This morning we woke to a reprieve in the drenching rainy weather we’ve had for the past few days. The sun is peeking out but the Lefka Ori mountain range is still obscured by a thick blanket of menacing clouds. They are getting snow in the “high country” and when the clouds lift we will be treated to one of the most beautiful sights on the island. It’s quite a paradox to stand with your feet in the sea while looking up at the snow-covered mountains. Seeing the snow makes us all the more excited for our upcoming Colorado Christmas with family and friends. The Greeks here just shake their heads at our excitement to get to play in the snow. When Richard showed some pictures of winter sports like snow shoeing to a colleague, she just asked, “Why?!” Of course, you have to understand these people are in full winter gear now (boots, scarves and DOWN coats) because the temps have dipped below 60 degrees. No wonder we got funny looks last week when we went to the Laiki and Richard was wearing shorts!
We’ve been here 3 months now and can finally say we are settling in thanks to pieces of home arriving here. We picked up our car from the ferryboat last week and heard that our furniture should be here this week. The best news is that we found a house to put it all in! We’ve come full circle in our thinking about permanent digs. At first, we thought an apartment in the city was for us but soon found out that Hania is not really “European” city living. And the more time we spent out in the country riding our bikes, walking to the beach and enjoying the quiet (relatively speaking depending on if your neighbors own a barnyard full of chickens – hence, roosters) the more appealing country life looked. Our new home sits on top of a small hill above the village of Horafakia (about 5 km from where we are now) and is set in an olive grove surrounded by a stone wall. It’s a pretty new home, contemporary design, with a kitchen to die for! The best part is the view of the sea and the mountains from the loft and balcony upstairs. We really feel blessed that this place opened up for us at just the right time. Once we get moved in and after we return from the States, we can take up our exploring beyond the Akrotiri again.
This fall was full of little side trips and one of our first outings was enjoyed with our friends Daphne and Reg who took us to a nearby Roman settlement called Aptera. Like most ruins, they are built on top of even older Minoan ruins. We were amazed at the size of the cisterns designed and used by the Romans for their water storage and usage.
And the maze of Roman baths were testimony to that important social ritual in their every day lives. Because of the time of year, we had the place virtually to ourselves with our own private, very knowledgeable tour guides.
After poking around the ruins, we enjoyed lunch at the local taverna. A great day especially because we shared it with good friends!
About 30 minute drive to the West of us is the Rodoupou peninsula and a little exploring there bought many wonderful sights and surprises.
Before heading up on the high road that skirts the coast, we indulged in lunch at a fish taverna in the seacoast village of Kolimbari. As is the norm, the proprietor ushered us back into the kitchen and opened the icebox to let us pick our fresh fish for preparation. We chose a smaller variety and they cooked it up with loads of olive oil and after spending way too much time trying to pick out the bones, we washed it all down with wine and water and headed out. The Rodoupou road hangs way up above the seacoast and precariously winds its way around and through some absolutely gorgeous scenery. Once in a while, there is a little bit of a shoulder to pull off on and take pictures of the sea view and chapels carved into rock or hanging on a cliff above the water. Of course, the whole time, Richard is lamenting that he’s not on his bike and I’m thinking, “What?! Are you crazy?!” (Most hard-core bikers are.) It really would have been a white-knuckle road trip if I hadn’t been so distracted by the beauty of it all.
Speaking of chapels, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of little stone chapels tucked away everywhere. You see them in monasteries, in caves, in seemingly inaccessible gorges, along roadsides and in back yards. Some are very intricately decorated inside and others are very simple and rustic. But all of them are always kept very tidy and clean. Many of them are “name chapels” that may be used only once a year on that name day. (Name days are more celebrated in Europe than birthdays).
One of the chapels we went into was at the Preveli Monastery on the South coast. It was very ornate inside with frescos and icons. One of the Greek Orthodox practices is to hang an icon with an image that represents a personal prayer for healing (eyes, legs, etc.) The Preveli monastery is beautifully set above the sea and has made its mark in history as a safe haven for British and Australian troops who had fled there and were helped by the priest to evacuate to Egypt during the German invasion of the island in WWII
The road trip to the South coast was especially scenic as we crossed the island from north to south at the skinniest point following a road that took us inland through a gorge, past fertile valleys and back out to the sea on the south side.
We stopped and jumped in the ocean for a refreshing swim at the site of Frangokastello, an old castle fortress built originally in 1371 and inhabited by Venetians, then Turks, then finally a Cretan revolutionary named Daliani in 1828. He and his small force of rebels were martyred there and have become heroic legends that, according to locals, appear as ghosts in the morning mist around dawn every year on May 17th.
From Frangokastello, we continued along the coast and ended up staying the night in a beach town called Plakia where we dined on fresh fish and watched the sunset from the sea wall.
As I look back on these photos I’m amazed at how dry and brown the landscape looks. Now that the rains have come, everything is greening up even though it’s winter. The previously brown olive groves are now decked out with a lush carpet of bright green clover that I would swear popped up overnight!
Enough for now!
Ya sas! (Standard greeting and farewell meaning, literally, “health to you”!)