Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday in Hora Sfakion, our final day in Crete. We stopped here overnight on our coastal walk and liked the look of this tiny port and decided then, if we had time, to return and end our journey here. It's a place of transit between ferries and buses, unpretentious and mundane compared to the lotus-eating lure of Paleochora, a soundtrack of goatbells and birdsong on the beach rather than '70s songs - real Eagles, in fact: they circle above our balcony and the crag martins hawk for flies below.
We took the Selino ferry here, 3 hours standing on deck watching the coastal paths and beaches we'd climbed and plodded go drifting by, and came back to Mesohori taverna,the best value accomodation of our entire trip. From his table under the vine Yorgos waved as though we'd never been away and gave us our old room.

Temperatures are up in the high 20s now so we've enjoyed a wind-down week, still walking and discovering - the Imbros gorge, and the deserted ruins of old Sfakia high on the hillside, the frescos of the bombed church still frailly visible - as well as beach days of swimming and play. Tomorrow morning we go directly to the airport and culture-shock. And home.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Well, we did it. Our planned coastal walk along the beaches, cliffs and headland paths from Plakias to Paleochora, with only one stretch on the ferry. About 60 miles with full rucksacks, and easily the same distance again in our day jaunts with just notebooks and a picnic. The last lap to Sougia, the one we had to do in reverse, was the most most arduous - about 9 hours in all - but the most exciting and beautiful.

Absolute high spot: passing the ruined temple of Lissos where the mosaic floor is still largely intact - quite amazing as it's open to mountain goats as well as the elements; such a special place we clambered back up the ravine next day to spend a whole day there.
For me this atmospheric & beautiful place, once a thriving spa but now a drowned city, destroyed by earthquake in pre-Minoan times, is a jewelled beetle on a wilting flower; Sougia itself is a tiny collection of rent rooms and bars and, apart from the banter with Eleni at Omikron, we found it charmless. We shared our room with a conference of mosquitos. Waking to high waves and that dreaded shrugging sigh 'No boat today', we didn't hesitate: we hired the only taxi and hightailed it back to Paleochora.
Not to our previous budget-conscious room but a studio apartment near the best beach. We can economise by cooking here & eating on that lovely balcony, we reminded ourselves, and went straight out to enjoy the most expensive meal of our trip in the best fish restaurant in Crete. Some days just go like that...
So our last week is for relaxing and processing. Getting ready for the culture shock of England. What am I missing? Friends and family, little else. What will I miss? Long walks in sunshine by vivid seas, wild flowers, daily discoveries, the way strangeness so quickly becomes familiar, and the intimacy of travelling together on a journey into the unknown.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hi from an internet in Paleochora, where we arrived last night after a fantastic wonderful week walking from Plakias via Frangokastello, Hora Sfakion, and Loutro, to Agia Roumeli, spending a couple of days in each place to explore, enjoy, and write.
The next section is for extreme trekkers only so we'd planned to take the ferry but a sudden change from blissful sunshine to choppy seas kept us captive in this tiny roadless village for 3 days... Not a lot to do, and we were the only tourists in this film-set resort as the Samaria Gorge, which it services, isn't yet open since White Mountain snow-melt is still pouring down. We explored the old village, found a Byzantine church built on an ancient chapel, and spent a brilliant day at Agios Pavlos (buildings 2: 10th century chapel and beach bar; population 1: articulate beach-philosopher Georgios who runs the beach bar.)
Big relief when a ferry finally arrived - even though we had to reschedule from Sougia. It's good to have a change of pace in this lively hippyish town - we even found a music bar where we could dance... Today we beachbummed on the nearly-deserted sands, and tomorrow we're off on our cliff walks again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Kalo Paskha.
We spent the four days of Easter in Plakias, walking headlands saturated with wild flowers and lazing on beaches by vivid blue bays... the sun has been fantastic.
Kate Newmann, who I'd met in London, sorted out a great studio apartment just outside the resort for us, and our lovely landlady Pagona invited us to join the family for an Easter Sunday feast.
Much food, wine,and mirth though we understood very little of the conversation, but responding to frequent toasts with 'stin i yasas' seemed to be ok.

Last night was another highlight: spending the evening with Kate and her mother and two friends, all of them poets from Donegal, sharing words spoken and read, gentle but the same sumptuous generosity. Plakias has been good to us. We leave tomorrow, early, for Frangokastelli.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hi from an internet cafe in Chania, funky music within and bright sun outside. Here's some notes from the wayside:
We arrived in Chania in Lent and find the town uncurling like a feral cat, readying for the season ahead. In fact the stray cat image feels a good one - it fits the tawny tones of the buildings in the sun and also certain abjectness despite its charm. In our 8 days here we've met some really great people - friendly & informative (everyone here can respond in near-immaculate English to our halting Greek phrases) and had a fascinating time wandering the old town and harbour but there seems an undercurrent of cultural pain half-hidden under the daytime picturesque glamour and the nighttime glitz. You don't have to examine the museums to realise these peoples' identity is bound up with their long history of invasions. Arabs, Byzantines, Venetians, Turks, they came in turn to brutalise Chania, and then the Germans bombed it. Ruined buildings rubble spills from every alley, romanticised by crown daisies and chamomile but the aura of dereliction persists.
And the next wave of incursion is us, the tourists. It's shaming to see huge hoardings in English urging cheap holiday homes for sale, built haphazardly on these lovely headlands, and fly-posters in Greek protesting "Trees not cement." Garbage homes, our landlord Alex calls them; he's despairing of the adminstrative lack of foresight that's allowing the ruination of this beautiful land.

But that's only one side of it. There's a lot more to do here than sombre pondering. I'm writing an article on travelling on a budget and Peter has made contact with the Agrokiepiou, a research garden for Crete's endangered plants. We're doing loads of walking - the wild flowers are fantastic, persian-rugging wasteland right to the rockiest coastal rim. We've been beachcombing for ceramic debris along the old Minoan ramparts. We've tasted stewed wild greens with an organic campainer and watched Greece beat Malta with the souvlaki bar regulars. We've watched dawn behind the minaret and sunset over the sea.
We've searched out places which are comfortably untouristy (not ethno-snobbery: just that we're not dressed to promenade & don't have the funds for the 4-language-menu restaurants) and we pad around our favourite patches as well as exploring.
And our apartment is brilliant: cheap, clean, and spacy, with a sunny balcony and surprising number of mod.cons - like hot & cold air conditioning,50 channel TV, and - bliss - a hairdryer. We've got the use of a little gaz stove and the local shop is cheap'n'cheerful, as is the souvlaki bar next door. And of course we've splashed out a bit too... The weather's been variably warm but blue skies predominate; fingers crossed cerulean rules for lap 2. We're heading next for the south coast, to spend Easter week in Plakias.