24 October 2017 to 28 February 2018
When we arrived in Agios Nikolaos in late October we found a town enjoying the last of the tourist season but as October turned to November bars, restaurants and shops shut up for the winter leaving just enough for the residents and us to get by. The town sunk into a half slumber after a busy summer and enjoyed an uninterrupted peace.
Agios Nikolaos might have none of the ancient buildings of Chania or Rethymno – although the ruins of a Roman villa lies without fanfare in a back street, home only to stray cats – but early on in our stay we knew we were going to be happy to spend time there.
The topography of the town is both stunning and fascinating. The marina’s situation gave views across Mirabello Bay to the mountains of eastern Crete and north to the Dikti mountains, sometimes covered in snow.
Built on a series of fault lines, earthquakes over millennia have created a deep sink hole which has become the focal point of the town. Known simply as the Lake, Lake Voulismelis is the subject of much myth and legend. Once filled with freshwater fed by springs, Athena and Artemis are said to have bathed in it. When an earthquake cut off the springs it became known as the stinky lake and in 1907 French troops stationed in the town during the fight for Cretan independence cut a canal to the sea, filling it with saltwater. Locals will tell that the lake is bottomless – it is in fact nearly 50 metres deep. Neither is it the watery grave of German WWII tanks. A dive to the bottom in 2016 found only a sunken fishing boat, a desk top calculator and some small pieces of military equipment. Maybe it is they that over the years have grown by rumour into tanks?
Elsewhere, Crete’s ancient history as the birth place of Zeus (in a cave on the Lasithi Plateau so they say) is celebrated, rather casually in the port car park. Europa, daughter of the Pheonician king, was duped by Zeus, disguised as a beautiful bull, brought to Crete and forced into marriage. She would later give birth to Minos who gave his name to Crete’s ancient civilisation, the Minoans.
We settled quickly into a routine of winter jobs, exercise and social activities organised by the marina community. After our quiet first winter in Gibraltar time passed in a whirlwind of weekly activities culminating in Thursday walks, Friday drinks
and the Sunday BBQ.
We made wonderful friends amongst the big community of mainly British and Dutch sailors but with a few from Germany, Australia, America, Russia and Hong Kong added into the mix.
Stefan enjoyed lots of (very competitive!) cycling with Rene and Steve while I joined yoga and pilates classes at the local gym and Liz and Babs for a weekly work to the beach for some stretches with a view.
When we returned from our trip back to the UK it was in time for the annual blessing of the marina, a ceremony undertaken by the local priest wafting some incense and sprinkling some holy water, followed by cake and the prize giving for the Christmas light competition. 1st and 2nd prizes went to two of our pontoon neighbours. Pontoon B must have looked very pretty while we were away.
We missed celebrating the town’s name day in December but one event that brought this sleepy town alive was Carnival at the start of Lent.
This was the first carnival in Agios Nikolaos for 30 years and so a first for many of the town’s children. Some were as bemused as us at the goings on.
It wasn’t only the children in costume. Most of the adults had dressed up in some way and we felt a bit silly not to be in costume.
The theme was the 80s although the band seemed to be a decade or two out!
And there were lots of references to Greek political issues that went completely over our heads.
The Greek disregard for health and safety was in full swing with flares and confetti canons going off everywhere.
The parade ended at the port where there was a live band and we joined in the dancing.
We pitied those in charge of the clear up. There were streamers and confetti everywhere but by the following day nearly all evidence of the crazy party had disappeared and the streets were quiet again.
We are so grateful for all the friends we made in our time in Agios Nikolaos: to Babs and Steve of SV With Dignity, Babs and Rene (and Rizzo) of SV Momentum, Liz and Kevin of SV Black Velvet, Jenny and Robert of SV Two Lions, Jen and Carl of SV Dream, Jane and John of SV Penelope III (Pintail’s former Gosport neighbours!), Ine and Geert of SV Anegada and so many more. Thank you for all the pontoon chats, meals onboard, bottles opened, games played and stories shared.
We have loved our time on Crete and in Agios Nikolaos in particular and are very sad to leave…