So here it is- the final instalment! I have so enjoyed sharing these memories with you, but I’m sure I’ve been wearing my rose tinted spectacles.
I remember vividly going into work on returning from Crete. “How was it? Did you see the rats? We daren’t tell you before you went, in case it spoiled your holiday.” I didn’t (thankfully), but was treated to lurid tales of them being rampant in Rethymnon harbour, and running over somebody’s foot! I didn’t see a one, and neither did my normally very observant partner. (I hope!)
In spite of loving the Greek Islands, it had taken us a while to return. You see, I’m fickle and the love affair with Italy had begun. Our small person loved pasta and Del Piero (a footballer with Juventus), and those were the days when he delighted in cheap copies of his hero’s shirt- now long gone! But that’s a tale for another series. Well, maybe.
Still, I hadn’t gotten Greece entirely out of my system (to this day!) and the Summer of 2000 saw us back there. I had thought long and hard about our base, and was more than happy with Rethymnon. The old town was almost entirely built by the Venetians, as was the Fortezza, one of the best preserved castles on Crete. There was so much character, and the atmosphere in the harbour was wonderful, especially by night.
Cafe Soldini, or Spiro’s place as we tended to know it, was a favoured spot. The waiters were attentive but joked among themselves, constantly having fun, even in the considerable heat. Who knows if it’s there still!
With just two weeks, I had a full itinerary. Holidays with me are never purely restful. So, off we went, bus hopping to Chania, a lovely mix of Venetian and Ottoman influences. Well, yes, touristy, but so pretty, that you could see why. The discovery that you could still buy cheap footie shirts in Chania made the place barely just tolerable by James’ standards. Oh, and the mega chocolate icecream sundaes in the harbourside cafes!
A coach trip next, to view some of the superb Cretan landscape. It being the largest of the Greek Islands, I knew I could only skim the surface. Perhaps climb the heights is a better description because Crete has no shortage of mountains. Heading west to Vryses (meaning fountains) it was up and over the green plateau, skirting the Imbros Gorge. Wildflowers speckled the green carpet, while overhead hawks and eagles patrolled the skies.
Dropping slowly down to the coast, Frangokastello awaited. A ruined castle, solid and square in yellow stone, sat almost upon the beach. Beyond lay the pearliest of blues, shallow water, and I had my first ever paddle in the Libyan Sea. Never have I been so reluctant to return to a coach, but it was on to nearby Sfakia and the “restored” castle in miniature.
When we alighted at Plakias I wanted to do a Shirley Valentine. Michael had an urgent mission to find batteries for the camera, so I daydreamed a while.
The way home took us through the Clapping Gorge, named for the sound of the wind echoing through it. Not many people left the coach to descend the endless steps to the chapel and springs, but… well, you know I just had to. And the following day when the boys opted to laze by the pool, I signed up to join a walking tour.
A morning stroll, I described it to Michael. Wrong! It turned out to be a 2 hour hike, lunch in a taverna, then back again, via a monastery. I had dressed in trousers, determined not to be inappropriately dressed again, and I was soon melting. Shade, some water and a Greek coffee were much appreciated, served by smiling nuns, whose home was still being restored. I had little money with me, but bought a small paperweight to contribute to the building fund.
The path continued beneath beautiful cliffs, alight with yellow gorse. I didn’t have a mobile phone, so couldn’t let Michael know that my stroll was in fact a day out! Despite a mild sense of guilt I was enjoying myself enormously. Our guide, Raoul, was highly informative, and the wine flowed when we stopped for lunch. Raoul looked every inch the proud Cretan, but I’d got that wrong too. When he couldn’t remember the Greek word for cucumber, it transpired that he was in fact a German ex-pat.
Eventually I arrived back at the pool, more than happy to flop into the water. Michael got his own back because that evening we were Greek dancing.
The one thing we absolutely had to do on our trip to Crete was to visit the palace of Knossos, archaelogical site of the Minoan civilisation. The legend of the Minotaur and the fact that the Minoans were decimated by the volcanic eruption of Santorini in 1420 I found fascinating. There are many details in my link to Wikipedia.
The other “must” was to walk the Samaria Gorge. James was old enough to quite enjoy the challenge, and it felt quite an exciting thing to do. An early start took us across the island to Sfakia on the south coast to embark.
The River Tara running along the bottom of the Gorge makes it a magical place. Frequently you hop across the river on wooden log bridges, or strategically placed stones. Drinking lots of water is a must. Despite the people passing through, nature is fully in control in this gorge.
I didn’t realise when I started this post how long it would be. I did say it was a big island, and I did my best to cover some ground. I haven’t yet told you about lovely Georgiopoulos, the lead photo right back where we began. Maybe I don’t need to. I hope that it’s unspoilt and beautiful still.
We had a wonderful holiday, with charming people. I hope I have not bored you with my rambles. I’ll say goodbye to Greece properly with one last sunset.