LEAVING CRETE, MY LAST GREEK POST

 

After a great week in Greece we packed and headed for the airport. For the first time in a while, our flight was late that evening (10pm) so we were left with a free afternoon. The trip to the airport from the east coast of Crete can be as straight forward as driving 100KM down the highway on the E75. We decided to go another way – through the mountains via the Lassithi Plateau.

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As we winded our way through the mountains, you really begin to feel like you are heading back in time. The ‘old’ ways still exist. Small villages which rely on local agriculture, the tourist and history that goes back hundreds of years. We stopped at a small town (name unknown) for lunch and above the door was a black and white photo of a man holding his gun (proudly). I asked the woman who that was using the most effective tourist English that I have (speaking … slowly … pointing), it was her father (Who looked like the sort of guy that really ticked the Germans off during WWII).

Narda took the boys to this woman’s stall (we could not resist), where she bought baked chestnuts and an assortment of fruits. After leaving she commented again on the sales prowess of the elderly women, dressed in black and looking harmless and sweet. Make no mistake, if she had a car on hand, we probably would have been compelled to buy. Imagine trying to get a 1952 Datsun back to the UK?

2008 Oct 24 The road to the Lassithi Plateau_

2008 Oct 24 Driving back from the Lassithi Plateau_

2008 Oct 24 The road to the Lassithi Plateau  (11)

The higher into the mountains we went, the more goats we saw. They were everywhere. In places which make sense (like open fields) and in not-so-likely places like sheer cliff faces. Amazing.

2008 Oct 24 The road to the Lassithi Plateau  (15)

Another common countryside fixture were the windmills. Everywhere. Obviously, not functioning at this point, but in previous decades they were key to the local agriculture based culture.

2008 Oct 24 The road to the Lassithi Plateau  (12)

As we reached the top of the mountain road we stopped at a convenience store and I snapped off this shot. The white building in the middle of the valley with no apparent road leading to it is a cemetery and a small chapel.

2008 Oct 24 The road to the Lassithi Plateau  (10)

As you come to the top it opens up into the plateau:

Oropedio Lasithiou (also Lasithi Plateau) (Greek: Οροπέδιο Λασιθίου) is a large (11 km in the E-W direction and 6 km in the N-S, approx. 25 km²), scenic plain located in the Lasithi prefecture in eastern Crete, Greece. It is approximately 70 km from Heraklion and lies at an average altitude of 840 m, which makes it one of the few permanently inhabited areas of such altitude around the Mediterranean.Winters can be very harsh and snow on the plain and surrounding mountains often persists until mid spring.

The fertile soil of the plateau, due to alluvial run-off from melting snow, has attracted inhabitants since Neolithic times (6000 BC). Minoans and Dorians followed and the plateau has been continuously inhabited since then, except a period that started in 1293 and lasted for over two centuries during the Venetian occupation of Crete. During that time and due to frequent rebellions and strong resistance, villages were demolished, cultivation prohibited and natives were forced to leave and forbidden to return under a penalty of death. Later, in the early 15th century, Venetian rulers allowed refugees from the Greek mainland (eastern Peloponnese) to settle in the plain and cultivate the land again. To ensure good crops, Venetians ordered the construction of a large system of drain ditches (linies, Greek: λίνιες) that are still in use. The ditches transfer the water to Honos (Greek: Χώνος), a sinkhole in the West edge of the plateau. Lasithi plateau is famous for its white-sailed windmills that have been used for decades to irrigate the land. Despite their vast number (some 10,000) in the past, most of them have been abandoned nowadays in favour of modern diesel and electrical pumps.

Of course, being Canadian, I would question what a ‘harsh’ winter is like in Crete. I hear they got 14 inches of snow north of Toronto on Saturday and it was –22C. All relative.

2008 Oct 24 Diktian Cave Crete (birthplace of Zeus)  (11)

Of course, the whole history, windmill and agricutural history of Lassithi is intersting and everything, but we were there for a more important reason – the birthplace of Zeus!

The Dictaean cave is famous in Greek mythology as the place where Amalthea, perhaps known in Crete as Dikte, nurtured the infant Zeus with her goat’s milk, the mythic connection to the long use as a site of cult attested here by archaeology. The nurse of Zeus, who was charged by Rhea to raise the infant Zeus in secret here, to protect him from his father Cronus (Krónos) is also called the nymphAdrasteiain some contexts

2008 Oct 24 Diktian Cave Crete (birthplace of Zeus)  (2)

You arrive at the base of the site, surrounded by a few shops and a family churning out freshly squeezed orange juice at their cafe. You need it. It is a long hike to the top.

2008 Oct 24 Diktian Cave Crete (birthplace of Zeus)  (5)

For a few €, you can hire a donkey for the ride up. We walked. We did pass a few people who should have spent the money.

2008 Oct 24 Diktian Cave Crete (birthplace of Zeus)  (4)

When you get to the top you are peering down a 200’ drop to the bottom of the cave. Steep stairs take you to the bottom where it is a bit eerie. Yellow light plays off the walls, the sound of water dripping. Huge stalagmites worn smooth by thousands of years of dripping water. Creepy but cool.

2008 Oct 24 Diktian Cave Crete (birthplace of Zeus)  (34)

2008 Oct 24 Diktian Cave Crete (birthplace of Zeus)  (26)

As we emerged from the caves, the rain started to drop down. We hiked to the car, grabbed a fresh Orange juice and hit the road travelling through the mountains to the main road and the airport.

Another adventure completed.

THE LEAPER COLONY – MORE CRETE

The Crete adventure continued on with a day trip north to the Island of Spinalonga. Our first stop was the quaint town of Elounda across from the island.

As is the case with most of Greece, dogs and cats were abundant and this one seemed to enjoy hanging out on the fishing nets.

2008 Oct 23 Plaka Crete  (39)

Fishing boats had been repurposed to shuttle us back and forth … with a little fishing thrown in between.

2008 Oct 23 Plaka Crete  (3)

2008 Oct 23 Plaka Crete  (11)

Across from the town is the island which was a fort during the Turkish times and later a leper colony until 1957.

Following the Turkish occupation of Crete in 1669, only the fortresses of Gramvousa , Souda and Spinalonga remained in Venetian hands; they would remain so for almost half a century. Many Christians found refuge in these fortresses to escape persecution. In 1715, the Turks came to terms with the Venetians and occupied the island. At the end of the Turkish occupation the island was the refuge of many Ottoman families that feared the Christian reprisals. After the revolution of 1866 other Ottoman families came to the island from all the region of Mirabello. In 1881 the 1112 Ottomans formed their own community and Later, in 1903, the last Turks left the island.

The island was subsequently used as a leper colony, from 1903 to 1957. It is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. The last inhabitant, a priest, left the island in 1962. This was to maintain the religious tradition of the Greek Orthodox church, in which a buried person has to be commemorated 40 days, 6 months, 1, 3 and 5 years after their death. Other leper colonies that have survived Spinalonga include Tichilesti in Eastern Romania, Fontilles in Spain and Talsi in Latvia. As of 2002, few lazarettos remain in Europe.[1])

It must have been heartbreaking for the people to be bound to the rock, even if the government did take care of them.

The island itself is magnificent. Huge walls jutting out of the sea. A commanding point to control the sea around it and another great family hiking opportunity ….

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (30)

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (36)

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (33)

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (31)

It never ceases to amazing me how life will pop out in the oddest of places. This is a picture straight up a wall that must be 15m high. What are the odds?

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (39)

Inside the walls is a well preserved town with a small museum dedicated to the previous inhabitants.

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (49)

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (109)

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (125)

Unfortunately, the leper grave is without a single marker to identify those who have passed on.

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (136)

The below gives you an idea of how steep the island is. Fantastic adventure hiking to the top, but very steep. Of course, the view from the top is amazing.

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (144)

I can see the soldiers standing on the parapet, bored out of their minds….

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (161)

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (162)

2008 Oct 23 Spinalonga Island Crete  (171)

All in all .. a great adventure for the day. We topped it off with dinner on the shore at a local sea food restaurant who served great lobster and scallops.

I miss Crete already.

THE WIND DRIVES US INTO KRITSA

On our second day in Crete, with the wind blowing and the sun ‘not quite hot enough’ we packed up and headed into the hills and the town of Kritsa, a haven for Cretan linen with a few cool sites on the way.

Our first stop was the abandoned town of Lato:

Lato (Ancient Greek: Λατώ[1]) was an ancient city of Crete, the ruins of which are located approximately 3 km from the small town of Kritsa. The city was built in a defensible position overlooking Mirabello Bay between two peaks, both of which became acropolises to the city. Although the city probably predates the arrival of the Dorians, the ruins date mainly from the Dorian period (fifth and fourth centuries BC). The city was destroyed ca. 200 BCE, but its port (Lato Etera or Lato pros Kamara), located near Agios Nikolaos was in use during Roman rule. This has led to the confusion, repeated by Stephanus of Byzantium quoting Xenion, a Cretan historian, that Kamara and Lato were one and the same. Modern scholarship distinguishes the two.

Over the last year, we have found that we are a hiking family, especially the boys who are boundless in energy and fly up the hills. So out of the car and up the mountain we went. The pictures below give you an idea of how the town stretches over the mountain, built into the hills and spreading out over miles. There is something very cool about crawling around and climbing over a village that is thousands of years old. Nestled into corners you see stone wash basins and small rooms and wonder, what was life like so long ago? What possessed them to build right up on the top? We will never know.

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (78)

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (81)

This gives you a good idea of the slope of the hill that the town is built on.

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (104)

Notice the sky. Turn one way and it is black. Turn the other and it is clear and blue.

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (5)

One advantage of building a town at the top is the view of the mountains, olive groves and valleys. Breathtaking.

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (54)

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (35)

The only man left in Lato.

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (76)

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (85)

This gives you a good idea of how steep and rough the hike was. Narda did it with a sprained ankle.

2008 Oct 22 Abandonded city of Lato Crete  (90)

We jumped back in the car and headed into Kritsa. I had to stop and take this picture. In Crete, the old way of life remains.

2008 Oct 23 Road to Kritsa  (2)

As we walked through Kritsa, this sight caught my eye. Old meets new.

Oct 22 Kritsa Crete  (4)

Like all the towns, it is nestled into the hills and I am left to wonder how they survive. Two industries seem obvious, agriculture and tourism. But nothing else. Note the church on the left, one of many. Kritsa is described as one of the most picturesque towns in Crete:

Kritsa is one of the oldest and most picturesque villages in Crete, Greece, built amphitheatrically on a rock hill, named Kastellos, surrounded by olive groves, at an altitude of 375 m. It is part of the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. During the Middle Ages, it was thought to be the largest village in Crete. Kritsa has been destroyed many times during the last centuries because it participated in all of Crete’s revolutions. It is located 10 km from Agios Nikolaos and has about 2200 inhabitants who live in different neighborhoods named Palemilos, Koukistres, Christos and Pergiolikia.

Oct 22 Kritsa Crete  (2)

And  as promised, it was a great little town filled with linen shops. But beware the grandmothers, they suck you in and sell you like the hardest used car salesman around.