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Crete: The Last Evening

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Late afternoon I took a walk along the coast road, eastwards out of town. Apart from the wonderful views, it’s quite a steep uphill road on the way out so feels like good exercise too! As I’ve said before, the path for walkers is excellent and there are often good stone benches to stop at and sit down and take in the view.

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On the way back I passed Magic Bazaar where yesterday I bought some local foodie things to take home.

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I’d popped in at the start of my walk but didn’t want to carry things. The guy in the shop was busy talking to a group of tourists. Later when I returned the shop was empty. Had I been in an hour before, the guy asked. He was so sorry. He’d thought I was Russian (there are a lot of them about) and would understand the talk he was giving but now he could see I was English.

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I asked his advice about a few things, chose some gifts and told him about my blog, asking if it was OK to take photos. We talked some more. He said the weather was like Manchester. Have you been to Manchester, I asked, slightly surprised. No, he said, but friends had gone to the university there. So did my son, I told him, and it rains all the time. We laughed. He said he wanted to give me a gift and made some suggestions. I chose a jar of tapenade. More kindness. Istron is full of it. I didn’t stop today. My suitcase is already full! Back at the flat, my Russian neighbours were arriving back from a day out. They’d been to the south, they told me, Ierapetra. It had been sunny there all day. They’d spent the day on the beach. I’d obviously gone to the wrong place, I told them! They don’t speak much English (and I don’t speak a word of Russian!) but they’re always so friendly when I see them.

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It’s customary for The Single Gourmet Traveller to go to her favourite restaurant of the holiday on her last night. Well, doesn’t everyone? Now, I know this is going to upset George from Panorama and I don’t wish to offend the friendly people at Zygos either but I’m afraid there’s absolutely no contest here for my gourmet affections: forging clearly ahead, the clear winner is Meraki, the lovely taverna below the apartments.

I love their food. There’s a wonderful simplicity to it, a fantastic freshness as it’s cooked to order and laid before you, just as it’s ready. I love that it’s the least touristy place. Yes there are tourists – in fact a group of five English women tonight at a table a little way from me – but always locals too. It doesn’t feel as if it’s catering to the tourists; it feels like they just cook their Cretan food as they’ve always done. They don’t adorn it with lots of extras. You just get exactly what you order. I’d seen the young guy earlier and said I’d be in; it was my last night. When was I leaving, he asked me now. And did I want my usual glass of red wine. He brought a menu. I wanted to have some of my favourite meze, I told him. I ordered four. It was too much; more than I could eat. I knew it would be but you’ve got to have a reasonable choice when it comes to meze. I had two clear favourites. The first is Traditional Fried Cheese with Honey and Sesame.

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It is just fabulous. I’ve had it at least two times before this week, sometimes for lunch with one other meze. The other clear favourite were Fried Courgettes with Tzatziki.

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These are just the best fried courgettes: a wonderfully light batter and the most gorgeous, thick and garlicky tzatziki, which makes a perfect accompaniment. I wasn’t so clear about my next two. I was trying to achieve a balance. The simple grilled peppers would make a good clean-tasting contrast to the other two.

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Then I decided to go with two skewers of pork souvlaki. I ordered two remembering the size of the pieces of meat I had the other day, but these were chunks and really one would have been plenty.

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They were so good. Really, this is a kind of street food – so popular at home in London right now. The guys cook up your order behind the counter in full view, it goes straight on to plate and is in front of you within seconds. Food doesn’t come fresher than this (to misquote Mr Gregg Wallace).

The guy serving me was so friendly and attentive, bending down and putting his hand gently on my back whenever we talked and smiling lots in a gentle way. There was nothing in this to be offended by. I’m clearly old enough to be his mother and maybe he thought that if it was his mother holidaying alone, he’d hope someone was as friendly to her. There was no sense of being patronised either; it all just comes across as very natural. The people in Meraki are just really nice people and that’s another big reason for liking it so much.

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Often I’m given a plate of grapes at the end of a meal in Meraki. The other day some halva. Tonight it was a delicious honey cake. Really good. I had an espresso to go with it.

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I didn’t want to leave. I felt so comfortable there. But I got my bill, said goodbye, and thanked them for their hospitality and friendship during my holiday. This kind of experience makes such a big difference. It does when you’re with someone but all the more so when alone.

So the holiday draws to an end. Tomorrow morning it’s a drive back to Heraklion and flight to Gatwick. It’s been a great week. It hasn’t panned out quite as I’d expected but it’s been full of lovely surprises and lovely people.

Crete: Last Day

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The weather was a little better when I woke this morning – but only relatively. The wind was still strong; the possibility of more rain threatened. I tried a new bar in the village for coffee and pondered what to do. My initial idea was just to take things slowly and quietly, thinking of the long trip home tomorrow. But that did seem boring. I changed my mind. One of the things I had wanted to do was drive to the Lasithi Plateau with its promise of apple and pear orchards, almond trees and, of course, the ubiquitous olive tree, as well as stunning views. It is also the place to see Cretan windmills. The Venetians , who ruled Crete for a time, built 20,000 metal windmills with white canvas sails in the 17th century. Only 5,000 remain today but the sight must still be glorious.

Checking a map, the plateau isn’t the easiest place to get to. I consulted Lonely Planet Crete for advice and saw I needed to head back towards Heraklion and turn off to Neapoli. It was going to be a bit of a drive but I felt like doing something and making the most of my last day. I missed my turning for Neopoli. Greek road signs are not always easily understood and sometimes a turning has no advance warning – it’s Go Now. And too late, you’ve gone past it. Another problem is that while lots of signs have the English alphabet as well as the Greek, all too often just the Greek appears. Some of the places near to me I’ve learnt to recognise but sometimes I’m taken unawares. Like recognising the road to Neopoli. It was quite some way before I could turn back.

Neapoli itself was full of coaches and tourists. Fortunately a large blue road sign pointed the way to the Lasithi Plateau. I followed it. Ah, this is easy now, I thought. Can’t be too far to go (well, it didn’t look far on the map). Never ever ‘count your chickens’ … I should know this by now.

If this was the main route to the plateau it was no main road. It narrowed and climbed; then started winding dramatically. As I got higher, I could appreciate the views were stunning indeed, but my concentration was focused on the narrow mountainous road and hoping nothing large was coming towards me. After quite a time, I came to a monastery and parking area. I stopped to take a look at the view and check my map.

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It’s not a very good map. Just a basic one that came with the hire car. Despite the name on the sign, I couldn’t work out where I was. But I couldn’t have gone wrong because there’d been no choice of where to go. Just up. I decided to just enjoy the view. It was pretty amazing, in spite of the clouds.

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I took a quick look at the monastery. A monk was welcoming a handful of visitors.

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But I didn’t want to hang around there. It was late morning by now and I wanted to get moving again. The road continued to climb; several times I had to go down to 2nd gear to negotiate a sharp, tight and very steep bend. Fortunately I’ve done a lot of driving of this kind. I’ve driven over many a pass, so I wasn’t too bothered about this. What started to concern me was I had no idea how far I still had to go. I’d looked at a few names on the map at the monastery before I set off again but I didn’t seem to be passing through much at all; nothing with a name. I wound up and then down and then up again. I met the occasional other car but the road was pretty empty. I saw a big sign heralding a cafe and shop coming up. Joyous. A place to park too. I carried my map up long steep steps. The guy in the shop didn’t speak English but understood I wanted to be shown where I was on the map. Amygdali, he said, almost triumphantly. Maybe it was pride. I meanwhile was almost in shock as I looked to where he pointed. Had I really only come that far? I’d made hardly any distance at all. It was disheartening. I needed to think. Coffee? I asked. Yes, he said, Nescafé? Cappuccino? Cappuccino, I said, but I think he meant a ‘Nescafé instant cappuccino’. This, however, was not a time for coffee snobbery. Not even from The Single Gourmet Traveller.

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The view however was amazing. Truly wonderful. If I went no further it had been worth the trip to see all this. But should I go on or turn back. There was rain too now as well as the winds. As if in answer perhaps, the wind got up dramatically, throwing plastic chairs across the terrace. Was this a message from Anemi, Greek god of winds? Well, maybe it was just common sense hitting in. It seemed a bit foolish to continue when there was still so far to go and the weather was worsening. The little Kia and I would turn back.

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There were still magnificent views to enjoy and I stopped occasionally when there was somewhere to pull in. For much of the time I was surrounded by olive groves. I’d always thought you didn’t need to water them, but Manolis explained that they had to be watered every day and one can see intricate forms of water spraying hoses running through the groves. Olive oil is big business nowadays. But then really it has always been so. The Minoans were the first to become wealthy from it and Crete remains one of the most important olive growing areas in the world, with 60% of its cultivated land being given over to olive trees. The olive tree is an important symbol in both diet and religion. It’s a symbol of peace, wisdom and victory.

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Olive oil’s health-giving benefits go back to the time of Hippocrates, who mentions 60 ailments that can be treated with it. Today we know it is full of antioxidants and healthy fats as well as being – in its best, unadulterated extra virgin form – one of the best alkaline-forming foods. Health aside, a good extra virgin olive oil just tastes fantastic! And Crete has some of the very best. Back at the apartment I made myself a Greek salad for lunch, pouring over a good amount of the local olive oil I bought.

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Following the Cretan way of having fresh fruit at the end of a meal, I prepared some, though added yogurt and local honey too.

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My good intentions of being healthy took a nosedive later. Manolis came round with his wife Eleni. Eleni had baked chocolate cake and they wanted to give me some.

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It looks and smells wonderful. But I couldn’t possibly eat two pieces before I leave in the morning, I said. Manolis insisted on leaving it all. Maybe I’d like chocolate cake for breakfast. We chatted a while and then they left. So now for a quiet afternoon, a walk along the coast and a plan to eat my last holiday meal tonight at the brilliant little taverna below, Meraki. I’m going to have a selection of my favourite meze, I think.

Crete: Panorama Taverna & George

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This is for my lovely friend Jane – possibly the blog’s biggest fan:
If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that I agreed with George, owner of Panorama Taverna in Istron, to go back for dinner at 8.00. In the end, with darkness falling around 7.00, the wind still whipping up strongly, and perhaps mostly because I’m not the greatest fan of eating late, I set off down the road for the short walk at 7.30. Outside was Gabriella, the girl who’d made my coffee this morning. Oh you’re here, she said. Everyone’s waiting for you; George is ready. I was a bit taken aback. I’m early, I said.

Inside, George strode towards me, sat me at a table I was happy with. Inside away from the cold and wind. A menu was put before me. A small bottle of raki brought – to help my digestion, George explained. They made it themselves. And very good it was too.

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I hadn’t been give raki at the beginning of a meal before, although I’d read that sometimes it’s given as an aperitif rather than a digestif. Or even before and after a meal. With George’s help I chose a lamb dish baked with vegetables and feta. I said I’d like a glass of red wine as well. A huge glass came.

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I could get seriously drunk before any food came. But I was very restrained. It wasn’t too long before Gabriella brought my food.

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As is the custom here, there was lots of it. Apart from the lamb, there were chips and rice with vegetables and a lovely tzatziki. There was a basket with warm bread and small bowls of tapenade and mayonnaise. The lamb was very nice, the meat tender, the vegetables not too well done and the feta adding a salty tanginess. I ate the meat dish, the tzatziki and a few chips but there was no way I could manage bread too. George and Gabriella checked I was OK a few times; that I was happy with the food.

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A cat joined me. It miaowed a request for food that I ignored. It tried to climb on to me. I said No firmly. It obviously understands English and obeyed and just sat looking at me for a while. Cats are everywhere in Greece and frequently in restaurants. I’m a cat person so it’s OK with me but I know a few people who wouldn’t like them in close proximity while eating. Or indeed, anytime. They’re beautiful cats. Quite small with huge, wonderful eyes.

After I’d finished my lamb and the plates were cleared away, Gabriella brought me a plate of watermelon. For the sweet-toothed amongst you, you’ll be disappointed to hear that I’ve not once been offered a dessert in Crete. Temptation has not come my way.

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Then came a small glass of something fruity – and alcoholic. I asked Gabriella what it was. A surprise, she said! I decided I shouldn’t drink much. Fruity it might be but it could lead me down a false track like a glass of icy Pimm’s.

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Gabriella came and sat down and talked to me. She apologised for not having time to sit and talk when I had coffee this morning. It was a kind thought but I’d never have expected it. We talked about her living in Istron, London, the weather. She said if I came back August was a better time to come. Then she went.

George came bringing another glass of the fruity digestif. How was my meal? Tell him honestly. And which was the best place to eat in Istron now. I prevaricated. It’s not the kind of question I like. Truthfully I said I’d had different food elsewhere. In Meraki I usually ate just meze. Then I added that I’d had some fish soup there at lunchtime. George got up. Fish soup! He disappeared. I knew what was about to happen. He came back with a bowl of fish soup. You know I can’t possibly eat that, I said. But I’ll taste it. It was very good.

George disappeared for a while to attend other customers. Two men and a young chef from the kitchen sat at the next table. George came back and sat with me. He told the men about my blog. Showed them the card I’d given him this morning. During this, one of the men sent across some of his pomegranate to me. The fruit in Crete tastes better than anywhere else, he told me. It was the richness of the soil, he explained. George leant in closer to me. Had I found a nice man in Istron, he asked. No, I laughed. I was on holiday. I wasn’t looking for a man here.

I decided it was probably time to go. I paid. I said goodbye to Gabriella. Come for coffee tomorrow, she urged. I’d already told them tomorrow is my last day. George saw me on my way out. I was a lovely looking lady, he told me. They all loved me. I thanked him. Said good night and headed back down the road. It seems in Istron there is never a straightforward meal out. But what a fabulous thing that has been.

Crete: Going with the Flow

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I’ve long been drawn to the principles of Taoism. Not in any major religious sense but because life experience has taught me that going with the flow, letting things take their natural course, often leads one along the best paths in life, even though it’s often only observed in small ways. Taoism doesn’t promote ‘giving up’ and never taking any action but when a door – metaphorically speaking – is closed firmly in your face after several attempts to get through, then frankly, only an idiot is going to persist. Trying to barge your way through a closed door is a way to get hurt.

Holidays inevitably bring lots of expectations. Some of us long for days spent doing nothing but lying on a sunny beach. Some of us want to fill every minute seeing as much as we can of a new place; every site in the guidebook. Some long for excitement; others seek peace and quiet. These expectations can go horribly wrong. The sun doesn’t shine. You’ve made too long a list of places to visit and can’t see them all, so come home disappointed. The quiet hotel turns out to be next to a nightclub. Or you go on holiday with the wrong person; someone who wants to do things completely differently to you. More of this later.

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The beach this morning. No swimming. I booked this holiday in Crete with many expectations – hopes, perhaps – in mind. One of them was a last burst of summer weather before autumn really kicks in. I’m a summer person; I love the sun. To say I hate winter may be a little strong but not entirely inaccurate. Any poor person who has had to be out with me on a wet, cold and windy day in winter will know exactly what I mean. I tend to get a little grumpy. To lose three days of just one week here to bad weather could feel like a disaster. But I didn’t want to go through that metaphor of a door. Yesterday was easy. I took a chance, headed off to Agios Nikolaos and all worked well. Although I was holed up in the apartment for some of the day, I still had a brilliant day, ending especially well with my meal at Meraki taverna last night.

It wasn’t raining this morning but the wind was strong. Nowhere seemed to be open for coffee so I took the car along the coastal road for a bit of an exploration and in hope of an open cafe. No such luck. I went some way before deciding that the wind was so strong, and the little Kia was being buffeted so unnervingly that I had to slow right down, that the best thing to do was to come back to Istron. I headed down to the beach cafe. Closed. At the top of the slope I looked at Panorama Taverna. They had an Illy coffee sign. Promising but no sign of life. Then a young woman called down to me from the terrace. Could I get a coffee, I asked. Yes, come up, what did I want. She suggested I sat in the sheltered part of the restaurant while she disappeared.

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I watched the white horses ride the stormy sea through plastic. My coffee seemed to be taking time. Finally, the girl came back bearing a large plate.

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This was a bit on a par with un grand cafe in France where coffee at the end of a meal comes with a few mini desserts. Once I’d got over my surprise, I tucked into the little pot of Greek yogurt and honey, and ate a little cake. The coffee was excellent too. As I paid, the owner George came over to talk to me. Where was I staying? Where were my friends? Surely I wasn’t alone! I had to assure him I had plenty of good friends and lovely family and often went on holiday with them. But sometimes I was happy alone. (It was here I referred to the problems of going on holiday with the wrong person.) He wasn’t convinced. This wasn’t good for me! I must go back this evening and he will cook a special meal for me and find me a good Greek man. I laughed and said I thought my children probably wouldn’t be pleased if I met a Greek man and didn’t go home. George was having none of my excuses! Thankfully the talk turned to food. In particular how I cooked my moussaka. I had to describe this in detail, answer points of more detail. Yes, George concluded, this was a good way to make moussaka. Then we parted with me promising to return at 8 tonight. Watch this space. I ventured onwards up the coastal road – along which lies an excellent path for walkers.

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Later, at lunchtime, I headed down to the beach cafe again, certain it would be open by now. It wasn’t.

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Alex (from Liquid Gold Cave back in Richmond) had told me this was her favourite place for souvlaki. I’d thought souvlaki in pitta with tzatziki and salad on a windy beach would be perfect. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Today at any rate. I stopped at Meraki again. A couple of meze, perhaps a Greek salad. That would be good too. As last night, I was given a warm welcome. Did I want to sit inside or out. I opted for in. A table was prepared. A menu brought. A pastitsio was in the oven I was told. Layers of pasta, minced lamb and bechamel sauce. It would be ready in 20 minutes. It sounded good but I didn’t want something that heavy if I was to eat a big meal this evening. I explained I wanted something lighter. Well, there was also a fish soup being prepared; that would be ready in 15 minutes. I waited. How could I resist such a freshly made fish soup.

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I had a small cold draught beer while I waited. I checked in with my iPhone. Everywhere offers free wifi. I read my book. More people came in and were welcomed with hugs and laughter. Some people went straight into the kitchen area to see what was happening. It felt more like being in a family home on a Sunday when lots of family members come to lunch than a restaurant. Then my soup came.

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Not exactly a light snack lunch but oh so good. It was delicious and, I thought, healthy too. They brought me some complimentary halva with my coffee. I was a bit uncertain and thought it might be too sweet for me – I didn’t want to offend by leaving it – but it wasn’t. It was textured with semolina and flavoured with nuts, sultanas and spices, the Greek way.

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So, the day so far hasn’t turned out quite as I planned. But coffee and lunch turned out to be such a lot more fun than I’d imagined. The three days of bad weather has stopped me rushing off to do some of those busy things on my ‘list’, like driving an hour or so up to the Lasithi Plateau to see the famous windmills, visiting more towns and Minoan sites. But do you know what? The plus side, the being forced to go with the flow of the weather, has resulted in me slowing down so much more and having a good rest. And in the process I’ve met some lovely people and had some great experiences. (Though hopefully I won’t be too tested come Tuesday when I hope the wind has dropped enough for me to be able to fly home on time!)

Crete: Thunderstorms & Meze at Meraki Taverna

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The rain and dark clouds that came as I had lunch on the beach today, and led to a storm of almost tropical proportions, gave way later in the afternoon to a short burst of sun and a part clearing of the sky. I left the apartment – a small umbrella In hand (oh yes, I’m more English than I sometimes like to admit!) – and I simply walked further up the road where El Greco apartments are situated. It’s a very steep road. I was confident the view would be worth it. And it was.

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The respite from the awful weather was short lived. The sky darkened again. Thunder sounded in the distance and heavy rain fell like a bucket tipped from the skies. I read. I received an email from my lovely friend Jane. I Whatsapped my daughter. I rang my son to remind him to feed the cat as neighbour Sally – in main charge of Bella – is away for the weekend. And still it rained. There was only one place to go for food and sustenance this evening. Meraki Taverna, just below the apartments. About 20m away.

I’ve been there a few times now and contrary to my thoughts the other day, I think this really is my favourite place. It’s full of Cretans and seems very authentic. I had the best fried courgettes there a couple of days ago with a fabulous and very garlicky tzatziki. When I rushed round the corner in a rain-free moment it was almost empty. Most of the tables are in a covered terrace – but essentially ‘outside’. They saw me, signalled to come inside. A table was prepared for me. The owner and also chef came out from behind the counter to shake my hand, ask warmly how I was. The other two guys working there welcomed me too. We laughed about the weather. I said I was so pleased they were close to me. I looked at the menu and decided to order four meze as my meal and a glass of red wine. Much of the wine in the tavernas here is homemade. This is told with great pride but as you can imagine, I’m sure, this is not always a good thing! Meraki’s wine is good though.

The owner got cooking behind the counter. This is an open kitchen in a traditional Cretan taverna sense, not a fancy London restaurant where it’s all the rage to be able to see your food being cooked. In a sense, here at Meraki, it was the real thing.

A Greek family was eating at a large table nearby. A boy of about ten would get up from time to time and practise his Greek dancing to the music in the background, managing the complicated kicks and twists quite well, I thought. The two older guys working in the taverna would sit and talk with them from time to time, leaving the younger guy to do the work – but not the cooking! As I ate they’d stop and talk to me when passing, give me the occasional little hug. This did not make my feminist hackles rise (as it would have done in London). They are a tactile race – like the old woman holding my hands the other day as she talked to me – and I felt no offence, only friendship. I felt as I was being looked after in the nicest possible way. Meanwhile the thunder rolled outside, the heavens poured and lightning flashed across the sky. Ironically a Greek friend iMessaged me to say he was in London and was I back from Crete. No! I messaged back. And the weather is awful here. Like a true Greek he said, don’t worry about the weather, just have fun. The Greeks are very philosophical.

I’ve developed some favourites amongst the meze in Meraki but was determined to try new ones. And what a good thing too. I chose some fava dip, remembering the dried broad beans I’d seen in the market on Wednesday.

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I also chose ‘Giant beans oven baked with tomato sauce’.

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These look like posh baked beans, I know, but they really are a very classic Greek dish. We’re talking large beans like butter beans and a sauce made from fresh tomatoes. They always make me think of Dimitra. Dimitra’s daughter Natalie was in my son Jonathan’s class at school. They became engaged. They were 4 years old. They were both very serious about marrying each other for three years. Dimitra would refer to me as her ‘in-law’ and I remember her making this bean dish for a party and telling me it was a very popular Greek dish. I also ordered stuffed vine leaves. They’re such a cliche in Greek restaurants yet I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten them actually in Greece. It seemed a good time to try.

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Finally, and by no means least – perhaps this was the most exciting – was a cheese pie. No, that doesn’t sound exciting but it was very different to what you might expect and wonderfully delicious.

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This was like a stuffed, fried pancake. Its stuffing was myzithra cheese – a bit like a mild, soft ricotta. It was fabulous. So tasty I had to eat it all, although I didn’t manage to finish the other three. There was lots of food!

The food was fantastic. I told the cook – quite genuinely – it was some of the best food I’d had in Crete. All very simple but as fresh as can be, using excellent ingredients. I felt – though I wouldn’t pretend to know – this food was the real thing; this was genuine Cretan food.

I had an expresso. They brought a plate of the sweetest small grapes for me – as they always do. The rain eventually calmed. I made a bid for home while the going was good. But what a fantastic evening. I had a very simple but lovely meal and felt so ‘at home’ in the taverna. The warmth of the welcome I was given, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere there, made it a perfect place for a Single Gourmet Traveller to be.

Crete: And Then The Rain Came …

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Well, it had been promised. But it was a particularly dark and forbidding morning I woke to. Over breakfast, I decided the best thing to do was head back into the town of Agios Nikilaos; at least in a town there are cafes, shops and museums to shelter in. Then the rain fell, the wind got up and I wondered how sensible it was to take the little Kia on an expedition. But the rain soon went, a strong rainbow curved from the sky apparently into the bay below and I decided to just go. If the weather got too bad, I’d just stop and shelter until it died down. On the road to Agios, the sky pretty much cleared. I pulled into a bay at the side of the road to photograph my approach; Agios in the distance.

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A good thing about setting off early was that I could easily get a space in the little car park I discovered on Wednesday. With the cost just €3 for 2 hours or €4 for all day, I went with all day so I didn’t have to worry about the time. The sky over the marina, near where I parked, looked ominous again.

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But I didn’t let that discourage me. It was quiet everywhere; at 9am too early for other tourists. I found a nice cafe for a coffee, full of locals.

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Nearby was a bakery and in their window, a large tray of loukoumades.

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These little doughnuts, flavoured with honey and cinnamon, or in this case honey and sesame, are a Greek speciality. As I looked in the window the old woman sitting on a chair just inside called to me. Come in! Where was I from? (Everyone wants to know where I come from!). Every morning we (by which I guess she meant we Cretans) eat loukoumades. Well, I had to buy some. But how many? They’re quite small; not much bigger than a golf ball. Two? I gently suggested. She laughed and I was immediately reminded of A’s shock via message the other day when a small bottle of raki was put before me: he could hardly believe I only drank one shot! But I didn’t want lots and I didn’t want to carry round a bag of sticky doughnuts, however nice. So I stuck to two. My word, they were wonderful. Thank goodness I didn’t give in to buying more because I wouldn’t have been able to stop eating them! I wandered on and it was still wonderfully quiet.

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I took a small passageway down to Voulismeni Lake. Quite why there is a lake so close to the sea and harbour, I don’t know. But it’s pretty. There’s a tiny church built into the rock at the far end and a number of healthy looking cats wandering around.

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I did a little shopping, buying small gifts made of olive wood to take home; fruit to take back to the apartment.

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I passed a ‘fish spa therapy’ place where women sat on the kind of seats used for pedicures but in this case had their feet in fish tanks in which many small fish swam, nibbling at their feet. I’ve heard of this before but definitely wasn’t up for trying it. Instead I moved on to the Folklore Museum. It was supposed to open at 10am. It was 10.30 and there was no sign of it opening. I asked in the Tourist Information next door. The girl looked at her watch, shrugged and said probably in a couple of minutes. This is Greek time. Don’t ever try to be in a hurry here! Half an hour or so later, it was open and I paid €3 to go in.

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It was very small but there were some gorgeous woven rugs and carpets, embroidered clothes and pottery. When I came out Agios was filling up and had become very busy. I decided to head back to Istron for lunch. Manolis had shown me a cabin cantina on another beach which did, he told me, good souvlaki.

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It’s such a pretty place but the weather was turning threatening again. I ordered souvlaki and frites fried in olive oil (because that apparently is the thing to do) and sat under some awning near the beach where a couple sat eating at another table. The rain came. I thought it was blowing through the side open ‘windows’ but no, the awning was mesh with holes in it. From the cabin men shouted to us. I may not speak Greek but I got the message. We were herded in. Space was made at the tables which would stay dry. My souvlaki and chips came and I’d picked up a can of cold Amstel beer.

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The couple were from the Midlands in UK, on their honeymoon. We all talked and laughed together with two old local men, communicating by sign language; one guy giving me a bottle of lemon dressing and indicating I should put it on my souvlaki. It was all great fun. The rain petered out but it clearly wasn’t going to be for long. I made my way back to the car. The beach was understandably empty.

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I got back just in time. The heavens opened. A storm whirled up and I was glad to be inside my apartment and decided this was an excellent time to write today’s post.

Crete: A Quiet Day in Istron

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After a magnificent start with the weather here, a forecast of heavy rain for the next three days inevitably affects my decision about what to do. Yesterday I wanted to visit the places that are clearly better enjoyed in sunny weather. Although rain was at first forecast for today – Friday – I woke to a sunny morning and the promise of a good day when I checked my iPhone’s local weather. So, instead of heading off for more sightseeing, I decided the best plan was to stay put. After all, this is a holiday, and I want some rest. But also the local beaches here are famous for their beauty and cleanliness so wouldn’t it be crazy not to enjoy them? Especially since Voulisma Beach, also known as Golden Beach, is barely 5 minutes walk away.

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The village of Istron straddles the main highway but although busy, it’s not a highway in the sense we Brits or Americans might imagine. There don’t seem to be motorways as such and main roads are … well, perhaps what we’d call A roads in UK. El Greco apartments are located in a small, steep road just off the main road.

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It is quite noisy, it has to be said, but Manolis did offer to move me to another apartment after the first night (not because I complained but when I arrived he remembered I was keen to have a good view of the sea and an apartment with a nicer view would be free the next day). However, I happily settled into the lower apartment and when I looked at the other on the second day; the view from the balcony was wonderful and the sea more clearly visible, but it was also a smaller, darker apartment and I’d grown – in just one day – used to the lighter, more spacious one I had.

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Another thing I like about being at this level – not actually ‘ground’ for you go up some steps, but in one way ground because of the steep rise of the road – is that I’m open to what’s going on and seeing people passing. Apart from chats with Manolis and others working here when I sit outside, my kind Russian neighbours brought round a huge chunk of watermelon as a gift a couple of nights ago; a man passing with a huge dog joked with me about the dog taking him for a walk. Everyone is so friendly and will stop and talk. When I was in Mohlos yesterday, arriving at the cafe where I had morning coffee, an elderly woman, dressed in widow’s weeds, i.e. entirely in black, her white hair tied back and through her smile a sight of many missing teeth, welcomed me so warmly I thought she owned the cafe. But no, she was just passing. She took my hands and asked where I was from (seemed impressed by ‘London’) and told me a little about her husband. This is one of the things I love so about Greece: the Greek are great talkers, and also great philosophers. They talk about life.

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My day begins with some granola I brought with me, some Total Greek yogurt (full strength – none of this 0% fat nonsense for me) and local honey.

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Cretan honey is famous for its health-giving properties: this is raw, unadulterated, unprocessed honey. And it’s very delicious. I then decided to explore the village more and walking further than I’d done before, I found a bakery.

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I sat outside with a coffee for a while and bought some bread for lunch. It was interesting to see that inside, while there were cakes, baklava and some fresh bread, mostly there were packets of dried breads, of the kind used in my Cretan salad yesterday lunchtime.

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Then I headed to the beach. Voulisma Beach is known as Golden Beach because of its golden sand and clear turquoise water. It’s quite small but is said to be one of the best beaches in Crete. At 10 am it was already busy. I had to pay €2.50 for a sunbed, but it was worth it. I swam. I sunbathed. I headed up steep steps after an hour for a coffee at the cantina and sat enjoying the view.

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I swam some more – beautiful water! – sunbathed some more and then decided to head back to the apartment. I like a bit of beach but you’d never catch me spending all day on one! I bought some feta cheese on the way back and made myself a kind of Greek salad for lunch with the vegetables I’d bought in the market on Wednesday.

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I didn’t have salt – the feta would be salty enough and I didn’t want to buy a kilo pack for just one or two lunches – and no lemon or vinegar. But I smothered it in fruity, local extra virgin olive oil and it was delicious. Later, I wandered down to Silver Beach in the other direction, sometimes known as Church Beach.

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On the way back I passed olive trees everywhere, heavy with fruit (but not ready to harvest, Manolis told me, until December), often with allotments full of vegetables next to them.

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Frequently the air is heavy with the perfume of jasmine.

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And huge pomegranates – that do look ripe for picking – hang from trees.

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I passed a -shy! – goat too.

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I love the sense of being in real Greece-Crete here. It’s not touristy. Yes tourists are catered for, but local life continues: people grow their own vegetables, tend olive trees, shop in the local supermarkets. Yesterday two local men sat for hours outside a cafe playing a board game. Here life goes on – slowly; there’s not really a tourist season but just different things happening at different times of the year. Manolis said people come to his apartments all through the year, although of course summer is busier.

Back on my sunny balcony I finished a book, drank some tea and contemplated on which of the two tavernas offering live music and dancing I should go to tonight.

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