With slight apprehension, I set out in my rented car for an excursion in rural Crete. The little 5-on-the-floor Hyndai performed well and once I got going, I felt fine. My first stop was a tiny village called Episkopi which had a ruined 15th C. Venetian church from the time it had once been a Bishopric. There were also other stone Venetian buildings to see, a sunken old church that is currently in use and several cafes along the main drag where I decided to have a Greek Coffee. The three men drinking coffee were most cordial and smiled broadly when I said, “American” and pointed to myself. One said, “Obama—“, a common reaction. That pretty much was as far as we could go with conversation. I asked the youngest man to take our photograph, which he did. The woman waitress wanted me to stand next to her for the photo. When I had finished my coffee and some good nutcake, I fished for my money to pay. The oldest man (apparently the proprietor) waved me off—the treat was on him! How lovely! Before I left town I hunted up the Venetian Fountain on the edge of town. A herd of sheep were trotting across the waterway in the beautiful sunshine.
My next stop was the village of Garazo, such a pretty place. The area around the church had fountains, ducks, geese and beautiful flowers.
Moving on to my final destination, Anogia, I looked for the Hotel Kitros, listed in the LP. It was closed, as was the “Rooms to Let” across the street, apparently because it’s too late in the season. Well, I decided that since it was only 11:00 that I would have plenty of time to see the town and its charms and return to Panormo, which would work well as a starting point for my excursion the next day. I perused the lovely town and then went to see the tiny Grillos Museum. This featured stone and wood sculptures by a local artist, Alkiviadis Skoulas. He also had made paintings of the terrible World War II conflict between the Greeks and the Germans. The museum was run by the artist’s son, Yiorgos, whom I met. In fact he sang three folk songs for me accompanying himself on his lyra, a violin-like instrument. What a treat!
The next day I did another rural drive-around stopping at Maroules, a historic town of Venetian and Turkish architecture with a high fortification tower.
Moving on I visited the huge Arkadiou Monastery with its 16th C. Venetian church. In 1866 the Turks (Ottoman Empire) were attempting to put down an insurrection by sending 2000 troops to this monastery where hundreds of resistance fighters plus women and children had taken refuge. Rather than surrender, an abbot blew up the powder magazine killing all of the Turks as well as the Cretans, except for one little girl who survived and lived to old age. There is still a big bullet in the remains of a Cyprus tree.
Thronos was a small village with its Church of the Panagia built on the (visible) remains of a much earlier Christian church. I went to the coffee shop next door to have it unlocked, which the proprietress did. However, she indicated that I would have coffee in her shop (?) to which I agreed, before she would open the church. The 14th C. frescos were wonderful but the lady wouldn’t allow pictures, even without flash. During coffee she put the hard sell on me to buy some crocheted nylon doilies—so all in all it wasn’t as fun as interactions the day before.
Next was Patsos or rather a small church in a cave near Patsos. This site had been a holy site for a Hermes cult from 2000 BCE until 400 AD. The Church had papered over it the way they do, and appropriated the holiness of the site for St. Anthony. It was in a gorgeous setting along the cliffs of a gorge with water running through it.
This brought me to my overnight destination of Spili, a pretty mountain town with a Venetian Fountain with water coming out of 27 lions’ mouths. When I got here I found the LP recommended hotel of Heracles Rooms but nobody was around. The door was wide open and a sign said to ring the door bell, which rang the telephone. I did this about five times but nothing happened. Finally I saw a note in English saying that they had rooms available and to call his mobile phone number. I went across the street to a taverna and did so and he promised to be back in one hour. So I ate my dinner and then got checked in after bargaining the price down from 30 euro to 25. The room with balcony was very nice so I decided to stay two nights.
The next day I visited the Preveli Monastery, set in a gorgeous wild area of Crete. This monastery, too, had been involved in resisting the Turks in 1866 and again played a role in World War II, sheltering the Allied soldiers against the Germans. They seemed to have quite a menagerie of animals—goats, Shetland ponies, peacocks, and other domestic birds.
Then I set out for a look at the ancient Cemetery of Aremeni, which was used from 1400-1200 BCE. They cut the graves into the rock; 231 graves have been excavated. They found that the average age of death for males was 31 years and for females, 28 years.
On to Rethymno, a much larger town on the north coast. Finding and getting into the big car park (the old city is all pedestrian) was a challenge, but I was able to park and walk a very short ways to the Rethymno Youth Hostel, well located for sightseeing. It was in the Old City, which was full of old Venetian buildings and fountains, some of which were remodeled by the Turks. I visited the Nerantzes Mosque which had been converted from a Franciscan church in 1657 and was having its 1890 minaret restored. It is now a venue for concerts.
The old Venetian Port was most beautiful in the sunshine with a Turkish lighthouse at the tip. There were dozens of tourist fish restaurants there—the whole of Old Town has been completely given over to tourism, but in kind of a nice way.
The huge fortress (Fortezza) was built by the Venetians in 1573; the Turks took it over and added a mosque in 1646. It gives lovely views over the Sea. it was also fun to see the grave goods from the Cemetery of Armeni in the Archeological Museum, having visited the cemetery. Some of the pots were from as early as 1900 BCE, nearly 4000 years old!
Another mosque, the Kara Musa Pasha Mosque, and the Historical and Folk Art Museum rounded out my sightseeing in Rethymno, a pretty and manageable town. All the drapes and cushions for a bunch of old furniture in the Folk Art Museum was all embroidered by a woman who lived from 1864 until 1963—98 years!
I shall be moving on tomorrow to Hania, another large town/city.