Happy (Hic) New Year


I`ve written, deleted and re-written this year`s Christmas post more times than I think I care to admit. It would seem my non-eventful Christmas, has sapped my posting inspiration.

Despite several local establishments` attempts to lift dull moods whilst attending to Christmas/New Year shopping, by cunningly plying us with generous brandy tots – their kind gesture, a “thank you” for patronizing their store, being tipsy at the unearthly, disgraceful hour of 8.30 am, offered no comfort, but only served to highlight my weak-kneed self control, which crumbled, spectacularly before the proffered drink.

However, later at home, feeling invigorated, taking advantage of an upsurge in energy, I gave the dogs a brandy fuelled speed walk, which left me rozy-cheeked, icey-eared and short-winded.

Christmas day dinner was cancelled, as the three grandkids and DIL dropped like flies with a dreadful tummy bug, it left us to our own devices. Not a massive calamity, but we had looked forward to some unruly, noisy, “grandkid time” It did, however, allow us to work to our own programme. Taking a quiet drive out to Neapoli we enjoyed a relaxing coffee in the square, where cafeterias all seemed to be working normally, appeased our moods. I did manage to cajole Vags into tipping the dedicated staff whom served us our coffee on this Christmas morning too.

Marvelling at my normally, tee-total body`s ability to cope with the alcohol over-indulgence, we enjoyed New Year at home, wrapped up in PJs and blankets. The excellent company of Captain Morgan, a fabulously scrumptious cheese board with crackers and Netflix held my uninterrupted attention till the wee hours of the morning.

That`s it though, holidays over, all bottles which chink suggestively, have been pushed to the back of the drinks cupboard – thus, moderating the fatal temptation they exert on us weaker souls.

Albeit belated, I`d like to wish everyone a wonderfully happy and healthy New Year, may it be cram packed full of fabulous events, caring love, treasured family and great friends.

New Year 2019

We awoke yesterday morning to this toe-chilling, yet heart-warming sight on the mountains around us.

An unusually low 4 degrees allowed the hailstones which fell around Kanakary in the night, to linger at the edges of our garden and road sides. Villages at not so much higher altitudes than ours here at Kanakary, woke to find their villages completely blanketed in snow. Even our dogs, unused to seeing snow, licked and munched happily on the icy left-overs.

The falling of snow always dominates the news channels and, in turn, generates excited Cretans, whom, suddenly reverting to being kids again, enthusiastically head for the hills to enjoy a day frolicking in the snow.

As I hear the rather hardier residents of more northern countries cry out in indignation, “What?? Are you mad?? Who wants to wake to snow and freezing temperatures?” I must rush to our defense. We live on an island that has perpetually hot temperatures, and often extended periods of drought, (a phenomona becoming more frequent in latter years), where even Winters find us basking in temperatures of 18 or more degrees. Not only does snow bring a sigh of relief to our thirsty land, it also carries a measure of appeal on a recreational level.

We have had a good start to our Winter, with seemingly plenty of rain. We were however, rather disturbed by the still unusually low levels in the Aposelemi reservoir in the vicinity of Potamies and Abdou, which we visited recently. On a previous visit, three years ago, water levels three-quarter swamped the little hillside village of Sfentili. An intriguing sensation, peering into abandoned houses, as of then, unclaimed by the water, whereas other dwellings had completely sunk below the mass of water.

Sfentili on the hillside

The reservoir has the potential to hold an astonishing 30 million cubic metres of water. Today, already half way through our Winter, the water line still falls to a desperately low level, where we had to walk a good 300 metres from the lower edge of the village to meet the water`s brim. In the last quarter of 2018, levels had fallen disastrously below one million cubic metres and operators were forced to deactivate the pumps which distribute the water, in order to safe guard the machinery.

Views of Aposelemi and Sfentili

Lakko (Λάκκο) A District With a History

We were intrigued by reports from a good friend, of street art emerging on the walls of ruined houses tucked away in a quiet corner of Heraklion, close to the old city wall and Nikos Kazanzakis`s burial place.

Stepping back in time into the old district called Lakko (Λάκκο), we discovered a wonderful medley of artists` impressions, on canvases of crumbling brickwork and render. These fabulous artists have dressed the decaying walls of this community with vibrant colour and originality.

Wandering along the narrow alleys of this almost ruined part of the city, I could imagine I was strolling through some remote Cretan village. The concept – simple, but surprisingly emotive, led us passed tiny stone buildings, time worn and run down, doors, chained shut, overgrown courtyards, tumbled walls, where, suddenly, we would find one more select masterpiece adorning the flaking wall.

This corner of Heraklion, which today is putting on it`s better, prettier face, hides a rather shady past. In the early 1900 `s, the Greek government decided that the area served itself well as a designated red light district. This fact, aptly reflected in one artist`s impression of a “lady of the night” in provocative clothing, adjusting her garter – entitled “Wall of Goodness” made me smile.

In the heart of the community, a small square, banded by kafenions and drinking establishments, which drew hordes of ruffians, dealers and pimps of the age, looking to provide a good time for a paying audience, bringing with them hashish, nargile dens, (hubba bubba pipe), outrageous parties and rebetikamusic – these elements, coupled with a slang all of it`s own, cultivated a deeper dye to the red light district.

This “underground” commerce, quickly isolated the area from the rest of Heraklion, which shunned this unrestrained, liberated district.

Rumour has it, that FIL frequented the district for a number of his younger years – a conversation that I`d be keen to have with him – one day.

I digress.

Below are a few photographs of the street art, which by all accounts, are being continuously contributed to.

Special thanks to Keith and Linda Poole

Racing Sunday

 

The weekend had arrived, it was early Summer and the weather was fine, this combination always prompted a “volta” (βόλτα).  I`m obliged to introduce you to this word, as it carries importance in Greece, meaning “take a walk, trip, drive” etc. You would “voltaris” with your girlfriend, “voltaris” down to the Kafenion, or the local bar, and there seems to be no equivalent word in the English language which creates the same image.

So, the vaguest of plans were made for a Sunday morning departure.  With the family still fast asleep in bed at 9 am the next morning, the dogs barking alerted us to visitors. I allowed Vagelis to investigate.  I failed to decipher the muffled voices and closed my eyes to snooze some more.  He came crashing back into my dreams, yelling for us to get up and out of bed NOW!  In fear of an earthquake, or some other unimaginable natural disaster, we all stumbled to our feet with bleary eyes, to be told that they were closing off our drive entrance to hold the annual road racing event along the old National Road, where our house is situated, and if we did not leave now, we would be trapped in the house for the full day. A calamity in all senses of the word, when the whole of Crete beckons to be explored!

In the next few minutes, outright havoc reigned at Kanakary.  Three frenzied females and Vagelis, attempting to grab the necessities required to leave the house for the day, created quite an alarming sight.  Half dressed and clinging on to shoes, t-shirts, beach clobber and hairbrushes, we all jumped in to our old Fiesta and made our way up the driveway, where the official in the yellow fluorescent jacket was gesticulating and shouting that we should not leave, as the race was due to begin any minute.

Determined not to be trapped at home for the day, Vagelis stubbornly indicated that we would leave in the opposite direction.  We left Mr. Fluorescent with his stripy plastic tape half tied across our driveway entrance and sped off in the opposite direction of the race start line.

Adrenalin pumping after this unusual “wake up”, we all started giggling as we tried to finish dressing.  As Vagelis sped around corners at breakneck speed, we were flung from side to side like rag dolls, whilst his chuntered, “it isn`t funny” and “this is serious” comments, made us laugh all the more. 

On a tight left hand bend, a small group of spectators applauded our speedy approach enthusiastically.  As we hurtled around the corner, their applause faltered as they glimpsed us pulling on clothing, combing hair and applying lipstick. Puzzled looks flashed across their faces, as they wondered why this “race car driver” had three attending females, which appeared to be dressing as they went.

The sight of the applauding spectators accelerated our laughter and hysterics took over, till tears streamed down our cheeks.

Once we had safely exited the “race track”, Vagelis`s mood lightened and he allowed himself to laugh at the extraordinary way our Sunday volta had began.

Squash and Chestnut Soup (Κολοκυθόσουπα με Κάστανα)

 

Despite the weather still being warm here in Crete, (18 c ish), the overcast, rainy days of late, had me rattling my big soup pan from the depth the cupboards.

Having an abundance of pumpkins and the shops being full of nice, fat chestnuts, I created this lovely “Winter” soup, which had Vagelis coming back for a third plate.

Ingredients

650/700 g peeled and cleaned butternut squash, sliced

1 large onion cut in half

2 sticks celery

2 1/2 to 3 cups chestnuts

1 litre chicken stock

1 chicken stock cube

1 tsp 5 spice powder

Good pinch of cinnamon powder

200/250 ml fresh cream

2/3 Rashers bacon

Olive oil

S & P 

Procedure

Slice the chestnut skins from top to tail and boil for about 20 minutes or till the chestnut is cooked.  Whilst they are cooking, place the squash, onion and celery in a baking tray. Sprinkle well with oil, S&P, cover with tin foil and bake for about 1 hour till tender.  Once the chestnuts have cooked, peel and chop roughly.

Place the baked vegetables into a large pan with the chicken stock, add the chestnuts, the seasoning and spices, allow to simmer gently for 30/40 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Pass through the blender, ensuring it is well blended.  Return to the hotplate, but with the hot plate turned off, if the soup is a little thick, suppliment with more chicken stock.  Add the cream and stir well.  You can serve with a swirl of extra cream if you wish.

Crisp fry the bacon rashers, cut into chunks and sprinkle over the soup as it is being served. 

A November Day Out

We stumbled across a raki distillery, (as you do), in the lovely village of Prina.  Disastrously, I`d completely forgotten the season was upon us.  Needless to say, I was delighted to be invited to join this friendly family, for a mid afternoon tipple – or three (as you do).

Light headed and rozy cheeked, with bellies full of jacket potatoes and fire-roasted chestnuts, we continued our exploration of the village, where pretty little alleys displayed colourful flowers and derelict homes.  A raki fuelled hike up to the little church helped ease the surging blood.  

We continued high along the mountain roads and reached Kalamafka, where I decided there was still some raki burn to combust.  Accompanied by sis, we climbed the 235 steps to Timios Stavros, a curious, pretty little church, stashed in a mini cave in the mountain side. 

 

Now, getting pretty good at selfies, (up till now we were newbie selfie-ers), we immortalized our cardiovascular workout at the top of the stairs.

The fresh water springs and the pretty, burbling brook, surrounded by plane trees with unfathomable girths, is located at the edge of the village.  We gathered myrtle sprigs, enjoying their intoxicating scent.  Suspecting we had disrupted a clandestine meet between two teens, whom had crept to the shade of the autumnal trees, we decided we should depart this quiet paradise and leave them be.

Having my awesome sister living in Crete too, I can see Vags breathing a sigh of relief at NOT having to join me on various crazy climbs and hikes which I hanker after.  After asking him to join us on the Thrypti forest trek, his incredulous retort………”What??? Five hour trek???? For fun????? Ha ha ha!!! You must be mad!!”

Perhaps I am!

 

Mission “Rescue Goat”

 

 

Whilst enjoying a hike through the olive groves above Sissi, we came across an old stone ruin.  Nothing unusual there – except we could hear the obvious cry of a distressed goat. 

Upon investigation, we found the young goat in the photograph had fallen into an old water cystern, the type which once had a vaulted ceiling, with no means of escape. 

A pile of rocks in the corner of the cystern betrayed a history of similiar fates, but this young goat was too small to clamber out. 

So we set about and added even more rocks to the pile in the corner till we had raised the level adequately.  We stepped to one side to allow the young goat to escape his temporary prison, which he inevitably did, scampering off into the groves without a backwards glance. 

Mushroom Risotto (Ριζότο Μανιταριού)

 

A great quick recipe, super tasty too. 

Ingredients

500 g mushrooms, any type like Portobello or Oyster (Πλευρότους) sliced

1 large onion diced

200 g Greek apaki (smoked pork) diced

1 generous cup of carolina rice

1 litre vegetable stock or as much as needed

100 g parmesan cheese grated

Generous dollop of butter

Olive oil

S & P

Procedure

Fry the onions in the oil for a minute or two, add the diced apaki and allow to saute.  Add the mushrooms and fry for a few more minutes. Par boil the rice in a seperate pan, strain and add to the pan with the mushrooms.  Pour in half of the liquid stock, lower the heat slightly, stir. Add the remaining liquid, S & P and leave to cook till the rice is soft, allowing the rice to absorb most of the liquid.  Remove from the heat and add the parmasan cheese and butter.  Stir well till the cheese and butter have melted and serve.

I love mine cheesey so always put in more parmasan.   It can be eaten cold too.  

 

Kritsa Gorge

 

This nice easy hike is great for first timers, providing you are in reasonably good health.  Duration approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours, (approx. 4.5 km), culminating in the village of Tapes, where a traditional kafenion greets you with refreshments and snacks.  Great scenery and relatively easy under foot. 

Thrypti Forest

 

4th November 2018

We had the pleasure of joining a local walking group – pezopories.blogspot,  last Sunday.

Length 13,810 m

Duration 4.45 hours

Height 563 – 906 m

Steps 16,636

Temps 12 – 17 c

A crisp, 7.30 am start from Agios Nikolaos took us to the mountains and forests of Thrypti in the Sitia Mountain range at the East end of Crete. 

The hike took us along intermittent paths, through shady, virgin pine forests, where mistletoe hung in pretty clusters, along prickly, semi plains and agricultural tracks, up ragged mountain sides and past hideaway churches, nestling in wooded peace.  A final height of 900 odd metres, had the icy wind chilling our exposed faces.

Intermittent, broody skies gave way to glorious blue canopies, scattered with grand vultures, riding the thermals above.

The scenery, breathtaking, the atmosphere, so clear, with such clarity.  Happily, I can report, that I saw no rubbish along the full duration of the walk. 

The group consisted of around 33, some of whom were seasoned hikers.  Approximately half of the number took the choice of terminating their hike at about 9km, leaving the remaining members to complete the last grueling 4 clicks, on the demanding uphill track, to the village of Thrypti.

After contemplating the need to avail ourselves of oxygen mask assistance on arrival at the finishing point, we eventually sat gasping in the car, before we were able to remove our, now, liquid-rubber footware!

Would I do it again. Yes.

I might have been exhausted on the evening of the hike, but the next day I felt invigorated.