Tuesday on Crete with George

Entrepreneurship is not dead in Crete. When one of the managers in our hotel offered to give us a private tour of the eastern side of the island for a day, we were very interested. It would allow us to see much more than we could by bus and give us a lot more flexibility. I had a fleeting concern about traveling miles with a strange Greek driver, as the only other Greek driver I know is in New York and is responsible for many of my grey hairs. (I’m talking to you, MT.)

This arrangement was all done under the table and almost required a secret password, but the whole experience was wonderful. Our new best friend George took us over a huge swath of Crete, and in what seemed like two different climates.

We started out climbing up mountains right into clouds to the lovely monastery of Panayia Kera, perched on the side of a cliff. What a nice spot to meditate.

The next stop was one that requires a certain amount of ignorance, or weak people such as myself might not attempt to reach it. The lure was the cave where Zeus was hidden by his mother, Rhea, lest his father, Cronus, continue his habit of eating his children. The actual cave!!!! Hidden far up in the mountains!!!!

The weather was cold, damp and rainy at this point, which meant that the walk to the cave was on very slippery stones. But more to the point, the walk had to be a mile long. And once we were almost to the top, the situation got even worse. The stone path, which I had come to love, disappeared and a rock-strewn hill was our next challenge. (The whole route was an enormous incline with a multitude of switchbacks. Cronus would have never found Zeus here.) Few pictures, as I was too busy trying to keep upright.

If this attraction were in the U.S., nurses with defibrillators would be standing by every 50 feet. OSHA would have warnings posted everywhere. Documents would have to be signed waiving all liability on behalf of the Greek government. But no, people just soldiered on.

We finally got to the top, being passed by people with flip flops and baby strollers. And then we saw the descent into the cave, which looks spectacular – befitting a god. Knowing what we were facing on the way back to the car, we only went a few levels down before realizing that we were perhaps not up for the job. But we did make it back down the hill, and will surely sleep well tonight.

George promised us an easy trip after that, and at least there was no more climbing, except for what the car did going over a mountain with about 150 treacherous curves that flung us from side to side for an hour. But the weather improved and the sun came out as we reached Agios Nikolaos, where we had a wonderful lunch.

George (prominently featured) showed us some corners of this tourist-rich town, which look very much like other tourist-rich towns. Russians come here to buy furs, which should give you the idea.

The food was great at the restaurant he recommended but George’s cover was blown when a gaggle of Italian women also staying at our hotel showed up for lunch. They knew us from breakfast and George from the front desk, but all was well and jolly and very Italian after the initial confusion.

Our round-about return trip covered a lot of lovely beaches and resort towns. Yes, the good life is being lived in Crete.

The last stop of the day was the archaeological site of an ancient palace in the city of Malia. This one is of the era of Knossos, but is shown just as it was excavated, without any of the theatrical touches of Sir Arthur Evans. Had we not been so exhausted, we might have delved into it more deeply, but this one did not get our full attention, I must admit.

Seeing such a large part of Crete in one day was exciting, but we did observe that the major resource of the island seems to be rocks. But it is a beautiful and magical place – even the gods thought so.

Thanks, George, for a lovely day.

Don’s Food Corner

Today’s feast at a restaurant recommended by George is a little difficult to describe because I’m not sure I know what was being eaten.

I knew I wanted fresh fish. I wasn’t prepared, however, for a waiter to bring out a platter of whole fish for me to select one.  No one wanted to share this fish with me, so I ordered the medium-size one — to be grilled. It was, as I had hoped, fantastic. When it was served, they first presented it whole and then filleted it for me and removed all the ugly stuff from view, like the skeleton, head and tail.

Jo had some type of chicken concoction, a Cretan specialty, which involved either cream or some type of melted Cretan cheese. It was very rich, but delicious. A mile-high pile of shoe-string fried potatoes was heaped on top. George had another Cretan chicken specialty. His featured some complex spices and a glob of another type of soft Cretan cheese. I had bite of it. Tasted great.

As a side, we shared a Cretan salad, which included all types of fresh lettuces and veggies along with pieces of bread and, of course, a hearty scoop of Cretan cheese. All this Cretan cheese was not feta and afterwards we were told that it would not be found anywhere else in Greece  – or the rest of the world, I assume. And lastly, the restaurant treated us to a dessert platter. Yummy.

George assured us that everything we had was authentic Cretan.  Well, glad we experienced it.



7 thoughts on “Tuesday on Crete with George

  1. We are so happy that you are enjoying Crete–and Cretan hospitality. It really is a magical place. Makes us want to go back after too long an absence.
    And bully for you making it up to The Cave! Were the windmills in full sail on the plateau? Or was it too misty to see?

    1. Everyone here has been absolutely lovely – very different experience than getting the stink eye in Naples! We did see many windmills, but none of them were milling. The mist was magical too, though it made me very glad I wasn’t the one driving. A totally beautiful experience.

  2. And have you read “The Island” by Victoria Hislop ? Set on Crete and also on the island of Spinalonga just off Agios Nikolaos . (There are boat trips -in one of your photos).It was used as a leper colony. Fascinating story and very evocative. Maybe one for those long winter evenings–if you haven’t already discovered it.

    1. George was talking about the book as we circled past Spinalonga. I knew we could rely on you for the title! Will definitely explore it this winter. We did know the history, but I didn’t have the energy to share it last night. We are such wimps.

  3. Two more Hislop books for those winter evenings when you’re hankering for a taste of Greece :
    “The Thread”-about Turkish resettlement in Thessalonika. (Can’t remember if this is on your itinerary).
    “Cartes Postales from Greece” :short stories set in various locations on the mainland, including Olympia and Delphi which I think are on your route.

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