The fruit and veg market in a small Greek town will always be a good experience. In a major centre like Xania it’s a spectator event as well as great shopping.
We got there early. We filled our bags with cherries, apricots, oranges, garlic, onions and a wide selection of vegetables. Everything grown on the island. Yet we hardly spent €10.
Stallholders don’t bother calculating the price of the amount you have chosen, they simply weigh your bag and add a few more items to bring you to the nearest half kilo. They’re generous too, always giving a little more.
In the market the few Americans and East Asians who were wearing masks probably wear them in normal times too.
Ten kilos of produce began to feel like a lot to carry. The market is the other side of town to where we’d parked for the night.
It was already getting hot.
Minty copes with the heat.
She goes berry brown, and simply carries on with living.
The heat knocks me sideways.
The town gathers the heat and throws it back at you, despite the sea breeze.
After posting the blog (perched on a pebble outside a restaurant whose wifi we’d signed onto at some stage) I had to get away from our much loved Xania.
30° on the beach of Agios Onoufrios was a whole lot easier to deal with than 30° in the town. The breeze was slight, but the sea was cooling, and after a 15 minute dip I could think again.
This tiny beach is less than 10 miles from Xania, but for the whole of Saturday there were never more than 20 people.
It’s Monday now and we’re still here.
It’s a holiday. Again. It’s never far from a holiday in Greece. This time it’s the Orthodox Pentacost.
This is the local security detachment.
They work as a team, never more than a few paces from each other.
They herd cats. They terrorise dogs. They have a penchant for fag ends.
They patrol tirelessly.
They are rather too keen on honking at 4am.
Breakfast of champions.
If I cook with pulses or legumes I like to get a couple of meals from the hour or so stuff needs to simmer.
Saturday night’s dahl was extra good, especially with fennel seeds from the eastern shop in Kalyves. On Sunday I fried up some red cabbage in vinegar and honey to give it variety.
Two day’s dinner from one meal is enough, but there was a good portion left.
On Monday morning Minty solved that problem. While Polly and I were swimming Minty fried rice to accompany the dahl, topped by a chilli egg.
Oh yea baby. We live well!
That pre-breakfast swim. We were swimming with an old fellow and Nicos his huge handsome black Alsatian. The old boy is 86, the dog is 6. I was impressed that at 80 someone would think taking on such a powerful and energetic dog was a good idea. Nicos was fantastically behaved, the old boy knew what he was doing.
The bay here is formed by a 300m cricket bat of a peninsula that’s a collection of evil jagged weathered grey limestone.
I’d noticed a fellow carrying two heavy white sacks from the tip of the peninsula on our first morning. I was curious. It’s too harsh for anything to grow out there. Even the low scrub gives way as you get further along.
In the evening I went to explore.
The jagged rock is sharp enough to cut your shoes, you don’t want to slip on this stuff. And the scant vegetation is all spikes too. I should have worn jeans, but at seven in the evening it was still to hot.
Closer to the end the grey limestone becomes black, and the rise in temperature from the additional heat stored by the black rock was considerable. Right at the end I found what my man had been harvesting.
At the end a few of the rocks have been eroded into basins, and these fill with sea water that evaporates quickly. Several had clearly been scooped of their product that day. I tried a few crystals – the salt was sharp enough to make my teeth hurt.
I prefer an informal beach to the commercial organised rows of loungers in the holiday brochure. That said, there’s beauty in the symmetry of a hundred or so identical umbrellas, in the soft light of dawn, with not a soul in sight.
Over the past few weeks the town beaches have gradually transformed from their extended winter of freedom to become more organised affairs.
It’s no mean feat.
Huge earth moving equipment arrives to flatten the sand.
Poles for the umbrellas are sunk deep into the sand to withstand the winds that whip the island. Measured to conform exactly to the 4m spacing law.
Decking walkways are laid between all this.
There are often a dozen men on the job. Mostly watching, but a few of them working hard.
In a reverse of trashumance the army of Caterpillars and JCBs flatten the beach for summer then migrate into the hills to keep the roads clear of landslides through the winter.
I have often mocked the feeble Greek attempts at accessibility. There’ll be a disabled access sign pointing at a slope that Evil Knievel would baulk at, or pointing across soft sand that would sink a Land Rover.
However I am hugely impressed at a system I have seen on a couple of beaches to help the wheelchair bound into the sea, complete with ramp, hoist and even a shower. If I couldn’t use my legs I’m sure I’d feel a huge freedom in the sea, and would be appreciative of such a contraption.
On Tuesday we drove all of 10kms to the northern tip of the Akrotiri peninsula to revisit an old favourite haunt.
In winter Stavros is hicksville. A no horse town that looks ready to blow away in the next storm.
Last time we were here there was just one bar open. In a corner an old lady with her head on her arms slept off her lunchtime ouzo. She woke with a crumpled face and crumpled mind. She tried hard to concentrate. She realised the futility of the effort. She slipped back into her doze.
A coven of four crones sat distant from the fire that we’d been placed in front of. We tried to swop places, but they’d have none of it. An hour later, as we left, they scurried over to thaw.
In January we’d wait until mid morning before the sun rose behind the huge hill that dominates the lagoon and beach.
In June the sun is on us by 6am.
Bars are open.
There’s a smart new restaurant near where we’ve camped.
The reviews for Almyriki were too much for Min. She had to visit. She had to sample their calamari with chilli and lemon.
Our modest lunch of a green salad, calamari, and feta chips was nothing compared to the seven plate feast our neighbours ordered, but it was too much for us.
We took the chips back to the van.
The girl had a plan for another breakfast of champions.
In preparation for breakfast I swam the full width of the lagoon for the first time. There and back it’s about 700m. That’s a fair bit more than I usually swim, and it felt great.
Morning exercise, in particular swimming, makes every breakfast amazing.
Garlic (obviously), red onion, mushroom, chips, a sprinkling of feta, thyme to garnish.
The coffee hit the spot, the omelette was superb.
We’ve booked a ferry to take us off Crete.
It was a big decision. We both feel good to have the seed of a plan.
We have a week left to visit a few favourite places before heading to the small island of Kytheira.
Paleochora is top of the list.
Driving there from Stavros yesterday, passing through places we know, we experience a bitter sweet ache, knowing we won’t be back for a long time. It brings focus to the beauty that we have become used to. Through the mountains recent rain has sharpened that beauty. Green. Green is special. Especially special backed by the blue of the Libyan Sea.
We have been here several times. We parked in a similar place. Shielded by tamarisk, shaded until noon.
We know the town. There’s no need to rush about exploring. It feels like we can sit back, take it slow. Read. Browse thanks to nearby wifi.
It’s also several degrees cooler.
Variety. Change. The thrill of the new.
I’ve never read a Lee Child novel. I’ve never seen a Jack Reacher film. There’s always a first time. Minty picked up the first of his twenty-plus blockbusters at a book exchange in Paleochora.
Wow! It’s not only a fast paced rollercoaster, it’s well written too. A spare style that I love. 550 pages devoured in a couple of sittings. Boom.
At the same book exchange I picked up Sebastian Barry’s Secret Scriptures. My first Sebastian Barry. Oh the joy! What is it that gives Irish writers their gift? Can it be the rain? 100 pages of this can take a whole day. I read, and reread, thrilled by his prose.
Here’s a thought from Roseanne, author of the Secrets, writing her memories from her asylum, aged circa.100.
But cannot a man make himself as happy as he can in the strange long reaches of a life? I think it is legitimate. After all, the world is indeed beautiful and if we were any other creature than man we might be continuously happy in it.
We both read Sally Rooney’s Normal People. It’s rare that we share a book. It didn’t touch Min, but it moved me. I still wonder at her skill. At 27. At any age.
Until the 1950s Cretan history was shaped by war and resistance. The Romans, the Venetians, the Turks, the Germans.
The fierce resistance in 1941 shocked the Wehrmacht. Instead of being attacked by an enemy country’s war machine they were been tackled by old men and children with arms from a previous century.
The Cretan division of the Greek army was in Albania. The Allied force was barely armed as it was in retreat from the mainland. And yet the resistance was fierce and determined.
The airborne invasion of the island was led by the Nazi General Student. He was determined to quell resistance quickly. When the village of Kandanos held his troops back from their assault on Paleochora his response was brutal. He had his reinforcements raze the village, shoot 180 of its inhabitants, and as a final insult erect a “memorial” to the event. The first plaque in Greek and German reads “Here stood Kandanos. It was destroyed in retaliation for the murder of 25 German soldiers.”
Today the hatred of neighbours is reserved for the Turks. The diaspora to Germany from the 1980s onwards helped redress emotions.
A final warring note…
On D-Day we visited the Commonwealth War Graves at Souda Bay, the invasion point. The serenity of war graves, the utter contrast to the events that created their need, never fails to move me. It’s poignant here with normal life continuing just beyond the walls. Children play on the beach, ferries ferry visitors to the island. The freedoms fought for.