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Our First Kritsa Christmas

Posted by Kritsa Yvonne, 27 January 2008 · 1,657 views

Despite our local bus company cancelling 2 buses resulting in us starting our trip to Crete chilled to the bone and missing our connection to Heathrow we finally arrived in Heraklion as planned 6.30 a.m. on 18th December 07 where we had a hire car waiting for us.

As soon as we arrived at the house Alan shot off to inspect the new roof that had been completed in our absence. At first sight it looked like a good job had been done and considering all the tools and materials needed to go up through the house everywhere was remarkably clean and dust free. Seems like we had found a really good local workman but we knew a heavy downpour would be needed to really check his effectiveness.

The first few days were quite dull weather wise so when we saw a blue sky over the hills towards the south coast we headed off to Ierapetra; we ignored the fact that other people had their warm jackets on and branded ourselves as out of season tourists by basking in the sun in just t shirts whilst lingering over a coffee in one of the few sea front cafés that were open.

Heraklion was our destination for Christmas shopping; the aim was to buy a decorated stocking for each of us to hang by the fireplace and then separate for an hour to buy a few small prezzies to fill them up. Mmmmm, good idea in principle but once I found M&S I couldn’t resist a warm fluffy dressing gown, slippers and a hair dryer just to help poor old Santa out!

Knowing how busy the last shopping Saturday before Christmas would be in England strolling around Heraklion with less people around than we had ever seen before was a remarkable contrast. Besides the lack of frantic crowds we also enjoyed lunch outside on the main square watching children learning to ice skate on the temporary rink.

Christmas Eve brought hoards of children out carol singing or at least a few were, most were just banging away on small metal triangles but good natured shopkeepers were obviously expecting them as they handed out a few coins to each child before they were cheerfully on their way to the next shop.
In the evening we went into Agios Nikolaos to admire the lights by the harbour and lake prior to enjoying a meal that featured a chestnut stifado – very yummy!

Boats decorated with lights were a key feature of the seasonal shop window decorations and every town, village and hamlet had a life size crib scene as a clear reminder that Christmas is still very much a religious festival in Crete. Fancy lights in pre formed shapes of Santa, stars and reindeer are obviously recent imports and look quite self conscious amongst hibiscus and bougainvillea.

Christmas morning was greeted with bells ringing out from the three main churches in Kritsa and it developed into a delightfully warm day with blue sky and lots of delicious sunshine; mid morning we enjoyed a posh breakfast with bucks fizz on the balcony before a walk around an apparently deserted village. We waited for the day to turn dark and wintery with the log burner and candles providing a warm and cosy glow before we enjoyed our Christmas stockings and dinner – well there are some things that just don’t feel right to do in the sunshine!!

The Cretan cloudburst that we needed to test the effectiveness of our new roof arrived on New Years Eve. The streets became rivers and we were like two drowned rats on arrival at Hilary and Phil’s at the other end of the village; we let the boys win at Trivial Pursuit and then enjoyed the midnight fireworks that survived the deluge.

The Christmas and New Year holidays allowed our neighbours to get on with some home improvements. Adjoining our house is the one we inadvertently flooded last year; they have taken the opportunity created by the need to replaster the wall that adjoins us to refurbish and install a new fireplace. This fireplace required a new chimney to be built on the outside wall and at the top is a metal “stork” to diffuse the smoke and prevent birds from building a nest on the top. At first we were not too happy about this new bird as it is at the same level as our balcony but we quickly realised we were very unlikely to be sat up there when the fire was alight - some droll person has hand painted a smile and eye lashes onto the bird so he seems quite animated and we have now decided that having a birds eye view is quite welcome.

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The other house that adjoins ours is a very draughty old house that has not been updated in any way and Maria the old lady that lived there has been in and out of hospital for long periods of time. We were astonished to see the downstairs area being cleared out and reconfigured and when Maria’s son Georgios introduced himself he explained that following a marriage breakdown he had moved back home but sadly his mother was very poorly and unlikely to return home.

In addition to Christmas strolls we also enjoyed some strenuous walks too; one of the best was up on Kathero Plateau, it looked a picture with snow on high peaks and a verdant green floor. Very few people live all year on this plateau so apart from a very occasional dog bark we enjoyed a rare silence. On other walks through pine forests we enjoyed seeing a wide range of birds in bright plumage with strong voices.

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Our wider ranging walks were brought to an end when Alan sprained his ankle by stumbling on one of the smoothest pavements and well made kerbsides in Agios Nikolaos…ouch! We had been exploring around the small church that gives the town its name and the posh hotels nearby that enjoy the best vantage point in the area.

Even when the swelling on the his ankle had subsided Alan still felt pain so we restricted ourselves to strolls but this was no hardship as it was interesting to see places like Elounda, Sitia and Ierapetra without a multitude of people. We also had a couple of interesting drives up to the Lassithi Plateau and the lack of other traffic meant that it was easy to stop and watch buzzards and vultures when the opportunity arose.

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During these strolls and drives we were able to observe the olive harvest in full swing; with green nets spreads out under the trees the branches are whacked with a long stick or brushed with rotating blades that knock the olives into the nets. The Kritsa oil processing factory was quiet in the mornings but in the afternoon it rumbled into action as a long queue formed of battered old pick up trucks, ancient three wheeled trucks, up to date giant 4x4’s with gleaming chrome bull bars and donkeys all laden with their crop.

The number of really sunny days surprised us so we almost ran out of time for Alan to do some decorating – bet he wished he hadn’t when I shared the news that I didn’t like the colour in the lounge after all, ooops.

I woke up during our last night to get a drink a noticed that all the lights were on in Maria’s house and this did seem odd but when at daybreak the church bells started a mournful tolling we guessed that she had passed away. It is customary to announce deaths by posting notices on strategically placed boards around the village and we saw the announcement that Maria’s funeral would be held later that day; we were very surprised to read that she was in fact only 57 and not the old lady we had taken her to be.

Our last day was warm and sunny so we had a final seaside stroll and enjoyed lunch outside a taverna by the small harbour of Milatos; the owner was surprised to have customers but we were happy to enjoy a simple but tasty meal and chat about “next time”.

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What a smashing read. So glad you had an enjoyable time and hope that Alan has fully recovered from his injury. It must have been really painful having to decorate when carrying such an injury! Alan, I know the feeling when after hours of slogging away with a paintbrush she, who must be obeyed, decides she doesn't like the colour she has chosen! Was it just the sky was blue?
Yvonne, that first picture of the boat and the clouds reflected in the water, is fabulous.

Sounds like you had a wonderful time and it's interesting to hear about Crete at a different time of year. Thanks!
Yes, a lovely account thanks. I was there with you.... in mind anyway.... Just settled me for bedtime!