It is mid-summer here in Crete and we are also mid-way through our visitor season, although oddly, while this is the best time of year, as some would say to come to Greece, not many people choose to visit in July and August because they think it is too hot.
Still, the current lull at least gives me time to catch up on a long outstanding update to the happenings in our lives here over the past few months, since Sheila last wrote following our trip to the Peloponnese in April.
Please forgive what might seem to be rather a long list!
Towards the end of April, our good friends Walter & Brigitta arrived back in Crete from Germany and although it proved to be a short visit it was very good to spend some time with them and we hope to see them in London at some point over the winter for a long weekend, particularly as their visits to Crete in future may not be as frequent as we would like.
April was also significant because we changed the basis of our Greek lessons. After five years of struggling with Greek grammar, we both felt that what we need now is more conversation with native Greek speakers and so we started a new regime with our teacher Manolis, whereby we do just that. It is early days yet because commitments in May and June meant that we only had a few lessons on the new basis. Indeed, more recently still, we have had a couple of additional sessions with the girl friend of a Greek friend of ours and these have proved very useful as she speaks very clearly and understands precisely what we want. So we pick a theme – family, music, films etc and then we chat. It is fun. We think we are making some progress. We shall see.
In mid May, Sheila went for a in the gorge at Kritsa with her tennis friend Marina and Yvonne and Alan Payne from INCO. It was a bit of a clamber apparently as Yvonne’s photo makes clear!
A few days later, my cousin Liz arrived from the UK for her customary annual visit. I don’t think she will mind me saying that she is in her 80’s and it is amazing that she is able to cope still with the demands of the journey. Long may her visits continue!
We did not do very much sight-seeing on this occasion but there were two trips to Bobo’s taverna in Pachia Ammos because Liz is a big fan of Bobo (who isn’t) and we also went to Mochlos on her last night for cocktails and supper overlooking the bay at Yiorgos’s taverna.
During the week following Liz’s departure, we went on an INCO trip to the Katharo Plateau which is above 1000 m above sea level and is situated in the mountains behind Ag. Nik. INCO is an organisation for foreigners based in the Ag. Nik. area and has become quite dynamic over over the past few years with activities ranging from walking, through food, archaeology to opera streamed from New York, as well as a useful information service. The Katharo day trip was a morning walking tour to see the early summer flowers, followed by lunch at a local taverna.
Sheila went on the walk while I decided to put the new car through its paces by using the 4×4 to go on the dirt road through to the slightly lower Lassithi Plateau.
Sheila enjoyed the flowers and the walk and I enjoyed the excitement of a sometimes hairy trip through the hills!
One of the highlights of our summer so far. was the wedding in May of Bobo’s son, Γιώργος (George) το Ευαγγελία (Evangelina), to which we were invited. We have known them both for years, Γιώργος from the taverna of course and Ευαγγελία because she used to work at our hairdressers.
The wedding was held in the early evening outside a small church on the sea front overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello, not far from Elounda and the reception at a ‘wedding palace’ just outside Ierapetra. There were probably about 500+ guests and it was all amazing from the weather to the setting, the bride’s dress and the reception – a memory to treasure but unfortunately no close-up photos of the actual event! (Footnote: Γιώργος was given the weekend off from the taverna but was back at work on the Monday. The honeymoon will be during the winter!)
Our next visitors were Nick and Jude who arrived at the end of the month for a short visit. It was very good to see them here again. they were our first visitors to Ferma, when we arrived in Crete seven years ago, so we were keen to show them our house and the delights of living on the north coast.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to Zakros, where Sheila and Jude walked the gorge (in the company of a great deal more water than is usual!), while Nick and I swam and enjoyed a chat at the beachside taverna over a beer or two.
In early June, we went on another INCO trip, this time to the village of Patsos in central Crete, where we visited a cave used by Patrick Leigh Fermor and the team of British Agents and Cretan andartes in WW2, when the German General Kreipe was abducted, which subsequently was made into the film ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’.
Also included in the tour was a visit to a Byzantine church, a gorge walk and a tour of a new vineyard.
Once Marina and Jean-Pierre arrived back from Belgium in late Spring, Sheila re-started her regular tennis sessions at the Istron Bay Hotel and despite Jean Pierre requiring an operation on his knee, tennis in one form or another (singles/doubles – fun or competition) has been a good source of both fun and exercise for Sheila over the past months. Current start time is 8.30 am to avoid excessive heat which means an early start for everyone!
Mid-June saw us in the Dodecanese for more island-hopping with friend Phil from the UK. We met up in Kos and took the ferry to the Fournoi Islands where we stayed for four days.
Fournoi is really out of the way and frankly there is very little to do but because it is off the beaten track it remains a special place. In days gone by, it was a haven for pirates and there remains something wild about the place and the people. It was a good place to start our trip, relaxing on the beach,
exploring by hired car and foot (and relaxing in tavernas)
and having fun at the village party where Phil showed off her Greek dancing skills.
Next stop was Ikaria, famous as the birthplace of Icarus.
There we stayed at Therma, which as the name suggests has a thermal spring. This provides hot water for a Hammam, which of course we visited and also heats the sea, which was an added bonus. Sheila and Phil managed a couple of decent walks (and meals)
while I toned up the tan on the beach and we all enjoyed the rather different atmosphere of this special island.
In the past it has been the dumping ground of left-wing political prisoners from the time of the Civil War to the Junta and as it was election time it was amazing to see the number of posters up, supporting the KKE (Greek Communist Party). Ikarians also have a reputation for being somewhat laid back and apparently in some of the villages, shops stay closed all day and only open in the evening and for much of the night! Perhaps this relaxed approach to life, in part explains their tendency to live to an extremely old age!
At the end of her week, Phil returned by ferry to Kos and from there to the UK,
while we moved on to the north coat of the island for a few more days on the beautiful and largely deserted beaches there.
Then it was on to Samos where we had rented a studio next to a taverna and very close to a beach on the south coast. A little Greek was attempted
but frankly, we were so laid back by then that it was hard to do anything but drink cocktails
or lie on the beach
but eventually we hired a car for the day and visited ancient Heraion where Hera, wife of Zeus, was supposed to have been born. It is a rather special place and remained an important religious centre from classical times, through the Roman period and even for the Byzantines.
Then we went to Pythagorio, named after Pythagoras who was born there and on our way home bought some items of the rather famous Samos pottery. The island is beautiful and there is more tourism than Ikaria or Fournoi but it is largely unspoilt and Sheila was able to enjoy an early morning walk to a cave, where Pythagoras is alleged to have hid from the tyrant Polycrates, even allowing for the 3 km and three hundred or more steps to get up there!
It was hard to drag ourselves back to Crete but a visit by our daughter Rosie, awaited us in early July and so needs must! Fortunately, she really only wanted to chill out and soak up the sun, so it was not too much of a hardship! Possibly the highlight of her stay was a visit to Stan and Jann’s new house on the hill above Tholos and a swim in their infinity pool. Rosie’s picture was a sensation on facebook!
One sad event darkened what was otherwise a very happy time. My old friend from university days, Vince and his wife Rosy had been intending to visit us at Easter but called off because Vince had become ill. This problem was eventually diagnosed as cancer of the oesophagus and when we returned from the Dodecanese trip, I found out from his brother that Vince was in hospital and had only weeks to live. Suffice it to say that the diagnosis was correct and mid-July found us both on a plane to London for his funeral. Whilst there were happier moments on the trip – seeing friends and family and being able to go to Sarah’s 70th birthday party, overall it was very sad. Vince was a good man, a true friend and I will miss him badly.
To finish on a lighter note, we returned to find everything in order here, the weather fine and sunny and summer festivities in full swing, including a concert in nearby Pachia Ammos by our favourite Greek singer, Γιάνηης Χαρούλης but these will feature in the next Post!