Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

199712 Greece – Crete 2

TUESDAY 16 DECEMBER – Make good use of the available running water with Steve cleaning the roof of the van whilst I scrub the mats wash come clothes and clean the kitchen floor.  It’s nice and sunny so with the chores completed we enjoy a beer or two sitting in the sun.  Steve has discovered that the hypermarket pay 25Drs (6p) for empty beer cans so for every four he finds he can trade them in for a full can!  Rain late afternoon.



WEDNESDAY 17 DECEMBER – Drive just along the beach to the ancient Minoan palace of Malia.  It’s just after 9am and the sign says open from 8.30am but there is no sign of life.  A closer inspection reveals at room at the back of the site entrance from which a mean emerges to open the ticket booth and entrance gate.  No one has visited for 2 weeks and he wasn’t expecting anyone today!  It’s an unusual site, which hasn’t been reconstructed, but because it was never reoccupied all the walls are intact up to about 2’ high.  They are in the process of unearthing a whole town at the side of it.  The guardian tells us of a big problem in Athens where they keep finding ruins whilst trying to build an underground railway.  Next port of call is Ayio Nikolaos.  Our approach to the town is hampered by a double parked car but after much hooting (mainly by the car stuck behind us) a policeman arrives, can’t find the car owner so books him then moves the car on the opposite side of t road.  We proceed about 100 years before finding the road blocked again – this time by the Police car!  We eventually pull on to the car park and are amazed to see two cars with GB stickers.  We have come here in the hope of finding some activity at a hotel or something local going on over Christmas.  I approach a lady in the blue astra who turns out to be Chris from Darlaston.  She moved to Crete a month ago with her partner Barrie.  They are renting a place just north of here at Elounda.  We follow them back and park in the square by the harbour.  The Venus Bar is run by Chris and Chrissie who set out from England in October 1996 in a motorhome to travel the world.  They got to Crete and fell in love with the place so last December bought the bar/restaurant.  We sign up for the Christmas day lunch, the whole monty including a bottle of wine for 5,000Drs, boxing day buffet at 2,500Drs (£5.50) and the New Years eve pig roast 3500Drs (£7.70).  Chris has been a chef in many famous hotels and the visitors book (which started out as a visitor book for “Henry” their motorhome – sad or wot?) has lots of glowing tributes to the excellent food.  Next we call at Barrie and Chris’s flat.  Chris invites us to put a load in the washing machine then join tm for a drive up into the mountains to a very traditional Greek village taverna.  We are welcomed into a sparsely furnished room and sit on wooden home made chairs drinking beer.  The owner is a very old man and he keeps bringing us nibbles of nuts, apples with a sort of honey syrup to dip them in and home made cake.  He chats to us and unveils his concerns about the price of gold as he has 2 kilos of Victorian sovereigns!  We return to the van for a late siesta before meeting up for bingo, held each Wednesday at the “Hope Café Nio”, Café Nio’s being traditional meeting places for the Greeks.  You usually get two side by side, the green one being for labour people and the blue for conservatives.  During the war the Germans took over the green and the Italians the blue ones.  The bottom rails around the tables are worn away from when the soldiers used to wipe their boots on them.  The gathering consists of: – Irene and John a Welsh couple but locals for 15 years, southerners Mark and Denise here for 7 years, a Scottish couple who arrived here in October, Barrie & Chris who came in November and us who have just arrived!  The owner joins us all playing bingo and John calls the numbers out in English and Greek.  As the evening progresses we help ourselves to drinks from the fridge and at the end of the night pay up based on the number of empty bottles on the table.  Despite playing 3 games of bingo we don’t win a thing but take the kitty for both rounds of the trivial pursuit quiz that follows.  Irene invites us to join them next Wednesday, Christmas eve, for more of the same but we are all to bring snacks and the quiz will have a festive theme.  We totter back to the van at 1am but by 3am can’t settle as the waves are lapping around us so Steve gets us and drives along to the other end of the harbour.



THURSDAY 18 DECEMBER – We now have a lovely parking spot with our own quiet beach and a view back along the promenade with all the Christmas lights.  Now that we have established our plan of action for Christmas and New Year (New Years eve everyone goes to the Dutch bar “The Waterfront” and Barrie says he will put our names down for that also).  It’s a bit of a dull day so we drive back down to Ayios Nikolaos to explore.  On the way the weather looks much brighter ahead so we continue down to the south of the island.  At the petrol station a most peculiar vehicle pulls up and I can only describe it as a small wagon covered in canvas being towed by a man sat across the front steering a very rusty ancient lawn mower!  A valley cuts through the island from north to south and we soon emerge on the south side at sunny Ierapetra.  Head east along the coast but each time we stop we find it is too windy to settle.  Not to be defeated we turn around and head west to Mirtos, a tiny village recommended in the book.  The streets are so narrow that having entered the place we have no room to turn left or right and make a reverse exit to a small road running behind the beach.  At last the hills behind us are shielding us from the wind so we set up stall and enjoy 10 minutes of bliss before it clouds over.  Continue with the road, on the map it veers inland before rejoining the main highway.  Yes you’ve guessed, it doesn’t veer inland and instead gets narrower and narrower and bumpier and bumpier with a drop into the sea on the left and a rock cliff face on our right. It’s a difficult decision whether to try and reverse back or carry on but continuing looks to be the worst of the two evils.  We eventually emerge amongst a field of plastic greenhouses growing tomatoes.  Manage a 33 point turn in the muddy tractor ruts.  At this point I am inclined to agree with my sister that we are mental.  Drive back to Elounda stopping on route at a huge shed housing a market where I buy a pair of black “genuine” Levi 501’s for £10.  I console myself that as the jeans are obviously fake then so too is he size tag saying 32” waist!



FRIDAY 19 DECEMBER – Reckon the sun and wind are following us as we wake up in a wobbly van but we see blue skies and sunshine.  It’s exactly a year since we collected our first motorhome “The Solifer” and to celebrate we have booked a table at the Venus.  Chris is going to cook us his speciality “Chicken Veneziana” which is a special recipe that originated in on of the top hotels in Venice.  I am trying to persuade Steve to get the bikes off so that we can take some exercise.  I want to wear my black lycra Ann Summers dress on New Years eve without looking like I’m pregnant.  Begin to feel like a local as I chat to people en route to the shop.  For any telly addicts Elounda was the location for “Who paid the ferry man”.  When I get back to the van Steve is chatting to Pete from Jennifer’s Bar who is out walking his dog Whisky.  He tells us it will be windy al day so we replace the bike ride with a walk.  Ray & Helen (the Scottish couple whom we met in the Café Neon) drive by and offer us a lift to the big supermarket at “Ag Nik”.  Easily persuaded to abandon our walk we join them then return to their apartment.  Stay for coffee and a couple of hours chin wag leaving just enough time for a quick siesta.  Lovely meal in the Venus Bar. Start with a Greek salad followed by mushroom pasta before Chicken Veneziana, the sauce is superb.  Chris and Barrie join us later and give us an envelope that looks like a Christmas card but is a card saying “bath voucher – Have a Happy Christmas a giggle and a laff, we don’t know what to buy you so come and have a baff. Barrie and Chris” – Brilliant. 



SATURDAY 20 DECEMBER – I join two car loads of people for an 8.30am departure to Iraklion to visit the big Saturday market, Continent hypermarket then Makro.  I leave everyone at the market and go to the Amex office and collect lots of mail.  Ian & Cynthia (whom we met in Saint Tropez in June) write that they were in Crete with their motorhome until just 2 days before we arrived. A card from the Dutch couple tells us they have made it through Syria and into Jordan without problems.  From Claire there’s a letter and a photo of Daniel (now proudly displayed on the fridge door).  Buy a Greek style velour blanket at the market then catch up with the others.  Chrissie (the lady from the Venus bar) has come to buy groceries for the restaurant but is a very slow and unorganised shopper and drives us all crazy.  It’s 6pm by the time we get back to Elounda.  In the evening we all meet up in “The Waterfront” Dutch bar.  A really cute blonde haired little boy attaches himself to me and his Mum Jenny makes enquiries to see if we are residents, as she need a babysitter for “Yorgas” who normally won’t go to anyone – unlucky.  We enjoy a shared meal, the house speciality being Indonesian Nasi Goreng, lots of spicy tit bits and dips.  Steve is rather merry by the time we leave to walk home.



SUNDAY 21 DECEMBER – A nice day and we’ve noting planned so sit out playing backgammon.  Barrie & Chris call by and offer us a ride into Ayios to wander round so we pack everything away and join them for a very pleasant browse.  We do a BBQ on return and although it start with just the four of us our prominent location attracts the crowds and we are joined by Ray & Helen, Tom & Tsipi (an Israeli couple with their boat moored in the bay) and finally by Mark.  It all turns into a bit of a booze up in the sun.  Evening at The Waterfront but we leave early as the music is very loud.



MONDAY 22 DECEMBER – Unbelievably another nice day so before it changes we get the bikes out and cycle to Olous Island that is opposite us and then all around the village.  We notice that whenever the church bell is tolled the old ladies cross themselves; most of them are dressed all in black and affectionately known as blackbirds.  The nativity scene in the square is now finished but don’t have Christmas carols playing from speakers as they did in Ayios.  Back at the van we are just about to set up the table and chairs to play backgammon when Tom and Tsipi calls us from their dinghy.  They ask if we would like to go on the boat with them to Spinalonga, a tiny island in the bay an abandoned leper colony with lots of ruins.  We go on the dinghy to their boat and on the way learn that they are a bit older than us and planning a similar trip but by sea.  We don’t much like the sound of the 2 month crossing from the Azores to New York, especially when they tell us that until buying their 12 metre boat a year ago neither of them had sailed at all, and you thought we were mad?   There’s not much to explore on the island but it’s OK.  Back a the van we are waiting to hear from t man whose kiosk we are parked by.  We want to plug in and use his electricity and need to discuss payment.  We have left lots of messages around the town and called at his house but no response.  We hear a knock on the door “parakalo, electriciteeee”, Barrie returning our washing and winding us up at the same time.  Just as he is leaving Nikos pulls up and assures us it is Ok to use his electricity and we think we have agreed to pay him the same price as we would pay for electricity on a campsite but as everything we say is OK who knows?  A quick drive up to Plaka to find a place to empty our tanks.



TUESDAY 23 DECEMBER – We have now sussed out the weather pattern here.  Hot and sunny in the morning with wind and cloud gathering by the afternoon.  Taking this into account we spend the morning on the beach and even take a paddle to check out the water prior to our Christmas day swim.  I have a haircut at the local barbers (last one was in Turkey 8 weeks ago) and make a mistake when he asks me how much hairdressers charge in England as this turns out to be the exact price that he charges me!  Chatting to people we learn that you can rent a 1 bedroom apartment here for as little as £100 a month in the winter or sometimes for the whole year if you pay ahead, no wonder there are so many Brits around.  Following a drink and meal at The Venus, Barrie and Chris come back to the van.  They are also fans of the comedy “Bottom” so we have a good chuckle watching a few episodes on video. 



WEDNESDAY 24 DECEMBER – Christmas eve.  I convince us it really is Christmas by playing festive tapes whilst we sit out sunbathing.  A ride into Ayios with Barrie to collect the English Christmas papers but here aren’t any.  We cash in our voucher and take a bath at Barrie & Chris’s, bliss, a nice long soak in a hot bubble bath with aromatherapy oils.  We proceed to the Hope Café Nio with our trays of nibbles.  Chris has cheese and spinach pies plus mince pies.  I have prepared sweet and salted versions of popcorn, loads of different dips and different types of crisps to dunk.  There are about 20 of us, all British except 1 Greek lady and I am one of 3 to wear festive earrings so feel in good company.  Steve wins one of the bingo games, Chris a line and Barrie another game but we do badly in the quiz.  The food is great, drinks cheap and as the evening progresses we go on the play charades and I’m going shopping (which I win).  Not so very different to back home but we still miss our family and mates.



THURSDAY 25 DECEMBER – MERRY CHRISTMAS.  Arrive back at the van around 1.30am and shortly after it starts raining heavily so we get up to watch a video knowing we can have a long lie in in the morning.  How wrong could we be?  5am the church bells start and ring for ages.  Again at 7am the chime followed by the church Christmas service broadcast on loud speakers around the square.  Steve wanders into the square and reports that the church is full to overflowing and people are standing in the street joining in with the service.  Give up trying o sleep.  Chris and Barrie call down for coffee and we breakfast on chips, dips and chocolate weinbrandbohnen.  We arrange to meet at 11am for a swim but by 11.15 no one else has shown so we go it alone but have just dried off when Barrie appears so it has to be a repeat performance with Chris photographing us.  Back in the pre-heated van we sip warm “Glu wein”.  We are joined by Colin and Lin, who used to have a pub in Hawkshead but have not bought a supermarket in Elounda.  We’ve all been making phone calls to England and discuss what we have heard.   Agree without a doubt that although the sea may be cold the air temperature is much better than in England.  3pm we rendezvous at The Venus.  The chiffon outfit bought for Cicek’s wedding gets a second outing and Steve also spruces up.  It’s a really international gathering with British, German, Greek, Belgian, Dutch, Israeli, Swiss and Canadian people. We are the odd ones out being the only non smokers amongst nearly 30 people.  This has been the case from Hungary onwards and at times has cut short our evenings, as the smoke has been so bad.  Fortunately today it is warm outside so the doors are open to start with.  We enjoy a typical British Christmas dinner but notice the Greeks and Belgians eat very little, decide the Belgians must eat Brussels pate, sprouts and Belgian chocolate and the Greeks are waiting for it to go cold!  We retire for an early night after watching Faulty Towers in the van with Chris and Barrie. 



FRIDAY 26 DECEMBER – Lunch at The Venus, traditional cold buffet which we start eating outside but retire indoors as the sun drops.  We watch a man on the quayside tenderising an octopus.  This involves much strength as he keeps picking it up and bashing it back on to the concrete – we saw this being done a few days ago and thought they were trying to kill them!  The buffet is followed by games and everyone is enjoying themselves so much that once we have played all of Chrissies games I am persuaded to take over.  I organise passing the orange and then polo, musical chairs with men sat down on the seats with a balloon on their knees and pass the parcel with forfeits.  Makes us feel really at home.  We return to the van after a great time but smelling awful after being stuck in a bar full of smokers.



SATURDAY 27 DECEMBER – Dull drizzly day.  Walk to the island to see the Byzantine mosaic.  In the evening Steve joins Chris and Barrie for a Balti at the Venus but my suspicions are proved correct and the “fresh traditional lamb Balti” emerges as a leftover Christmas turkey curry and not very good at that.  We’ve borrowed Michael Palins “Full Circle” videos and I prefer to stay in and watch these and for once not end up with my hair and clothes stinking of smoke.



SUNDAY 28 DECEMBER – Steve’s yesterday purchased a bag of fresh fish.  He was very proud to have sussed out the system – the fishing boats dock and unload the pre-ordered fish first and then put the rest on the back of a truck.  This is driven into the square and announcements made over a loudspeaker.  Steve went off with 1000Drs (£2.20) and in exchange got ½ carrier bag full of 5” fish (he’s just measured them and also counted up that we have 30).   They look like the type of fish we have seen people barbequing so seeing how many he got we threw out an invite for people to joins us.  The problem is that it is now raining, we don’t know how else to cook so many at once and the fridge is starting to stink!  We wind the awning out and have a trial run cooking four of them first dipped in flour.  Quite tasty but too many bones for my liking.  Retreat into the van and fester for the rest of the day curled up in bed listening to the rain, drinking and watching videos – terrible!



MONDAY 29 DECEMBER – Steve’s Dad Trevor’s 70th birthday.  A much brighter day so we’re up and out early to pick up some fruit and veg from the village square Monday market.  My Greek is improving and after the bingo sessions I understand when they tell me the prices.  Send out word that we will have the BBQ at 1pm and Chris and Barrie are the first to arrive with kebabs, garlic bread, wine and fresh extra virgin olive oil to dip the fish in.  Barrie did a few weeks work olive picking where they press them in situ and get paid on the quantity of oil produced.  His employer also gave him some oil to keep.  Tom & Tsipi chug over in the dinghy with salad, an Israeli dip and beer.  Ray & Helen complete the party whom we have invited bringing pork chops and beer.  Next the Greek man who is renting a car to Ray drives past with Mike the water sport man and his girlfriend Grit and they join us.  The is followed by John & Iris who are strolling past walking their dog, Yorgas, Emmaline and Mum Jenny and Dad Costas who had gone to the park and Mark & Denise who stroll over after work.  No one seems to notice that the food runs out, as the beer and wine supply is good.  Steve gets the boules set out and it is competition time on the beach.  Fortunately it starts to get dark and cold at 5.30pm so most people drift away, don’t think I can seat more than 10 in the van.   Time for a quick nap before Ray & Helen pick us up and we meet John & Iris for an Italian meal finally returning just after midnight.  A great day, and Happy Birthday Trevor – we celebrated it in style on your behalf.  



TUESDAY 30 DECEMBER – Nice day.  Chris was sick last night so she stays at home but Barrie comes down to play boules with us on the beach and then he and Steve go to the bar to play pool and table football.  Steve had a strange dream last night about a dog called Ella and when Iris comes past with their dog we ask if that is her name – it turns out that “ella” is Greek for “come here” and this is where Steve has heard it.  In the evening we have a meal at Barrie and Chris’s. The traditional beef stifado cooked in wine is superb as is all the rest of the food and as usual we eat and drink far too much and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.  Steve disgusts himself at one stage when we are comparing scars and his appendix one has disappeared under his fat belly.



WEDNESDAY 31 DECEMBER – A very hot morning.  Steve exercises by swimming in the sea.  I reckon he burns off about 2 calories in his 2 minute swim.  Ayios Nikolaos is bustling with people in traditional costume and cakes are being taken everywhere, each one has a small gold coin inside.  In Elounda a small boat comes past with music playing and people partying on board, New Years eve seems to be getting off to an early start.  Children come by with a collection box and they sing a Greek calendar song for us to the accompaniment of 2 triangles and a banjo to be rewarded by a few coins.  Must be their version of carol singing.  To “The Waterfront” for 9.30pm.  Sit with Rosalie & Colin, Chris & Barrie, Denise & Mark, Mike & Rita and Helen & Ray.  Good buffet, music and company.  We celebrate the New Year 3 times, Greek, Dutch then British time.  Auld Lang Syne is performed each time.  It is a nice surprise to receive a phone call from the Scott’s and Evo’s.  Happy New Year everyone.  Return to the van at 5am, merry and worn out from dancing – a great evening.



Well what a year 1997 was for us, a wedding, a grandson, retirement and visits to 17 countries – Tunisia, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and not forgetting good old England. 


Since arriving in France on 7th May we have travelled 9071 in this motorhome and put in 2621 litres of diesel (averaging 15 miles per gallon) and probably supped nearly as many litres of wine and beer!


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