Thursday 9/4/15 – Spent five days in all on Crete, from Thursday (9th) through to Monday (13th), when we caught the overnight ferry back to the port of Piraeus near Athens.
Crete is a beautiful island and the people are full of smiles. We headed to the town of Rhethimno, where we plonked for the four nights we were to spend in Crete. From there we could fan out each
day to do some exploring. The first 2 days were rather cold and incredibly windy! The locals tell us that the spell of cold and wet weather is blowing across from Russia – most unseasonal for this time of year, because they are usually swimming for the Easter weekend.
The wind and cold could not stop us getting on the bike to go and see as much aswe could, particularly when there was a little sunshine peeping through, and a glass of Raki in the foyer of the hotel for us when we got back. Raki is the local drink, that flows freely…. to say the least! It is a white spirit made from the left over pressings from the wine & sometimes figs and other fruit…. very cheap (at 2.60 euro for 500mls)… and ever so drinkable!!! certainly ‘warms the cockles of the heart’.. so to speak.
There are some brilliant winding, switch back roads up in ‘them thare hills’, and we travelled as many as we could. The spell of heavy rain has taken its toll on the roads however, with many areas of sunken road, land slips and rock falls a plenty. In one area, the water seepage was so great, that it was like a small creek was running down the road, complete with mud and other debris…. sure made for some tricky riding, and Span was (as always) up to the task.
There are Vstroms a plenty on Crete (as on the mainland). The police bikes are white 650 Vstroms, just like ours, so we felt right at home. We did laugh, when we saw that they had coffee cup holders cable tied to the handle bars – all had a cuppa, complete with straw for easy access. Now Span wants that on our bike too.. getting soft I reckon…. heated handle grips .. coffee to go… what next?????
We also walked a good deal of the old town of Rhethimno, and came to be known at the local tavern after a couple of days! We saw the local butcher, who was cutting a caracas to order, the baker, whose baker shop opened onto the street for all to see, smell (oooooh the smells) and buy. All that was missing was the candlestick maker.. never found him, but we did find many shops that sold decorated Easter candles! The wharf area is so beautiful, with lots of restaurants and boats.
Had an absolutely brilliant traditional Greek meal on our first night in town. We had wandered into the middle of the town to have a beer before dinner, when the rain started. The rain poured and the awnings blew so hard, that we had to move closer inside. After about fifteen minutes, we headed to a restaurant we had passed on the way in to town. There was no-one there but the owner and his mates. First we were offered Raki, which he also shared…. think maybe he had had a Raki or three before we arrived!!!! His English was not too bad, and so we made do… he chose the starters and we chose the rest.. with his able assistance of course. What brilliant food.. wow they know what to cook, how to cook it…. and so very cheap too…. loving the oil an the Greek salads!!!
We were lucky enough to be in Crete for the orthodox Easter, and the crackers were certainly going off a plenty… not just little ones, but BIG bangers!!!! The hotel gave us red hard boiled Easter Eggs at breakfast each morning, and also left white easter candles with red ribbon on our beds on easter Saturday, in readiness for the resurrection Mass and parade that evening. The main church was in the square, only a hundred yards from our hotel, which was very convenient indeed!!! We were lucky enough to be able to attend Good Friday night Mass at 11pm, then on Easter Saturday night, they had the resurrection mass and parade through the streets.
On Easter Saturday (Holy Saturday) evening, around an hour before midnight, everybody goes to the church, each carrying an unlit candle (as left on our beds). The churches are apparently always crowded, and it is not uncommon for many people to stand outside the church, as we did. The mass can be heard from loud speakers outside the church. Span stayed outside the church, while I went in. It was so crowded, but I was able to light a candle for the boys and our family at home, which was quite special. Later, during the mass, all the lights are turned off; the priest then exits the alter with a candle lit by the Holy light. The Holy light (we are told) is transferred by plane from Jerusalem, where it appears in a miraculous way in the Holy Sepulchre (Tomb of Christ). The Holy light is distributed by the priest to all people in and out of the church. It is said that if people can get back home without their flame going out, it is said they will have a good year. (will tell you more about that later… watch this space!).
We were lucky that the priest lit our candles, then others who missed out, wanted to light their candles by ours… very special indeed. A few minutes before midnight, everybody, together with the priest, exits the church and, exactly at midnight, the priest announces the resurrection of Christ (Christos Anesti).
Off we headed with our lit candles, when suddenly there was a loud ‘hrpmh’, that was Span as he tripped and fell flat on his face… his candle snuffed out! He very quickly got up and hastily (under the three second rule) relit his candle from mine, laughing all the way. He ‘says’ he tripped over a bollard and that it was nothing at all to do with the six or seven beers, followed by three or four Raki that he and Dave had had prior!!! Good news is that we made it back to our rooms .. candles still alight.. another great night for the memory bank!
On Easter Sunday friends and family gather in homes, eating lamb on the spit, kokoretsi (a dish of mainly lamb or goat intestines wrapping seasoned offal, including sweat breads, hearts lungs kidneys.. yummy) and kalitsounia (small cheese and herb pies). Red eggs are cracked again. It is a big feast that ends the 40 days of fasting (no eating of meat or dairy etc), and is often followed by dancing.
Not having any family in Crete, we headed to Spinalonga, a small island near Elounda in East Crete. Spinalonga is also know as the Leper island, because this where Lepers from Crete and the rest of Greece were quarantined until as late as 1957. Today it is empty and visited by thousands of tourists each year. It just is a small boat ride to the island which sits off shore from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka. We were at Elounda, however were unable to go to the island as everyone was at home feasting with their families…. no boats on Easter Sunday.
We settled instead, for a scrumptious lamb spit roast, with tatziki, salad and bread at family taverna in Elounda. There were many families there feasting, and we gave a little girl girl a koala. Her grandparents were so delighted that they gave us wine… good trade!
The last few days in Crete were beautiful… the sun shining brightly, no wind and the beautiful view of snow topped mountains from the beachfront – such a pretty contrast to the very blue sea. The roads we have ridden have been just brilliant. Such beautiful country side, curly roads a plenty and switch back after switchback, and views to die for… a bikers dream riding indeed. Wild flowers a plenty and the perfume just exquisite.
Crete has huge agriculture, with large banks of hot houses every where…. they would need them for all the tomatoes & cucumber in the Greek salads. Olive trees are literally everywhere you turn; in gardens, on hillsides and in groves. they are not only use for their fruit, but for wood for burning and carving etc. There is wild fennel growing on the road side too. There are also lots of wind farms and huge banks of solar panels throughout the island.
We have had so much fun with the language, and the local are just beautiful and try so very hard.. sign language is marvellous, and when in doubt, we all just laugh… and drink more Raki!!!!
We have met so many generous and friendly people, and language has never been a real barrier. We stopped to buy a sticker of Crete in a souvenir shop and low and behold, there was an Essendon flag, footy and stubby holder. John the owner had grown up around the west side of Melbourne, is an avid Bombers supporter and his uncle used to work on potato machines in KooWeeRup… small world.
From Crete we caught the ferry back to the Port of Poreaus, then headed to Patras to catch the ferry to Italy. On the way we went to the town of Kaito – beautiful clear water and a lovely little harbour. Stopped for a quick walk along the waterfront and saw the fishermen with their fresh catch (some still wiggling) on the jetty, selling it to the locals.. fabulous!
From there we headed up into the mountains on our way to Patras. More spectacular scenery, windy roads and lots n lots of switchbacks. As we climbed, we came into the last of the winter snow, stopped and made a wee snow man… just because we could!
The Port of Patras has very heavy security, with officers every hundred yards around the perimeter. This is because of all the issues with refugees trying to smuggle themselves across Italy under trucks etc. We saw four men being sent back over the fence form the port area as we arrived.
Had cabin on this ferry so we could have a sleep, as it was a fifteen hour trip… noice!!!!
Next blog will be from Italy.. sorry this one is a wee bit late… just not enough hours in the day… and retirement issss….. well very busy…. just so many good roads to travel!