Crete “unplugged”

One thing we very quickly found out is that you do not have to travel far beyond the “holiday” zone along the coasts to find an entirely different Crete.

The Village in the foreground (Venerato) had our "local" market and bakery. About 1km from Siva. The hilltop village in the background (Agios Mironas) has some pleasant tavernas overlooking the valley below, we are walking up there for lunch on Saturday.
The Village in the foreground (Venerato) had our “local” market and bakery. About 1km from Siva. The hilltop village in the background (Agios Mironas) has some pleasant tavernas overlooking the valley below, we are walking up there for lunch on Saturday. Update: after a hot walk none were serving food so we settled for a cold drink and a great view. (next pic)
It was a hot uphill walk through the olives and vines to the neighbouring village of Agios Mironas, no food but the cold drink on the patio of the Taverna and the amazing views made it all worth it.
It was a hot uphill walk through the olives and vines to the neighbouring village of Agios Mironas, no food but the cold drink on the patio of the Taverna and the amazing views made it all worth it.

In Chania it was a block or two, down here in Iraklio, once you move back beyond the coastal strip you are experiencing what I assume to be the real Crete or “Crete unplugged”.

In our travels we tend to categorise fellow travellers into three groups. They all have there own motivation but the first two groups are always found in a similar type of place, it is these that we try to avoid if wanting to get the feel for a destination. However, there are many places that you simply cannot avoid the crowds, the rule is go very early or as late as you can. Our rough and very general grouping of fellow travellers is:

  • Those who are on holiday and taking a well earned break from their normal daily routine. Their focus is going to a destination and doing as little as possible while there. Sunbathing, drinking, eating, reading, in general, relaxing. The resort areas generally cater to this group who probably don’t really care what country they are in provided they get value for money, are guaranteed good weather and can have a great time. They are easy to avoid, should you desire to wander into party central, just go early as they are late starters due to their late finishes.
  • The “packaged travellers”. These travel in large organised groups and generally visit the “must see” sites, usually all at the same time. The mode of transport is bus or cruise ship (often both). They “hunt” in a pack and would probably get a much better view of the “things” that they visit by looking at them on the internet. They will also stay in hotel chains that ensure a pretty consistent country experience for all destinations visited. It is clearly the only option for many of those who still want to travel but for any number of reasons are unable to do it on their own. Some do not look like they are particularly enjoying themselves (I would love to help them escape this type of travel). Many would have it no other way, it is safe on all fronts and you get to meet interesting fellow travellers.
    The mob we encountered as we exited the Acropolis, the buses were pulling up en-mass and it was should to shoulder, not great for taking selfies. At Spinalonga on Crete we also arrived early, had the place to ourselves but as we made our way around the island we could see the invasion fleet approaching the fortress. By the time we got back to the entry gate they had breached the dock and were shuffling shoulder to shoulder across the island. We escaped via the old converted fishing boat we had come on.
    The mob we encountered as we exited the Acropolis, the buses were pulling up en-mass and it was shoulder to shoulder, not great for taking selfies. At Spinalonga on Crete we also arrived early, had the place to ourselves but as we made our way around the island we could see the invasion fleet approaching the fortress. By the time we got back to the entry gate they had breached the dock and were shuffling like a sports ground crowd across the island. We escaped via the old converted fishing boat we had come on.

     

  • Then there are the rest who travel on their own or in small groups and will have their own agendas and objectives.

So the first two groups have generally been absent in our second week in Crete, the third have been pretty “thin on the ground” but they will have encountered a raw version of Crete that has been a very different experience for us to the earlier part of our trip.

This pretty much summed up much of inland Crete, a deserted lettle church, rock and very dry soil. Venerato
This pretty much summed up much of inland Crete, a deserted little church, rock and very dry soil. Venerato
Siva looking from across the valley. The olive groves and vineyards have tracks for the service vehicles so we were able to walk to a neigbouring village us a rather steep slope covered in olive trees and grape vines. This was the worst day we experienced in two weeks, there were actually a few clouds in the sky and it was quite breezy.
Siva looking from across the valley. The olive groves and vineyards have tracks for the service vehicles so we were able to walk to a neigbouring village up a rather steep slope covered in olive trees and grape vines. This was the worst day we experienced in two weeks, there were actually a few clouds in the sky and it was quite breezy.

The further into the mountains that we ventured, the more amazing the experience became. In every village there was always a generous collection of men folk in the taverna’s drinking their coffee and no doubt catching up on the news. The older women were clad in their black clothing with headscarfs and often a walking stick of sorts. You would see them either with shopping, collecting a bit of firewood for the coming winter or chatting to others in the village.

My eyes were firmly fixed on the road which was barely wide enough for two cars to pass, Ruth's were fixed on the barrier the distance the car would tumble. When I finally stopped and looked at how high we were I was not sure whether to lose my nerve or not. A couple of days earlier we had found ourselves on a single lane road with no barrier to stop the drop. Heading up to the Lasithi Plateau - the alternate route was said to be a little more challenging.
My eyes were firmly fixed on the road which was barely wide enough for two cars to pass, Ruth’s were fixed on the barrier and the distance the car would tumble if “I lost it”. When I finally stopped and looked at how high we were I was not sure whether to lose my nerve or not. A couple of days earlier we had found ourselves on a single lane road with no barrier to stop the drop. Heading up to the Lasithi Plateau – the alternate route was said to be a little more challenging. We gave it a miss.
The goats are very good tree climbers, you certaily have to be if you want to have a daily intake of greens, there is no green stuff close to the earth which is parched to an almost white colour.
The goats are very good tree climbers, you certaily have to be if you want to have a daily intake of greens, there is no green stuff close to the earth which is parched to an almost white colour.

The village streets are narrow, cluttered with cars and farm vehicles in various states of repair, usually parked at strange angles or simply parked forever. Dogs and people wander down the street (there are no footpaths) with a disregard for the traffic behind. The buildings show all the signs of rural decline that is common across the World and the lack of customers at the many tavernas speaks of the tough times that the Greek economy is going through. Life looks tough for the average rural Cretan but I suspect that many would have it no other way. Ruth was reading an article that younger people dissatisfied with life and growing unemployment is cities like Athens are starting to return. This is not the Greek Islands of the tourist brochures.

One has not been finished, the other looks as though it may have finished it's useful life.
One has not been finished, the other looks as though it may have been finished with.

We have enjoyed our stay in the village of Siva, it is quiet, the accommodation in the house we have is excellent. It is a bit like a museum, it was Manolis’s family home and they have kept in the house many family mementos, photos plus a fair sprinkling of Cretan rural items, Furnished in a traditional fashion it has been an experience in itself.

The airbnb in Siva gave us a great insight to a Cretan family house. It was Manolis's family home, they now live in nearby Iraklio but they have olive groves just up the street. Grape harvesting was in full swing when we visited the winery about 20 meters up our street.
The airbnb in Siva gave us a great insight to a Cretan family house. It was Manolis’s family home, they now live in nearby Iraklio but they have olive groves just up the street. Grape harvesting was in full swing when we visited the winery about 20 meters up our street.
Our "cottage" in Siva. The indoor and outdoor living has been fabulous and the value for money amazing.
Our “cottage” in Siva. The indoor and outdoor living has been fabulous and the value for money amazing.

There are no shops in Siva so we visit nearby Venerato for our groceries. It is a 15 minute walk away, there are a number of villages all within easy walking distance of Siva.

We have eaten very simply, Manolis and Susanna gave us a bottle of their own olive oil which we have been adding to the fabulous local produce. The fruit and vegetables are full of flavour, the tomato’s are the best we have tasted,ditto for the courgettes, the fruit is big and sweet. We are enjoying the yoghurt and feta, we can feel our life expectancy rising as we switch to a Mediteranian diet.

It needs to rise seriously because on the other side of the “ledger” is the appalling driving we have had to contrent with which seroiusly erodes life expectancy. I did a quick bit of research and Greece has the worst road accident rate in Europe. Apart from the drivers, the rural roads are mountainous, narrow and in poor condition. Safety barriers often vanish as you drive along and the road signs are riddled with bullet holes, probably all reasons why they are “roads less travelled”. Several of the roads did challenge my driving nerve, one in particular was only single lane, the drop off the side of the mountain was so shear that it was hard to see the bottom, we just prayed that no cars came the other way.

We walked past the Agios Nikolaos Monastery on our walk up into the St Nikolaos-Rouvas Gorge. On the way back we were motioned into Monastery by a local gent who was very keen on Ruth. The Priest got us to sit with him in the shade of a tree, we were offered biscuits and a Raki (Cliff only). Host responsibility, he knew Ruth had to get back down the mountain.
We walked past the Agios Nikolaos Monastery on our walk up into the St Nikolaos-Rouvas Gorge. On the way back we were motioned into Monastery by a local gent who was very keen on Ruth. The Priest got us to sit with him in the shade of a tree, we were offered biscuits and a Raki (Cliff only). Host responsibility, he knew Ruth had to get back down the mountain.
The Priest who kindly offered us biscuits and Raki on our trip down the gorge. He put his hat on for the photo.
The Priest who kindly offered us biscuits and Raki on our trip down the gorge. He put his hat on for the photo.

Some of the other images of Crete that we were left with were; rubbish, the road side was every Cretans rubbish bin. As we walked along them we were astounded at the “vehicle litter”. Plastic drink containers, cirgarette packets and lighters, snack wrappers, were the predominant “out the window” fare. There was a good decade’s worth of this piled along the side of the roads. We also see this a little in New Zealand and it never fails to amaze me that people who have great pride in their land can treat it as a tip. The other image was more recession related and that was the many shells of buildings that dot the landscape. They had been started but the finance had run out. It is a warning to countries like New Zealand who invest so heavily in property. Great while the good times roll but it does not add to productive capactiy of the country and enventually someone is left “holding the baby” when the music runs out.

Ruth gets a little nostalgic for boating on the trip across to Spinalonga Fortress.
Ruth gets a little nostalgic for boating on the trip across to Spinalonga Fortress.
Spinalonga Fortress, originally built as a Ventian fortress, later became the major Muslim trading center for the surrounding Gulf of Mirambelo, then the last operable Leper colony in the World finally closing in the 1950s, it also served as a base for Empire Airways flying boat services through to Egypt and on to Australia.
Spinalonga Fortress, originally built as a Ventian fortress, later became the major Muslim trading center for the surrounding Gulf of Mirambelo, then the last operable Leper colony in the World finally closing in the 1950s, it also served as a base for Empire Airways flying boat services through to Egypt and on to Australia during the 1930s.
The ramparts to the fortress dropped dramtically in the crystal clear Aegean. In may places the natural rock faces formed part of the fortifications.
The ramparts of the fortress drop dramtically to the crystal clear Aegean. In may places the natural rock faces formed part of the fortifications.
The defenders view from Spinalonga fortress
The defenders view from Spinalonga fortress

Well we are heading into category (as in travellers above) 1 and 2 country tomorrow so will just have to suck it up and join the crowds. Will update you next time on whether it is possible to get away from the crowds on Santorini without staying in your apartment all day.

One of the many little churches that dot the landscape. This one was opposite our airbnb in Siva. Sunday and Monday mornings we had prayers and a lot of enthusiastic bell ringing broadcast via loudspeaker. The sessions seemd to last for about 2 hours. They did not come from this church but from another.
One of the many little churches that dot the landscape. This one was opposite our airbnb in Siva. Sunday and Monday mornings we had prayers and a lot of enthusiastic bell ringing broadcast via loudspeaker. The sessions seemd to last for about 2 hours. They did not come from this church but from another.
Church bells at Tzermiado on the Lasithi Plateau.
Church bells at Tzermiado on the Lasithi Plateau.
We have not been to a lot of beaches, but this one had man made caves in the cliffs, it was also a hippie hangout in the sixties, still has a very sixties and laid back feel to it. Matala
We have not been to a lot of beaches, but this one had man made caves in the cliffs, it was also a hippie hangout in the sixties, still has a very sixties and laid back feel to it. Matala

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