Author Archives: John

Rural ramblings

At the end of June with Greek lessons finally finished for the academic year, Sheila and I set off for two weeks in the UK. At Gatwick we separated, with Sheila taking a flight to Inverness to do her own thing for two weeks and me meeting up with Dave Kendall, an old friend from school days, for ten days in deepest Dorset. Sheila will be writing separately about her time in Scotland and northern England, so what follows is an account of my trip with Dave and a few days at the end in Wivenhoe, Essex with another old friend, Pat Marsden.

Dave had booked us into an AirB&B cottage in the village of Marnhull which is situated more or less in the middle of the Blackmore Vale in North Dorset and which also happens to be the location where his paternal ancestors originated.

It is also just a few miles from the village of Templecombe, over the county boundary in Somerset, where he and I spent our formative years!

So as can be imagined, in addition to a lot of catching up (he lives in Sweden and we don’t see each other that often), there were some trips down memory lane planned as well as a gentle degree of ancestor hunting.

Our cottage was originally the barrell store for an old brewery which closed in 1919 apparently and may well have brewed the ale for the local pub where one of Dave’s ancestors was the publican.

 

This gave us a perfect excuse for an early visit to sample the local brew! However, our first day simply involved a scouting visit to the local Family History Centre in Sherborne to enable us to plan a longer day there, later in the week. The weather was beautiful and in the afternoon we took a walk around the straggling village to get our bearings.

Over the following week or so, we visited a number of churches and abbeys (a particular interest of Dave’s), went sight-seeing to a number of beauty spots both in Dorset and Somerset and checked out the ancestors:

Churches and Abbeys

Dave was very keen to see the now de-consecrated Norman church at Winterborne Tomson so one fine day, we set out on a quest. It took a bit of locating even with a map and directions but find it we did and what a gem! Take a look if you are ever that way, I guarantee that you have rarely seen the like!

Another day we visited the ruins of Shaftesbury Abbey. This must have been a wonderful building before the Dissolution and the hour or so we were there, was one of the highlights of my trip. It was just so peaceful. Later we saw Muchelney Abbey in Somerset and again, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the location. Here you can see my contemplative but scary Benedictine friend:

Hitherto, I had always thought that breaking the power of the Church was, on the whole, a good thing but having now seen what at least two of these buildings would have looked like, I now have to admit that we lost so much of our heritage to Henry’s greed and sheer vandalism.

Sherborne Abbey was saved from his avarice by being purchased for use as the parish church by the townspeople, with the monastic buildings eventually becoming Sherborne School.

Beauty spots

For old time;s sake, we decided on a visit to Swanage on the Dorset coast and had the obligatory paddle to prove to Sheila that the weather in the West Country really was much better than Scotland!

Then it was off for a pub lunch before we went to Durdle Door

and then to Portland Bill for a breezy selfie!

Another day, we climbed to the top of Cadbury Castle, a Bronze and Iron Age hill fort, which is thought by many to be the site of King Arthur’s Camelot. Difficult for two old fogeys to make the top and even more difficult to get a photo which does it justice – nice views though and a lovely path up!

And a highlight of the trip was visiting the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum in Dorset.

Steam Railways

One morning we visited the Shillingstone Railway Centre on the old Somerset & Dorset line and whilst there was not much that related to the old S&D (on which my grandfather and uncle were drivers and on which Dave and I used to go to school), we enjoyed the experience and saw some interesting old WW2 steam locos from the US.

And then unexpectedly, we saw a Southern Railway ‘Battle of Britain’ class 4-6-2 at Swanage which brought back happy memories of childhood  trainspotting at Templecombe!

Family History

At the Family History Centre, Dave managed to locate records from our old school dating from the early 1950’s, which fortunately did not include either of us but did have my Dad, who also went to Sexey’s Bruton.

And this was where we lived in Templecombe.

We also visited Almer Church in Dorset where my namesake, John Burt, my 4x great grandfather, married Jane Terrell over 240 years ago and I stood on the spot where he would have taken his wedding vows – quite a moving experience!

We also visited the village where I think said John was born about 1754 – the son of Benjamin Burt and Mary Newman. They were married in Child Okeford Church in 1730.

We had a day in Mells, where I lived as a child and where my parents and sisters are buried, meeting Dave’s brother and his wife for lunch at ‘The Talbot’ just round the corner from where the house where we stayed.

It was a great trip.

Thanks for your company, navigation (in your own inimitable style), general good cheer, all round knowledge of the area and for making the arrangements for the Air B&B, Dave!

We had a very pleasant lunch with Liz Turner in Wiltshire, took the car back to Gatwick and went our separate ways.

After a night in London with James, I spent three days in Wivenhoe with an old friend, Pat Marsden. It was good to spend some time with her, catching up with our lives and on what has been happening in Wivenhoe in my absence.

The weather continued to be generally fine so we managed to take in a number of walks along the river, although we did get stuck in ‘The Black Buoy’ for an extended lunch one day, which was no great hardship as they were serving a very pleasant dark ‘Mild’ which took me back to student days at Keele.

We also had a meal out at a Syrian Vegan restaurant which has opened up recently. I hadn’t realised that it was vegan but have to admit that the platter, of what was in effect a selection of meze, was delicious and very reminiscent of Cretan starters.

Pat also cooked  a number of tasty meals on the occasions when we decided to stay in and continue the long discussions on a complete range of topics, from family history through to community action, gardening, books and films and then back to Wivenhoe ‘characters’. I can’t remember when I have talked so much for so long! Thanks Pat.

Then it was time to return to London, meet up with Sheila and spend one last night with James in Battersea, before we returned to Crete for the summer.

It was a memorable two weeks, with England looking at its best.

John

Can you imagine?

For a variety of reasons, we have found ourselves in recent weeks thinking more about the Minoans. Some might say these mysterious folk who created such a rich and influential civilisation here in Crete over four thousand years ago, are a regular feature in our Blogs. This is true simply because for all sorts of reasons, many of our visitors want to see the sites, famous and otherwise and then often go on to visit the archaeological museum in Heraklion and of course we take the obligatory photos and then dutifully write up the details of their stays, each time we compose the next Post.

However, on this occasion there are other reasons for considering the achievements of the Minoans. One night last week, we were walking back from the taverna after an evening with Chris and Pauline and fuelled no doubt by a small (?) quantity of excellent wine made personally by Yiorgos, we were looking at the stars. It was a cloudless night and as anyone who has been here will know, the sky was simply filled with twinkling stars of all sizes, together with bright planets, none of which we knew the names of.

We climbed onto the roof and marvelled at the cosmos and were reminded both of a failure to spend time using the telescope and of a fundamental lack of knowledge of what was laid out above us. The Minoans and indeed our own Bronze Age ancestors in the UK were not so ignorant as we now know.

On Monday evening we attended a public lecture entitled ‘The Minoans in Time and Space’ in the Conference Centre attached to the Bishop’s Palace in Ierapetra, which formed part of an international conference of astrophyicists who for reasons best known to themselves had chosen our corner of Crete to consider ‘Polarised Emission from Astrophysical Jet’. As light relief presumably, Dr Alex MacGillivray, an archaeologist from the British School in Athens, had been asked to enlighten the attendees on Minoan astral navigation.

Interestingly, we have recently both read a book by Alan Butler which in part deals with similar issues. Butler is an engineer and mathematician who has an interest in both astronomy and archaeology and brings an approach to these subjects which is based on his specialisms. As a result, it seems that he is not popular with mainstream archaeologists but his theories are nevertheless quite interesting to the layman and struck something of a chord with what we were told at the lecture.

Dr MacGillivray’s thesis was that the Minoans who of course were great traders and therefore needed to be good at getting from A to B, based their navigation on the stars which they saw above them in the generally clear Mediterranean skies. Indeed, he believes that they adopted Egyptian methodology in this respect and spent much of his lecture taking us through the thirty-six stars (the decans) on which their calendar system was based. Initially the decans were stars that could be observed to rise at 10-day intervals. The Egyptian calendar had 360 days marked by decan stars rising at 10-day intervals, plus five inter-calculated days. It was an easy step to use the decans for navigational purposes as they moved, one by one, across the heavens.

As you can imagine, much of this was way above our heads (so to speak) but we got the gist and what was really amazing about it was when towards the end he showed an overhead of a diagram of the relevant stars as they appear in the sky for a latitude of between 40 and 50 degrees N. This is it.

Not hugely interesting you might think. However, then up came a copy of the bull-leaping fresco from Knossos. Notice any similarities?

Illustration of Bull-leaping Fresco from the Great Palace at Knossos, Crete

it is hard not to agree with him that the Minoans used the star diagram as the basis for the mural – a rather neat conjunction of art and cosmology!

However, Alan Butler believes that the Minoans adopted a somewhat different approach to navigation based on a calendar of 366 days which was common across much of Bronze Age Europe. He bases his argument on his analysis of the so-called Phaistos Disc.

Whether in the round, it makes much difference whether the Minoans used a calendar of 360 or 366 days, we are of course not in a position to judge but what is clear is that navigation was done by the stars and  for whatever reason, the ancients used the same or similar stars to determine where they were. Further, amazing though it may seem, the ancients whether in Crete, Egypt or Bronze Age Britain not only knew that the Earth was round but had worked out its circumference and as a result were able to divide the distance into manageable units.

In Bronze Age Britain, these units were used to measure out the plans for building stone circles like Stonehenge and all such circles have the same basic measurements. Whilst the ‘megalithic yard’ is different to the Minoan foot, this is only because the Minoans chose a different way to divide the circumference of the Earth, according to Butler.

So, now it’s time to have a good look at some of these stars.

John

Catching up.

Impossible though it seems, we have now been back from our Easter trip to the UK for over two weeks. Good intentions of writing up our visits to Scotland and Cornwall have been lost somewhere along the line, so what follows is a very brief attempt at a catch up and to thank all those who were so kind to us while we were away.

The visit started with a degree of stress because the installation of the new kitchen went to the wire with Manolis, Adonis, Alkis and Michalis all working here during the evening before our departure to get it finished. It meant that we spent the morning of the day we left hurriedly unpacking various boxes of kitchen utensils and shoving the contents into any available space, which included the oven! The result was that when we arrived back here, there was a job to be done before we could get round to actually using any of the new appliances! However, two weeks in and we have just about found where everything is and it is all brilliant and we are very pleased. It is however, just a kitchen so no need to get too excited when there is so much else going on in the world!

We arrived in Edinburgh very early at the beginning of April and took a taxi to Dalgety Bay in Fife where we stayed a few days with Sheila’s brother, catching up with Sheila’s extended family and approving of the progress made by the four great-nephews.

It also gave us a chance to recover from all the kitchen excitement and to note progress on the new Forth Bridge.

Then we moved on to Edinburgh where we stayed with Fiona in Juniper Green and later, Sally and Robert in Currie. It was great to catch up with their news and enjoy their company.

Then we hired a car and went to Kirkcudbright where we used to live, having taken in a visit to some elderly friends of Sheila’s Mum, who live in Glasgow. It has to be said the Kirkcudbright was not looking at its best – the weather having taken a turn for the worse but we enjoyed re-visiting the town and staying with Alasdair and Yvonne, Christine and Mike and Bev and David. Again, it was good to catch up and relax with kind friends. Probably the highlight for Sheila was visiting the tennis club and seeing a number of her old colleagues who made her very welcome and she was particularly pleased at how well the Club is now doing – a fitting tribute to her past endeavours.

We visited our flat (which is now on the market) and did a little cleaning in the hope of stimulating a sale – so far to no avail! We even found time to frequent a few old haunts.

Then we flew to Cornwall where we stayed with Rose in our flat in Newquay and were blessed with some stunning Spring weather for the ten days we were there.

Sheila found time to do a little painting while I did a few odd jobs around the place. Rosie showed us the garden at the hotel where she now works full-time and treated us to a meal in the restaurant there.

It clearly is a good idea to be friends with the chef because we were given at least two extra courses and everyone was so kind and friendly because we were Rosie’s Mum and Dad, so clearly she is both popular and valued!

It was fun spending some time with her and we really enjoyed our stay.

She also took us to see Caerhays Castle grounds, which as stunning, both as regards the floral display but also the setting. Sheila even managed a paddle!

While we were in Cornwall we visited Graham Hilder, late of Mochlos in Crete and one of Sheila’s tennis pals here. He provided a packed programme for us, including a visit to St Ives and a stage to screen performance of ‘Copelia’ from the Sydney Opera House.

I also met up with my old school friend, Terry Larcombe who I had not seen for the best part of fifty years. It was great to see Joe (for such I have always known him), after all the years and to catch up on our lives and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

Then it was time to return to Crete where we found the house in good order and the flowers well-looked after by Maria, in our absence. Since returning, we have had Phil from Bracknell and Liz from the Lake District to stay and Jane from London has just arrived for a week’s walking with friends.

Judging by recent weather (it was 37.7 C the other day in the shade), they may be simply walking into the sea to cool off rather than walking in the hills but we shall see!

Since we have been back, we have also found time to see a tax accountant with a view to considering re-locating to Crete on a more permanent basis. There are some difficult decisions to be made in this respect – none more so than affordable health care but since our recent trip to the UK, we are increasingly of the view that this is something we need to consider seriously.

This is partly a result of the Brexit vote last year but also because each time we visit the UK, we find life in Britain is more and more depressing. Probably the film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ sums up what I mean. While there are of course many and notable exceptions, the generality is that many people don’t seem to care for anyone beyond their immediate family. There seems to be a lack of generosity of spirit, little value put on teachers and health workers and a growing dislike of foreigners.

As I write this, the opinion polls are still pointing to a Tory win at the General Election, a result which I find personally disturbing because it is my generation which seems prepared to vote back a Party bank-rolled by hedge funds and banks, and which cares so little for all that I value in Britain.

The main reason however is more positive. We like living in Greece. We like the people and we approve of the way they value family and community. We feel happy here and whilst there are of course problems, we feel we can deal with them.

We are not sure we want to live in the kind of society on offer from Mrs May – hence the need to look at an alternative which suits us better, at least for as long as the Greeks will allow us to stay. More to follow on this, no doubt!

John

Reflections from Hamburg, Peace and the Portals of Prina

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In her last post, Sheila touched on the destruction of Hamburg during WW2.

During the last week of July 1943, the city was largely destroyed as a result of night raids by the RAF and daytime raids by the USAAF. ‘Operation Gomorrah’ as it was codenamed, claimed the lives of over 42,000 people, many of them killed on the night of July 27 when more than 700 RAF bombers took to the skies and as a result of concentrated bombing inadvertently created a firestorm over the city.

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Wikipedia has a detailed description of exactly what happened if anyone wants the full story.

I mention it because for the two days we were in Hamburg on our recent visit to northern Germany, it was difficult to avoid being reminded of what happened to Germany’s second city. As someone who is interested in history, I wanted to find out more about why this happened and whether it did anything to shorten the war.

The stated reason given at the time by the British authorities was retaliation for the Blitz and the bombing of Coventry but it seems clear that the switch from bombing industrial targets in the Ruhr was actually a change of policy – literally an attempt to shorten the war by breaking the spirit of the civilian population. There is some evidence that had it continued, it might have been successful but for reasons which are not entirely clear, this did not happen to any significant degree, at least not until February 1945 when Dresden was reduced to ruins and an unknown number of people perished.

Sheila and I spent some time while in Hamburg visiting a memorial in the crypt of the ruined church of St Nicholas. It commemorates not just those who died but also those air crews who took part, many of whom suffered severe psychological problems when the full horror became apparent afterwards. It also deals with other cities which suffered aerial destruction, particularly Warsaw. Interestingly, it does not seek to apportion blame but deals with the issues of aerial warfare and civilian population in a reasoned and open manner. However, underlying everything is a feeling that somehow this was divine retribution for Germany having started the war and for the awful treatment of Jews, gays and other minorities.

I was left feeling uneasy about this and decided to re-read ‘Love in the Ruins’ by Harry Leslie Smith which I had first read a couple of years ago. He tells his own story of life as an RAF wireless operator stationed at Hamburg at the end of 1945 and his love affair with a young German woman who would ultimately become his wife. I thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject. It deals with some of the issues raised but in the immediate aftermath of the war, which is probably the best time to consider them. However, it’s also fundamentally a love story and a good read too!

I think it’s easy to moralise at a later date and to reach ‘fireside’ conclusions which are all very well when survival is not at stake but all the same, it is surely worth considering how war is now increasingly waged against civilian populations and how we British, from the time of the Boer War onwards, have had a hand in the development of this unfortunate aspect of modern warfare.

But of perhaps more immediate relevance to our world today, is the fact that the institutions put in place in Europe post WW2 have in the main prevented the scourge of previous generations, ie major European wars and allowed my generation, a virtually unprecedented period of peace. We can only hope that Brexit and the rise of neo-nationalism both in Europe and worldwide, will not endanger this precious legacy.

On a lighter note, we have of course, now returned to Crete after our stay in Germany and the weather since we returned to Kavousi, has been generally warm and sunny, at least by day.

So, the week before last, freed from Greek lessons by the upcoming carnival and greeted by a beautiful spring day, we decided to have a day out and started our tour by visiting Prina, a village in the hills above Istron, which had been recommended by our fellow Cretan blogger, Yvonne Payne.

The village itself is not particularly attractive but has a fine church situated high above,

with a view to die for and an access road, on which you might just do that!

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What struck me most about the village was the wonderful variety of doorways and alleys and being a fan of alliteration, I came up with the last part of my title, which in fact probably sounds better in Greek than in English – οι πόρτες της Πρίνας.

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We had a short stop in Istron for a beer and a pie and then headed for the beach where Sheila had her first swim of 2017. Although it was warm enough to get into my dookers, I decided against a dip having picked up a cold in Athens on the way home from Germany. Nice weather though!

img_20170305_1109361And finally, my flower bed! For quite a while I have been intending to do something about the courtyard/alley in front of our house, here in Kavousi. We don’t own it – no one does apparently but it is a bit of an eyesore. Two of the ‘sheds’ are owned by folk who are no longer with us (according to Maria and Nikos) and although our elderly neighbour, Ευτυχία, occasionally pulls up a few weeds, it is clear to me that she feels that it is really my responsibility! Last year, I did manage to clear an area for my banana plants and this year, when we got back from Hamburg, I set to work on the Bermuda Buttercups, keeping a keen eye out for snakes! I am not a gardener but am pretty pleased with my small flower bed – το μικρό παρτέρι μου – which finally got some bedding plants last week and returning to my main theme, I decided to dedicate it to a peaceful and united Europe.

John

 

January blues and Spring hopes

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We’re just back in Crete after a long trip to the UK. We spent Christmas in London with Graham and Emily and her family.

img_20161225_184233Bruce and Cathy were great hosts and organised a splendid celebration. Unfortunately the wine flowed so copiously that photographic evidence is in short supply. Believe me though – we all had a great day.

Many thanks to them for all their hard work and good company and we look forward to seeing them here in September.

Thanks also to Graham and Emily for hosting Christmas Eve celebrations – especially the mulled wine and to James for the loan of his flat.

While in the London area, we visited any number of friends, who spoilt us rotten with both kindness and hospitality. Many thanks to everyone and especially to those who put us up – you are too numerous to mention but it was great seeing you all!

New Year was spent with cousin Liz in Wiltshire who looked after us in fine style despite being under the weather

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and then we moved on to Cornwall to see Rose and the new flat. We were very pleasantly surprised by how relatively spacious it is (although still quite small in truth!), warm and how much Rose had done already to make it comfortable (see cover photo). We helped out a little by doing a few jobs and supplying one or two extras and had a really good stay.

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Now we’re looking forward to going back in the Spring when hopefully the weather will be better and we can get out on the Coastal Trail and see the flowers.

It was an action packed trip and the following photos may give a feeling for some of things we got up to.

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The baby (Lila) is the first grand-daughter of our good friend Jane. She was born a week before Christmas and Chloe and Felipe could hardly have produced a better present for Grandma!

Conversation flowed with friends and family, although two topics tended to dominate – Brexit and Trump! Perhaps fortunately, we can’t do anything about either but we found few folk in the south-east who seemed enthused or excited about either. From a purely personal perspective, it is an anxious time for those of us who spend considerable amounts of time in Europe, where we expected to be able to come and go as we pleased without fear of visa restrictions or red-tape. Having just listened to the PM talking about ‘controlled rights’ for both EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, I feel no less anxious. We can however only sit back and enjoy the next two years and see how the dice fall. No point worrying! 2016 was the year when I was ‘Mr Positive’ after all. You can ask Sheila what I am for 2017!

On a lighter note, we discovered Uber taxis while we were in London. I know that they are not universally popular but as someone who rarely uses taxis whether in London or elsewhere (mainly because of cost), we were delighted to find out how cheap they were. For example, our journey back to James’ flat on Christmas evening cost only £20 for the three or four mile trip (which by the way we had walked in the morning due to the absence of public transport). Apparently Uber makes a loss and the drivers do not get paid a lot BUT in my view the black cabs drivers shouldn’t complain about loss of business because they only have themselves to blame for being so expensive. And Uber is so easy. Free ad over!

img_20170117_165224We returned to Crete to very cold weather. The previous weekend there had been snow in the village which is unusual and there was decidedly more than a nip in the air when we walked to the car at Heraklion Airport. The car started first time however but the house seemed like the inside of a fridge. It took a couple of days with the wood stove running at full tilt and the aircon working in reverse before we warmed up. Oddly, we were never so cold in the UK! However, out came the ‘long johns’ and the fleecy trousers and all was well.

Previous to the snow, they had had driving rain and storms in Crete but the house was dry when we returned so no problems there and the water will be a relief to the farmers, who were getting worried that it might be another winter without rain.

img_20170113_143727That said, now the weather here is better with blue skies and a feel of Spring in the air. My first bike ride revealed the first Spring flowers and a good crop of red peppers

img_20170117_143959and a walk later in the week gave an even better display (see below).

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So, whilst it would be premature to think that Spring is just around the corner (the woodpile is still going down alarmingly quickly – see photo below), there is

some hope that any January blues will soon be dispelled and normal service here can be resumed.

No specific New Year’s resolutions this time around but we both feel the need to get more involved in what is going on here. There are supposed to be a number of refugees being re-settled in Crete so we thought we might try to find out if there are any organisations involved in this work, where we could lend a hand. Feelers are being put out accordingly.

Sheila started back at her regular weekly tennis session over at Mochlos. The new (and very expensive racket) was in action for the first time. She is too modest to admit that there was any huge improvement but seemed quietly pleased with her performance!

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Greek lessons have re-started, although poor Manolis, our teacher, has just checked in sick so no lesson tomorrow. We intend to make a big effort in the next six months to get off the plateau where we both feel anchored at present. We don’t however have any firm plans about how to achieve this, except hard work and trying to use our Greek at every opportunity. It is coming along but so slowly – σιγά, σιγά.

Last night we went to the cinema in ierapetra. The ‘Premier’ has recently been re-opened after renovation and they were showing ‘La La Land’ in English with Greek sub-titles. It was a really good film and the sub-titles were well done too. We know that because we could read them! Now we just need to persuade the operator to have Tuesday lunchtime movies with soup and a roll at half price! I could become a regular.

We came back intent on taking forward plans for a new kitchen but on reflection, financial concerns relating to the fall in the value of the £ against the € have made us have second thoughts. So in a small way Brexit has hit home here already and our British friends are beginning to show some concern. Falling incomes brought about by the falling pound (down by over 20% since last June) with perhaps more to come must be causing anxiety in British ex-pat circles all over the EU. All those Brexiteers might wish to reflect on this before they book their next foreign holiday. It’s going to cost you all a whole lot lot more and you may also have to look after a lot of elderly folk who can’t continue to live abroad!

Finally, it was my name day while we were away, so Maria, our favourite neighbour made me a cake to celebrate and it tasted as fine as it looks!

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John

Seventy plus One

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It would take quite a lot to better the celebrations which accompanied my ‘coming of age’ in November 2015, so it was with a sense of the underwhelming that I approached my birthday last month! However, I was in for a surprise because Sheila surpassed herself with presents and good wishes and parcels flooded in by every means of communication now known to the human race.

The plan was to spend a few days in Heraklion at a smart new hotel but first we had a Greek lesson to negotiate.

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We bought cakes as is customary here in Crete and headed for Koutsounari only to find that Manolis, our teacher had thoughtfully come prepared (oh the wonders of Facebook!) and so a feast was had by all. I even managed to get off lightly during the lesson so it was not quite the trial that lessons tend to be these days, as Manolis puts we ageing heroes though our paces.

img_20161121_162923So come lunchtime, we were free to set off for Heraklion well stuffed with cream cakes and biscuits and clutching a bottle of bubbly, thoughtfully provided by Shona and Rich. The hotel was certainly new and smart but as we were to find out, not without its idiosyncrasies. However, to start with we sat on the balcony in hazy sunshine overlooking a small tree-lined park which in turn was surrounded on three sides by tavernas and restaurants. The champagne was by now well-chilled and life felt good, even at seventy-one. Golly Moses, am I really that age?

One of the great delights for of a ‘city break’ living as we do in a small and very rural village, is the thought that we might be able to go to the cinema! It was therefore a huge surprise to find that ‘I, Daniel Blake’ was showing in Heraklion and moreover that the cinema was literally only the proverbial stone’s throw away from the hotel.

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So, oiled by the bubbly, we put off the slap-up meal to the following night and headed off for a quick burger and chips and thence to the screen on the scene!

img_20161121_174703Now, I will admit that the choice of film was not ideal for a birthday treat but needs must and although an excellent film, it was hardly a bundle of laughs. Ιn fact, we both emerged from the cinema angry with those who have changed the benefit system allowing it to be manipulated in this way and saddened for those who have to depend upon it.

I urge anyone who has not seen it, to make it a priority.

We had two main items on our sight-seeing agenda and the following morning saw us taking in one of them – the Minoan Palace at Knossos – the home of the fabled Minotaur, which is situated just a few kilometres south of Heraklion. We had been before but it was a cold and wet wintry day and our memories are dominated by the weather. November 22nd 2016 was however warm and sunny and full of enthusiasm, we took the advice of friends and lashed out on the services of a guide.

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Now it has to be said that the jury remains out on whether this was entirely, a sound decision! Άρης, for such he was called certainly took us to parts of the palace that we might not otherwise have appreciated the importance thereof and we are now well acquainted with the finer aspects of Minoan air-conditioning, heating and drainage systems.

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However, we did not really get much more information on the basic facts relating to the Minoans that we might otherwise have gleaned from a guidebook and indeed, certain ‘facts’ were of dubious provenance.

img_20161122_125258I should explain that we are well-aware of the tendency of the modern ‘tourist industry; here in Crete to embellish and exaggerate somewhat, our knowledge of the Minoans to the extent that they are credited with being single-handedly responsible for much of subsequent human development. Now it is without doubt true that their’s was a sophisticated civilisation and that they contributed much to the arts and development of science.

However, when the redoubtable Άρης claimed that descendants of the Minoans in Crete were responsible for the Renaissance in Italy, I found it hard to believe him! A later check with our art historian neighbour proved that my doubts were more than justified.

img_20161122_125938Even so, we had an enjoyable time at Knossos and I would recommend a trip to anyone visiting Crete, although that said, the palace at Phaistos remains my favourite.

Of course a beer was called for after all this activity, so we repaired to the adjoining taverna and and slaked our thirst!.

We then returned to the hotel – me for a rest and Sheila to go out shopping. In the evening, we had our delayed slap-up meal at a favourite haunt and it lived up to expectations. Greek taverna food can be somewhat limited – someone once said that there are only ten or so basic recipes – so it is always good to go to a restaurant where the menu is slightly more adventurous, even if the place was a little pretentious.

The following day we went to the archaeological museum. Again, we had been before but having now visited most of the major sites in Eastern Crete, the exhibits were of added interest as we knew where they had come from. Some of the jewellery is absolutely breathtaking in its design and construction and although museums are not my strong point given the amount of standing around, it was an amazing morning and we both really enjoyed it.

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Then we went for a walk along part of the old Venetian city walls – still amazingly intact which was an unexpected treat.

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On one of the bastions (fortified strong points for those of you not well-versed in military matters) are to be found the graves of Nikos Kazantzakis and his wife. Kazantzakis is one of Crete’s most famous authors, perhaps best known in the West for ‘Zorba the Greek’.

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Our late morning walk was followed by an even later lunch of beer and a Greek salad in the city market.

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Then it was more shopping and supper in a fish restaurant near the harbour, where we literally bit off more than we could chew!.

The following day, we bought a new laptop to replace our old one which had just ‘died’ and then, on our way home, we visited the site of a Minoan port just outside the city. This was an Άρης recommendation but we probably needed him there to it justice. However, it was a pleasant setting even though it was hard to imagine that it was ever a thriving port! Oh dear, Minoan hunting can sometimes be disappointing!

And finally, as they say, we got out our bikes for a spot of exercise and found ourselves at the beach on the most beautiful of November afternoons.

The sea was so quiet and the colour of the water, just amazing.

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One of life’s little unexpected pleasures here in Paradise!

John