Junta Days Chapter
For a few years
things went on pretty well, there was the odd hiccup (which I will
explain later) and I enjoyed my time in Iraklion with Costas Travel
Company. Also I got to explore Iraklion and was very impressed by the
city. In many places the Venetian Walls still existed and there were
so many buildings standing that came from centuries ago. But my
favourite place in Iraklion was the market. It was a long but fairly
narrow street that started just south of the Morosini Fountain and
went quite a way further south. The street was packed with shops and
stalls that extended right out that every day was packed with every
fruit, herb and vegetable you could imagine and as you walked up the
street you came to the butchery section with many stall selling meat
and great carcasses hanging up for all to see. After the butchery
section there were the fishmongers who sold fish for some of the best
prices in Crete and they sold it all from prawns to swordfish and
more. They too were extremely friendly people and they had mostly
heard of me and often called to me to see some special deal or other.
It was such a great experience to walk up there.
At the opposite end
of the market from the morosini fountain there is a square called
Kornaru Square and there is another fountain. It is called the Bembo
Fountain and is surrounded with chairs where a fine coffee can be had
from the kafeneon in Kornarou Square. The square was named after a
Venetian called Kornaros who wrote the poem Erotokriti which has
meaning for all Cretans.
This was my
favourite place in Iraklion to sit with a coffee and watch the world
Of course the
travel office was open almost every day and I used to sell ferry
tickets, Olympic plane tickets and even sometimes student travel
passes. This was the quiet time, but when a ship came in we were very
busy with the tourists and Costas used to run the shop on those days.
For me it was
something else. Having arranged the Dimitri bus and driver, I used to
meet him at the port where the Italian Cruise ship had docked at 9am
and told the driver where we were going. Then the tourists who had
booked our tour came down the gangway and were directed to the bus.
For those days these were big lovely busses with comfy seats and air
conditioning. Dimitri bought them from Germany.
Once the bus had
filled up I would step aboard, pick up the microphone at the front
and start the day. I would tell them where we were going and a bit of
the history and or stories I had picked up. They had all had their
breakfast and the bus would drive slowly out of Iraklion with me
describing all the things we passed and we would be on our way to
wherever we were going. Many of the trips did a minoan tour, down to
festos and lunch and back via Knossos and dinner in a booked taverna
and back to the ship by 10 pm. That was the easy trip and the most
common one I did since I had all the dates and history and Festos and
Knossos guides working for me so I could have a break with the driver
for a while at each destination. But there were many other tours I
dreamed up. The most distant one was to Hora Sphakion and
FrangoCastello, a placed I loved and often went. Another one was to
Arkadi Monastery and surroundings. Also there was one where I took
the tourists to Ierapetra with a lovely lunch at Myrtos. Some days we
would go upto the Lassiti Plateau to see where the father of the
Gods, The mighty Zeus was born and have dinner in Agios Nicholas.
Often I arranged a tour of Spinalonga which was very popular where
they had a barbecue dinner on the beach. There were others too but
not so many as we only had a day for each and the tour had to be
timed perfectly to get them back to their ship by 10pm, which is when
Crete really livens up.
There were some
drawbacks. Mostly the tourists were retired Greek Americans and so
on, going to Crete had been their dream for years and now they had
finally made it they made the most of it. They were often given Rakis
for free and just drank them, they drank beers and wines and often
got fairly inebriated since they were not so used to them as the
Cretans were, but we managed them and they were good people having
the time of their life and I enjoyed making them happy.
Very occasionally we
had a disaster, it was rare but we had to be back at the ship at a
certain time 10pm and the cruise ship waited for no-one. Perhaps I
will describe a couple of them.
But before that I
will mention one thing that happened, not to the tourists, but to me.
Often in Crete,
people forgot the military coup that had happened. Cretans say that
Athens is a long way away, and it was. But the Junta had placed their
awful signs near most villages and people ignored them. In fact in
Crete we saw very little of the famous Junta activity in Athens. The
deaths, the torture and so on that shocked the world. It was not real
to us in Crete, after all Crete had not been part of Greece for very
long. It was a world away.
Now you may remember
how I told you about all my taxi driver friends in Iraklion. Well
after a while I became a sort of honarary member of their group and
every year thay have their annual dinner. Usually it is in some
favoured Taverna in a village in the country outside Iraklion. One
year I was invited as a guest to one of these nights out, and since I
was free that night, I thought Why Not! Well, remember the junta law
that everyone ignored about no more than so many in a gathering. Well
a taxi friend picked me up and we all went to this village high up in
the hills behind Iaklion for our dinner. Well there was around 200
taxi drivers that turned up and a band and we all had a brilliant
meal and the dancing and so forth continued late into the night. But
there was a person there that nobody knew or even noticed. Some
laughed at him for wearing a mackintosh on a warm Cretan evening and
he said nothing and sidled off. We carried on with dancing and
drinking and having a wonderful time late into the night when we
discovered that we had been surrounded by a huge force of Astinomia
(Police). This quietened things down a bit and a few were a bit
inebriated and tried to find out what thay wanted. Was it a Taxi?
No it wasn’t and
we were all herded into several vans and transported back to Iraklion
Police Headquarters. And placed in this huge room under the Police
station to await our come uppance with the Magistrate in the morning.
In the room where we were locked people were angry, they had done
nothing wrong,what was happening? I was as confused as they were. A
lot of them had run out of cigarettes as well. The windows of the
room we were in were not locked and I volunteered to go down to the
kiosk to get them what they wanted. At the kiosk, there is a payphone
so I telephoned Costas at his home and woke him up. I told him what
had happened, that I and a couple of hundred taxi drivers from
Iraklion had been locked up for no reason we could see and I had a
cruise ship arriving the day after tomorrow. Costas was incredibly
angry. He said he would contact his friend the Chief of Police and
sort it out. I went back to the room with the cigarettes and told the
taxi men not to worry, as I had told Costas and he would sort it out
with the Police Chief. So we sat down and waited. The Police Chief
was woken up by Costas and knew nothing of this, called for a police
car to fetch him and drove to the headquarters with the siren going.
Apparently when he
arrived he was told what happened. The slimy man in the mackintosh
was a junta agent who had called the police and the night Seargent
had called out the force on that shift. Anyway the Police Chief
became very angry that this had happened and ordered that we all be
set free immediately and that the mackintosh man be arrested for God
knows what. A few minutes later we were all set free and apologised
to and went to our homes. That was that. A lot of people in Iraklion
wondered where the taxis were that morning, but they were back in
service by evening.
The mackintosh man
has disappeared apparently.