Tag Archives: Yvonne Payne

Rough and rugged Lassithi, Crete

Crete has many facets to appeal to diverse tastes, but the mountains have fewer visitors than the beaches, towns and villages with good reason! I live in the east of Crete in the area called Lassithi, named after the Lassithi Plateau in the Dikti Mountains. In fact there are seven plateaus linked by a range of roads that vary from well used tarmac surfaces to rock strewn tracks.

We have an intrepid amateur botanist friend, Steve Lenton who explores on a sturdy quad bike to catalogue the flowers and plants of the wider Lassithi area for his two great websites.

As the blistering heat of summer subsided Steve suggested we use our 4×4 Terios to follow him, and his pillion companion, Cindy around all seven plateaus in one day. Now that sounded like our sort of challenge!

PuppyWe met at the middle taverna on Katharo Plateau owned by Giannis, where I enjoyed meeting his adorable trainee guard dog.

Then we were off, heading south on Katharo’s perimeter road towards Males, overlooking the distant south coast.

Here is a high level view of our 107 km route. I can’t figure out how to make it interactive, so do contact me if you’d like the GPX file. x7

Starting on Katharo at 9.30 a.m. we were at Lapathos Plateau by 11.30 a.m., and Omalos Plateau at 12.30 p.m. some of the heights we reached were dizzying at over 4,000 ft, 1,200 m above sea level.

We took the road through Erganos Plateau without stopping to descend to Liminarko Plateau for lunch at 2.15 p.m. This amused me because on previous visits to that plateau it’s been via Lassithi, and its a long steep drive up to Liminarko from there, so it served to reinforce just how high up we’d been.

Descending to Lassithi on a concrete road seemed tame after the rough stuff! We then whizzed around the Lassithi perimeter on its tarmac road to the village of Tzermiado then up to Nisimos Plateau. From here there is a fantastic path up to the Karfi peak, but as this was a driving day we headed back down to Lassithi to join the dirt track for the ascent back to Katharo  by 5.00 p.m. for a welcome beer with Giannis.

Thank you Steve and Cindy, it was a fabulous day. However we zoomed past many places that are now on the ‘Must Visit’ list so that we can enjoy them in more detail.

Steve and Cindy are planning a new website to focus on what to see when ‘Exploring East Crete’ and this Seven Plateau trip will certainly feature along with other less arduous drives. I’ll let you know when it’s live.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions about this trip, would like more precise instructions, or the GPX  file, then you can use the contact form below.

Traditional Cretan Wedding

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!

Traditional rucksack
Traditional rucksack

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.

Shops prepare raki and nibbles for visitors
Shops prepare raki and nibbles for visitors

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.

Groom collecting small boy as mascot
Groom collecting small boy as mascot

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.

Mini me!
Mini me!

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!

Rodanthe from Kritsotopoula?

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.

Men carrying goods for the new home
Men carrying goods for the new home

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.

Bride in white linen shift at the dressing ceremony
Bride in white cotton at the dressing ceremony

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.

Bride with her parents
Bride with her parents

Here’s the amazingly serene bride with her parents awaiting her groom.

Groom and his dad leading the procession to collect his bride
Groom and his dad leading the procession to collect his bride

The groom walked ahead of the procession to collect his bride, flanked by his parents and followed by a multitude.

Raki fuelled
Raki fuelled

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.

Marriage Bed
Marriage Bed

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.

Bride and Groom lead to the feast
Bride and Groom lead to the feast

Here’s the happy pair leading the final procession to the school yard for the wedding feast.

Dancing until dawn
Dancing until dawn

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!

Kritsa’s Famous Church and House

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's family home

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.

Christos Afentis KritsaThe 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.

Christos Afentis Celebration
Afentis Christos Celebration

Many of the congregation sat on a low wall around the church yard while others took along folding chairs.

Pappas addressing the congregation
Pappas addressing the congregation

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.

Click photo for the recipe
Rodanthe's House in Kritsotopoula S
Rodanthe’s House in Kritsotopoula Street

The family home of Rodanthe has a distinctive cross above the door.

Nikos Massaros at the door of Kritsotopoula Museum
Nikos Massaros at the door of Kritsotopoula Museum

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.

Yvonne Payne inside the house of Kritsotopoula
Yvonne Payne inside the house of Kritsotopoula

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:



Kritsotopoula’s Kritsa Launch

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

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

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

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

2015-05-28 18.30.47

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

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

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

2015-05-28 18.55.26

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

Here is the T Shirt winner, Jean Dugmore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kritsa Gorge ‘May Day!’

I waited in Kritsa car park at 10.45 a.m. on 1st May to see who would join our free to participate circular walk, to include a descent through Kritsa Gorge. The final roll call was amateur botanist Steve Lenton, (AKA Steve the plant) retired botanist Rosemary Johns, naturalist Steve Daniels (AKA Steve the bug), Lynne McDonald from Eklektos Bookshop Elounda, Cindy Pay, Ann Roxy, Frank and Linda who were in the area on holiday, and my husband, Alan.

I’ve previously shared the route we use to pass through lower Kritsa Gorge, and you’re welcome to print it off. To access it just click on the photo of Alan, below:


This route needs confidence and dexterity to use footholds and hand grabs, and even before reaching this area you will need to scramble over boulders.

Be safe, wear stout shoes, take water, a snack and a companion.

Alan and I have walked this way many times to enjoy the dramatic way views and landscape change, so seeing it through the eyes of people experiencing it for the first time was fabulous. Even though Steve the plant had walked the gorge before he’d not accessed it via the ancient trading path that had probably been laid when the Dorians held nearby Lato. It was while on this path that Ann made a horrible discovery, her husband had correctly identified a plant, and now she was going to have to tell him that she was wrong, ouch! As the path opened out we turned left over scrub and looked back to Lato. A beaming Lynne recognised the description of the area from Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa (only reference today, honest!) and started to mentally compose her bookshop blog about the walk. (Link at the end)

Entering the dramatic gorge bed is like stepping into a different world and it soon became apparent that one of our group, Cindy was going to have more difficulty on the descent than she’d anticipated. We soon learned she is one determined lady! By carefully assessing each clamber and/or drop Cindy worked out the best way to move, and with support from her stick, and other members of the group, particularly Steve the plant, Steve the bug and Rosemary, on she went. Despite this exertion, Cindy took many photos, or was that a ploy for breathing space? Here’s her group shot:

From Cindy 1 Ann, Yvonne, Alan, Lynne, Steve the plant, Rosemary, and Steve the bug. By this point our holiday makers decided to stride ahead so that they could find time for a swim.

Amidst the chatter we could always hear Latin bandied about as Steve, Rosemary and Steve discussed what they were seeing, although they used layman’s terms to help us understand. Rosemary demonstrated how a few drops of water turned a dried piece of black matter into plump green moss in seconds. A trick I’ll certainly use again!

DSC05953 A lump of wood became an interesting find for Steve the bug, as he showed us burrows made by beetle larvae. Notice his waistcoat? Each full of  small items of ‘kit’.

Not long after this Steve the bug asked me if we’d find water. My initial though was that surely he knew to bring plenty of water with him. Doh, he didn’t want to drink it! Imagine his joy when we came to this brackish pond.

DSC05957What a fast mover! That dipper appeared from nowhere. What Alan described as tadpoles were mosquito larvae, apparently important elements of the food chain. Well, let’s hope they all get devoured; I hate it when when a mosquito puts me on the menu!  The real treasure in this scoop was a dead fly. At first I thought Steve was joking, but no, he’s sent it to the British Natural History Museum for identification. Later, as Cindy needed to pass over a deep pond, various people shouted advice, The best from Steve was, ‘If you fall in, grab a handful of stuff from the bottom!’

From cindy 2As we neared the narrow drain like parts of the gorge I worried how Cindy might manage, and confess that at one point I checked my phone signal in case we needed help. I at least wanted to tell those in the lead how far behind them we were. However, the towering rock walls, as seen in this photo from Cindy, beat any signal, just as her determination beat all obstacles.

I shouldn’t give the impression that Cindy was the only person to find it tough going,  it it very rugged terrain. Lynne was heard to mutter, ‘never again, ‘ but after a bath and a glass of something chilled, she’s already made plans to return.


Emerging into an area with more green stuff bought delight for Steve the plant. He found this growing in a rock crevasse and is not 100% sure what it is, mainly as it’s out of its expected habitat.

Of course, he does have a sneaking suspicion of what it is. If you click on the photo with the ‘green fingers’ it will take you to visit Steve’s Cretan Flora site. Here you can see what Steve thinks it will look like later in the summer when he’ll return to make a positive identification.

By now those at the front of our party, including Alan were well ahead, I imagined them back at the cars, sprawled out enjoying a rest. Meanwhile, I crossed a flat, relatively smooth area and found myself on the ground. A loud crack frightened me, and for a few seconds I thought I’d broken my ankle, but it was just a sprain. Luckily the phone signal was good, so I called to ask Alan to return with a walking stick as one of the group had fallen…

All’s well that ends well, and when we all sat with a cold beer, the sheer exhilaration from Cindy certainly made the trip worth while, and I was pleased we didn’t call ‘May Day’ on May Day!


Footnote, in case of a sprain NHS Advice is PRICE, protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.

So, now I’ve been idle on my balcony for a few days and I can honestly say there are not many places where I’d be so content! Luckily I’ve found plenty to read, including account of our walk via Lynne’s eyes and Steve the bug’s weekly blog. Here are the links to their blogs:

Click here for Lynne’s blog

Click here for Steve’s weekly blog

Snowy, sunny Crete

A trip to Crete in January is always going to have a good dousing of rain, but then there are vivid blue-sky days to make it all worthwhile.  The mountain areas have snow in winter, and many tavernas at high altitudes keep an album of photos to surprise people visiting Crete for their summer holiday. This year snow had even fallen in our village of Kritsa, 1000ft above sea level, in the foothills of the Dikti Mountains. However, torrential rain had washed away all evidence of village snow by the time we arrived.

One of our first walks was in the hills opposite Kritsa to look back at the remaining snow.


You can see my house from here!

A few days later, we drove up the winding mountain road to Katharo Plateau planning to walk along a main track to look down on Lassithi Plateau.  Within two kilometres of starting our drive, snow was evident at the roadsides, but didn’t create a driving problem.  A sparkling blue sky, with sun bouncing off the high mountain peaks surrounding the plateau, gave it a magical air.  Devoid of people, dogs and flocks, the quiet was remarkable. The snow-covered ground had removed food opportunities for birds, so it was truly silent, broken only by our boots tramping through slushy snow where 4×4 trucks had previously passed.


After a short while, no vehicles had used the track and walking became difficult, if not downright risky.  Instead of the distance that we’d hoped to cover, we settled for flasks of soup on the sun warmed concrete step of this lovely old church, where one of its bells is fashioned from a WW2 bomb.


It was so warm Alan decided to dry his socks before the walk back.


Last weekend gave us an opportunity to walk with Phil and Hilary in the Thripti Mountains, on part of the famous E4 path that follows the spine of Crete from its eastern most tip, all the way to the west.  Our aim was a particularly remote section starting at a lush village called Orino, guided by Phil and his trusty handheld GPS device. All progressed well until the E4 signs said one way and the GPS another…

Here’s Hilary prematurely celebrating that we’d found the path indicated by the GPS.


Two hours later, after we’d survived a scary decent down a steep pathless scrubland (that smelt wonderful as we scrambled across sage, oregano, thyme and vicious spiked bushes), and without exception gained cuts, bruises, and thorns, we agreed that if there was ever a disagreement between way-signs and the GPS we’d follow the signs!


Here’s Hilary and I threatening to punch Phil as he woos us with a stem of wild narcissus that he found where he fell!

Laughing again as we walked along a sturdy gravel path to the remote village of Chrisopigi, (where we’d previously left one car) we waved to busy olive pickers, but declined their friendly offer to assist them as we’d had more than enough exercise for one day!

Where to next Phil?

One Kritsotopoula, two more versions

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.

Milatos Massacre 1823

Friends Jim and Mo accompanied Alan and me to Milatos Caves as I wanted to explore them again in preparation for a key scene in my draft second novel, Rodanthe’s Gift.


Always dark and eerie, exploring the catacomb caves brings a chill to the back of my neck as I try to imagine the terror of circa 2000 besieged Christians praying to avoid angry Turks.


In contrast, our only worry was to avoid cracking our heads’ on the low cavern roof as we crept over uneven ground lit by a single torch beam.  On reaching a chamber with room to stand I switched off the torch and lit a single candle in an attempt to understand what it might have been like if any of the refugees had managed to take a candle into the caves. Our immediate reaction was surprise at what a wide pool of warm light one candle made; it was such an improvement on a single torch beam.  Right beside us was a stumpy 50 cm stalagmite with a small indentation that made an excellent candle stand.  The flame didn’t gutter at all, evidence that no draught reached our cell in the honeycombed network of caves separated by rock ledges and smooth stalagmites.  We took time to speculate on how those frightened people may have felt, and took note of what we could hear before imagining what it may have sounded like when crammed full of fear and pain.

It wasn’t long before another three torch beams cut through the dark, evidence of the next visitors, so I used our candle to light our way back to a small church built into the large chamber that has an opening onto the hillside.


This church, dedicated to Saint Thomas, has a glass casket of bones as a macabre reminder of the cave’s history.  To learn more about these caves visit http://www.cretanbeaches.com/Caves/Lassithi-Caves/milatos-cave/

Don’t worry if you wish to visit the caves but don’t have a torch among your holiday luggage… Local English residents Alan and Mary sit outside of the caves most mornings to explain the history to visitors, and they will happily loan you a torch to light your way.

I’d love to hear from you if you know why the church inside the cave is dedicated to Saint Thomas.  Meanwhile, I’ll carry on thinking how I can weave this tragic historical episode into my emerging storyline.