I’ve been lax in my blogging of late, two weeks in sunny Crete took me away from the computer and then the hundreds of photos I took there rather overwhelmed me, to the point of ‘where the hell do I start’. Well I decided just to grab a selection and give you a wee travel post today and do more snaps and a recipe or two later on.
I automatically smile when I see the above image of Agia Galini, the tiny fishing village in the south-west of Crete has been a home-from-home to us four times now. We came here twenty-one years ago for our honeymoon, then three years later and another fours after that when we brought Idgy as a little girl. Now roll on a whopping fourteen years and we are back. Older, maybe even wiser (tho’ I doubt it) and with a seventeen year old in tow.
I love Crete and the Greek islands in general. Oh so many years ago when I worked here I fell in love with the landscape, the people, the sunshine and the food. I was thrilled and amazed to find that our little village had hardly changed in the fourteen years we have deserted her. The same shop owners remembered us with open arms, our favourite tavernas and bars were just the same. Thankfully time had stood still in this remote part of Crete. There were no huge tour companies packing the tiny car-free streets with jostling tourists, just those dedicated souls who seek out the quieter side of life and aim to avoid the crowds.
It was just like coming home.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, and like the rest of that great country it is steeped in history and archeological gems. The most famous in Crete being the Minoan palace of Knossos which stands in ruined splendour on a hillside just moments out of the bustling city of Iraklion. Discovered and partially restored by the Englishman Arthur Evans it allows us in the modern world to take a glimpse into the long buried past.
Anyone who has even a smattering knowledge of Greek mythology will have heard of King Minos and the story of the Minotour and the famed labyrinth that is Knossos and how Thesius used a ball of twine (known as a Clue – hence the saying we now have of not having a clue when we are confused or lost) to escape his evil clutches. Even the name of this very place, Knossos comes from the word knowledge meaning learning.
In this sacred place knowledge was carefully guarded and learning was not to be passed on to the masses. Icarus and his father Daedalus dared to try to escape with the knowledge and made it to Agia Galini where they made their fateful flight with wax wings.
Knossos is a must-see place, it sizzles in the heat and the very ground under one’s feet is heavy with history going back thousands of years.
Idgy loves Greek mythology and history and I was so keen to show her what my beloved Crete has to offer. This is Phestos, a wonderful archeological site set high on a hilltop just a few kilometers from our village. While not as instantly impressive as Knossos, it is an excellent example of Minoan palatial splendour. Far less crowded than it’s more popular cousin this means that Phestos is somewhere one can linger, sit on an old wooden bench under an olive tree and let one’s mind wander to times gone by.
There have been many important finds here, including the Phestos disc, an amazing piece of stone engraving that has never been translated.
Nearby is Gortys which has been inhabited since Neolithic times and most famously was the capital of the island when the Romans ruled in the 1st century BC. Statues still stand amid the ruins and broken pillars lie unheeded among the olive groves. There is a calm peacefulness to the place with only the sound of the ever-present cicadas and your own footsteps on the dusty earth.
Drifting down to the sea you find the small fishing village of Matala which is famous for its multitude of caves cut out of the cliffs. These have been used since prehistoric times, first as living spaces and then in Roman times as burial tombs. More recently in the 1960s and 70s they became homes again, this time to hippies who enjoyed the carefree lifestyle and endless sunshine.
Nowadays they are empty save for the tourists like us who come each day to climb among them and marvel at history of the place and how people could live there, while at the same time marvelling at the crystal clear waters and the amazing views these mini des-res properties enjoyed.
This is the delightful city of Rethymnon on the north-west coast of the island. With it’s pretty harbour lined with tavernas and bars and the exciting Old Town which is like a labyrinth itself with all those tiny winding streets no wider than two metres in some cases, it is the perfect place to spend a morning admiring the little shops and then settle down in one of the tavernas to enjoy a leisurely lunch or an ice-cold frappe.
Every corner and doorway seems to pull you in to find another treasure. A tiny courtyard here, ancient gateways and a secret gardens there. An artist paints on one corner and tells you the best places to get great views.
Driving back over the mountains to the south of the island we stop to admire the amazing views and breathe in the heady scent of the wild thyme and sage that cover the landscape. There is still snow on Mt Ida even though it is over 30 degrees at lower levels.
This is just a little sampler of Crete, a few places I enjoyed revisiting and showing off to my daughter. I still have lots more photos to share if you’d like to see them and some tasty recipes too of course.