11 to 13 February 2018
Wanting to get more of a feel for life away from the coast (and with the excuse of collecting Stefan’s new bike and a box full of our Christmas presents, new bedding and teabags which had travelled overland from the UK) we spent three days exploring some of Crete’s villages.
We stopped first for coffee in Rethymno, our home for two weeks in October, and found some altogether different characters hanging around its streets. Gone were the holidaymakers, replaced with enormous papier mache figures in preparation for celebrating Carnival, the festival which precedes Lent.
Inside the old town the streets which had previously been so busy were eerily deserted but there was evidence of a party about to start.
And then suddenly there were children running around every corner. They seemed to be in teams doing some sort of treasure hunt that necessitated the carrying of a wooden spoon.
Halfway between Rethymno and Chania we left the New National Road and climbed into the hill villages of the Apokoronas peninsular. Our home for two nights was the town of Vamos where we found a warm welcome and chocolate cake at our small apartment.
At 190 metres above sea level, the hilltop town delivered views towards the White Mountains which were indeed white with snow.
During the day it was hard to find any human inhabitants in the cobbled streets of the old town but the animal inhabitants were very friendly.
A little further inland we found the village of Vryses split in two by the river Vrysanos. There we found more ducks and geese than humans and lots of horses in very makeshift horseboxes on the back of small flatbed vans.
A sign indicated a path along the river to a Hellenic bridge. We tried to follow it but very quickly the path disappeared into undergrowth and we drove to it instead. The stone bridge and its carpet of daisys sat parallel to the new concrete road bridge across the river.
From Vryses and as the sun started to go down we were drawn back towards the sea to the deserted tourist resort of Georgioupolis. The fishing harbour was home to lots of hopeful cats but like the other villages mostly silent of people.
We did find one giant local in the town square ready for Carnival and this flock of geese tried to discourage our departure back to Vamos.
The following day, after coffee and political chat in Chania with Akis, we took the road up through the Therisos Gorge to the village of Therisos nestled at 580 metres in the foothills of the White Mountains.
Therisos seemed entirely shut, resting perhaps from its fierce part in the fight for both Crete’s independence and its resistance against the Nazis. The Resistance Museum was firmly locked but we did get to wander around these anti aircraft guns left over from WWII.
On our journey back to Agios Nikolaos we turned off the road in an area which seemed so much greener than the rest of the island. We drove a short way inland through a lush valley covered in orange trees to the village of Fodele.
After a coffee with obligatory raki chaser we crossed the river and walked through more orange and lemon trees up to a Byzantine church, passing the childhood home of Domenikos Theotokopoulos or El Greco, the great Greek Renaissance artist, reproductions of whose work graced lampposts throughout the village.
As we made our way back to the eastern end of the island we pondered where all the inhabitants of these villages had been. Even the kafenio were empty of men drinking coffee and playing backgammon. Were they all out working or hidden behind their shuttered windows?
Or perhaps like the hotels, bars and restaurants of the tourist resorts they had also just hibernated for winter.