Travelling through a changing Crete.

    Amari Dam.

    The excuses have run out, it’s time to leave our Kalyves base.

    But let’s not get too adventurous eh?

    After 40 miles of gentle meandering through the hills we parked on the water’s edge at Amari reservoir.

    Ahead the highest mountain on the island, Mount Ida or Psilortis, towers at 2456m. It still has a good covering of snow.

    Behind us there’s a café with a great view over the mountains and the water.

    And we can think of no good reason to go on.

    Van. Dam.

    At Café Gidospito we bantered over a half kilo of rough white, and then another. After two years almost exclusively in each other’s company we don’t have a huge amount to say. I’m generally spare with words and Minty’s not chatty, but at the café we covered topics ranging from plans in Cornwall to planning Sunday lunch.

    How much?

    There’s only so much home made unfiltered rough white you can drink before the acid gets you. It’s not strong, but it sure is sharp. After a kilo we called it a day and got up to pay.

    Now €14 for a litre of wine accompanied by olives, cheese, tomatoes and rusks is not bad. But it’s double what we’d expect outside of a fancy resort.

    Ten minutes after Polly and I stumbled off in search of hill climbing adventure but Minty pulled on her brave pants and stomped back to the café to take on the barman. She walked away with an extra €4 in her pocket.

    Our rough medicine came at a price.

    Rick won’t be in the least surprised to read this. Judith, Minty’s mum, questioned pretty much everything. Her speciality was hotel rooms. Her reputation for getting moved to something better within an hour of arriving somewhere became a family legend.

    It’s not always the long drives.

    From our windy Amari Dam stop the mountain town of Spili is en route to our south coast destination. Yesterday over the rot gut aspro (white wine) we decided we’d head there and have a Sunday lunch treat, stopping overnight in the steep sloping car park if it suits us.

    It’s only ten miles and it started so easily.

    At mile four we swerve off the main road and take the smaller lane to Patsos, immediately stopping for the large flock of sheep that blocked the way.

    That flock was probably a good thing as it pulled us up sharp, gave us pause, and after they’d passed we moved off gently.

    Immediately we were into second gear climbing with full lock switchbacks leading into the village of Patsos where the early Sunday morning sober parking left little room for ArchieVan to squeeze through. An hour later the streets will be an unpassable slew of pick-ups.

    The gene pool is strong here and incomers are few. It felt like we’d be dinner should we stop.

    We both breathed more easily once through the village but the next challenge was upon us straight away. ArchieVan is built for its 3.5 tonne weight limit and its gearing is low. In spite of that the next two miles were so steep that I hardly changed up from first gear.

    High revs put your nerves on edge. Steep climbs with the edge of the road crumbling to terrifying drops put your nerves on edge. By the time we plateaued we were ready for a rest.

    It’s a common sight, but no less shocking.

    The descent into Spili wasn’t exactly restful, but it did reward with incredible views from our 1200m right down to the distant sea.

    Ten miles driven. Ample. We’ll be here for the night.

    It didn’t happen.

    It didn’t happen. A walk around Spili was as jolly as the first time we there, except that the restaurants were all closed. We could have had coffee in a number of places, Raki too, but no Sunday special.

    Miles hard won.

    Friends had warned us that the drive down to Agios Pavlos would be tough. From the main road there wasn’t a single 100m stretch that resembled anything a UK driver would be used to. The gradient was mad, the two villages were silly narrow, and the full lock, full reverse lock bends were a near constant. But I keep reminding myself that if there’s a road then it was made by a bigger beast than ArchieVan.

    Tables to the sun. Agia Galini.

    Beautiful Agios Pavlos didn’t hold us.

    Instead we found our rest in the harbour of nearby Agia Galini.

    By then we were past hungry and fast approaching hangry.

    There was only one place open, but it looked a beauty and we sat at its one available perch.

    The table of Dutch (tall, ridiculously healthy looking, and full of fun) moved to chase the sun until their table was slap bang in the middle of the road by the restaurant. We followed their lead and only twice had to move our table to let pick-ups pass.

    Simple fare. Perfectly cooked. A good price. Thank you La Strada. All was well.

    A moveable feast. Agia Galini.

    Sick dog sleeps through torrential rain.

    After a hurried evening snack of contraband road-side bones Princess Precious began a major chunder adventure at 2am. During the next couple of early morning hours she was walked, and walked again, throwing up all the way. Her bedding was washed, and the van floor cleaned, cleaned again, and cleaned again.

    Her first walk without further retching was at 7am, and soon after the rains came.

    It doesn’t just rain here. It utterly throws it down with van shaking thunder and sudden floods gushing down every street. But this time it didn’t matter. She’d been out at 7am, we’d been awake most of the night, we slept until midday, by the time we surfaced the storm had passed.

    The Andreas. Arrested for cigarette smuggling. Five years ago.


    We settled into the car park of Faistos knowing there was an archaeological site nearby.

    We woke at Phaistos, second only to Knossos in the hierarchy of Minoan palaces.

    For some reason the authorities choose to spell the village name with an F rather than a Ph and thereby confused us simple tourists.

    The location was important long before the palace was established in 1900 BC, but it was the Minoans that truly established the site. Like Knossos it has a grand scale with courtyards for important events. Raised pavements lead across the furthest points of these courtyards so that processions could be seen by all. Even drainage was considered with gullies taking waste water away.

    The Minoan Place of Phaistos.

    Its many magazines (shops) still contain huge pitholi, these are the tall earthenware pots that held grain, pulses and olives.

    The royal quarters is the best preserved area and most interesting. King and queen (applying our modern terms) had a suite each. These have the wonderful name of megaron – I do fancy arriving as a traveller at a fine hotel and requesting their finest megaron. Both king’s and queen’s have polished gypsum floors and dado with wide red grouting. The king also has a huge bathing chamber, and a north facing colonnade with extensive views overlooking his fertile plains, with a glimpse of the sea at Agia Galini, and dominated by the island’s tallest mountain, Ida.

    Costas at Zorbas.

    ArchieVan parked up outside Zorba’s and the crew decamped for a drink and a chat with Costas, the wonderfully entertaining owner.


    In no time Costas had pulled up a chair and a bottle of Raki. He fetched sweet cheese pies, and set about teaching a lesson in modern Greek and the older Cretan dialect. For a guy who has spent most of his 65 years dancing, waiting on and cooking Costas has a fine knowledge and passion for linguistics. Our hours with him were an education.

    Learning from the man. Costas at Zorbas.

    Over three days we walked the long sandy beach and headed for the nearby monastery. Over three nights visits to Costas started our evening with better wine than we’re used to, and a selection of good snacks.

    It’s a bit dry in these parts.

    With the crew of Geriatrix II we sheltered in the lee of Costas’s friend’s house as crazy winds whipped down from the north.

    We would have stayed longer, but our motivation for being there was as a stop off before the excitement of a campsite, showers, and a long overdue clothes wash.

    Gimme shelter. ArchieVan and Geriatrix II avoiding the wind.


    This week’s most notable new bloom is the arum lily.

    Phallic to the Romans, pure and representing the Virgin Mary to others, the arum is most surprising for the harshness of the surroundings that exaggerate its delicate beauty.

    Arum rise from the dirt.

    Greenhouse world.

    Between Tsoutsouros and Ierapetra every flat bit of land is a greenhouse growing bananas, tomatoes and other soft vegetables. I’ve described such areas before, but this aerial view from Google gives you a better picture than my words.

    When the wind finally rips through the plastic the greenhouses are not repaired. Rather they are abandoned and a new one built. The tiny roads connecting the growers are terrorised by HGVs forcing their way down roads created for donkeys. It must be a depressing place to live.

    Each grey block is a massive greenhouse.

    The virus.

    Friday 13th March. Said to be annoyed with the people for carrying on life as usual the government cracked down hard today. Everywhere has been ordered to close except pharmacies, food shops and take away food outlets. Closing the kafeneions (the traditional cafes) for the first time ever will hit senior Greek society as hard, perhaps harder, than shutting the British pub. Whether people will comply will be a different matter. The Greeks are as stubborn as hell and don’t like to be told what to do.

    On Saturday morning life appears to be going on. The supermarket was busy, but it always is on Saturday. There’s no panic buying, only the pulses shelf appears to have been raided.

    I suspect that we’ll settle for a while, away from crowds, not that there really are any. I’ll continue writing my diary, but I’ll post less often.

    There are worse places to be stuck.

    Rusks and olives with every glass. Agia Galini.
    Bowie as cat.
    Another day, another thousand blooms.
    A king’s view, ArchieVan at Phaistos.
    Silt and rubble from the last flood. Life goes on.
    If it was suicide how did he pull the trigger?
    Green peppers open to reveal lilies.
    In memory of massacre.
    There are few war memorials, making this all the more poignant.

    The Tsoutsouros.

    The Tsoutsouros was Crete’s only indigenous dinosaur. It roamed the south coast for many centuries, long outliving its fellows on mainland Europe. Eventually it became disillusioned with the direction of evolution and decided to reverse the process. En masse the 50 or so remaining Tsoutsouros pulled themselves back into the sea, gripping the bottom and sinking deeper and deeper beneath the waves.

    They dragged themselves under in 1958, a few years later the village was named in their honour.

    10 Replies to “Travelling through a changing Crete.”

    1. Gillian Cooper says: Reply

      Hi guys
      Another interesting blog
      Have sent a text as a catch up just wondered where you were and what was happening in your neck of the woods
      Are you restricted to where you can go getting worse at the moment hopefully we can contain it as best we can
      Stay safe
      Hope PP is now OK what it something she had eaten !!!
      Keep in touch
      Luv D&G💕

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Gill.
        All good here, although the world outside has become a ghost place.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    2. Rachael Smart says: Reply

      Hope the dog is fit and well again. A beautiful post and much required as I need transporting from the claustrophobic insanity of the UK. The stockpiling, oh my life. The empty shelves. The ‘we’ll be alright’ gluttony. Your photos of sunlit wine and lemon rays couldn’t be further from the apocalyptic insanity here right now. Stay safe and let me swap with you. Just a week…

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Come on, be quick while you can still escape….
        So many friends ask if we’re coming home, I find it hard to explain that we feel extremely lucky to be here.
        Although the scenes on TV are as ridiculous here as at home people are taking life as it comes.
        I can’t imagine many restaurants will be shut tomorrow, they’ll just invite the police and forget to charge them.
        We arrived on a campsite last night and have been cleaning ever since. Bodies first. Clothes next. Van tomorrow.
        I’ve just had a swim and life feels good.
        Stay sane.
        KC. Crete.

    3. And so, on an auspicious date, Greece takes itself into a new era in which the ancients will have to take their raki with them when they retreat to their vines. I believe it is Kostas’s plot today! A rule for the nation interpreted by locals will give them fuel for their debates and their alcohol fed immunity will, God willing, go with them. The global community shrinks but life goes on…hurrah!
      Luludhi updates are lovely; have you seen any flowers with the mysterious leaves we noted over the past two visits?
      So, how’s your Cretan Greek coming along?

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Those huge leaves have still do to anything, but there’s new stuff popping up every day now.
        We’re sheltering from a big storm for the next few days so we won’t know what’s happening outside anyway.

    4. You take care the 3 of you, as you say there are worse places to be stuck. Shelves empty of everything here, the place has gone nuts.
      Great photos as always 🙂
      Take care
      Dave and Louise

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you both.
        So many friends are asking if we’re going to leave this emptiness and rush home to crowded England.
        I’d like to look after my mum, but other than that I think we’re extremely lucky to be here.
        Generally I suggest that luck is something you have to work hard for, but this time, it does feel like actual luck.
        Keep well and keep sane. Listening to the radio each day makes me realise how mad our 24 hour media has made us all.

    5. Ah I remember well the room changing episodes. My opening comment when entering the hotel room was I will not unpack just yet!
      Judith was a classic, even in the Marriott days we would invariably change apartments until, that is, we got to know the favoured few. Then on arriving Judith would would request and usually get one, this on one occasion entailed waiting until the following day with Marriott staff insisting that they move all our belongings to the new apartment as a gesture of goodwill whilst we were at the pool/bar!! However the hotel rooms and apartments were always much better, in Whistler we even got upgraded o a suite, no extra!!

      I wonder where Minty gets it from!!

      The situation is not good and I have rearranged my holiday at Elviria from June until late September.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Good story Rick.
        I’ve experienced it too.
        Look after yourself and keep your head down for a bit.

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