"CHAPTER TWO: Crete Revisited" Personal Page by drolkar
Belated greetings from Rome !! I hope that you are all well...
Chapter 1 most definitely did not do justice to Crete, so I am going to begin by backtracking a bit even though the most recent events in my life have taken place here in Rome. (Yesterday, for example, I officially became a volunteer at a cat sanctuary - with some 450 cats and kittens available and waiting for adoption - that is located amongst the ruins adjacent to the very place where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15, 44 BC.)
The most notable (fascinating, bewildering, surprising...) aspects of our Cretan experience included the following places:
- IERAPETRA (pop. 11,000) our base, struck me as being a very easygoing and pleasant port city. A conglomeration of historical bits greets the visitor: the house where Napoleon was a guest en route to Egypt, part of a Venetian fortress, a restored Turkish mosque... and a plethora of restaurants along the waterfront with multilingual menus and hosts avid for tourist dollars ("Parlate italiano? Vous etes francais? Guten abend !"). And speaking of tourist dollars, the gruesome fact is that approx. 80 % of Crete's tourism consists of package tours, thanks to the opening of the national road along the island's northern coast in 1972.
- KRITSA (pop. 2,000) - aka the town of embroidery - sports an entire street full of shops displaying handmade aprons, tablecloths, blouses etc. Traditionally, we were told, this work is done by widows, which has often meant that they were the first or only female breadwinners in the village. We walked all around the narrow streets of this picturesque village with its whitewashed houses terraced into the mountainside, Gianluca surreptitiously taking photos of its inhabitants all the while. (The most amazing photo, in my opinion, is attached hereto: an old woman in black, sitting in the doorway, immersed in reading her Bible.)
- TOURLOTI, a small mountain village in the north-eastern region of Crete, hosted a local festival that was recommended to us by the husband of the woman managing the hotel where we stayed (she hails from Belgium; he is from this particular village). The entire village had gathered outside to have dinner together and enjoy the live music, with tables set end-to-end along the entire length of the main street. We even saw an Orthodox priest in full regalia (navy blue) and with a long beard, smoking and chatting with his parishioners outside a local cafe. People were most welcoming and friendly, and invited us to join them...... but still there was no dancing, much to my chagrin.
- While driving around the northeastern part of the island, we also stopped to see the monastery known as Moni Touplou, which actually looked more like a fortress than a place of retreat and contemplation. I suppose this should come as no surprise, however, since over the centuries many of Crete's monasteries played a key role in the island's resistance to foreign (i.e., Turkish) incursions. In some cases, apparently, they even held out longer under siege than the cities themselves.
- The ISLAND OF HRYSI, to which we traveled by ferry in a day trip from Ierapetra, boasts Europe's only forest of cedars of Lebanon. The day we went it was exceptionally hot and dry and overrun with northern Italians sporting cell phones and box lunches... but the aquamarine blue shade of the water was more than adequate compensation for these petty discomforts. This was also the day of my fatal sunburn - henceforth I made a distinct crinkling sound when walking.
- The MESARA PLAIN, in the south-central region of the island, was strikingly different from everything we had seen previously. Dusty olive fields lined both sides of the road as we passed through one farming town after another, and a pungent smell of goat permeated the air. An old man riding his donkey with brush draped over the saddle and two donkeys in tow saluted us with his scythe when Gianluca stopped the car to take his picture. Warning: at the taverna where we stopped for lunch, wine was sold by the KILOGRAM !
- GORTYN is the site of Roman ruins including an amphitheater, an ancient basilica and (most interesting for me) stone tablets bearing a Code of Law in Dorian dialect from the 6th century B.C. There was even a temple of Egyptian deities to remind one just how close Crete is to Egypt... not to mention Libya. Which reminds me, on a lighter note, how I was constantly worrying that the fierce "meltemi" wind would blow the laundry right off our balcony and across the sea to Libya - a mere 300 km away !
- Then there was the day of the hair-raising roads, when we set off to ZAKROS (pop. 765) on the eastern coast. Our road maps of eastern Crete left something to be desired, so we decided to avoid the main national road and take the smaller one from Agios Giorgos to Zakros. The result? We found ourselves literally on top of the world. Nobody here but us windmills (making good use of the meltemi) plus one goat. The earth was maroonish-purple in color, with rocks and craggy cliffs, dry yellow cardo and sage. The scent of herbs was very strong and the wind even stronger. The shadows of clouds loom large indeed up this high... and the sea was still visible far below.
- Eventually we just gave up on the maps and followed the signposts. In little villages like Sitanos and Karidi, there was not a soul to be seen in the streets yet obviously somebody was living here. How do these people live, I wonder, and what on earth do they do for a living? On the way down, I was white-knuckled all the way, clinging desperately to the car door as Gianluca took the hairpin turns at about 1 mile per hour.
Our high-altitude detour was well worth it, however, since ZAKROS has an amazing beach. Craggy cliffs converge with the sea, and the beach is covered with multi-colored pebbles of all hues. I would definitely go back there again...
- Last but definitely not least, there is HERAKLION (pop. 116,000), where we spent our last day in Crete before flying back to Rome. The Archeological Museum there has an excellent reputation (especially for Minoan items), but the weather was beautiful and we both felt like staying outdoors so we opted for a promenade along the harbor instead. The large and well-preserved Venetian fortress along the harbor is impressive, and the colors of the water defied description... I will let the photo speak for itself.
- As for the Minoans (whose golden age lasted from 1700 until 1450 BC), I leave you with a photo of the SERPENT GODDESS (see above). Her replica now temporarily graces our kitchen table, until I make a better place for her in the other room. Snakes represented immortality for the Minoans.
- On the return flight from Heraklion to Athens, I got a good look at the island of Santorini. From the bird's eye perspective provided by Aegean Airlines, one can see the damage that was done by the volcanic eruption in around 1700 BC, as well as the island's resulting half-moon shape.
- Thus, on the 16th of August back we went to torrid Rome and the stuck anti-cyclone of the Azores that has kept the weather here so miserable. Since then, we have been alternating between setting up our new home and making day trips around the area. (On my previous trips to Rome I had already visited most of Rome's best-known sites.) So never fear, there is already ample material for Chapter 3...
- I have been busy working on putting the pieces together for our planned trip to Afghanistan in March of 2004 (pre-production for the next film shoot) and have also managed to locate a Greek tavern here that apparently hosts various events and activities. (Dancing, anyone ?!) Somehow the Greek language just "sounds" accessible to me, perhaps because of the many vowels, so maybe once my Italian gets better I will plunge into learning Greek.
Chapter 3 will be forthcoming shortly... and in the meantime BE WELL !
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