Greek Island Adventures

My last day in Cyprus was spent in Nicosia, the capital of that country. It is divided in two at the border between the Greek speaking part to the south and the Turkish half, to the north. I visited the museum there before heading back to Larnaca to say goodbye to my hosts there and catch my flight.

I left behind Cyprus – the island of Aphrodite – for Crete – the land of the Minoans. I’ve been interested in the Minoan civilization ever since looking through a book about them from my father’s library when I was a girl. I was instantly fascinated by this strange culture of bull-jumping acrobatics and bare-breasted priestesses.

On the flight from Larnaca to Heraklion, I was seated next to a couple of friendly guys from Crete, who live on Cyprus, but were returning to their home island to play traditional Cretan music at a village festival in a town I’d never heard of. Antonious was the one with better English, so we conversed the whole way to Heraklion and he told me about his studies in marine archaeology on Lesvos (aka Lesbos, but “b’s” and “v’s” are a bit mixed up in Greek). When we landed, he said his sister was picking him up, and she could also give me a lift to my hotel!

They kindly waited for me while I waited for my backpack, which I’d had to check, and then I used my magic phone to help navigate to the hotel, by the beach in Amoudara, just outside of the city proper.

Antonious’ sister was called Elisavet (emphasis on the “sa”) – Ellie for short – and she surprised me with her strong Irish accent. At first I thought I must have misunderstood about her being Antonious’ sister, but it turned out she had been living in Dublin for the last 8 years, so came by her brogue honestly.

They dropped me at the hotel and even helped me inside with my things, before leaving with promises to be in touch, and an invitation to join them for the festival in a couple of days.

It was nearly midnight by the time they left and I decided to go for a stroll, just to get a feel for the place. It reminded me a bit of India – I guess mostly Goa, as people were on scooters and it had a similarly tropical vibe. It was pretty calm, though there were some bars on the Amoudara strip playing dance music. I let one of the barkers convince me to stop for a beer at his bar and made small talk with him till I was ready to head home for bed.

I was to stay in an Airbnb rental that night, but in the meantime, my hosts were at work, so I left my things at the hotel and got a bus into the city center.

Heraklion Center

Heraklion Center

Heraklion center was charming and compact with small streets running at odd angles to one another. The city had been conquered by the Venetians, back when they were the major force in the Mediterranean, and they had fortified it with massive stone walls and arrow-shaped gates leading into the old city. I visited the large Greek Orthodox Church of St. Minas – the patron saint of Heraklion – before heading toward the harbor. There, I stopped into the Historical Museum, which was mostly concerned with the Byzantine and Venetian periods of the city (more recent history than really interests me, but it is interesting to see how the ancient traditions carry over, especially in funerary markers and columns).

I continued along the harbor and met a couple of French girls, whom I helped find the bus to Amoudara, as they were in search of the beach. The Archeological Museum of Heraklion was near the central bus stop, so I spent the rest of the afternoon there, steeping myself in the Minoan artifacts there. Among their burial relics were ritual bathtubs, very like the ones I had seen on Cyprus at the Aphrodite Sanctuary in Paphos and elsewhere.

Some of the earliest artifacts were stone-carved fertility goddess figurines, also reminiscent of those on Cyprus.

Once I’d seen everything at the museum, I met up with my Airbnb host at her apartment nearby and got the key before heading back to Amoudara to get my bags. It was a hot afternoon and I dallied at the hotel a while, swimming in the pool and chatting with some of the other travelers there before catching the bus back to the center.

Eiline, my host, had recommended a cute area with tables set up in the tiny cobbled streets. It was charming, indeed, though it felt a bit odd to be there alone, when everyone around me was gleefully talking amongst themselves and sharing the plates of mezze.

Greeks eat rather late, since the day is so hot and there is usually a sort of siesta period in the middle of the afternoon. I didn’t get back to the apartment till after 1 a.m. and I realized the I’d lost a coin from my favorite pair of earrings. I quickly recalled hearing the sound of a coin dropping as I walked toward the restaurant, and when I went to search for it, I miraculously found it on the street!

The next morning I caught the bus to Knossos, one of the famed “palaces” of the Minoan civilization. Though I arrived early, it was already crowded with tourists and difficult to enjoy, but I was able to see all of it except the so-called “King’s Chambers” or throne room, as the line to get in was ridiculous!

Knossos

Knossos

I made it back to the apartment and spent the afternoon packing for the trip that evening, when Ellie and her father would pick me up for the festival in Kamilari, south of Heraklion and on the other side of the mountains in the center of the island. My host, Eiline, came home and we shared my leftover salad from the night before, because I’d ordered way too much food and had barely been able to touch it!

Around 7, Ellie and her dad, Kimon, met me at the main square of Heraklion, and we headed off to the festival. We stopped along the way to pick up some friends of Kimon’s, Ileni and Lambrous, and share some raki with them – the traditional drink of Crete. It’s a strong, clear liquor made from grapes and we had two nips of it, with peanuts to help soak up the alcohol, before driving the short remaining distance to the festival.

The small town of Kamilari was full of people and tables were arranged in tight rows in the village center. A large space was cleared for dancing and in the meantime, everyone shared food and wine and beer and made generally merry. Antonious was there with his friend and musical partner Niko, and they began playing not long after we arrived, around 10 p.m. From then on, the music barely stopped and soon everyone was dancing, holding hands, first in a circle, then spiraling inward to the center of the circle.

Ileni and Lambrous in Kamilari

Ileni and Lambrous in Kamilari

Dancing

Dancing

Dancing in Kamilari

Dancing in Kamilari

Traditional Cretan dancing

Traditional Cretan dancing

Kimon speechifying

Kimon speechifying

Antonious and the band playing - Kamilari

Antonious and the band playing – Kamilari

Ellie and a local friend - Kamilari festival

Ellie and a local friend – Kamilari festival

Ellie taught me a couple of dances and once I got the steps, it was a lot of fun! Antonious was singing and I would occasionally hear my name being called out amidst the lyrics. We danced and drank and chatted till after 4 in the morning and finally it was time for Ellie to drive Antonious and Niko to Chania to catch an early morning flight. I went back to the house of Kimon’s friends in a tiny village called Agios Ioannis – St. John – for a few hours of much needed sleep.

In the morning, I awoke with Ileni, for a quick breakfast of coffee and toast before dressing and walking up the mountain behind the village to go to another Minoan site known as Phaistos or Festos. It is less accessible than Knossos, so there was hardly anyone there when I arrived and I could get a better feel for the place without all of the imaginative reconstruction perpetrated at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans, who discovered that site.

Phaistos

Phaistos

Phaistos ruins

Phaistos ruins

Phaistos

Phaistos selfie

View from Phaistos

View from Phaistos

From the site, I could see the entire surrounding valleys, covered with olive trees and vineyards. I walked back down the mountain after and hour or so and met up with Kimon, who was giving me a lift to Paleochora, at the far southwestern tip of the island.

Since it was high season, I decided to eschew the hotel search and instead found a campground walking distance from the town center where I could rent a tent with a cot and mattress right by the beach!

Kimon dropped me off and we were both tired to the point of exhaustion. I checked in and headed straight for a swim at the beach across the street, where little juniper-like trees offered shade for the lounge chairs. I went into the crystal clear water and paddled around for a while before heading back for a snooze on my lounge chair, but it was barely a minute before I heard a splat and then another and then it began to rain! I had noticed the dark clouds over the mountains as we drove into Paleochora and asked Kimon if it ever rained there in the summer, to which he responded with a decisive “no.”

Yet rain it did, so I went back into the water and floated on my back, letting the fat drops pelt me softly and wet my tongue. There were just a few of us swimming – a girl called Rania who was working at the campground told me that I must be good luck, because she’d never seen rain like this.

I wrote for a bit that afternoon and met a small kitty near my tent who befriended me immediately. Kitties always feel like they are sent to me by my sister Erika, who was the patron saint of cats.

Beach near my camp - Paleochora

Beach near my camp – Paleochora

Me n Kitty - Paleochora

Me n Kitty – Paleochora

That evening I walked into town to meet Kimon for dinner at his cousin’s restaurant, but the place was packed and I had seen a vegetarian restaurant en route, called The Third Eye, that I was dying to try. Kimon, reminding me of my father, would have nothing to do with the food there, but I ate a curry and samosas with relish, accompanied by a small pitcher of rose. I was just about as happy as I could be.

The owner had lived in India for ten years and told me I looked like Joni Mitchell, traveling with my guitar. He said she’d lived in Crete for a while in the 70s, which I hadn’t heard before, but as I love Joni, I definitely took his comparison as a compliment!

After dinner, Ellie joined us at the family restaurant and I played some music for them on my guitar, attracting some locals to hear me. Before I knew it, it was 1 a.m. and Kimon drove me back to my campground.

I planned to go to bed, but there was traditional music being played in the restaurant there, so I decided to go for a raki and write in my journal for a bit. The manager of the camp brought me some snacks and somehow it was 3 by the time I went to bed!

Music at camping Paleochora

Music at camping Paleochora

The music kept going, though, but I’d had enough raki to knock me out.

The next morning I was feeling the edges of a cold start to take hold, from my many nights of too little sleep. I went for a swim and did some writing and napping before walking into town to meet Ellie as we’d planned to try out the main beach in town. Though it was sand instead of pebbles, I found myself referring the beach by my camp, which was less crowded and had slightly warmer water. Ellie helped me get some medicine to fend off the oncoming cold and then she went home for a nap.

I went back to the Third Eye for a different delicious curry and, afterwards, met up with Ellie and her cousin, Tonia, at a local beauty salon, where Tonia was getting mani-pedi’d. We’d talked about going to the beach club by my camp that night, but Tonia had other plans, so Ellie and I had a glass of sparkling at a place nearby and then she dropped me off at my campground.

My last day in Paleochora, I spent a lot of time talking with a friendly fellow camper named Lisia, who was Greek and a very kind and open person. We talked about many things and I told her about my sister, Erika. She said she’d always wanted a sister, and couldn’t she be my sister? She was very sweet.

Lisia seeing me off - Paleochora

Lisia – Paleochora

I did some much needed laundry and spent some more time in the delicious water before walking into town to have dinner at (you guessed it) The Third Eye. It had been so long since I had proper veg food, I couldn’t get enough! I had yet another kind of curry and then found Ellie and Tonia at the family restaurant, Finakis – The Palm Tree.

I finally left Paleochora and returned to Heraklion by bus to get my ferry the next morning to Santorini. I spent a whirlwind day there visiting the volcanic island and the ruins of the ancient town of Thira.

Santorini

Santorini

Santorini

Santorini

A kind local gave me a ride to the ferry at around 2 am and I continued to Kos, where I saw many refugees there, living in tents and some without even that comfort were just in the shade, whole families with small children.

I took another ferry to Bodrum that evening and spent a night in a backpacker hostel where very unfortunately, my iPhone was stole in the night, as I slept.

The next day I got the bus to Selcuk, where I visited the ruins of the Artemis temple – one of the ancient wonders of the world – and the remains of Ephesus. I stayed two nights there and got the ferry the following day to Samos and then on to Lesvos, at last.

In Lesvos, I had to stay one night in Mitilini, the capital, and again the refugees were everywhere.

The next night I got a ride with some other people coming to Molyvos, where I planned to spend the next two weeks volunteering to help the refugees. But that is for the next installment, as this one is long enough!

Love and miss,

Kira

The next night I got a ride with some other people coming to Molyvos, where I planned to spend the next two weeks volunteering to help the refugees. But that is for the next installment, as this one is long enough!

Love and miss,

Kira

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