The idea of restoring a house is anathema to most Greeks.
Why do all that work? You could just let it fall down while you half build a new concrete framed monster in the garden that never gets finished.
Yet high up a hill above our adopted home of Kalyves there’s the village of Vamos. There’s something special going on here. Many old houses show off the achievements of skilled builders, the gardens are tended, there’s no pick-up truck slowly returning to the soil.
It started in 1995, a century after this community began the revolt against Crete’s Turkish rulers.
A group of enterprising villagers received funding to restore some of its old buildings, forming a co-operative to keep essential services operational. Once the joy had been uncovered the Germans and English took over, even a few French. There’s something distinctly northern European about the majority of the restored places, but everyone shares the pride.
Up here the air is cleaner, the mountains look close enough to touch, and yet the sea is still in view.
Vamos has a great location, but it could easily have faded into obscurity like so many other in land villages. Instead it now feels that it’s thriving, and I’d happily base myself here for a year or so.
Vamos café culture.
There’s a social hierarchy to the four cafés that face onto the square.
The bakery/patisserie is the hang out of younger folk, and foreigners.
The restaurant is favoured by foreigners too.
Next to that, the ouzeri (ouzo bar) is local during the day, becoming less Greek in the evenings.
The star of the town though is the kafeneio, the old man’s café, and it’s very much a Greek affair, a male Greek affair.
For two mornings we sat fascinated watching the goings on at the kafeneio across the road. The café opens early, about 6am, it shuts soon after lunch. By the time we arrive the Raki is already being served to old boys who can hardly walk even before the spirits start flowing. Seeing some tackle the steep steps makes me long to rush over and help, but the fact that their mates are laughing at their struggle tells you your assisting arm would not be welcome.
Most wear suit style jackets, most wear hats, most park their old banger right outside, some arrive on ancient scooters that are held together with wire and tape.
None are happy when a van parks obscuring their view of the square. The driver’s mate catches on to their transgression and the van is soon moved.
Coffee is drank very slowly, but Raki is on instant top up. I can’t imagine they’re charged by the shot, perhaps they’re charged by the hour.
The death notice.
Across much of Eastern Europe the death notice is common, and it makes sense to me.
Few of us buy the local paper, few local papers exist as a consequence.
Posting a death on social media feels like it belittles the event.
So how do we find out that the friend we nod to, but whose name we don’t know, has taken the last train?
The death notice, complete with photo, lets us know of their passing, the date and time of the funeral, and the location of the feast of remembrance.
My stupidly expensive iPhone has been failing for a while. Nothing too serious, its charging socket became overly sensitive and rarely worked.
At the weekend I left it with the technology shop in Kalyves to be sent for repair. It’ll take a week (so given that’s a Greek week I’m allowing two).
I walked away from the store, free of phone tyranny for the first time in 25 years.
I’m embarrassed by how attached I am to the computer in my pocket, yet not having it has been great. The two things I miss are its excellent camera, and my Greek language app that accompanies my staggers with Polly.
If it’s not back this Saturday I’ll need to find wifi to post this blog, but beyond that one phone between the two of us is ample.
It really is happening now. Even the weeds are springing into flower.
The grey green of the olive trees is enlivened by fresh new leaves, the carob’s dark foliage suddenly has yellow tips.
Orchids. Thyme. Rosemary. Hibiscus.
Hawthorn is a riot, almonds too. The buzzing of thousands of bees competes with the chain saws that tidy villas before the owners arrive for Easter.
In praise of Crete.
When we arrived on the island we were first struck by how scruffy it is, even by Greek standards. Since then we have found much here that’s favourable to the mainland, and perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to the messiness that we notice it less.
The beaches are often immaculate. Many are blue flagged, and the water is generally clear.
There are toilets. Two of the obsessions of vanlife folk are availability of toilets and water. If you’ve ever been on a long camping trip you’ll understand. Here on Crete water is plentiful, often flowing from the hillsides, and most towns, villages and beaches have public loos. Some of them you wouldn’t mind your mother using, others are less desirable.
Wherever you go there’s fresh fruit and vegetables for sale, generally local produce, and it’s cheaper than anything we’ll find at home. Even the smallest hamlet will have a fruit and veg van come through several times a week, honking his horn as he drives along.
They even walk dogs here. That’ll sound like a strange statement, but it’s not usual in Greece where the dog is just a tool that scares people from your property. Some people are even getting in the habit of cleaning up after theirs. Plenty are still abandoned, females are left at the dump, old dogs thrown out, or shot, but change is happening, and there are neutering programmes for both cats and dogs.
Precious Princess Polly.
Precious Princess Polly Tregiffian Collins has a new friend.
In Kalyves our nearest coffee shop owner introduced us to enterprising English girl Samantha. Sam provides all manner of pet services from her home in nearby Neo Chorio.
She came and collected Polly on Friday afternoon returning her a few hours later washed, clipped, with smart nails and smelling better than anything else in the van. We’ll bring her back for a repeat performance before we leave the island.
It has been a quiet week, we knew we had to return to collect my phone (now fully functioning, and delivered on time) and we have only travelled a few miles. Once this blog is posted we’ll fill with water and head off in search of new roads.
Right now though it’s time to boost our vitamin defences with Minty’s Freshly Squeezed….