Monday 21st to Friday 25th November
Now that Mary’s gone we need to get on with the checklist for each apartment. The jobs include cleaning door handles, cleaning and painting A/C vents and extractor fans, replacing caulking around the bath, patch painting walls, repairing doors and shutters then painting, mattress checks and furniture checks. We need to decide what needs doing and what doesn’t. This keeps us busy for the next few days. Before starting on this we complete the hangar colour grouping. In addition we do general chores; carrying waste cardboard to the recycling bins, sweeping the paths of olives, trimming hedges, pruning geraniums and planting geranium cuttings, repairing the inside of the apartment doors (first Daz sands the cracks and then fills with putty) and updating the spreadsheet.
Monday evening we have a doctor’s appointment ; Vassilis has kindly phoned the doctor about our vaccination requirements. We have listed what vaccinations we need and off we go. Initially he tells us that he can’t advise us and we should visit the relevant embassies for information. We explain that we know what’s required and that’s what’s on our list. He looks at our list and says Typhoid and Rabies aren’t possible (we don’t know why) but says others are available. He writes a note for each of us with the vaccine name on it and says we can start with the flu jab. He sends us across the road to the pharmacist where we get our flu jab (6€ each). We need to return in December for Hepatitis A and tetanus. We pop back to tell the doctor that we’re done and he charges us 30€. We have no idea whether that’s for a consultation or whether the note he wrote for us is in fact a prescription and I guess we’ll never know.
On Tuesday Vassilis takes us to Sitia; it’s market day and we buy lots of lovely fresh, local fruit and vegetables. In the evening we walk to the harbour in Makry Gialos, there are actually quite a few bars open even though the tourist season is over. We pop to the dentist and book a thorough cleaning for the 2 of us (40€). It’s 2 years since we’ve had our teeth checked although I did have to visit a dentist in Portugal when I lost a bit of tooth and filling. On Wednesday evening it’s quiz and bingo night but we don’t do very well at the quiz or the Bingo.
Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th.
We actually take some time off. We cycle to Staoysa beach and snorkel.
It’s fabulous; we can’t believe we’re swimming in the sea and it’s nearly December and there are plenty of fish to watch.
After our swim we head back into Makry Gialos and stop at the Cavern. It’s owned by Ian and Shazza and definitely attracts the ex-pat crowd. We return in the evening because there’s a quiz and music night.
The music is excellent but the quiz? Well it’s beyond obscure, verging on the ridiculous and with a quiz master who refuses to use a microphone, instead addressing each question to the nearest team. Daz gets so annoyed, constantly asking him to repeat question we haven’t heard!!! Sunday we have a lazy morning and continue our cat socialising scheme. There are 4 cats here, a cute multi coloured tabby, now known as Baby Spice who has cat flu so comes to our room twice a day for medication (and food), Ginger spice the ginger cat, a big tabby now known as Sporty Spice and Mr Mistoffelees (black cat) now known as Black Spice who is very anti social and needs therapy!! We encourage all the cats to come to our room so Black Spice (Mr Mistoffelees) will become calmer and more trusting.
From left to right – Ginger spice, Sporty Spice, Black Spice and Baby at the front.
He and Sporty Spice will be visiting the vet shortly to be spade and we’ll need to catch them and get them into their cat boxes. After cat therapy we head out with Vassilis for a walk up Perivolakia gorge. There are wild herbs in abundance – wild asparagus, oregano, marjoram, sage, rosemary and thyme. Also we find mandrake in flower (everything’s flowering too early due to lack of rain) and several lilies including the Dutchman’s pipe, also in flower. Then we spot the vultures. Vassilis has pointed out the nests of the 3 pairs in this gorge but we don’t see any birds. And then suddenly we see them. But there’s more than the 3 nesting pairs. Our final count is 24. We even spot new nesting sites further up the gorge with large family groups flying into them. Several years ago the vultures disappeared from this gorge. They returned a few years later but it’s great to see their numbers increasing here.
Vassilis is incredibly knowledgeable; he points out the Oleander bush which is very poisonous and tells us the myth behind the mandrake. Zeus caught another man with his wife and planted him into the ground and made him a plant, hence the mandrake root is shaped like a man!
At the head of the gorge we walk to the abandoned part of Perivolakia village, there’s a geocache here somewhere and we want to show Vassilis. After a successful cache retrieval we head into the village for Sunday lunch.
Outside the restaurant, which is actually like someone’s home, we’re met by one of Vassilis‘ friends who we met at the raki night and he’s with 2 Norwegians. One lives in Pefki and the other, Anita, is visiting. It’s her first time in Crete and being a professor on goddesses she’s totally blown away by the archaeological importance of Crete. Apparently wherever you are on the island, you’re never more than 5km from an archaeological site. Vassilis knows everyone and has contacts for everything and over lunch he makes several calls and arranges a visit to the Institute of Archaeology at Pachia Ammos for them all. All archaeological finds on Crete are sent here for categorisation. Lunch is delicious, various meat and vegetable dishes.
Monday 28th November to Saturday 3rd December
Monday the beautiful weather is replaced by high winds and rain. Crete has had barely any rain this year and is desperate for water so the few days of rain that follow are more than welcome. Work this week: painting walls in the basement, more geranium pruning, door repair, patch painting, caulking around the bath and Mary’s given us more room checks to complete so whilst we do these we also check the rooms are OK after the wet weather, run the taps and flush the toilets in each room. I also dig over a bed in the garden which is only possible because there’s been so much rain. Before the ground was like concrete. Daz cleans door handles; he removes them, puts them in vinegar then rubs with wire wool.
We’ve been told her Meze is excellent and the trick is to order only drinks and then the food will come. And it’s so true. Our first visit cost us 26€, this visit is 12€ and we have plenty of different dishes to try with our wine. It’s delicious! Wednesday afternoon we go to the olive pressing factory in Stavrochori with Nikos. He’s been harvesting his own olives and those around the hotel and this afternoon they’ll be pressed. At the factory the olives are stacked in hessian sacks in batches belonging to each farmer. A batch is emptied into a hopper and fall onto a conveyor belt where the leaves are separated from the olives.
Then they’re washed and weighed and then crushed. The crushed mulch is then poured into a tank where it’s constantly agitated by a corkscrew, this is called malaxing.
The mulch is then passed through 2 centrifuges to produce pure oil, and separate out the vegetable water and solids which are dried and compressed into animal feed or fire pellets.
The olive oil is then either poured into 48kg plastic drums if the owner wants it or into a retaining tank if they don’t. The factory takes 12% of each oil production. Each batch is tested for acidity. Apparently a Ph of 0.009 is only good enough for cooking. Nico’s batch is 0.007 but even this is far more acidic than previous years.
Vassilis tells us that tests have been conducted in the University of California that proves Greek olive oil is the best in the world. Apparently the variety of olive tree grown in Greece produces an olive, which although rather small, yields a high percentage of oil but also the oil can contain anything from 200 to 500 phenols and is therefore medicinal in its properties. It’s considered good for healthy aging, as an anti oxidant and in cancer prevention. Sadly these phenols will fall by half over a 12 month period so the oil should be consumed young! Those farmers that leave their oil at the factory can request that it be sold at a specific time and receive the spot price available at that time. At the time of our visit a litre of olive oil is fetching about 3.20€ but only 2.90€ with a Ph of 0.009 or higher.
We watched 5 batches go through the process and get tested. The factory, during a good olive year, will be open from November to February / March. It’ll take 4 to 5 months for the olives to be harvested. In Greece the olive harvest still requires a high degree of manual intervention unlike other countries where it’s far more mechanised and large crops will be harvested over many months or the farmer might want to wait until his green olives have ripened to black. It’s been a fascinating visit but it’s well past our lunch time so we visit a local taverna for a meze. A lovely treat from Vassilis.
Finally we return home and do some more work before the quiz night. We actually win the quiz although there are only 4 teams (and to be fair Vassilis knows about 98%, he only needs very occasional help!) and then it’s Bingo time. We can’t decide whether to participate because it’s actually our dentist money we’ll be spending if we play (budgeting sucks!), so of course we play. Daz is busy stroking Ginger Spice; she’s been on his lap all evening. He only needs one number and he actually gets it. He’s won 17€ and takes Ginger Spice up with him to collect his winnings. Then the game continues and he wins ‘house’ too. He takes Ginger Spice with him again to collect his 88€ winnings. Now everyone wants his lucky pussy – even the girl in the bakery.
Daz and his lucky pussy!
Daz thought she was asking for his card ie phone number but she actually wanted his cat!! Friday Daz visits the dentist for his teeth cleaning appointment. The dentist does an excellent job (40€) (although in the Army we enjoyed this treat for free). He tells Daz he has 3 teeth that need attention ; one has a cracked filling, one a filling with gaps around the side and one tooth has 2 holes. Later we pick up our hire car which we’ll have until the end of our stay. Saturday evening we head to Heraklion to pick up a friend, Jac, who’s visiting for a week. We’re so looking forward to seeing her, we’re very excited!
We drive to Heraklion, pick up Jac and return to Makry Gialos. Sadly there’s nothing to see because it’s dark. In Makry Gialos we drop off Jac’s bags and head to Hari’s to meet Vassilis and have some food. Our poor decision is deciding to rely on only meze dishes and so we drink copious amounts of white wine and don’t actually have much food. We leave Hari’s and on our walk home we spot Zorba’s taverna and it’s quite busy so we decide to continue the party. In Zorba’s there’s a band and dancing so Jac and I join but sadly we both have 2 left feet so we’re pretty useless but it’s fun.
Sunday 4th December
This morning we’re all feeling pretty rough. Scrambled eggs for breakfast and Jac gives us all our goodies from the UK: bank cards, Daz’s gortex trousers, Son dynamo, maps, teabags, shortwave radio and Caxton card. It’s like Christmas come early – poor Jac had barely any room in her suitcase for her own things. We want to show Jac the village so we walk to the harbour and stop for coffee.
Then Vassilis takes us out for lunch at Stavrochori, but drives up the gorge to Pefki and then the back road which is beautiful and scenic. There are olive groves and pine forests, one of the few not to be decimated by fire. There’s a hilltop village where only 3 couples remain. Then we stop at Agios Stefanos to look at the intricate carving of local soap stone around the door. The window and lattice work was all carved from one piece of stone. Above the door there are plates stuck into the plaster.
After the artisan stone carvers had finished their work they would plaster in the plates they’d be using for meal times and so it’s possible to see how wealthy the craftsmen were. In Stavrochori we have a meze, a treat from Vassilis. Sunday afternoon it’s siesta time and in the evening we watch a couple of movies.
Monday morning we work around the hotel, I continue pruning geraniums and gardening – sweeping round pool. Jac kindly helps out. Meanwhile Daz is still doing room jobs; cleaning door handles, caulking baths and painting walls. Then in the afternoon we take Jac out for a sightseeing tour to Xerocampos on the eastern coast of Crete. Vassilis has told us that once we reach a certain point in the drive there will be a jaw drop moment. So we spend the drive in anticipation at each corner waiting for our jaws to drop. We’re all having a laugh and joke about it when suddenly it comes… the vista before us as the road drops down to the coast is amazing.
We can see the road switchbacking down and down. The rocky coast and sandy beaches in the background. It really is stunning. We drive down the switchbacks and finally pull up beside a beautiful sandy cove. Shoes off we paddle and enjoy the sand between our toes.
There are some rock pools, but they’re not abundant with life. After a pleasant stroll we head off in search of some food in Xerocampos, but it’s definitely a summer town as all the shops and tavernas are closed. We end up going back out up the switchback road to Xiros. We find a taverna and order a drink. The resultant meze that comes with the drink soon sorts our hunger. Whilst we are there the owners are hanging their Christmas decorations and Daz helps out as he can easily reach the ceiling with his extra height. He also holds the chair steady for the young lady as she ties the baubles on, reaching up and showing way too much skin!! Oh well at least Daz enjoys it!
In the evening we take Jac to the Paradise taverna back in Makry Gialos. She’s obviously a bad influence as we all have a little too much to drink, but she blames it on all the fresh air we have had today!
Tuesday, after a few hours work, Vassilis takes us to Sitea and we show Jac around whilst he sorts some chores.
Daz rescuing 5 frogs from the pool.
We continue working on our return and then in the late afternoon we get our trikes out and cycle down to the harbour. Jac has a fab time riding my trike as I follow behind on one of the hotel’s mountain bikes. Jac says she found it rather exhilarating, it’s easy to look around, go fast or slow and generally fun fun fun to ride! A great endorsement.
In the evening Daz cooks a fabulous mushroom and leek risotto for us all and we say goodbye to Vassilis. He’s flying to Athens tomorrow early and then on to Texas in the USA for Christmas. We won’t see him again and we will miss his local knowledge and love for all things Cretan.
On Wednesday after a morning of work we go off to Ierapetra to drop a load of old clothes from the hotel at a charity shop. Whilst there we walk around the old Venetian fortress and harbour.
We then decide to go check out Mylonas waterfall that Vassilis had mentioned. We also notice that there is a geocache there too. Double bonus. The walk up to the waterfall is beautiful, and for part of it we follow an old irrigation channel along the hillside. This was built in the 60’s to take water down to the local houses. The waterfall is 40 metres high and is the largest streaming waterfall on Crete.
How it can look if there’s been rain.
With the lack of rain we’ve had it’s barely a dribble coming down the fall, but it’s pretty nonetheless. We find the geocache, but only after using the picture clue as the rockface and gorge play havoc with our satellite reception. Maybe we will come back if we get more rain!! On the way home we stop to watch the sunset.
In the evening it’s quiz and bingo night and without Vassilis on our team we aren’t expecting much, but who knew Jac Webb was such a knowledge hound! Another win for us on the quiz, but no luck this time with the Bingo.
Thursday and it’s road trip day. We’re going to see some more of the island and we’re heading to the far north western coast to Chania for one night then Efalonisi for the second before dropping Jac back at the airport. On the way to Chania we stop at the Ha Canyon as there’s a geocache there and we have heard the gorge is spectacular. Well we aren’t disappointed, the Ha gorge is like someone has taken an axe to the mountains and cleaved it in two.
It has 27 consecutive waterfalls and over a distance of 700 metres, there’s a drop of 325 metres in height. A second branch holds more waterfalls including one that is 215 metres tall!! The gorge can only be navigated by an experienced team using ropes and specialised equipment. An experienced 4 man team could do it in about 4 hours. It’s really stunning so we might try and see if someone can take us canyoning down the gorge before we leave Crete. Our next stop on the trip is the pretty Venetian port of Rethymno. But on the way we decide we are starving so pull of the main road and drop down into the beach resort of Agia Pelagia. Well the beach is lovely but we realise it’s obviously a summer resort as all the beachfront restaurants are shut!
We wander along the deserted front and meet a couple who ask if we are lost in this ghost town. They tell us everywhere is indeed shut except for one small family taverna at the top of the hill! Hunger sends us on and we finally find it. It’s very small but we enjoy a nice meal before setting off again suitably refreshed. It’s a drive-by tour of Rethymno and its castle.
We reach Chania shortly after sunset, which was quite spectacular with the snow capped mountains in the foreground.
It takes us a while to find the hotel in the old quarter of town but it’s all locked up, even though they rang us asking what time we would arrive. Fortunately a local woman shows us the hiding place for the key (windowsill!) and we let ourselves in. We find a room key on the bar and after a little search find our room! We then enjoy a very pleasant walk around the harbour area, another example of Venetian architecture. Even the old lighthouse is still standing.
We also manage to find a geocache after navigating up and down many old, narrow Venetian streets. We spot a small taverna full of old men watching the football. We sit under the TV and endure their stares!!
An evening of food and drink; perhaps once again the balance is unfavourable to food. At one stage we order a bottle of Retsina, OMG it tastes like pine toilet cleaner!! Well if I ever taste pine toilet cleaner I am sure that’s what it would taste like… disgusting! We’re told it’s better mixed with coke but it’s still foul.
In the morning after a breakfast game of ‘who can remember how we got back last night?’ (A: no-one), we head off to do some geocaching in a nature reserve at the end of the Chania peninsula. First we stop to admire the harbour by daylight and then checkout the market.
There are 3 near some old monasteries and the views as we descend into the gorge are stunning. The first cache is by the Cave of the Bear a large cave with a stalagmite that resembles a crouching bear.
It’s also a religious site and each year on the 2nd of Feb a festival is held in the cave with local food and wine and people staying overnight in the cave, sounds fun. We descend further to another monastery that is built into the rock wall and is quite spectacular. Just before it we pass the cave of Saint John the Hermit.
Unfortunately the route is getting very steep and tricky and after last nights shenanigans we decide it would be foolish to continue down for the last 2 caches as we will have to climb back out. We didn’t bring any water and it’s very hot under the sun!! We drive back through Chania on the road now towards Elafonisi on the south west coast of Crete. A quick stop at Lidls to give Jac an experience of one of our favourite lunchtime cycling stops and then it’s up into the mountains to cross the island. It’s another beautiful drive, very winding and picturesque. We reach our accommodation in good time and after dumping our bags head off to Elafonisi beach for sundowners.
We cross the beach and fortunately the tide is low so there’s no need for Jac to get her feet wet. Once on Elafonisi island we settle down in a sandy Cove to watch the sun go down.
A bottle of sparkly wine and some nibbles keep us entertained as we see the sun slip beneath the horizon, only slightly marred by a low bank of cloud in the distance. A super end to a fab day.
Saturday, Jac’s last day, sees us up early and back to Elafonisi island to pick up a couple of geocaches before the long drive back to the airport at Heraklion.
One more stop on the way… back to the hotel in Chania as Jac forgot her book and also stole the room key! But we decide to have a meal on Chania harbour and enjoy sitting in the baking sun this late in December… bliss. One more geocache out by the lighthouse and that’s it, Jac’s flying visit and our trip around the island is over.
Just time to get her to the airport and then suffer the remainder of the drive home. Alone again. Thanks for coming out Jac, we hope you had a fab time, we certainly enjoyed seeing you!!!
Sunday 11th Dec
After yesterday’s mammoth driving session the last thing we want is to get up early to join the Sitia walking club but we must. We drag ourselves out of bed at 0630 so we can have breakfast and drive to Sitia to meet the group by 0815!! After a bit of confusion about the meeting place we manage to find the group. The walking group is actually going to visit the cave of Pelekita on the east coast. We follow in convoy to Kato Zakros where the walk will begin.
Everyone in the group is Greek apart from one British expat, Christine, and it is a shock to see so many young girls out with the group. In the UK the ramblers are all rather older!!! One of the guides, Pavlos, is a Greek Aussie and acts as our interpreter. We collect our helmets and headtorches then set off along a coastal path towards the cave. It’s about 3.5km to the cave along a very rocky path that climbs severely towards the end. Once there we are told about the origins of the cave and some of its minoan history, before we don our helmets and descend into the darkness. The cave descends past evidence of neolithic habitation to the larger limestone caverns below. There are huge stalactites and smaller stalagmites.
We climb down rock faces covered in bat shit and at times the going is tough. We finally finish up in the lowest cavern, where we all sit and are instructed to keep quiet and turn off our lights!! The pitch black silence is all encompassing and it is impossible to see even an inch in front of you. Fortunately the guide soon has the light back on and we all breathe a sigh of relief. Then we go through a couple of narrow fissures, using ropes to help our descent. Once we are all through we start to ascend again, climbing back up over the boulders and stalagmites. Again it’s tough going but when we reach the top and are back into the bright freshness of the day we all rest and have a small picnic. Now it only leaves the walk back, but this takes over an hour as we are all tired and the path rocky. As we walk we chat with Christine. She is a retired civil servant who came out 2 years ago and bought a property near Sitia. We pump her for information on other walks she has done and can recommend. She tells us about her life here and about how hot it is in the summer. We have a great time chatting with her and it makes the walk back go quickly.
Once we are all back at the carpark it’s off to a taverna in Lagada for a roast dinner and a few much needed cold drinks. We swap contact details with Christine and make arrangements to see her again before we leave Crete. It’s been a great day; a beautiful walk, a cave and then a meal with a Greek walking club – once again a huge thank-you to Vassilis for organising it for us.