We spent two weeks with my step daughter, husband and two grandsons in Crete in the summer of 2009
by catsholiday on February 26, 2011
Preveli Monastry, CreteThis was one of the trips we took with our daughter and her family when we took them to Crete in the summer of 2009. It was about an hour’s drive across the island from where we were staying near Rethymnon and we did enjoy some splendid scenery on the drive across including a lovely old fashioned windmill which we stopped to photograph on our way home.The famous monastery sits on the rocky hills of Preveli canyon, on the southern side of Rethymnon prefecture in Crete. It actually consists of two monasteries, the Lower or Kato Preveli and the Upper or Pisso Monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos which is about 3 km far from Kato Preveli. The one we visited was the upper one dedicated to St John the Theologian. A Brave History:The Monastery has a very interesting history due to the active and leading involvement of its monks in all trials and wars that the people of Crete have suffered. This is what makes it a place of special recognition and respect throughout the island of Crete. Monastery of Preveli is located at the south of Prefecture of Rethymnon with the most stunning views over the sea as it is built high on a cliff top. The oldest date found in the monastery is 1594 and it is engraved on a bell of the monastery. The monastery was probably founded during the Venetian occupation by a feudal lord known as Prevelis. In 1649 the Turks occupied Crete, and unfortunately destroyed numerous church establishments, among them the monastery of Preveli. The role of the Monastery in the World War II:During WW II the Monastery of Preveli became a shelter for the foreign troops who were trapped in Crete and being hunted by the German Army. Two escape missions were organized and the troops were transferred safely to Egypt. After the second mission became known to the German Army and they tried to arrest the abbot Agathagelos Lagouvardos but luckily he was informed of this and he managed to escape too. When the German Army arrived at the Monastery on August 25, 1941 the soldiers caused a lot of damage to the monastery and the monks were arrested and but later released. The soldiers also removed from the Monastery buildings various goods and furnishings and from the church they took that most precious relic, the miraculous Cross of Ephraim Prevelis; fortunately it was later returned under almost miraculous circumstances. Despite this the monks continued to work secretly with the allied troops against the German occupation. The Abbot Agathangelos sadly died before he could return to Crete after working bravely with Greek troops in the Middle East. The role of the Monastery in the struggle against the Germans was widely recognized, not only by those soldiers who immediately benefited, but by the Governments of the Allied Powers. This history is proudly seen in the museum if visiting the monastery today you can see the display about the story of The Battle of Crete which was sent the Greek community in Perth, WA in memory and gratitude of the work done by the monks in Preveli to help them at that time. Our visit:When we arrived we managed to park the cars in a nearby carpark and had to walk up to the monastery. My daughter was wearing shorts and was given, much to her disgust, a lovely skirt on an elastic waist band to wear over them. Luckily my shorts were longer so I was not offered one.We made our way through to the courtyard from where we could enjoy the wonderful views down to the sea over what looked like a lovely beach. When we tried to get to the beach later it was a hard walk and you had to climb down (then up again to get back) sort of wooden steps. That may account for why it looked so empty and unspoilt.There was a lovely fountain in the courtyard which provides the monastery with its water. It has a date on it on an inscription showing 1701. The boys enjoyed the fountain and we used it as a backdrop for some photos.From here you can visit the museum which is housed in a building that was once the stables.Inside the museum:Not only can you see the display sent by the Greek community from Western Australia but also you can see the famous Preveli Benediction Cross. This cross had been carried into every battle and is felt to have special powers and has indeed been associated with many miracles especially related with eye diseases. It is a large silver cross in a typical Greek cross shape being wider at the ends.Strange stories are believed about the cross. In 1823, in a battle against the Turks at Amourgeles the cross was lost. The Cross was found with some Genoese sailors, who had bought it in Heraklion. They apparently returned the Cross to the Monastery when their ship simply stopped in the water while sailing near the Monastery of Preveli. They were only able to proceed after the precious relic was given back to the monastery. In 1941 when the Germans removed the Cross from the Monastery and tried to send it in Germany the plane carrying the cross could not take off. They tried another airplane and once again failed so a few days after the looting, the Cross was back at its position at the monastery. I love stories like this with a bit of mystery so was quite intrigued.The Church The little church (Katholikon) of the Monastery is also here and it dates from 1837. Luckily the church was largely left by the Germans and it has the usual church aura when you are inside. Even our grandsons lowered their voices when we were looking in here. It is not huge but there are some intricate carvings on the pillars and the pulpit is beautiful carved wood and gold apparently carved by one of the abbots in 1863.Would I recommend a visit?Yes indeed. The monastery is a really beautiful building, or series of buildings built high on a cliff with outstanding views fit for a 5* hotel. It was a peaceful, quiet place to wander around. We were not with a tour so we had to read about the history before and while we were there. I rather liked the idea of wandering at our own pace and not being bombarded with a lot of historical facts. I do enjoy a guide sometimes but often find I get’ information overload ‘after about 5 minutes.This was a peaceful and atmospheric place to explore. I have talked about two of the main buildings but there were more places to explore but our little boys were getting fed up. I can’t remember a cafe there at all so you need to take your own water in the summer and snacks for the journey if you have little ones.After we left the monastery we attempted to visit Preveli beach but were put off by the climb down and up with two small boys so instead we went on to Plakia beach which is not that far away.Obviously you can go into the history at a far deeper level and look into the architecture as well but as a family friendly visit we really enjoyed what we saw and learned a bit about |Cretan history and the very interesting history of this actual monastery too. So definitely worth a visit if you are in Crete in my view.
by catsholiday on September 24, 2010
Knossos was well signed from just near Heraklion and as we approached the site we were waved into a car park on the way – luckily we missed the first one as the second carpark had plenty of trees for shade and was free provided you called in to buy a drink in the cafe. Nearly in there:The entrance fee was 6 Euros each – 3 Euros concession – you entered the site though a shaded vine covered tunnel. It is quite a large site and a lot has been restored according to the interpretation of Arthur Evans. As you enter the area there are a number of people who offer their services as guide but neither of us wanted to spend hours having everything explained so we declined their kind, rather persistent offers. There were plenty of labels around the place explaining what things were and what they might have looked like so with those and a guide book we were fine. Famous Greek Myths:Before we go in I want to remind you of the legends around this palace from the Greek myths most of us learn about (the more censored versions) in Primary school.King Minos was asked to sacrifice a bull but couldn't kill it because it was so beautiful. The God Poseidon who had given him the bull was very angry and as a punishment made Minos' wife fall in love with a bull. The queen asked Daedalus to construct a wooden cow covered in cow skin and into this she climbed to entice the bull to mate with her!! She then gave birth to the Minotaur with the body of a man and the head of a bull. A very strange story and this part is glossed over in primary schools. Unsurprisingly King Minos was not thrilled and banished the minotaur into the layrinth of the palace. In order to keep the minotaur appeased and to punish Daedalus he insisted that seven young men and seven virgin women from Athens were fed to the minotaur every nine years. This went on for many years until finally Theseus, the Athenian King's son, decided he had had enough and he wanted to kill the Minotaur and end the suffering of the Atheneans. He volunteered to be one of the seven sacrificial young men,Ariadne the daughter of King Minos fell in love with Theseus and she gave him a ball of thread to unroll as he went into the labyrinth so that he could find his way out should he succeed in killing the beast. He was triumphant and did manage to get out of the maze but it was not a ‘happy ever after’ story. Theseus promised to marry Ariadne he set sail on the return journey with Ariadne and the young people he had saved.On the returned trip the ship stopped at Naxos, where Ariadne fell asleep on the shore, and when she awaked the next day Theseus' ship had already sailed. Some legends say that Theseus loved another woman while others say he was ordered by Dionysus to abandon Ariadne as he wanted to marry her himself. After the ship sailed the god, Dionysus arrived in his chariot and took Ariadne to Olympus. I’m not sure that Ariadne had any say in the matter at all. Theseus now upset at abandoning Ariadne, forgot to change the ship's sail from black to white as was arranged with his father to signal a successful mission. Aegeus, his father saw the black sail and thinking that Theseus had been killed threw himself into the sea; and this is what we now called the Aegean Sea. Daedalus who had annoyed the King by building the fake cow was imprisoned in the palace. He escaped with his son Icarus by making wings to fly using wax to fix them to their arms. Icarus flew too near the sun and so the wax melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. Daedalus, however, succeeded in flying as far as Sicily which is backed up by the fact that Minoan artefacts have been found there.Okay story time overand on to discovering the siteThis site was part of the Minoan empire and was occupied between 7,000BC and 3,000BC.Its most famous claim to fame is that this was the palace of the legendary King Minos. The Palace is mentioned in ancient Greek legends including the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, and the story of Daedalus and Icarus. This is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete and was probably the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture. Stories about a great palace existed for years but it was not until 1878 that the remains of this place were discovered by a local Archaeologist called Minos Kalokairinos. Between 1900 and 1931 a British Archaeologist called Arthur Evans set about excavating the area and planned on restoring the Palace to its former glory.He dedicated his life until he died in 194,1to the excavation and restoration of the Palace of Knossos and his discoveries amazed even the most sceptical Archaeologists of the day. By the time the excavation was complete four separate wings had been exposed arranged around a Central Courtyard which contained the Royal Quarters, Workshops, Shrines, Storerooms, Repositories, the Throne Room and Banquet Halls.It was this man who gave the civilisation the name ‘Minoans’. Many purists would have preferred the site to be excavated and not restored but from the point of view of a non- expert I was quite glad of the restorations which gave me an idea of what the piles of stones might have looked like.My visit and where is this labyrinth?I have to confess that I was very ignorant prior to my visit as I thought that there was going to be some sort of remains of a labyrinth so I was very disappointed to find that the labyrinth never existed – it was only a myth. I thought that the myth was based on the fact that there was a labyrinth but that appears not to be. The location of the labyrinth of this legend has been argued for years in Minoan studies. It has been suggested that it might have been the name of the palace or of some portion of the palace. It is possible that the palace was a great sacrificial centre and could have been named the Labyrinth. The layout is certainly rather like a labyrinth in that it is somewhat maze like, intricate and confusing.Girls are white and boys are brownishLike other reconstructions many of the frescoes found were only fragments when discovered and the fresco reconstruction and placement by the artist Piet de Jong is also very controversial and historical circles. Something that I found fascinating was the fact that in their art is the men are given brownish skin and the women have milky white skin. I wonder if that was a sign of beauty of the fact that the men worked outside and the women stayed in doing domestic things.Some of the frescoes are in the museum in Heraklion but there are a number of interesting fresco paintings around the palace including the ‘ladies in blue’ on the east wing of the palace and ‘La Parisienne ‘which is a representation of a priestess or goddess from about 1400BC.So what do I think?The site covers a huge area and it is quite possible to spend three or four hours walking around the site. Many of the areas that have been excavated have been roped off to protect them I quite liked the recreations where you could see how that particular room would have actually looked.It is very hot in the summer months and there is not a lot of shade around so it is vital to remember water to drink, cover up to avoid sunburn and wear sunscreen. This is not a place I would bring children to as there really isn’t much of interest for them unless they are very interested in Greek history. Even if they enjoy the Greek myths this place doesn’t really add anything to the stories.It was an interesting historical site but I was disappointed by the fact that there was no labyrinth. I thought that the story was built up around some sort of fact after all Minoan artefacts have been found on Sicily which backs up the Daedalus and Icarus story. So be prepared – there is no labyrinth but it is worth a visit as it is Crete’s best known tourist attraction apart from the weather.
by catsholiday on August 27, 2009
Camari Gardens hotel apartments are situated in Gerani, near Rethymnon in Crete.This is a smallish family run resort with just 65 apartments and studios with 2 pools, a small playground, restaurant, reception/meeting area with book exchange library and a few electronic games and computers, a laundry, a small supermarket set in pleasant gardens overlooking the sea.http://www.camarigarden.com/main.aspx?lan_id=English&page_id=HomeTHE ARRIVALWe arrived at about 5am at the resort and were quickly shown to our apartments. I had asked for ground floor and adjacent apartments away from noisy areas and that is exactly what we got. We were away from the pools and restaurant area but had a balcony shared by the two apartment on the front side and another outside area at the back too. This meant we could move the outside furniture from one area to the other depending on where the shade was if we wanted to keep the little ones out of the sun.We quickly discovered that the aircon worked with a remote which you had to pay 5 Euros per day to use. We did complain that we were not warned that aircon was extra and so they charged us 5 Euros per day for the 2 apartments rather than 10 as it would have been which was better but still an added extra.We also found out through reviews on trip advisor that there is a welcome pack put into all apartments which sounds lovely until you find you have to pay 15 Euros as you leave. Someone had priced the things and said it came to 7 Euros in the little supermarket on site. So pre-warned I instructed my daughter not to use the pack and informed them at reception that we did NOT want either pack, thank you. They were fine about it and just said the cleaner would remove the items.Baby cots are also charged for extra and there was one in my daughter’s apartment when they arrived so we did tell them we did not need this either when we read this piece of information on a cupboard in one room. They said’ no problem’ and came to collect it at about 10.30 the next night! The children were asleep and we were babysitting so we had to creep in and remove this from their room without waking them. I’m not sure if they were just checking that we were really not using it or it was just the fact that a family with a baby had requested one.OUR APARTMENTS:We had 2 one bedroom apartments and they were virtually identical. The bedroom had two single beds with hardish foam mattresses and only one pillow on each (we were able to grab the two pillows from the beds in the main room as we were not using these. There was a bedside table in between and a dressing table/shelf with a couple of small drawers below a mirror. There was a decent sized wardrobe with hangers and you could put your suitcase above this or underneath it for storage. There was no safe in the room but the windows and doors had obviously been recently upgraded and were like UPVC and pretty secure so we did not worry too much. We had the same cleaner every day and she was lovely. The apartments were cleaned EVERY day except Sunday and linen changed at least twice a week.The main room was a large open plan area with two single beds against the wall on one side. The kitchen area backed on to the bathroom and the eating area was near the kitchen. It had marble floors throughout, curtains at all the windows which were clean and co-ordinated with the bed covers.The kitchen was very basic. It had a sink and an electric table top cooker with a large ring and a very small one. The kettle only stayed on for a few minutes and then turned itself off so you had to stand and hold it down until it boiled – the other apartment didn’t have one at all. The fridge was small and adequate but the freezer really only suitable for making ice not storing food – my ice lollies that I bought for the boys melted in there so I had to throw them out!! I would not really have liked to try and cook too much on here. We did do pasta one night – pasta on our cooker and sauce in the other apartment. We also discovered that you can do toast on a solid electric ring, it was slow but did the trick!Most of the time we ate salads or ate out so it wasn’t really a major problem but something to be aware of.The bathroom was a wet room with a shower curtain round a slightly recessed area. It was IMPOSSIBLE to have a shower and not get the room soaked which could be a bit lethal on the marble floor. The toilet plumbing apparently could NOT cope with toilet paper so we had the yukky bucket beside the toilet which appears to be a Turkish and Greek problem as I have not experienced this anywhere else in the world and it is a bit yuk as far as i am concerned. I just feel really sorry for the cleaners.The towels were quite basic, white and a bit thin but there were plenty of them and they were changed frequently. The balcony was a large one for both apartments with plenty of clean plastic seating and tables. Nothing fancy but were ideal for eating outside. The furniture was light enough to move from the front to the back of the apartments to avoid the sun if needed. There was a drying rack on the balcony which was very handy for washing and for towels and swimsuit drying too.THE REST OF THE RESORT:Pools :There were two nice Pools and both of them had small children’s pool beside them. There were plenty of sunloungers and there was no charge for using them either. One pool nearest the reception area and the restaurant also had tables and chairs so you could get a drink or food from the bar/restaurant and enjoy it beside the pool. There were several lilos and blow up toys that were used by everyone. People seemed very good at sharing and I think a lot of people left them when they went home so the children and adults had plenty of things to float around on in the pool.Restaurant:The food was typical Greek food, well cooked and very tasty and was also quite reasonable but I did find it a bit cheeky that 60cents cover charge per person was added to the bill each time which added up over a few meals with our family of 6 including the two grandsons. We only ate there on a few occasions but enjoyed the dolmades, Greek salad, spinach and cheese pastries and cooked cheese amongst other things. Beer was 2 Euros but fruit juice was 3 Euros which was okay for beer drinkers but expensive for the juice I thought. Beer was 1 Euro in the supermarket for the same sized large bottle.On Sunday nights they organised a Greek evening around the restaurant and pool area which was nice but very late. It didn’t really get going until about 9pm and went on quite late. The first Sunday our daughter went out with her husband as it was their wedding anniversary so we babysat the grandchildren and I went down to the area a few times to have a look. On the second Sunday we thought about it but decided that sitting beside the pool for a meal would not be a great idea with the boys and it was quite a late night so we just took peeks at the dancing again. If we hadn’t had the youngsters we might have gone as it did look quite fun with a live Greek band and dancers as well as Greek food.Other parts of the Resort included a small play area with plastic slide, and climbing thing which was just below the restaurant so we could enjoy a drink or meal and the boys went off to play while we waited for the food to come.The supermarket sold the basics of bread, milk, spreads cleaning stuff and jars of jam and other bits. We were able to buy enough to keep us going for a couple of days, before we got our hire car, at reasonable prices too. It is owned by the same family as own the resort and naturally they point you in this direction for purchases. It also sold a bizarre array of strange glass and pottery souvenirs as well as blow up toys for the pool.SUMMARY:A really friendly resort for families but not great if you want a busy night life,
by catsholiday on September 20, 2010
We drove from Gerani near Rethmynon to Lake Kournas in about 15 minutes; it is just off the main highway near Georgiopolis on Crete. The road meanders around and then you come to a tiny signpost pointing down between two houses only just wide enough for a car to squeeze through. We turned in thinking that this must be a mistake, but it was indeed the road. No wonder all cars on Crete seem to have some scrape or other on their body work. I am pretty certain that it is only possible to get to this place by car so you will need to hire one or get a taxi from Georgiopolis I guess.When we arrived there was plenty of parking under trees for shade just near a tavern. We did notice that as we were leaving at about 2pm that there were not so many spaces so going early was a good plan.This large beautiful fresh water lake is surrounded by mountains or hills and gets its name from a derivation of the Arabic word for lake. We were told it was the only freshwater lake on Crete but on some websites they state that there are two freshwater lakes so I don’t know. The lake reaches a depth of 25metres and covers an area of about 160,000 square metres. There is a 360° photo view which does give an excellent idea of the lake and its setting at this link: http://www.travel-to-crete.com/360.php?viewid=79After visiting the toilet facilities at the tavern we headed down to the lake. It was a splendid sight. The lake was such an obvious 3 colours, clearer olive green at the shore then turquoise then as it got deeper it was a dark sapphire blue, the whole lake was surrounded by hills and the sky was bright blue – truly idyllic. Once you waked in the water it was as clear as glass and the two boys had a wonderful time looking for interesting pebbles (dinosaur fossils!)There is a sandy beach along the lake edge with sun loungers and umbrellas which we soon discovered came at a price (4 Euros for two sun loungers and one umbrella) which is okay if you plan on staying all day but as we only had them for about an hour and a half and had two sets made it quite expensive really. There were lots of scrubby trees which you could also sit under to get some shade and we might have been better there except we had nothing to sit on – all the locals brought their own chairs etc and camped under the trees. In order to get into the lake for a swim you did have to negotiate quite a long stretch of rocky lake bed which was also quite slippery – not very easy at all. I left my trusty crocs behind so I hobbled across carefully. Once you were in it was delightful but you then had to hobble you way out again – definitely recommend water shoes for this visit in future. It was nice to have a beach with no waves and fresh water as the boys were not too keen on the salt water splashing in their eyes.We hired a pedalo ( 7 Euros a half hour) and pedalled across the lake – easy going out but the current/wind was against us on the way back and it was extremely hard work and took twice as long to return. My daughter and son-in-law jumped off to have a swim and my husband joined them. When I saw how difficult it was to climb back in I was glad that I volunteered to stay with the grandsons. There are a number of geese that wander round and become very friendly when they think you might have something to eat. They didn’t really bother us but did come very close to our sun beds and one was trying to read my book with me. Despite having umbrellas we didn’t stay in the sun too long and after having a relax on the sun loungers for about 20 minutes we were persuaded by two hungry boys that it was lunch time. We went up to the little taverna overlooking the lake for lunch. We sat under the shade of trees listening to cicadas which were singing so loudly that it hard to hear each other talk at times. Much to the excitement of our grandsons the waiter caught a cicada and showed them it singing, up close before he let it go. We were able to enjoy our meal and the view and while we were waiting for our food the boys played on a little play area. The food was normal Greek fare and the boys shared squid and chips, while others had souvlaki and mousaka, I had a Greek salad as I am very fussy about my meat and only eat it when I am 100% sure of not finding fatty bits!Apparently there is a legend or myth about this lake which tells that the villagers of Kournas were so sinful that there was only one virgin left in the village. God decided he had had enough of all this sinfulness and sent rain which flooded the valley and the village. The priest’s daughter’s soul being pure was saved and released to look after the local wildlife in and on the shores of Lake Kournas.The myth continues that every night at midnight, she rises up from the waters with her long hair flowing over her body to feed the fish.In order to keep the purity of the lake it has been decided that no motorised transport is allowed to cross the lake so that the lady of lake remains uncontaminated. Today you can hire the pedaloes but there is no waterskiing or other motor boat activity and this not only keeps the lady of the lake uncontaminated but also makes it a beautiful peaceful place to relax.
Teenage Mutant Cretan TurtlesWhile we were in Crete in summer 2009 we had our two young grandsons with us so we were limited as to the sorts of trips we could go on as their interest in Cretan ruins was limited but they really love animals and seeing them in the wild. We discovered quite by chance that it was possible to see turtles or terrapins by going up the Almiros river estuary in Giorgiopolis. I think they may be a Balkan terrapin or Mauremys rivulata rather than the sea turtles or Loggerhead Turtles that lay their eggs on the beaches of Crete and are the ones being protected by a number of charities today.Our small grandsons are very interested in wild life and so this was absolutely perfect as Giorgiolpolis was only a few miles down the coast from Gerani where we were staying. We were advised that you could go at any time during the day but we felt that we would like to go early before the sun got too hot so we arrived at Giorgiopolis at about 10 o’ clock when the pedalo place opened.We found a place to park the car near the beach and walked back through the town and across the bridge and down towards the river mouth. There was a lovely large pelican who posed proudly on a fishing boat just under the bridge. The boys were very interested in his beak and discussed the fact that he could catch fish in that huge beak. He very obligingly flew off and landed on the river to demonstrate his fishing ability.We hired two pedalos as it was 5 Eros per person and we could have had one pedalo each but that would have been very hard work. We had to pay for one of the boys but in exchange he got a ‘free’ T shirt with a turtle on it. Our daughter and family had one pedalo and my hubby and I had the other. They were quite smart looking pedalos with a sun shade over the top which we needed as even at 10am it was hot and we were out for an hour or so.Going up river was quite hard work as we were going against the tide/wind. The river was quite narrow with reeds and grasses either side. Directions were a little vague as to where we had to go to find the turtles and initially we went up a dead end and had to do a 3 point turn in our pedalo up the dead end and pedal back and round into the main part of the river again. I can assure you this is not easy in a narrow tidal river with floating weed and reeds growing along the banks – it was more like a 10 point turn in the end. Just by the bridge the large white pelican had returned to the boat and was cleaning itself while we pedalled past and we were escorted by a few geese that seemed to know that our grandsons had some bread to feed the turtles and were hoping for a bit – not much chance as they were nibbling this turtle bread themselves. I am sure if we had given them stale bread for lunch they would have had something to say but because it was for the turtles it tasted so much better.We were the first pedalos to go up the river and I am so glad that we were as there were so many coming up the river as we went back towards the sea that i am sure we would have not managed to see any turtles at all.We got to the end of the branch of the river and we were so lucky as we saw a few turtles up at the this end and we there alone for about ten minutes before the next lot of people arrived. There were a couple of babies and about 4 or 5 adults and they did eat the bread that we threw to them too. As I said i am so pleased we got there first as the next lot of people to arrive were a little noisy and they were being followed by another half dozen pedalos. We decided that as we had had a good look we would try and get out before we were blocked in by the wave of pedalos arriving.Turning round was quite tricky in the river with the current flowing but luckily it was harder work going out than it was on the return that is until we got under the bridge and closer to the river mouth and then it became quite choppy which added to the challenge. Pedalling like mad we returned to base feeling that we had had a wonderful experience seeing these lovely terrapins in the wild and had also had our exercise for the day too.
The name of the island, Spinalonga, is Venetian, and means "long thorn . As I had recently read Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Island, ‘I was very interested in paying a visit to Spinalonga, which is the island of the title. This is the story of Cretan family's hidden past which is set against the backdrop of the Second World War and the island of Spinalonga itself. The story is very much that of Spinalonga as a leper colony but is also a love story and is around the time of the German occupation of Crete.The island of Spinalonga, or Kalidon as it is often shown on maps is a small island just off the north east coast of Crete. It was quite a long drive away from Rethymnon to just beyond Eloundra so we got up early – about 6.30 am had a quick breakfast and then left for our drive to Spinalonga. We drove via Elounda the small town where they filmed where they filmed the TV series ‘Who pays the ferryman’ and then on to the small town of to Plaka and on the way we could clearly see two islands, the smaller of which was Spinalonga . Both islands are very close to the shore and within very easy swimming distance so you do wonder why the lepers that were fitter didn’t swim ashore. Lepers were sent to this island of misery from all over Greece not just places in Crete.Plaka was the small fishing village on Crete where the main characters in the book lived. The fisherman in the book lived in Plaka and it was his little boat that took the lepers on their journey across to be isolated on the island of Spinalonga. It was a bonus to be able to take a small boat over to the island from Plaka as I felt this was probably the same journey as the lepers had to make for all those years. The only thing was their journey was usually a one way trip. We paid 8 Euros each return for the short trip over to the island. On this small boat Once on the island we bought entrance tickets at 2 euros each for the museum which was the entire island. The whole island was a Byzantine fortress originally and won by the Greeks in the early 1200s.It was a very strategically important base for the Greeks for the next 400 years. Even today the huge fortifications still dominate this tiny rocky island .Its importance lay in the fact that it guards the entrance from the deep waters of the Cretan Sea into the sheltered and shallow bay. From 1715 until the turn of the twentieth century Spinalonga was a settlement for the occupying Ottomans.Its saddest time in history was from 1903 until 1957 when it was used as a leper colony. This was the history period of the island that I was interested in having read the story based on this period. Unfortunately most of the buildings of the leper colony have been destroyed as they were considered unsightly and also I think they were a bit a shamed about this part of the island’s history. There were two entrances to Spinalonga, one being the lepers' entrance, which we walked through on the other side of the island to the one we arrived on. This was a tunnel known as Dante's Gate because the patients did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived. Once the unfortunate lepers arrived all they were given was a ration of food, water, medical attention every couple of weeks from a visiting doctor and social security payments. The island developed its own shops and there was a hospital and some people formed a sort of community governing body to negotiate with the main Greek government for things such as their benefits and medical attention.The lepers also destroyed some of the ancient buildings as they used the stones to make their houses. They also destroyed part of the walls because they were unable to get to the sea and catch fish to supplement their diet or even just cool off in the sea in summer.I was actually more interested in the recent history of the leper colony than the byzantine fortress so I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see how they had lived on the island. You did get the impression that the island would have been very claustrophobic as it was very tiny, very rocky and there was not really anywhere that the lepers could have grown anything. There were huge tourist boats arriving on the island – one very large one came just as we were leaving – about 400 people. Our little boat only had 6 of us returning to Plaka which i was pleased about as it felt more authentic.I was a little disappointed in the fact that evidence of the leper colony had been almost obliterated as that was far more humanly relevant history or me than Byzantine fortresses. I think it is also a bit of an insult to the people who were incarcerated on the island that their history has been almost erased. There is some reference to this time on display boards in some of the buildings but much has been destroyed.We returned on our small boat to Plaka and enjoyed a drink and a snack in one of the lovely restaurants along the harbour before we set off again in our car towards Knossos.Despite my slight disappointment I would still recommend a visit to Spinalonga as it has such a long and interesting history and makes a fascinating day trip when staying on Crete. If you go in the summer then be prepared by taking sun screen, hat and plenty of water as there is not a lot of shade and it gets very hot.
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