Who of us got the idea to go to Crete - I don't know, may be it was the catalogue of Neckermann Reisen. And because we know nothing of this largest island of Greek but have seen Mallorca twice and Rhodos once we choose Crete for this year. A glance at the catalogue states the target more precisely: don't go to the north coast, there are the touristic places like pearls on a string. In the south we find a town with the odd name Ierapetra, you can find out moreover, that this is the most southern town of Europe!
Near Ierapetra a small Hotel named Coriva Beach is offered and the pictures look promising. No problems at the travel agency, we got the accomodation and the flight, so I can learn by heart the shape of the mountain behind the hotel from the catalogue picture. Moreover we learn striking phrases like Knossos, Festos, Samaria Gorge, Lasithi Plateau etc.
Another funny story: two friends of us (Heidi and Peter) get to know from us and we from them that they just have booked for the same period and the same flight for Crete. Another couple of our friends will spend their vacancies there just some time later, so a later Evening a'la Crete is in sight.
Let us start. Because we are four persons it is conveniant to hire a taxi to the airport. The flight starts at 6 am, the arrival is 10 am, the clock must be set to one hour later. We discuss, calculate and finally come to an agreement, that the flight will last three hours. This time I get a nice seat at the window, though the view towards east against the sun is not so good. The Danube winds its way far down, we see the Lake of Balaton, where we once were by bike and had to spend more time to get there than today. Later we pass Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe. You see deserted mountain land, pathes winding through the hills like strings, a lake with the reflecting sun now and then. No glance of the name of those geopgraphic places below, but then a snow covered mountain comes up and this is the Olymp. Atheen looks like a desert filled with stones. The highlight is the view on Santorin, the fragment of a volcano catastrophe 3000 years ago, which had consequences for Crete as well as for the complete Mediterranian region. At Crete there was a gigantic wave of 200 m height which destroyed the Minoan culture.
Meanwhile we approach the snow covered Crete mountains and before the landing permission is given the plane passes the outer island Dia some times. In the hall of the airport in Herakleon it's now up to the newcomer to get some Greek currency. There is a counter of a bank were one can change money by an Eurocheque. To make things easier they have glued a sample cheque to the window and written the amount of money: DRS 5.000 and Fourtyfivethousand is to be filled out. Fortunately they have not written a name and the date, for someone could be misleaded to copy this too.
We say farewell to Heidi and Peter who go off into the other direction (west). We go to our bus, change some warm clothing to looser fittings and soon the service maid from Neckermann appears. She says:
"Imagine fresh pressed orange juice,
the oranges ripen all over the island just now,
you have choosen the most beautiful period for your journey,
welcome at our Island of the Sun!"
Let us argue, at what time she would not speak of the most beautiful period and let us argue if you would find an Island of the Sun anywhere else in the Mediterranian Sea...
The bus starts into the bright sunshine, we will have two hours to go and hope to see this and that on the transfer. At first the landscape does not look so fine, it looks rather deserted and dry. There are no woods, for these were removed by the Venice and Turk periods in former times. But the sea is deep blue and various hotel arrangements take their advantage from this fact. The guests gradually diminish. The route turns inland through the mountains and a tunnel near Neapolis. The oleander bushes start to bloom, moreover we are able to distinguish between pine-, olive-, tonsil-, fig, or even eukalyptus-trees. And we get to be astonished more and more. e.g. by the rotten ruins of some wind wheels, which were used to rise the waters from wells and cisterns formerly. Today the pumps are engine driven and the romantic has gone. Sometimes you see a wind wheel at a restaurant, but then this is mere decoration.
We reach the town Agios Nikolaos at the Gulf of Mirabello. This area really looks nice and another bunch of guests swarms off towards their hotels. And from now on we enjoy one of the most picturesque parts of Crete at the coast of the Bay of Mirabello. Ahead one can see the Sitia mountains. Not far from the junction towards Ierapetra there is a labyrinth of antic base walls at the slope - let us see later, what's about this.
At this part Crete has the smallest distance between north- and south-coast, about 15 km. We pass olive groves and at the left we see a jagged gorge as if an axe has been driven into the rocks. Let us see later again.
At Ierapetra the last guests leave the bus at the Club Petramare. This is surrounded by big walls to prevent onlookers from peeping into the "All-Inclusive" madness. Finally an older couple of Hannover and we remain in the bus.
As we come around the last bend of the coastal road I recognize the mountain of the catalogue, and there we are: Coriva Beach. And really, we fall into happiness as we see our room with a terrace. All of the furniture is made by stone walls, so the sperated beds - and they cannot be moved together (the only disadvantage)...
Soon we have unpacked and changed to summer cloths to start the first walk. The Coriva Beach is built of small apartment houses with wrinkled paths and pretty flowers, rubber trees and cypresses for shadow. There is a meadow under olive trees and the path to the beach is bordered by deep red blooming oleander bushes. The "beach" is made of grey gravel. There are roofs of straw for shadow and beneath the coffee-brown guests roll on their diwans.
We stay apart not to be outed as newcomers with our milky coloured skin. But we make a fatal mistake as we head to the sea bare-footed. After some steps we increase our speed, there is a hellish burning under the bottoms of the feet and we breath out as we reach the water. Of course the coffee-brown guests have watched our jumpings with amusement. At once you see, that everyone uses sandals to walk over the hot gravel. But we have left them up above at the path, so we must jump back again, but with wet feet it is not quite as hard. (And guess, what we will do in the future: observe newcomers hurrying barefoot over the gravel...).
In the beach-restaurant we sit down for a snack. Heidi orders some usual Hamburgers and I dare to purchase a fishplate "Saehrr guttt!" as the host declares. And the plate contains 4 different kinds of fish, which I even do not know, I just try: yellow gurnard (roter knurrhahn), sardines, barbel, shrimps and calamares. Except the fish bones nothing is left.
We have a rest then at the meadow under the olive trees. They did not mow the meadow, so it is pretty green of weeds (Unkraut) as stinging-nettle, trefoil or sonchus but mallows too. A big bumble-bee sums around but can be hold on distance by the sun-oil from the supermarket at home.
We find two local supermarkets near the hotel, so the consumption of a bottle of Cretan vine in the evening at the terrace is ensured. But there is the evening buffet before and we are very content. It is not always clear, what kind of dish is offered, but of course we do not want to consume our usual food like at home.
After dinner it soon gets dark and this very fast because we are so far at the south (the sun runs steep). We end at our terrace and watch two lizards at the wall, a larger and smaller one, "mother and child" as Heidi says.
Market Day at Ierapetra
The breakfast buffet is not so impressive (as usual in Greek). The poor variety of sausage and cheese must be completed by some tomatoes and olives. We then want to go to Ierapetra by bus. At this opportunity we learn the name of the village where we are: Koutsounari. The bus punctually departs 10 minutes too early and is jammed. At the next station a couple piles in - he is corpulent, she is fat, and we hardly succeed to queeze a free place. We now come to know that there is market day at Ierapetra, and this the cause why the bus is so crowded.
The bus station at Ierapetra looks somewhat oriental (this is to be read in any travel guide). This impression must come from the dust, the confusion in the office, the dented cardboard tied by strings waiting for transport.
We look for the market area, which is not in the center of the town, but at the end of the row of shopping-bag bearing people. One man only bears baskets, a walking basket-shop. In a cage at the pavement young chickens beep. Women clothed in black clothes sell and buy vegetables and food. A fish seller fawns for the flies with his bare hands. His fish is placed on the loading floor of his pickup. The atmosphere is very natural and not yet influenced by tourism. The local folks come from the smaller villages around and buy their supplies for the next week.
We buy a big bag of oranges, very cheap. They even offer
come from Crete. Moreover you can have (my dictionary runs hot):
Lemons, apples, pears, cheese, onions, garlic, allium, spices, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, mispelfruits, artichokes, pistachios, peanuts, roasted chickpeas, products which we do not know at all.
At the upper end of the market-lane the products change to
leather products (the dictionary runs hotter):
Shoes, handbags, belts, bath-towels, manual work as crochet table cloths, carpets, heading cloths, neck kerchiefs, bosom cloths, plastic flowers etc.
A highlight are the the law boards of the ten requirements made of plastic. We buy a pair of sandals for Heidi, so that she can get her way on the hot gravel beach.
The people are easy to differentiate to tourists and inhabitants. It is not the baseball cap, which is worn by the locals as well, but shorts, bermudas, coloured shirts and painfully wedged bellies. Can someone tell us, why the local women are mainly closed in black as well as in other hot regions in spite of the heat?
From the market we turn to the promenade at the seaside. At the upper end of the promenade there is the harbour. Long the esplanade many restaurants under canvas with comfortable chairs invite to have a look to the island of Krissi in the Lybian Sea. And if you hesitate, soon an advertising guy will come close to you: "Hello, give me your hand, where are you from, come in for a moment" or more polyglott: "Une Cafe, one Espresso, bitteschön, no Problem". So you often have to ignore this and turn away.
At the harbour there is a Venecian castell. The fisher boats look nice with their yellow nets. Nearby we find the wrinkled old town quarter. And finally come back to the bus station.
In the afternoon we relax, use our sandals on the hot gravel and swim in the sea - and what is this? Yes, the holidays have begun. Later in the afternoon the usual receiption date is stated. A couple of slightly burnt guests assemble at the hotel hall. This time the first sentence of the service maid is: "You soon will get something to drink". And what do we drink ? Sure, fresh pressed orange juice! Or is it the dull stuff from the tap? So now we hear about the highlights of Crete as there are: Knossos, Lasithi, Eastern Crete, Spinalonga, Samaria Gorge, Jeepsafari and Santorini Cruise. But the tours are expensive and we will better plan on our own.
In the evening we hear as somenone tells about the Samaria-tour. The Samaria with its 16 km length is the longest gorge in Europe. The begin is high up in the white mountains of the Chania district. To get there they had to start at midnight. And you are back the next midnight. The real walk lasts 4 hours. The rest is transport time. On the other hand the visitors of the Samaria somehow have an inner glow in their eyes. May be its really fascinating. But may be we return to a better location of Crete in our later life - and then let's think about it.
Some other tours are cheaper to be made by bus or hired car, as we will see. And the Jeep Safari? - I have my own ideas...
Let's have a lazy day, the sky is blue and the sun is hot, so
to lie in the shadow and to swim. At some time we remember that it is
(Pfingsten) today. Highlight of the afternoon is an unidentifyable
object which runs an attack on Heidi. It is a insect long as a cigar
an entanglement of legs hanging down during the flight. But within
the insect disappears again and now we can argue about this miracle.
We agree to the title "Stabzikade". (And if you inquire with a search engine for "Stabzikade" you will find one single document, and that is this).
In the evening we walk to the two super markets, where on can buy not only vine but newspapers, postcards, and books. We have enough books with us, but now we detect three booklets which will be a very interesting lecture during the next days. The first book - of course - is Nikos Kazantzakis, Alexis Sorbas. The movie of this novel is best known worldwide, but did anyone read the book? And here you can lie under your sun shelter, read and peer to the coast, where the real action takes place.
The second book is Hans Einsle, Die Nachtbäume von Kreta (in German). A story is told of a German archaeologist who spends 6 months at Crete, but he had shared in the battle of Crete at 1941 and now he will be confronted with the past.
The third book is David MacNeil Doren, Winds of Crete. It tells the story of a young couple which lived at Crete for 6 years during the 60s. May be you will not find everything of those days today, for the tourism has changed so much. But you may dream of an original Crete...
The next theme is mobility. A car can be hired at every
corner. To hire
a bike is more difficult. We have heard how the bike excursions at the
"All-Inclusive_Clubs" are performed: they drive up the mountains with a
jeep and load off the bikes there, and then the sportive cyclists can
a speedy downhill. Two houses from our hotel I detect 4 moutainbikes
at a wall, 2000 Drms the day.
Today we want to ride the 50 km to the town of Sitia by bus and the tour will last about one hour. Many schoolchildren use this bus too but leave at the next village Ferma. The school, a tarmac basketball field and a church are combined to a consistent institution there. The road leads at the south coast towards the east first and then turns north into the mountains to cross the island.
The busdriver prefers a turbulent driving style so someone is fumbling around with handkerchiefs and plastic bag. But we sit in a sufficient distance. If you look outside you forget all unpleasant things. As higher up one gets the more copious the vegetation grows for up here they have more water for irrigation and the climate is less hot. At the slopes of the hills there are olive groves, fields of artichockes, vine terraces and original mountain villages. The highest location is at Lithines which is placed picturesque at the top of a hill.
Soon we see the sea at the north coast ahead and then reach the town of Sitia. At first we have to attend some official duties as to get money from the bank and to buy (hot gravel) sandals for me. In the shopping lane we meet a cyclist-couple with panniers. I am interested and ask them, what kind of cycle tour they perform. They come from Zuerich/Switzerland and have started at Herakleon one week ago. Accomodation is no problem near the coast. And during the hottest period of the day one always finds an olive tree to lie in the shadow. "Happy journey" and we stroll towards the Venecian Castell.
Sitia is built on a slope so nice stairs lead up to the castell. But it is deserted, everything closed and nothing to be seen. We look for the church combined with a shool and a tarmac basketball field as well. We find the door closed and we turn off as we hear a crie "Hello" from another open door. An assistant looks hopefully at us and we offer some coins to him. We get two small candles in turn which we can lighten at the other candles sticking in a shell filled with sand. "Now we are engaged" I say to my wife (our youngest daughter just ends her high school graduation...).
We go down again, buy some oranges and bananas and sit in a cafe for a cappuccino. Some final words to Sitia: the town of Sitia is not historic but has some atmosphere by it's houses which look like a heap of matchboxes.
Back at the bus station I purchase two tickets for Koutsouras and wonder why the tickets back are cheaper. A glance on the map: the name of our village is Koutsunari! May be the conductor will not realize this...
We sit at the very front of the bus so we can look out of the front shield. As I just try to shoot a photograpy of the village Lithines the bus driver kindly slows down the speed. A first decent prove of the Cretan hospitality. But the conductor is attentive and we have to pay the rest for the route Koutsouras to Koutsunari.
Today we choose a seat at the gravel beach. You must pay for it and the conductor is Stefanos, who appears at about noon. But if someone is just absent from his place to swim or to sit in the restaurant, Stefanos turns a blind eye and accepts the guests taxe free. But it is not quite fair to take an advantage of it.
While we have enough stuff to read, sit in the sun or in the shadow or go for a swim, there is nothing else to report of our activities. But at the neighboured club "All inclusive" there is much activity all over the day. At 10 am they start with water skiing and you can distinguish between dilettantes falling into the water all the time and experts swinging in wide courses or turn around in the air. Meanwhile the surfers are busy to climb steadily back on their board and wind up the sailing entanglement. At best they success in "Stand upright at wind stagnation". But soon they get tired and must walk back to the club pulling their board behind.
A blond Dutch boy is the animator and conducts his victims from the beach. When he enters a surf board he proves to be an artist. Moreover some canoes and siling boats navigate around and when one of it overturns there is something to be seen again. In the afternoon you hear the distant disco music. Games (Bingo or Quiz) are organised, you hear whistles and incentive shouts. Another water attraction is the yellow rubber banana which is drawn over the sea in a high speed. The driver of the boats tries to tun over the banana by sharp bends. And the grown-up passengers yell like madmen. But sometimes the banana glides softly through the waves: then the mamas are invited.
Once in our holiday we have walked over to the club to take a glance inside. There are various pools and diwans with a "criscross" (Zieharmonika) mechanic for the sun shelters. At the quiz they just have asked for the Bulgarian banner. At the mountain bike fraction they clean, oil, polish and maintain the high tech bikes for the next go-up-by-jeep-downhill-by-bike attraction.
We return to our place with the sun shelter built of blue painted garden hose. Later I start to prepare for tomorrow and get the hired bike from the neighboured rent shop. The woman there is German (I will tell her story later). She asks "Where will you go with the bike?" "Up the mountains to visit some villages" "OK, it's beautiful up there but mostly gravel roads".
Seven Mountain Villages
The great day has come and I start at 6 pm. Heidi opens one eye and murmurs something of failing brakes, but I don't care, you always will come down... Sure, I am a little bit excited, but this feeling is gone when you start. This day I will sweat, get lost, push uphill, push downhill, hop on gravel - and no one will intervene: that is freedom. But I must be careful not to get a heat stroke and too less drinking, I have 1.5 L lemonade and some snacks with me.
I run down one km to the junction towards Agios Ioannis, a small village at the end of a valley built like the nest of a swallow. We have seen this village far above during a walk at the coast. I start to push the bike, and this very slowly not to run out of power too early. When it turns flat one can ride again and soon the last houses of Koutsounari lie behind. The village is 9 km ahead. The road winds its course along the slopes and is nearly flat. The crossing valleys are surrounded, no traffic at all. Sometimes a sound in the bushes. But when inspected, it turns out to be a leaky black waterhose by which the water is lead from the reservoirs to the fields. It seems they have utilized every spring and rill to collect the water for the olive groves.
After one hour near Ag. Joannis I overtake 2 hikers. "He should order the coffee already" I hear them chat. I say "Good morning" and then must mobilize all of my strength for the street gets steeper and I am not allowed to push in sight of the two hikers. After the next bend I jump off the bike. When I reach the village the hikers come around the corner already.
Now the sun rises and the village gradually lights up. To make a nice photo I climb up a wall. I have missed to take the dogs into account. Fortunately they are on chains, but they bark as loud as possible so early in the morning. I fear to make the whole village awake and hurry on. But after a more thorough inspection the village seems to be a ghost town. Many houses are not inhabited and turn to become ruins. The village roads are stairs, so I resign from more research and ride on.
Now the road is gravel. And then I see what I had hoped for: an old bearded local on a donkey. I overtake him (them), "Kalimera!" and after 50 m jump off the bike, gasp at my camera and just am fast enough to shoot the photo.The donkeyrider gives no reaction and turns to a rocky path, but this picture will accompany me for years (and the internet readers).
The road leads steep downhill. So the ascent before was in vain. At various spots the road forks and it is convenient to read the trace of the tire profiles. We cross a small george and then go uphill again. At the slope a black suited woman scratches among the plants. And there is a technical monument: they have converted a disused lorry veteran to a gravel mill. From now on the pines are black cripples, victims of a forest fire. If you read about it in the news, how many hectares and so on, it is not so impressive as to watch the dead trees as individuals, which have needed many years to queeze their roots into the smallest crevice. And then they have burnt for minutes...
Meanwhile I have reached the next village but I don't know where I am. An old woman looks out of a door and at once disappears again. I feel like an inquisitive invader - this is no zoo. But what about the proverbial hospitality? Argue about it! In former times all people were poor and just had enough to live. So they helped each other. And up here things have not changed - they are still poor. But down at the coast the big money is made. So I believe the people have become shy. In this village as well many houses are deserted. I step down the stairs made for donkeys.
Finally there is a signpost showing the funny name of the place: Skinokapsala. And that's just where I wanted to go. The next stage is more simple. A wide tarmac road leads up a jagged valley. Many of the black water pipes again. I argue about the ecological aspects again. Isn't it better to utilize all the water than to let them run into the sea? Sure, but the "natural" wet spots cannot survive, ask the frogs. It's not to me to judge about those things - the local people have to live here.
I head for the next village named Orino. Among the black tree corpses a colorful floral carpet has spread out. Bell flowers, popies and finally a field of spotted orchids. Then a pickup comes along as I just continue to push up a slope. The pickup stops, the side window is dropped and the driver asks "How you feel, where you go?" I say "Orino and the way on". "Keep right, good time" so this was another nice experience. I walk up the last meters to the village.
Time to look at the sun. This shines nearly vertical from above but I do not suffer from anything, no thurst, heat or exhaustion. The 1.5 L lemonade soon will be emptied.
The village of Orino lies at the upper part of a valley. At the slopes they have built terraces. Up above the village there is a mighty hill covered with the yellow furze bushes. You can imagine that the life up above here has not so much changed its characteristics. may be the numorous pickups are new though they don't look like this. Sometimes you see some goats back on the loading area and they seem to enjoy this. The pickup is the technical successor of the donkey where the paths allow the use of a vehicle. And at the backside you can read the name of the manufacturer in large letters: Honda, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, or Subaru. It looks as if the European motor industry has missed an attractive market.
There is another story about Orino. Some weeks later back at home I had a look into a guide of Crete at a bookshop. And I found a certain remark, that if you come to Orino in the late May at noon you could admire thousands of butterflies in the "Butterfly Gorge". And I sit there just at this time and think of pickups...
Now we go on, zigzagging up again to a pass. And if you reach the summit it is difficult to decide where to go. You can choose a path at the slope of the high valley or apruptyl run down again, zigzagging as well. No sign but a village deep below. So I run down but soon the fingers and ankles hurt from the brakes. And sometimes the path is washed out, too steep or roughly paved that you have to walk even downhill, you may spell this "downstairs" as well.
Finally we reach the valley and burst in just amidst the central place under the shade of a large sycamore tree. Some old fellows sit, drink and play cards. Some other individuums sit around, just as busy. You feel to have been run just into the private living room of someone. There is a shop and I can complete my drinking supplies. The name of this village sounds like music again: Stavrohori, this means I am at schedule.
But then i miss a fork to a gravel path, stay at the tarmac road and so enjoy to come to the place Lapithos. But the road furtheron would lead to the northern part of the island, so I must go back and push up the steep gravel path. But then you can ride again among olive trees and cisterns, a wide view to the coast, where the sea and the sky gradually merge.
The next village is Agios Stefanos and there is a road back to the coast. But its much time yet and I can continue to Pefki. High above to the left on a peak there is chapel. I wonder how to get there. Now there is a beautiful way down, a brand new tarmac road and this may be unknown until now. So I can fly and must overcome to shoot a photo of a strange rocky goatshed or a nice view to the coast.
Back down at the sea level there are 20 km to go back with a slight headwind which cools down a little bit. At 3 pm I am back again, 60 km in 9 hours and more than 1000 m of height difference. I am content - be sure that this was one of the most impressive cycle days of my life - but I promise to my wife, that this was enough for the rest of these holidays.
It's just time to wipe off the last sweat out of the corners
eye as there two known individuals look around the corner: Heidi and
They have hired a car and are more mobile than we. We success to get an
additional room for the night at the hotel so we can prepare for a
evening at our terrace. But first we have to inspect the supermarket -
guess why. And after dinner we enlarge the romantic atmosphere of
stars and half moon by some candles as you use them to warm up the tea.
But there was no tea in our cups...
Some Lazy Days
You cannot swarm out on every day when the weather is fine, the beach so comfortable and the books to read so amusing. I got another problem with my eye-glasses when I try to snorkel. At first I have no snorkel but one can stop to breathe. At second I have no diver eyeglasses, for they cannot be put over the bow of the usual eye-glass. I therefore have brought along swim-glasses with lenses made for short-sighted persons. There are so nice rocks and plants below the sea surface, let's explore if there are sea urchins too.
The first view is wonderfull, swarms of small fishes glide along and the ground and surrounding seems to be as near as the length of the arm. But then you must breathe and the second view is dull and the eyes start to burn. Of course the swim-glasses are full of water. And the further experiments turn out with the same result. And I get the laughter. (Of course someone had the advice to use contact lenses, but I have never tried it).
So something more is to be seen ashore. The couple from Hannover which arrived with us has a strange swimming practise. They look for a place at an outstanding cliff and then stand there with raised arms and the face towards the sun. Or they do some gymnastic exercises. So they will avoid the white skin at the inner side of their arms which one gets by the permanent reading activities.
Then there is a blond full bosomed young lady, who prefers to show herself at dinner time in most favourable clothes emphasizing her attractions. Now at the beach she plashes at the water or paddles on her air mattress, and when she falls off the mattress she yells like a little girl. She is admired by a middleaged individuum with a full beard, a boatsman's cap, red shirt and green waistcoat. He carries a book with him titled "The Monk".
Another girl of our hotel is black haired and has a very brown skin. But if one stands besides her, you must bend your neck to see her upper end. So we call her "The brown Tank".
Our conductor Stefanos comes up to collect the money for the sun shelter. He seems to be well mooded today for he only charges 1000 Drms instead of the usual 1400. "You understand, chief no control, no problem" he twinkles. We understand. But at the other days we payed 1500 in fact to purchase a little tip and so the total billance is even.
The weather is the same each day concerning the blue sky. But the winds change and sometimes the wind is so gusty that you better look for a calm place at the pool. Once I saw a small windhose sucking some gravel and disappearing to the landside. At those days the "All Inclusive Club" is less active too and the surf course "Stand upright at wind stagnation" cannot be absolved. Who dares to try a run in spite of the wind conditions mostly has to return wandering.
At the super market there is a 24 hours foto service. When a film is completed one can bring the film to the service and get the pictures in the afternoon of the next day. So at the end of our holidays we have all of our pictures at hand.
But you cannot spend all the time at the beach in correspondence to such a wonderful island. So we look for a car and have a visit to Jiannis near to our hotel where I hired the bike some days before. We ask the blond woman for her perfect German and hear her story. Rosi has come from Nürnberg and got to know Jiannis at about 1980. They met again during various holidays and some years long there was a gap. At the early 90s they said: "You are alone and me too, so let's do something". So Rosi left all her belongings at home and moved to Crete. The business is not easy and some seasons are hard. But it is OK and the result of all this goes to school already and jaust suffers from mumps.
We hire a car for three days and choose Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Saturday we visit the market at Ierapetra once more. At the main road we enter a cheque machine to get some money by Eurocard. Some persons are waiting already. The first couple has to leave off without success, may be their bank account is not sufficient. The next people already hear the rustle of the banknotes as a bunch of kids comes around the corner and excited stares at the automat. But we hear our inner alarm, it would be easy for the kids to perform a quick grasp and then disappear around the next corner. We only say "Police" and this helps, the kids prefer to run away and things go on without problems.
At the market we see two original figures but do not dare to take a photo. A poor woman and a man with open shirt showing his scarred breast. Perhaps a hero involved in a blood-revenge affair? We have read about this custom usual at Crete from former times until today. But later we realize they are simply beggars and the scarred breast is thought to awake sympathy.
The Lasithi Plateau
At Sunday we get our hired car. It is a red Suzuki Maruti and we start towards the Lasithi Plateau, where there were 10.000 wind wheels in former times. Let's find out what remained.
I need some time to get used to the car, the traffic and the bends along the coast of the Bay of Mirabello. The junction for the Lasithi is at Neapolis, and then one has to climb to 900 m height. The road is very narrow and we wonder if busses could pass up here. The higher you climb the vegetation turns to become more beautiful. Nice little villages with black suited old men supported by their stick come together and discuss the problems of the universe. Once we see a dark black bearded original Cretan local, wearing boots, riding trousers a black shirt and a kerchif knotted around the head. Better not to meet such person in the dark - we think. Another peciularity of the Crete people is the use of a pearl-chains similar to a "Rosenkranz" which they permanently turn around their fingers, nobody knows why. At the roadside sometimes cheese, honey, raki, spices or fruits are sold. One person is disguised in the local costume and the tourists are requested to make a we-together-photo for an obulus.
So you gradually come up with nearly no traffic. Finally we pass the tree line and then reach the summit. We stop for a photo in front of a slope and I hope to find the reverse gear in time. The Lasithi Plateau is formed like a bowl surrounded by mountains and thereforE protected from cold winds. And you should know it before: from the 10.000 wind wheels only some rotten ruins remained.
The main attraction seems to be the cave of Dikteon where they say the Godfather Zeus is born, but no one knows exactly. Therefore we resign to go there and turn to the main village Tzermiadon. There you see houses covered by carpets, blankets and "handmade" crochetware. So we park the car behind the next corner and walk along the village road. You will not wait for long before they shout at you: "Where are you from" "Just a moment" "Come in and look" "No problem". It is impossible to have an undisturbed look to the products for you must be careful not to be wrapped with the articles.
We let this "crochet-mafia" behind and prefer to admire the landscape again. For the return we choose the second of the two roads leading to the Lasithi. At the edge of the plane there are the rests of a row of wind-mills leading up a slope. Of course those have not been mills but pumps. The road down to Malia is wide and this is the route for the busses. The main traffic comes towards us and soon they will have the rush hour at the Lasithi. Now and then we stop for a view at the landscape and a photo and soon reach Malia.
At Malia there is an archaeologic site but the German guided tour is just over and the entrance fee not free on Sunday, as another tourist lady complains. We see the ruins behind a wire netted fence and that's enough.
We ride back to Nikolaos, now used to the car already, so let's quote the words of the service maid about the driving habits on Crete:
On Crete the German drives on the right like he is
the Englishman drives on the left like he is used to,
and the Crete drives in the midth, where he finds place.
So we arrange us with the local conditions. The next destination is the village Kritsa. The German word for Licorice is Lakritz so the name is easy to remember. Kritsa is said to be one of the most beautiful villages of Crete. May be because short before the village begins there is the famous Agios Georgios church. There are the best preserved fresco paintings. But "Photographs not allowed" and one should restrict to meditate about the coloured works of art.
We ride up to the village with a big parking site and one tourist bus only. At the village road we see the same scene as at the Lasithi: textile "handwork" everywhere and the sellers lure like the spider in its net. We just admire a big blue carpet and argue if this would suit into the room of our daughter Stefanie at home - as a resolute lady comes out of the shop, says "10.000 Drms" takes the carpet down from the wire and stuffs it into a big paper bag. We have not said any word yet as she pulls us into her shop. Now she writes on a paper: 8000 Drms. "You will not get this at a German super market for this price" Heidi says. Moreover we could pay by Visa-Card so I am convinced too. And our lady gets a dusty cheque-machine out of her desk and "ritch-ratch" the amount is booked, the 2000 Drms. dealed out as advantage are now added again as tax for the Visa-Card. I sign the receipt and now we have the carpet, the fun and this story!
We may leave the bag at the shop until we return from the walk around. We stumble through the narrow donkey-sized lanes. And there is another new observation. Some very old people sit at their front door and try to sell some tonsils ore simply stretch their open hand at you. And if you put a coin into it, you hear applause from a younger person inside the house. But what shall the people do if they have no shop or something else, not to be mere attractions in a zoo?
As the crowds from a bus come up the road we return to our shop and get the bag with the carpet. Let us tell in advance, that lateron the carpet fits to Stefanie's room very well, it will be a souvernir from a Crete village and paid by Visa-Card for ever...
We return to our hotel, have some sun in the afternoon and after dinner decide to ride up to the deserted village Ag. Ioannis. A single lady from the hotel will accompany us. Some days before I spent an hour to go up there, today by car you only need few minutes. But the two ladies bisides me are totally silent. This comes from the sometimes exposed bends without any crash barrier. I try to sign to the beauties of the landscape in the evening sun but harshly my wife says "You better look for the street!". But this is wide and no traffic at all, so we come up intact and park the car at the church. This church or chapel as well as every other we have seen is newly restaurated and in an excellent state.
We now enter the narrow lanes or stairs and soon we realize: a ghost town. Some few buildings are inhabited, the rest falls down to the ground. You cannot distinguish between human housings and the sheds of goats and from some dark dungeons twinkle the blank eyes of some goats as the new inhabitants. At one point the road is blocked by a fallen wall and must be bypassed by some other channels. We return to the church speechless.
But now we meet an inhabitant, who cuts spears of reed grass which grows at damp areas. The spears look like bambus rods and are used to produce sun shelters. Our accompanying lady speaks some Greek phrases and finds out, that some people of Italy and England try to buy and restaurate some estates here. But the local also says "Deutsch gutt!".
Now a small dog appears, a mixture of Chow Chow and Pekingese. He leads us to our car and starts to present some jokes, as to jump right up by all four of his paws or to stand upright and wave with the front paws. Unfortunately he is fully covered by ticks (Zecke), so its better to keep some distance. As we start he follws the car for a while but we think he is used to it.
We bring the car back to the Jiannis gang, I still must
price: one day 10.000 Drms., two 18.000 and three 25.000. The
are free but the tank should be filled when the car is delivered.
At Thursday we start at 9.30 for we cannot get the car earlier. At Ierapetra I try to get fuel, but the tap is defect. At the second patrol station we succeed. We go west and pass large hothouses for tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables.
Then the road at the nice little village Mirtos turns towards the Dikti mountains. Nice views to the sea, the villages at the coast to be seen from above are only to be reached be dead end roads. The flora is beautiful and in the air are the vapours of the smell of thyme and other spice plants. After 30 km up and down we reach the plane of Ano Vianos, a smaller copy of the Lasithi plateau.
The village Vianos is glued to the slope. At the entrance of the village a problem arises as a big lorry comes contrary to us. Now the old men who kill the hours at the cafenions come to life. With their sticks they gesticulate what to do and we realize: we shall enter a pass-by-stripe aside. As the lorry has passed the old men return to kill the time.
We now ride downhill all the time and leave the Dikti mountains behind. The character of the landscape turns to become agricultural. Sometimes there are harvested barley (Gerste) fields. If you have luck you see a donkey loaden with a bag of hay or straw. We come to the town Pirgos and suddenly find ourselves inmidst of a market lane. This really was not our destination and carefully we curve out of this mass.
So we leave the town into the wrong direction and end at Charkas. Parallel to the coast there is a ling ridge named Asterousia mountain. Near Pirgos a couple of rocks look like a miniature replica of the Tre Cime di Laveredo at the Dolomite Alps. From Charkas we have to ride some kimometers to the north ro reach the main road again. This road once was an eukalyptus alley. It hurts to look at the truncated trunks though they get fresh sticks again.
Heidi looks at the map and so to her luck misses the sight of two hens which have been run down. The hens run free everywhere and we argue where they will deposite their eggs. Now we reach the towns Agii Deka and Mires and these look as if they have come from the Wild Wild West. As we saw the donky as main vehicle at Pirgos here we find small tractors in different technical state.
Ahead we see the snow fields of the Ida Mountains and finally the hill arising from the plane where we wanted to go: the Minoan palace-city Festos. The parking site is nearly full and like the spider in its net a black bearded announcer appears to try to advertise any restaurant nearby. We can get rid of him but at the entrance counter we must purchase the tickets to enter the holy area.
We stumble through the ruins which are digged out and preserved. The walls are as high as one's knees and sometimes they are kept together by modern cement assistance. In contrary to the more famous site of Knossos at Herakleon, which was digged out by the Englishman Evans at the end of the 19 th century, they have resigned on questionable reconstruction experiments at Festos. Famous - because to be seen at most postcards - is the grand staircase as part of the ancient theatre. At some corners there are amphores large as a man. We argue about their destination. May be they are the ancestor of the refrigerator and served to store meals and drinks. But how did they haul up the pieces out of the amphore? What's about the length of the Minoan arms?
Let's join a guided group for a while, an experted lady leads the interested listeners. (We like these adventures as we did at the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca or at the Fortress of Carcassonne). As well this time we hear interesting news again. And I don't tell lies like all people of Crete, which is said to be said by a man of Crete...
So let us listen: "The material of the Minoan buildings were stones. The joints were made of clay, not of cement. And above all there was the roof." We are really impressed. But they tell nothing about the amphores and the length of the Minoan arms. What we had read is (but better you ask a travel or historic guide): The Minoan buildings had no militaric intention. This was because they had such a strong naval power to prevent an invasion of enemies. Moreover the females are said to be dominant. May be they sent their male heros to the sea. And who did build the palaces and carried the loaden amphores? We only know the division of work nowadays: the men go out to the village-road or -place or cafenion and the women do their handmade crochet work.
20 minutes later we are at Matala, a place which is mandatory for every proper tourist. The bay of Matala is surrounded by cliffs of soft sandstone, and in the banked rock layers there are natural and artificial caves. During the 60s Matala was known worldwide as a shangrila for hippies and flower children. These times are gone and the locals have exorcised the trash (in their opinion) by law. Today this place is a favourite destination for hired car drivers and bus tourists. So you find restaurants one after the other. Of course the view is beautiful, the white mountains at the weset, the blue sea and the mysterious caves at the cliffs. If one pays an entrance fee one can enter the cave area and climb among the cliffs behind a wire netted fence. (Someone told us, that there is no good smell in the caves because someone better had choosen another place to do certain things...)
We walk along the beach, the sand is not as hot as our gravel. A girl speaks to us, if the sand is not too hot and what's about the price of a sun-couch? The girl looks like a Tibetian monk bare headed and suited into an orange cape. May be she has met the wrong year a Matala.
We enter our red car again and start for the 140 km-tour back. Another rest should be made at Gortys, where they digged up Doric and Roman antiques, e.g. the oldest law boards of Europe (Law of Gortyn). And in a grove nearby Zeus is said to have seduced the beloved Europa. Somewhere else one can read that this happened at the beach of Matala. So why only once? At the other side of the road there are wide fields of archeological excavations, but we have no more energy today.
At the bus stop lots of backpackers wait for the bus to Herakleion. So this seems to be a place of pilgrimage for this kind of globetrotters. In the town Mires of the Wild Wild West much more people are crowded at the bus station - so we are glad to be individuals.
As we pass the flat hens on the road we know to be on the right route. At Pirgos we get lost again and we perform a lap of honour, fortunately the market is over. On the way back the landscape looks different to this morning, this may be caused by the opposite direction. We see a goat with a bag covering her udder and her lamb looks stupid. At another place someone cuts bushes of thyme to sell them as souvernir. At some pine branches we ovserve mysterious weaved bags or nets, may be those are the nests of wild bees or bumble-bees. After a curve a goat lies amidth the road and sleeps.
So eventfully we head for Ierapetra. Near the hot houses lots
vans drive to and fro and are loaded with the fruits and vegetables,
are exported to the rest of Europe.
We have the car for one more day so this must be filled with reasonable ventures. But it is recommended not to make another long distance tour. At first we head for the Gulf of Mirabello where the archaeological site Gournia still waits. This was not a palace but a settlement of the upper Minoan class. It is miraculous, that some rooms seem to have no entrance and are totally enclosed by walls. Moreover the most rooms were tiny and everything is very nested. On the top of the hill there is a free square. From here you can look to Agios Nikolaos at he other side of the gulf where we now want to go.
If you enter a larger town by car two problems arise: at first find a park site and at second find the way back to it. The first problem is solved in a narrow side street, and for the second we memorize the sports fields and the bus station nearby. The mainroad directly leads to a small inner lake which gives it's special flair to the town. The lake is enclosed by lots of taverns and cafenions, only some steep slopes are undeveloped. At the road we just meet our breakfast neighbour. "Did not see us for some time". At an antique shop we find an old mechanic calculating machine. "We don't sell it".
We ride to Elounda and cross a pass with a beautiful view over the gulf. At Elounda they bark from various loudspeakers and megaphones: "Spinalonga, Spinalonga!!" This comes from the ticket sellers for a boat trip to the fortress of the Spinalonga island. That's what we want and we purchase a ticket from a blond guy with a ponytail. "Thirty minutes, ten past twelve" he informs. We have time for a look around and a coffee.
When the first boat comes back from Spinalonga we get excited and hurry to the pier. The blond ticket-lad looks at us laughing. "Is this our boat?" we ask. "Calm down, we will find your boat together" he says. I look at the wrist watch, only a few minutes until departure. "By the way, it's the boat over there" and the guy signs to one of the lazy boats. Some more time is gone until one is allowed to enter the boat. And then one has to wait until the meanwhile hoarse ticket-announcers success to find enough passengers, that the boat is sufficiently filled. So the boat leaves one hour later than announced and we must bring to mind that we are in South Europe and not in the well regulated Central Europe. The passengers lean back, get out their sun lotion and put on the sun glasses.
Soon the small island comes near and 20 minutes later we arrive. A gentleman gathers the tourists and offers himself to lead the group. We all together go up to the plateau with the graves. Those are small crypts covered by a stone slab. If a new grave was needed, an old one was cleared and the bones were deposited in a special hut. But hut and graves are empty now since the hippies have desired the bones as talismans, tells the self-proclaimed guide. Now the group changes to the shade of a pine. And now the business is discussed. Our guide will collect the fee later, children are free. We think to be free too if we explore the matter on our own.
A nice rock path leads along the cliffs, Heidi pressed to the inner wall. After one corner there are the ruins of the former settlement. Until 1975 this was a leper colony, the only one in Europe. The only intact building is the chapel and there the collecting box is swung.
Another path leads up to the mighty bastion of the fortress. I climb up, Heidi stays on the ground. This fortification resisted against the Turk occupation over years until 1715 the capitulation was unavoidable. Through a small tunnel we return to the shore where the boat picks us up after one hour.
We ride back on the same road and round the Mirabello Bay another time. All alternate routes would be too strenuous for they are gravel in the most cases and up in the mountains. After the junction to Ierapetra we are near this mysterious gorge and find a sign at the road: "Ha canyon". (This may mean: be careful, a gully). But we think it is a hint to a large parking site for a visit of the gorge. We turn to a gravel road and eventually approach the canyon until a dry creek stops our conquest. We have to walk until the path ends between some caterpillars which prepare a plane for a paper factory. The beautiful gorge is some 100 m away but we nust resign. But may be it was better not to enter the gorge with sandals...
Near our car a pickup comes up, two barking dogs at the loading platform. But their interest soon changes to the nearby goats. We inspect a big bassin supplied by the creek from the gorge. Meanwhile Heidi has broken an armfull of Thyme bushes and declares this to be Sage (Salbei).
One more lazy day at the beach. "Don't you be glad to come home?" Heidi asks. "Not at all!" And it is understandable that many unstable persons fell in love to the charms of this island and have never returned to their home.
We say farewell to the personnel of the hotel, the owners are members of one family and the hotel was built at 1980. Therefore the plants and trees have grown up since then. In the entrance hall there is a guest book and the people monotonously have written "I/we was/were the first time at Crete and enjoyed it very much". We resign to make a note, there is enough work to produce these reports anyway...
We say farewell to the chief of the super market. We have been good customers consuming all the Retsina. We are offered a self made liquor named Raki. As we have started with a mysterious animal - today we end with a 4 inch grasshopper, which is also able to produce goosebumps when it flies just ahead your face.
Finally at the airport we meet Heidi and Peter again. They had used their hired car all the time and have seen much more of the island. But it is strange, we believe to have experienced more adventures.
As the people of the queue to the check in counter maltreat
and legs with the baggage cars and nearly a riot comes up, we know: the
holidays are over.