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Ten Memorable Days From Our Trip To Crete Summer 2009

Posted by Kritsa Yvonne, 17 September 2009 · 1,195 views

We spent the whole of the second day of this year’s drive to Crete (2nd July) in the North Italian ski resort of Aosta, just the other side of the Mont Blanc Tunnel. After a morning walking around the vibrant town, enjoying the 32c temperature as much as the Roman remains, we took a cable car up into the mountains for a bird’s eye view of the highest snow covered peaks.

Beyond the final cable car stop a ski lift carried people with their bicycles instead of skis even further up, then they hurtled down the mountain, presumably making good use of snowless ski runs.

Day 3 of our journey proved memorable for all the wrong reasons. We set off to eat up the miles across Italian motorways to get to the Port of Ancona by 3.00 p.m. ready for the 5.00 p.m. sailing having left a substantial amount of “just in case”, time. Only trouble was the first Saturday in July EVERY Italian motorist also wanted to use the motorways and we crawled from one jam to the next. Each time we got moving again Alan recalculated that we still had time to get to the boat but as the margin reduced the stress levels inside the car raised in a corresponding scale. (As did hunger levels as there was certainly no time to stop for a snack)

At the end of the motorway, I had trouble inserting the ticket into the toll machine so I really had to force it. Argh, I forced it into the receipt slot not the ticket reader – how all the drivers in the queue behind us must have loved me! In the end a helpful driver used the intercom to explain what I had done; I was asked where we had started our journey, we paid and moved on.

Alan made a final calculation that with no more problems we should just make the boat. Driving into Ancona we joined a long stationary queue of traffic and from the amount of people walking around it was obvious we were not going anywhere. Despair set in.

We soon realised that most of the queue of cars were also trying to get to the Port and that the Ferry operator would be aware that there was a problem. We finally “checked in”, 15 minutes after the boat should have sailed; we never did know the reason for the delay but we assumed that having issued boarding passes the boat must still be at the quayside. Once inside the Port gates the traffic eased and we were amongst the last few cars to board; the boat set sail one hour late, before we had even walked up the stairs to the reception area.

We were aware that due to lack of availability we had booked a better cabin than usual but when we were shown into a very superior room with a sitting room, complimentary fruit, wine and a voucher for breakfast we realised we had been upgraded; it “almost” made up for the stress!

There was no “public” wedding in Kritsa this year but there was a celebration of the traditional skills of a housewife instead. My sister and brother in law were staying with us so it was a great opportunity for them to see a Cretan celebration put on by the community for the community rather than a “Cretan Night”, aimed at tourists.

The school was the venue and there were tableaux showing village crafts including spinning, weaving, cheese making, woodcraft, a cobbler, and a barber. The main feature was the small fires set on the school steps, each tended by women cooking snail pilaf, vegetables, goat stew and of course, chips. We had samples of this food later (including the snails that were surprisingly good) in the evening but with over 300 people at the event the main food was provided via more substantial BBQ’s and stoves hidden at the back of the school.
There was of course lots of dancing; that probably went on into the small hours long after we had returned home.

Another day out with my sister and brother in law was to the large town of Sitia in the far east of Crete. We stopped for morning coffee at a small taverna above the main road in Mirsini and this provided spectacular views back across the wide expanse of Mirabello Bay.

It was a breezy day in Sitia, providing a welcome respite from the July heat so we took the opportunity for a walk, paddle, and splash along the substantial bay. We did briefly consider a walk up to the fort at the top of the hill above Sitia but lunch and a cold beer in a seaside taverna became much more compelling.

Whilst Alan’s son was staying with us for a hot 3 weeks in August, we had a weather forecast for a “cooler”, day of 27c so we walked the Richti Gorge below the village of Exo Mouliana, on the main road to Sitia. The road down starts on the left where the crash barrier ends at the exit to village; there is also a parking area with a useful notice board describing the route to take.

We had a “magical”, day enjoying a refreshing amount of greenery as we walked under Platnos (Plane) trees, in dappled sunshine. Swapping from one side to the other of a small river as the track descended we were amazed at the number of cicadas, butterflies, dragonflies and birds; it certainly was not a quiet walk! Two derelict watermills showed how valuable this water source had once been.

Work is in hand by local councils to open up some of the older pathways for people who like to see beyond the typical tourist spots; we were grateful for the sturdy metal or wooden steps strategically placed over some of the more challenging descents.

Arriving at the point the waterfall spills out of the cliff and into a wide pool we could see why our guidebook said it is the most spectacular waterfall in the east of Crete; and this was mid summer when there had been no rain for over two months.
When we do this walk again, we will turn around here rather than walk on to the coast because although it was obviously a well used barbeque spot for locals it was an anticlimax after the waterfall.

After walking back up from the beach, I was very hot and bothered but a quick face down plunge in the pool beneath the waterfall soon revived me!

Following a few more hot days on the beach, we had a day driving up in the Thripti Mountains, wonderfully cool due to both the air con in the car and the significantly cooler mountain air.

Before reaching Thripti, we took a turning to the left signed Agia Anna and we found a delightful tiny church with very clear frescos on the walls. It seems to us that the more remote a church is the more likely it is to be unlocked. A few metres along from the church the distant views west were fantastic, framed in the V shaped cleft at the top of the Ha Canyon.

After a walk around the village of Thripti, we took a track up towards the very highest peak, Afendis Stavromenos; after a while even our 4x4 slipped a bit, so I decided we would be safer walking! Up and around several more bends, we eventually reached a “saddle”, between two peaks and realised there was at least another hours walk to reach the summit. Reluctantly we decided to leave it for another time, as we did not have walking boots or enough water with us.

We can see this peak from our balcony in Kritsa and on 14 September, we saw many car headlights going to/from the peak top church for a celebration so perhaps I should not have been so cowardly in the car. On the other hand, the thought of people driving down after a Cretan celebration…………….

One day on a beach enjoying the sun whilst relaxing with a book, playing ball or using inflatable toys (no they are not just for little kids!) can seem very like the next even if a variety of beaches are used but one in particular proved memorable.
We had been watching people towed in large inflatable rings behind a speedboat, and laughing as inevitably at least one person tipped out.

Alan’s son suddenly said it was our turn next and before we could protest (much) we had life jackets on and were gripping on determined not to be the one having an unscheduled swim (it was Alan). Definitely an adrenaline high! The scenery in the bay was all a blur and skimming the water was very bumpy, slapping down after passing over waves and bumping into each other as the driver zigzagged across his wake, if I had that much whiplash after a car accident I would have sued!

After all our visitors had gone, we decided to return to the Thripti Mountains via the village of Kavousi. Not far above Kavousi is the oldest olive tree in Crete; the information point describes how a calculation based on the girth of 14.2 metres puts the tree at over 3200 years old. A wreath made from this olive tree was awarded to the winner of the women’s marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

After this we carried on up and held our breath as we nervously passed the point of a puncture gained during a previous trip, soon we were in an area we had not explored before. As expected the far-reaching views and dramatic rock formations were fabulous but the best part of the day was finding a very old but sophisticated water collection and distribution system. There was nothing available to give any clues as to the date of origin or when it fell out of use, but it is evident that it must have allowed remote communities to farm successfully.

We see a wide variety of edible animals each day such as goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and even three cows by the roadside in Malia but despite the large amount of pork available in local dishes we had never seen pigs.

Up above the plain of Lakonia is a very old village called Tapes (Tapez). We took a track up through the village and kept walking eventually stopping in an open area for a rest. Suddenly there was much squealing and 15 delightful piglets surrounded us; when they realised we were not a food source they went back to scavenging amongst the Holm Oak trees grubbing for acorns.

Eventually we reached a crest of a hill that allowed us to look down into the valley beyond and we could see a small village in the distance. Back at the car, we checked the map and saw it was a village called Adrianos below the Neapoli – Lassithi road; although we had often used that route we had not noticed a turning to this village. So, we had to see it.

No wonder we had not noticed it, the road sign is hand written and points the way down a very steep track. The village is very clean and well maintain but appears practically deserted. It appeared that perhaps eight to twelve houses are still in use and we only saw four elderly people all the time we were there.

Just beyond the village is the entrance to a gorge with stunning rock formations and a cave that obviously provides useful shelter for goats.

Our favourite walking guidebook now has a second edition with a couple of new walks. One of these walks starts in Kritsa so after the air the dust settled and the air cooled a little after the first rain in September it became an obvious choice.

The route leaves Kritsa on a steep ancient track until a third of the way to Kathero when it heads off to the left into territory we had not seen before. This stage was quite easy walking through herds of goats until we reached the head of a ravine that would exit on the road between Kritsa and the hamlet by the Church of St John the Theologist, en route for Kroustas.

The decent was not particularly difficult most of the time but as the path is seldom used, the right way was not always obvious. The ravine is quite narrow with rock walls towering above with even more shade from Holm Oak and Platnos trees so we were not too hot. The ravine must have been useful in the past because there were ruins of stone shepherd dwellings.

I took a nasty tumble into a very thorny bush; it did not cause any lasting damage but I was removing “splinters”, for days.

In theory there are still memorable days to be had but with less than a week before we set off towards the UK in mid September the likelihood is that we will be doing jobs to settle the house down for the winter and getting a few last days of sun on the beach.