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Mountains, Memories and an elderly Greek Hitch-hiker

February 3, 2012

Last Sunday, Hans and Hanneke took us to a restaurant in the Katharo Plain for lunch. Katharo is basically an upland valley very similar to Lassithi but some 200 metres higher ie well over 1000 metres above sea level. The previous day there had been rain at sea level and snow on the hills and come Sunday morning, we set out in somewhat inauspicious weather with low cloud obscuring the tops. Virtually as soon as we started climbing we were in mist and cloud but they have a 4X4 and had been on this road many times before, so we were not too concerned. However, as time wore on so we began to see more and more snow around us and noticed that the small water storage ponds were frozen.

 

Onwards and upwards we went as the snow got thicker. At one point a boulder partially blocked the road and we all got out as Hans inched the car around it with the nearside wheels right on the edge over a 50ft drop! No going back we thought but within minutes we were faced with a sustantial snowdrift. Someone had been through before but they must have had a higher clearance because we were soon well and truly stuck.

It took quite some time to get through and an expedition then set off to check out the road ahead. Eventually, common sense determined that we turn around, get back through the drift, circumvent the boulder and retrace our route. We both thought that this meant a different restaurant than the one planned but H2 are a determined couple and no, off we set to reach Katharo by a different road. An hour later we sat down for a later lunch than planned in a very Greek ie non-tourist orientated, taverna where the only choice was lamb or chicken. I had the lamb and brilliant it was too! 

We then had a short walk and the views which were better than we might have expected given the weather.

It was however absolutely perishing – not really surprising though, given we were roughly at the same height as the top of Ben Nevis!

On Tuesday we set out for a trip down memory lane to visit the small south coast resort of Plakias (south of Rethimnon) where we stayed on our first trip to Crete back in 1983, nearly 30 years ago! En route we stopped off at the Greco-Roman site of Gortys where the Odeon is particularly well preserved:

It was then on to Phaistos to see a Minoan palace in a stunning setting on a hilltop overlooking a fertile plain:

After a quick stop at the summer palace of Agia Triada, it was off to Plakias and what we hoped would be a warm hotel for although the day was beautifully sunny, a cold wind from the mountains had thoroughly chilled us. Unfortunately, the hotel had no proper heating! Like most Cretan establishments, heating is not usually required so not therefore provided. We were, however, given plenty of blankets and an electric fire and that was us for the night.

The next day was sunny too but still cold but you can’t complain when you have a view like this from your hotel balcony:

We were pleased to find that whilst there has been significant development, Plakias is still as beautiful as we remembered it:

We also ‘found’ our favourite beach from long ago:

but we couldn’t find the rather ramshackle room that we rented back then.

Then, after a somewhat hair-raising drive, we visited the Venetian castle at Frangocastelli – still in remarkable condition:

Yesterday, on our way home, we visited the monastery at Preveli which we had walked to back in the 80’s. Those of you not too well versed on the debacle which was the Battle of Crete in 1941, may not know that the monks of Preveli very bravely hid thousands of retreating British and ANZAC troops before they could be evacuated at night by the Royal Navy. Since our last trip, a rather poignant memorial has been established on the cliff side just up the road from the monastery. 

Then it was off to the Amari Valley, high in the mountains under Crete’s highest mountain, Ida. On the way, we were flagged down by an elderly Greek woman looking for a lift to the valley. Her presence was a bit of a mixed blessing because she clearly thought we had no idea where we were going, which was not strictly true, so insisted on drawing us a map and phoning a friend who met us on the road and explained in great detail where we needed to go! It was very kind and typical of the generosity shown all the time by ordinary folk. She even gave us two oranges for her lift!

In the spring, the Amari Valley is renowned for its flowers, particularly wild orchids. Yesterday, however, it was not looking at its best in the rain and low cloud but was still striking.

It is also renowned as being one of the major centres of Cretan resistance in WWII and where some of the worst excesses perpetrated by the occupying German forces were carried out, including the burning of whole villages and the killing of their inhabitants. It was clear that some of the villages still bore the scars of war but most have been rebuilt and the area now appears to be very prosperous.

So twice more on this trip to Crete, I have been reminded of legacies of the major European wars fought in the twentieth century. We started out at Dunkirk and Passchendaele and even in this semi-paradise cannot escape the events which happened before we were born. A few readers took issue with my earlier comments on the relative importance of saving the EU as compared with the holding of a Scottish Referendum. To them, I dedicate the words inscribed on the monument at Preveli:

  

So, at the risk of being accused of preaching, perhaps it is time to show a little gratitude and help out the Greeks (and in the wider perspective the EU) in their time of need. 

John

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