Toplou Monastery.

As for us, it was back to Sitia to enjoy another evening. First, a stroll along the harbour.

Right at the end of this harbour walk we found an excellent place to sit and watch get dark. 

For a treat I had a cocktail, well it was my holiday! Our meal could have been any of the waterside places. They all looked tempting and covid safe. We chose Zorba’s as we’d not been there for many years – an excellent choice.

That was it, our two night holiday was over. Somehow we never get that end of holiday feeling when we are returning home to Kritsa. Nearing the Mochlos turn at ‘coffee time’ it seemed silly not to enjoy a drive down, stroll and enjoy a bit of wave watching. 

If you have any worries about visiting Crete during this pandemic, I assure you that all the accommodation, shops, cafes, restaurants and beach facilities we have visited are doing a first-class job. So, forget that package holiday, book a flight and find your own accommodation – we used Booking.com. Now, watch this….

 

 

 

Nervy flight to Crete

Little did we realise when we left Kritsa at the end of February that we’d not see this view again until mid-August, thanks to Covid 19.

 

 

 

 

 

Being retired, we were very strict with our lockdown in the UK and made sure we didn’t take any risks. Unlike people who had to work, we only went outside for exercise. Shopping was all on-line and video conferencing opened up a new world of virtual meet ups with friends and family. Friday night in the Facebook Arms is now so firmly established it will probably continue for years.

When conditions eased in the UK, we added in a few socially distanced and self catered picnics but otherwise maintained the same disciplines – we wanted nothing to stop us returning to Kritsa. The lure of £10 each off a meal bill was not at all tempting; all we wanted was a coffee in a Cretan cafe to watch the world go by.

We knew we were fit and healthy, so booked  bargain Easyjet flight from Bristol.  Then my anxiety started – I read people were being denied boarding as they had made mistakes when completing their Passenger Location Forms (PLF) e.g. not including their middle names – even though the form states this is optional.

Here is a link for the Passenger Location Form (PLF) https://travel.gov.gr/

This is the one we shall complete before returning to the UK https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk

I made sure we completed our form together for shared responsibility! As the person who booked the tickets, I put myself first. I don’t have a middle name, so I left it blank. Although Alan has a middle name, there was no space to add it for the second passenger – blood pressure rose a bit!

Flight number – ‘Example, two letters and three numbers.’ Easyjet has three letters – put in the full flight code and felt blood pressure rise higher.

‘Name of hotel?’  Argh, no facility to state we stay in our own house. Throat felt tight and tummy churned.

I felt unwell for the next 48 hours. I hate not being in control and although the confirmation email signalling receipt of our PLF came through quickly, what if the QR code didn’t arrive?

At 00.06 Greek time on the date of travel, the email with the all important QR code pinged into my In Box. I saved it to my phone and printed it out.

We live in a part of Wiltshire recognised as an area of concern so fully expected a Covid19 test on arrival at Heraklion airport. This test would only show if we already had the virus, and we were certain we didn’t as we’d not mixed with anyone or been anywhere. However, time in the airports and on the flight could mean we picked up the virus and a swab test on arrival would not detect it.

Bristol airport was so quiet it was easy to stay apart from other people. Well-organised boarding procedures meant only small groups were on the steps/finding their seats at any one time. Once on board the full flight everyone continued to wear masks. They restricted the toilet queue to just two people at a time, a very sensible idea. Disembarkation was fast and smooth, making me hope they keep the same process forever.

Once out of the aircraft, I paused briefly to inhale that heady mix of aviation fuel, hot tarmac and herbs before boarding the bus to the terminal. These were only one third full so full marks Heraklion.

This bit made me laugh – we kept our facemasks on to pass through passport control.  😷

Next was the QR code check.  After a quick glance at my proffered paper, the uniformed officer waved us through. I didn’t see anyone channeled away for a test – perhaps it was too late in the evening.

Within fifteen minutes, we were driving towards Kritsa and excitement replaced my worry.

Just look at this cheerful man five minutes after our arrival in Kritsa.

Inside, the house was fine. The balcony had a substantial covering of Saharan sand not tackled until the next morning.

So, to all those people worried about travelling, I’d say follow the rules and you’ll be OK.

 

 

 

Now we are enjoying a period of self-imposed quarantine to make sure we didn’t pick up anything on the journey.  The first few days are for doing jobs around the house and then we will head for Karavastasi beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you are coping with Covid 19 uncertainty. Stay safe and well. X

Ha Gorge, an amazing cleft

A dominant feature of the area of Ierapetra is the Ha Gorge. It slices through the mountains on the east side of the isthmus between the north and south coasts. Instead of being carved by water, an ancient earthquake probably caused this fissure. It is closest to the small village of Vassiliki.  The house pictured below is one I have my eye on if I win the lottery! Not only does it have a fabulous backdrop, it looks out to the north coast.

DSCN1329

After heavy rains in the Thripti Mountains, water gushes down the gorge to create the highest waterfall in Greece. However, the gorge acts as a giant drainpipe, and the water quickly rushes away. Several natural basins have formed and perhaps that’s why Minoans built a settlement on one side of the gorge. 

I belong to the INCO (International Community) camera club and in January 2020, our set subject was water. I expected the Ha Gorge, with its impressive waterfall, to make a great subject.  Sadly, I was too late, and this green slimy patch was the remaining evidence of water. To rub it in, a fellow photographer had got there a few days before me and took some tremendous shots of rushing water.

DSCN1354

Never mind, these two photos from 2009 show the water and our posing shows scale.

Although I love to peer up or down the gorge, I will never see the length of this rare split rock like these brave souls. Would you abseiler?

 

A favourite drive for us is a trip to Thripti village above the Ha Gorge. A slight diversion en route, towards the lovely woodland church of Agia Anna, provides wonderful views down towards the isthmus linking the north and south coasts.

DSCN1616

With all the restrictions due to Covid19, we have no idea when we can return to Crete. Meanwhile, we can enjoy remembering good time. Stay safe and well. X

Kritsa based novels

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

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

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

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

To find out more, Click Here.

Kritsotopoula screen version

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

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

To find out more, Click Here.

Screen version Rodanthe's Gift

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

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

Return to Turtle Beach, by Richard Clark

The Eggs of Saramova, by Steve Daniels

The Crete Connection, by John Manuel

Truth and Lies, by Janet Ellis

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

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

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

A walk to Agios Nikolaos Bay

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

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

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

D

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

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

E

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

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

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

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

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

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

B

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

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

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

DSCN1629

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

Continue to walk along the footpath.

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

Land’s End!

DSCN1646

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

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

Anatoli, gem of southeastern Crete

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

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

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

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

DSCN0471

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

DSCN0398

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

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

DSCN0404

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

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

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

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

Here are more photos from my visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More snow, this time on Lassithi

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

DSCN1744

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

Spinalonga, once visited, never forgotten

DSCN2539

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCN5823_1

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

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

DSC04629Did you take a Spinalonga boat from Elounda or Plaka?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember the views above there are spectacular.

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

How long did you spend on Spinalonga?

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

I bet you took some great photos.

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

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

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

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

 

Kritsa Alps – Katharo in the snow

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

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

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

dscn1461

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

dscn1407

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

 

 

Ruined coastal path between Sisi and Milatos

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

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

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

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

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

 

Oranges and lemons galore

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

Method

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

IMG_20170120_170137Keep the jar in the fridge and use daily.

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

 

 

 

 

Lemon Curd 

Ingredients to make 2 x 250 g/9 oz jars

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

Method

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

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

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

marmalade

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

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

 

Oranges and lemons

Say the bells of St. Clements

I owe you five farthings

Say the bells of St. Martins

When will you pay me?

Say the bells at Old Bailey

When I grow rich

Say the bells at Shoreditch

When will that be?

Say the bells of Stepney

I’m sure I don’t know

Says the great bell of Bow

Bramiana Reservoir – circular walk on a dull day.

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

DSCN1174

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.

Powered by Wikiloc

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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