There are times on the island of Crete when you can take a picture that includes both sun and rain. In the picture below we have rain on the mountain and sun at the sea front. Part of the remarkable light that we have on this island.
Sun and rain
Here is another shot
Owls are lovely creatures. They fly at night and eat up rats and mice. You hardly see them in Crete although they can be heard hooting from time to time. But recently I met a baby owl near the road. Here he is:
Cute Cretan baby owl
I snapped this picture fast, almost before he knew I was there. Then I moved in a bit to get a close up and the baby owl went into full defence mode. It is truly something to see:
Baby owl in defence mode
He was saying to me, in Greek naturally, come no closer.
I was worried that he had been left alone so I looked to the trees above, and sure enough, his mother was there watching over him.
Deep in the heart of Crete, in the forever wonderful Amari Valley high in the hills south of Rethymno there are five or six villages on the western side of the valley on the slopes of the Kedros mountains. These villages, in 1944, were attacked by the occupying Germans and each one was razed to the ground by explosives. All the men were killed as well as several women. Just ordinary people going about the difficult business of farming for food for their families. No-one knows what zany reason the German troops had for decimating these peaceful villages. Some say it was reprisals for the kidnapping of the German General Kreipe, others suspect that it was to cover the German withdrawal. Perhaps there is no truth.
Outside the main village, Ano Meros, there has been erected a memorial to the many dead children, adults and old people that had nowhere to run and died by bullets in the terror that happened there. The memorial consists of a woman carving the names of the dead in stone.
The memorial to the dead of the Kedros villages in Amari
This is a beautiful memorial in the middle of nowhere, so to speak. It attests to the immense courage and the long memories of the people of Crete. I, and I hope you too, will never forget them.
Today is the nutty season in Crete. Perhaps we are all nuts for living in such a beautiful island, but I would live nowhere else. But now nuts are the thing. The lovely chestnut trees are disgorging their wonderful nut for us all to go and pick up.
The nuts are wonderful, they appear in October just before we light our fires where the nuts can be cooked perfectly. Luckily I know of a wonderful gorge in Crete where the nuts are just perfect. A day or two ago I went to get the nuts and very soon they will be roasted on our woodburning stove. Here is what they look like on the tree.
Chestnuts on the tree
Then they burst open and fall to the ground, they are everywhere under the tree and as you gather them they fall on your head and all around you.
Chestnut trees in my secret valley
Here you can see the trees with the fallen chestnuts in our wonderful sunlit valley.
Fallen chestnuts on the ground
Here are the fallen chestnuts. Mostly they are ejected from their prickly shells but a few remain and with care they can soon be taken out of the shells. One thing that you must watch for are the tiny moth caterpillars that eat these nuts. They bore a tiny hole on the case of the nuts and eat the inside. Just test the nut for the tiny holes and if they are OK, then they are fine.
Living on the island of Crete, you learn many things. One of them is the pleasure to sit outside near the end of the day and watch the sun go down. There is all the enjoyment of the magic of the evening, a sip from your frappe or glass of wine, and the certain knowledge that you live in a place made even more beautiful by the quality of light that surrounds you.
A Sunset on the Island of Crete
On Saint George’s day in the village of Asigonia in Crete, the shepherds bring all of the herds down from the mountains to have them milked.
Shepherds milking their sheep
From the other side, it looks just like this:
Five sheep at a time
Then, of course, the milk has to be pasteurised:
Then the milk is given freely to anyone who wants some. The village priest then blesses the herd to keep them safe for the coming year.
Village priest blessing the herds of sheep
Of course the herds are milked every day but then the milk goes to the village co-operative cheese making factory right there in the village.
The village cheese making factory
At the back of the factory is the storehouse for the cheese where it is left to mature. The cheese that they make the most of is the delicious Cretan Graviera. Finally here are the great graviera cheeses stacked high.
Cretan Graviera Cheeses
Nicos Kazantzakis was probably the greatest author to be born on the island of Crete. His books included Zorba the Greek to Freedom or Death. His book, The Last Temptation, was banned by the Pope and his writings in general led to him being excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox Church. He thus was not allowed to be buried in hallowed ground.
He died in 1957 and his grave lies on top of the south bastion of the Venetian wall around the city of Iraklion. This was where he was born and spent a lot of his life.
He wrote the words that appear starkly on his headstone. “I want nothing. I need nothing. I am free.”
The final resting place of Nicos Kazantzakis.
High in the mountains of Crete there is a plateau which once, some years ago, was famous for windmills. The scene of so many fluttering windmills was a sight to see. It used to look exactly like this.
Lassiti Windmills as they used to be
In fact these were not so much windmills, but windpumps. Almost every field had one and it used to pump water up from the ground to water the fields. This picture was taken around forty years ago. Today the water is supplied by electrical or oil driven pumps and the windmills are, alas, gone with the wind.
Today Lassiti has changed. It still grows the staples of Crete, potatoes, apples, vegetables etc. But sadly without the wonderful windmills.
But do not worry, that is the way of the modern world. There is a consolation, of course. On the edge of the Lassiti Plateau were some real windmills, built many years ago to grind the corn. Today some of them have been rebuilt to house modern people. What goes around comes around.
So here they are
The monastery of Panagia Chrisoskalitissa, Our Lady of the Golden Step in English, is in the remote south west of Crete just six Kilometres from the lovely lagoon beach of Elafonisi. And it is glorious.
Panagia Chrisoskalitissa Monastery
This photograph was taken when the sunset happened and thank heavens I had my camera to hand for the amount of beer that we had drunk with the priest and two English hitchikers was immense. Then came the meal with wine and a room to sleep in. But the next day we explored.
Panagia Chrisoskalitissa means Our Lady of the Golden Step. But what was the Golden Step? One of the nuns there explained to me that you have to be absolutely free of sin to see this step which is one of the ninety steps climbing up to the monastery’s front door. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see it, but the nun told me not to worry as she had not seen it either.
The monastery from the vegetable garden
So we climbed the steps and were invited to partake of tsikoudia (raki) with two nuns and the priest. A monastery and a nunnery seems to merge into one down here. Then I was shown how to climb to the roof of the church ‘for the view’, of course.
The view south west from the roof
This is a lovely place and we first went there about twenty years ago, then around ten years ago. We had to drive a gorge through a very old tunnel and some miles of dirt road to get to the monastery. Today the road is better, at least it is tarmacked, but one of the nuns is gone and the priest is much older than before when we first met him. But a wonderful man, nevertheless.
Here in the deep south west of Crete there is very little tourism. There are some rooms now where you can stay and near the beach at Elafonisi – perhaps Crete’s best beach with silver and rose coloured sand – there are a couple of tavernas. There are no hotels and no tavernas on the beach at all because this is one of Crete’s protected areas. But if you go there, it will stay forever in your memory.