Rodanthe, 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.
Popular 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.
Among 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.
Lin and Paul
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.
We’ve enjoyed a fabulous Easter in Crete, let me share some of our highlights.
On Good Friday, known as Black Friday in Greece, we visited the three main churches in Kritsa to admire the flower-decked Epitaphs representing the bier of Christ.
As the evening services drew to a close the congregations followed their Epitaph in a procession through the village until they all met up in the main street. The floral scents mixed with frankincense made a heady combination.
Psst! Don’t tell anyone, but my husband has just turned 70. He was adamant he didn’t want a present or any fuss. Instead of getting him a gift I booked us a room overlooking the lake in nearby Agios Nikolaos on Easter Saturday.
Three friends joined us to share the experience, and after a picnic supper, with pizza and posh wine, we moved to the balcony to watch the swelling crowd.
This gave us a fabulous view of the evening church procession, midnight candles, burning of Judas, and plenty of fireworks.
The clip below shows midnight , welcoming the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. At the start focus on Judas in the middle of the lake and keep looking….
Back in Kritsa on Sunday evening we expected to see and hear the unique celebrations of dynamite thrown from the cliffs above the village. Certainly it’s an activity that divides opinion, reckless and unnecessary or brilliant tradition. (I’m in the second set)
Here is a dynamite clip I took back in 2008
Of course, it’s an illegal practice and last year arrested men received substantial fines. Although Kritsa folk resented this action they reluctantly decided to hold a peaceful protest this year. They hope to find a way to resume the tradition within the law.
If you’d like more background on Greek Easter customs you can click on this linkOlive Feta and Ouzo.
We have enjoyed our home in Kritsa, Crete since 2001, and people often ask us what changes we have seen. The answer is not a village by-pass to make the high street safer, new paving in the main street, less tablecloth shops, less ‘corner shops’, less old folk near my house, or more pick up trucks. No, my answer to sum up the creeping change in lifestyle and aspirations is disappearing donkeys.
This was Dora, our next door neighbour for many years. The owner, an old lady, visited several times a day and always took the donkey out to graze. On their return the donkey was piled high with vegetation to eat through the night. When the owner was no longer able to walk up and down the steep Kritsa paths she’d sit in the shade chattering to Dora while she ate her own snack. Sadly, they died within months of each other
At that time, the dawn chorus included braying from donkeys in fields and stables throughout Kritsa. Fifteen years later I can’t think of one donkey actively working in our area. I guess teenagers stopped dreaming of the day they’d own their own donkey.
An Englishman in Kritsa had a beautiful donkey called Willow that he’d walk through the village, resplendent in a dark red, woven blanket under the wooden saddle. I loved seeing Willow tied up outside a taverna where anyone else would park their motorbike. The sanctuary Walk With Donkeysprovided Willow with a ‘forever home’ when the man’s circumstances changed and he needed to leave Crete. This photo, reproduced by kind permission of Walk With Donkeys, shows Willow with his pals Zak and Sid.
I gave Willow a lead role in my novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, although I changed his name to Dove. This is how my heroine remembers her childhood with the donkey and her cousin, Manos:
“Manos and I were like twins. Despite our very different natures, we were inseparable – well, except when we were on different sides of the donkey!
Dove was a beautiful grey beast, with long, soft ears that wriggled and twitched to show how much he enjoyed us giving the patch between them a good scratch. On top of a once colourful handwoven woollen rug sat a hard wooden saddle that Great Grandma never rode. Hung from either side of the saddle, tied on with stout ropes, were two long panniers almost touching the ground. Grandpa had made these huge baskets the way his pa had taught him, using strong, young olive sticks for the frame, woven with whip like branches of mulberry.
Every morning, Great Grandma brought Dove down the narrow street, just wide enough for him and his panniers. She’d tap on the grille of the unglazed window of the house next door, and then repeat the action at our house, calling, ‘Free rides to Rabbitsville.’ Then we’d rush out of our respective doors, each wiping a milk moustache from our top lip with the back of our hand as we ran, vying to be the first to get a kiss as she swung us high into a pannier. What a way to view our world.”
Of course, keeping old donkeys safe and well takes an enormous amount of time, energy and money. Walk With Donkeys always appreciates donations. You can click on the link to find out more. They also have an interesting money raiser allowing you to buy Amazon products via a link on the Walk With Donkeys website. Products bought this way will not cost you any more, but a small commission goes to Walk With Donkeys. Why not click here then type in the word Kritsotopoula to see for yourself!
This photo shows Alan and I on holiday in Plakias, South Crete, researching donkey transport. I admit to being disappointed not to go side-saddle as that is how working donkeys are ridden. If you want to ride horses or donkeys contact the Plakias Horse Riding Center .
A key learning point was how donkeys need frequent rest stops, especially after going uphill. I made sure donkeys in my novel got their rest when they were with the ‘good guys’.
Although donkeys are scarce in Kritsa enough were found for the traditional wedding celebration in August 2015.
Here are some of the donkeys we’ve met over the years:
Welcome to a special post where I have the opportunity to introduce five other Greek biased bloggers via a Christmas blog hop.
First though, I’ll share a taste of Kritsa Christmas:
Christmas in Crete is the second most important religious festival of the year, behind the passion and fireworks of Easter. Traditionally it’s a family celebration with decorated boats dedicated to Saint Nicholas who arrives on his name day, 6th December. Children need to wait for presents until Saint Basil comes into the village to deliver gifts on 1st January . These days he often wears a red outfit and white beard and answers to the name of Santa. However, with TV and films exerting influence, along with cheap imported LED decorations, Christmas trees, lights, and reindeer are increasingly taking hold.
Most hamlets, villages, and towns still feature a nativity scene.
Although I recognise my bias, I can’t imagine a better nativity scene than this one in Kritsa, outside of Aristidis Cafe. With life-size figures and real snow, it is very striking.
When we spent Christmas in Crete, we made the most of a sunny Christmas Eve afternoon on our balcony. Imagine our surprise when one of the main churches in Kritsa broadcast Christmas songs. It seemed very surreal, drinking afternoon tea in the sun with Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer blaring out in Greek.
We put our kitchen chimney to good use, and Santa obliged by filling our stockings. I expect our bemused neighbours wondered why they found a full stocking on their doorstep. All the stockings had a traditional tangerine in the toe, that we’d scrumped the previous day!
Later on Christmas morning, a large group of children went around the village singing carols and collecting coins. Ever since then I’ve saved coins in a pot ready for the next Christmas morning that I spend in Kritsa.
This excerpt from Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa will show how that Christmas experience inspired a short scene:
On that wonderful Christmas morning two pigs, each on their own spit over separate trench fires, already dripped fat to cause smoky sizzles. Our male relatives grouped around to make sure the pork cooked to perfection. I learnt each man needed a raki before turning a spit handle for the length of time it took the next man to quaff a drink, then, after a rest for another raki, he would feed wood into the fire, a task that required yet another drop of the potent colourless spirit. Papa sat forlornly at the edge of the group with an untouched raki in his hand, at odds with the festive atmosphere that buoyed the other men.
I joined my cousins to go carol singing, all enthusiastically banging triangles of metal to accompany our efforts. Although most women impatiently shooed us away with floury hands, men usually joined our reedy voices and then found us a coin. Of course, we squabbled about everything, from what to sing to where to go, and even whose turn it was to hold the moneybox, but at the final share out we had enough for all of us to anticipate a visit to the sweet seller.
Beryl Darby, author of the successful family saga that starts with Yannis, set on the former leper island of Spinalonga, Crete, paid a return visit to me in Kritsa during September.
Beryl paused for a photo next to the bust of Rodanthe, now known by the honorific title, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa. What a coincidence, it’s the same as my novel’s title!
You can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that Beryl bought a copy of my book via Amazon, and carried it all the way to Kritsa for me to sign.
I know that Beryl is always interested in learning about crafts that she may refer to in her novels, so I asked George Perakis to demonstrate his glass fusing and pottery techniques to Beryl, and her friends, Lilian and Jane. Hover over the photo to see the text:
The fused glass is available in various outlets, so if you see a piece with branded Christin P, and a sticker declaring, ‘Made in Kritsa’ be assured that you have a unique piece hand-made by George. Even better, visit Kritsa and buy direct from George’s workshop, it’s at the back of the square, right where the bus drops off and picks up, so it’s easy to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the prices, and George is expert at packing so that your chosen piece will get home safe and sound.
Find Out More:
To find out more about the fused glass you can Click Here to visit the Facebook page, or to visit George’s website Click Here.
After thanking George for his interesting demonstrations we walked on up Kritsotopoula Street to Aristidis Cafe for lunch.
Beryl wouldn’t think her visit to Kritsa complete unless we had lunch at Aristidis Cafe, and as always, Aristidis made us very welcome.
Our last stop was the Kritsotopoula Memorial, created by the British sculptor based in Kritsa, Nigel Ratcliffe. The stone relief is at the site of the major battle where our heroine, Rodanthe fell from the dreadful wounds that exposed the female truth beneath her male disguise.
If you want to visit, it is 3k from Kritsa, just before the entrance to the Lato archaeological site.
This wonderful work is accessible to all free of charge.
Although we all said, ‘See you next year,’ it may well be that Beryl and I will be busy at a literary festival, in Elounda. As far as I know the date is not confirmed yet, but a Facebook page is ready so you can Click Here to learn more.
The traditional Greek Wedding held in my home village of Kritsa, on the Greek island of Crete on 16th August 2015 was a wonderful celebration open to all. Few couples choose this public style of celebration, the last one was seven years ago, so imagine my delight that this one was while we were in Kritsa.
As events were due to start at 4.00 p.m. I wandered down Kritsotopoula Street, to the heart of the village, half an hour before this. The sheer quantity of traditional, predominantly red textiles that hung from almost every balcony transformed the village. The pong of moth balls was pervasive until the throng of bodies wafted it away. Now I understand the origin of the term, roll out the red carpet!
At first the village was eerily quiet, so I made the most of a seat at Aristidis Cafe and watched him hang up a traditional rucksack, before he set out a table with a huge bowl of honey containing almonds and flasks of raki, a local spirit.
Next door, Kostas set out a table with delicious honeycomb from his own bees, and of course raki. Virtually every shop had similar tasty gifts ready to offer people as they passed by.
Then along came the Bridegroom on a small horse with a handful of friends. It was a wonderful close up scene as a grandpa lifted a small boy on the horse as a mascot. Aristidis fed everyone spoonfuls of honey and almonds, washed down with raki, and then they were off to the bridegroom’s traditionally furnished house that was open to the public all day.
A few more people in traditional dress walked by, and this pair made me smile!
After the Groom’s group had passed by, musicians set up in the middle of the street and stayed there for hours. Good job they had lots of raki to keep them going!
How fabulous that this modern Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, posed for a photo next to the wonderful statue by fellow British resident of Kritsa, Nigel Ratcliffe.
To find details of a novel set in Kritsa just click here.
About 30 minutes later a distant clamour told me the event had really started to get into full swing.
The bridegroom and his men, followed by hundreds of costumed supporters, led the procession towards the couple’s new home. Men carried household items to furnish the house.
Did you notice the white bagpipe in the photo above? Something I’d not seen before.
Meanwhile, round at the bride’s house, she stood in a white cotton shift, serenaded by musicians and singers.
Under the watchful eyes of a cheerful crush of people the bride was ceremoniously dressed in the many layers of clothing that make up the traditional dress.
Here’s the amazingly serene bride with her parents awaiting her groom.
The groom walked ahead of the procession to collect his bride, flanked by his parents and followed by a multitude.
After final ‘negotiations’ inside the bride’s house the happy pair led the procession to the church, followed by their very ‘merry’ retainers!
The crowd at the church was, understandably, too dense for me to push through to take photos.
After the wedding, the new husband and wife led the procession back to their new home where they rested before the next stage in events.
Here’s the happy pair leading the final procession to the school yard for the wedding feast.
Feasting and dancing continued until dawn, I gave up long before that!
This youtube clip captures the day; editing is ‘artistic’ rather than chronological.
If you’d like a chronological insight then view this next film, it was a long day so it’s not surprising that you’ll need more than an hour to watch it.
This was a real wedding, not a staged event, and I’m delighted to have been part of it. Mmmm, I think my next novel might feature a Kritsa wedding!
After travelling overnight to arrive ‘home’ in Kritsa circa 9.30 a.m. on 5th August it wasn’t long before an early siesta became more attractive than cleaning up the wind-blown debris that had accumulated outside.
Urgent banging woke me, and in a very disheveled state, I opened the door to Peer, a friend who lives further down Kritsotopoula Street. He’d come to tell me that the small church of Afentis Christos (featured in Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa) was to re-open that evening with a special service, and he correctly guessed that I’d be disappointed if I found out the following day.
Rodanthe, the heroine of my story eventually became known by the honorific title Kritsotopoula, meaning Girl of Kritsa. This was her home, and flags led the short distance from here to her father’s church, Afentis Christos.
The church has a protective coat of new plaster aimed at preserving the frescoes inside. Some parts of the church date from 13th C, like the famous Panagia Kera on the way to Kritsa.
Many of the congregation sat on a low wall around the church yard while others took along folding chairs.
In front of the external altar the aroma from baskets of rich, spicy bread mixed with heady incense.
All church photos by kind permission of Peer Moore-Friis.
Loukamathes, doughnut like cakes, dripping in honey featured among the tasty treats offered to those who’d attended the service. This photo is from Kouzina’s Kitchen, pay her a visit for many more delicious recipes.
The family home of Rodanthe has a distinctive cross above the door.
Here is Nikos Masseros, a descendent of Rodanthe’s family showing guests into the restored house that will soon open as a museum. People enjoyed the opportunity for an advance viewing.
I’m sitting on a sofa in the kitchen. In my story the sofa was also Rodanthe’s bed.
If you’re interested in a novel set in Kritsa visit Amazon to find out more:
My sprained ankle is getting better and after several days of sitting with my feet up it was good to walk through Kritsa, siga siga (slowly slowly) with Jan Bebbington and Hilary Dawson, (who works at estate agent Crete Homes). We were en route to Elixirio, a lovely taverna opposite the school. Jessie, the owner of Elixirio cooks delicious and unusual mezes, and is currently open every evening from 7.30pm, except Sundays.
On our way to Elixirio we passed the bust of Rodanthe sited in the square, by the bus stop. Suddenly inspired, Hilary whipped a copy of Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, from her handbag and suggested a photo.
I think Rodanthe approved as I read the page where she …..
Ah, you’ll need to find out for yourself, so click on the photo for purchasing details!
After a busy morning preparing our house for winter while we are in the UK, we made time for a coffee. We met Jenny, and local sculptor Nigel in the taverna situated in the old Aga’s house at the top of the village under a huge platanos tree. Busy chatting the coffee break morphed into retsina with mezes including freshly cooked cabbage that was delicious, and bore no relation to the overcooked green splodge many of us remember from childhood with dislike.
If you have read other parts of this website you will know that Nigel generously shared his translation of the Greek epic poem Kritsotopoula with me. Our collaboration will continue as his version of the poem in English will also be published next year, and we have decided to launch in Kritsa simultaneously. As well as being fun we hope that this will make it clear that we are both comfortable with the ‘other’ version.
Yes, of course I’ll keep you updated…
Meanwhile, if you have any questions for Nigel or me just use the contact form below.
Author of Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa and Rodanthe's Gift