Thursday, 31 July 2008

The seaside taverna

Eating out in Hania can be a bit of a bore. Once the tourist season is over, half the eateries in the province close down, and there is virtually nothing available around the coastal areas. Hania in the winter reminds me of the great New Zealand closedown, just after Christmas Eve, when all the shops, museums, galleries, restaurants, TAB’s, libraries, and anything else public simply shut down, assuming that all people go away for their summer holidays, without a thought given for those who didn’t go on holiday, and had to stay in a dead city during the summer. (Now, nothing is closed after Christmas; in fact, it’s almost become a 24-hour culture). But once the tourist season hits town (end of March till end of October), all the restaurants in the province open up for their share of the foreign tourists' cash, tourism being our main export 'crop' in Hania.

tavronitis beach hania chania

But there’s another reason why I personally dislike going out for a meal in Hania, whether it’s winter or summer; all the restaurants in the province have the same menu. They serve exactly the same food,
as I'm sure most tourists will attest to when asked what they thought of the food in Hania. There is no taste sensation going on here; it's the same food being served up, with only the slightest of variations, depending on the cook, and maybe the quality of the ingredients used. And that’s not all; the same food is served up that any Haniotissa wife and mother would cook on a regular basis for her family; yemista, stifado, horta, kalitsounia, gigandes, you name it. Or maybe I lie; to date, I have never seen fasolada on the menu, and once when I did see fakes on the menu, it wasn’t actually available. We do have one or two Chinese restaurants in the town, but the menu tends to be very pricey, if the set takeaway menu price is anything to go by (30 euro for two people). But that’s about it.

Of course, there are places that serve well-cooked meals; maybe not so interesting, but at least they are very tasty. You just have to know where to go. One of the places you shouldn't go for that kins of meal is a taverna in a tourist area. Beachside tavernas are always a risky choice. You simply never know what you're up against: a restaurant that takes great pride in the food it serves to the here-today-gone-tomorrows, or one that sees this as a good reason not to go to too much bother in the first place. In the shoes of the customer, how do you choose a good place to eat on a sweltering hot day by the beach in an area slightly off the beaten track on a Greek island? After a swim under the brillliant yellow sun in the diamond-encrusted Mediterranean sea, you will probably be hungry, or will get hungry very quickly when the smells of lunchtime grills working in over-drive waft past your nose, whether you're a tourist or a local.

My family's once-a-month outings landed us at Periyiali in Tavronitis with some friends from Athens who were visiting relatives in the area; we decided to go out and meet them in their territory. Living mainly in the big Greek smog, they were pretty much tourists themselves, so it didn't surprise us that they chose the closest, flashiest eaterie near the beach, the one with an impressive round beach bar featuring an array of alcoholic beverages, the one with loud pop music blaring from the speakers, the one where the menu was dictated by the clientele: everyone had just come off the beach, and was bound to head straight back onto a deckchair once they had had their meals. The Northern Europeans were already looking like boiled shrimps. In the summer, there is an endless choice of places to go, but dining by the beach means you have to put up with tourist menus. Even the best diners in the whole town suffer under the pressure of serving well-cooked meals as quickly as the seats are vacated. If you want a high-quality meal in the middle of the summer in Greece, find a friend's house. Don't expect to find a gourmet meal in a summer resort town where package tourists have been flying in at the rate of 40-50 direct flights a day from Northern Europe.

tavronitis beach hania chania

"We come here all the time," they told us, "the owner's a friend of the family." Another thing to avoid when you go to a taverna; no matter how bad the service or the food is, the owner will still be a friend of the family.

"Let's order," said our friends, without even looking at the menu card. This is not unusual; Greeks usually ask to be told the menu by the waiter, which also hints at an aspect of the Greek psyche that may need some explanation: the Greek people have an oratory culture - they are better listeners rather than good readers. Mobile phones have helped advance their talents in this respect; emails simply never caught on. This is why I've lost touch with most of my Greek friends; most of them give me their landline or mobile phone number. They have no idea about computer telecommunication, or what Skype is. Even if they own a computer, they aren't usually connected to the internet. Go ahead, google it: only a third of the Greek population uses the internet; to shock your pants off, here's another interesting bit of trivia: Greek internet users form just over 1% of the users of the internet in the whole of Europe. Of the 27 countries in the EU, Greece ranks in the 14th place for internet usage, well below Romania, who only just entered the EU recently. This angers me, but maybe I should just leave behind some of my New Zealand baggage; paying a shrink to find out why I feel like this is a waste of money, as I already know why. Ηas one not heard of the phrase 'γνώση σε αυτόν' (gnosi se auton)?

I suggested we see the menu cards anyway. There was a wide variety of meals of available, everything that one would expect to see on a Greek menu, organised in the typical way that Greeks organise their menus: appetisers, salad, grills, pizzas, pasta, and traditional Creto-Greco food, which consisted of all the meals we normally cook in our own home in the summer - boureki, moussaka, pastitsio, yemista, fasolakia. There was nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary. I wonder how they would approach a slight menu change: instead of pizza, they could add a vegetarian ladenia; instead of saganaki cheese, how about bouyiourdi?

We sat at a table close to the road next to the beach. The view was wonderfully peaceful, beautiful. It's a pity the tavern had half the windows closed; the outdoor space surrounded the bar which had a lot of business from the foreign tourists filling their beer guts. As soon as we took our seats, along comes a very polite waitress with the bottled water (which we didn't ask for). Why they didn't bring us tap water is a mystery to me - were they really thinking about the money they would make from selling a bottle of water? Bread is only to be bought to the table when it's asked for (new governmental rules since last year), but that came too. I could see that our taverna meal was going to end up costing us more than the most expensive restaurant in the province.

Both families had children with them. Choosing restaurant meals for the children gets easier as they get older. They have their standard favorites: fried squid (kalamari), pizza, chips and salad (or salad oil for dunking for those not keen on greens). We also have our own set favorites when eating at beach tavernas and other suspect eateries: bifteki burgers. You really can't go wrong here, since the plate usually contains some salad and fries on the side. Our friends had completely different ideas about what to order:

tavronitis beach hania chania

"What are you having, Maria?" asked my holidaying friend.
"Oh, I'll have the leftovers from my kids' choices?"
"You're not having a main meal?!?" she exclaims.
"No, they've ordered more than enough for all of us." My husband had also ordered a serving of stuffed bifteki, and with the hors d'oeuvres that were bound to be ordered with our Athenian tourist visitors, we would be feeling stuffed before the mains even come.
"Calamari, chips and pizza? They're just appetisers! What are they having for mains?"
"That's their main meal."
"Well, you order a main then." Sometimes, Greeks are 'too much'.
"They won't eat everything."
"Oh, why not? My kids can eat two plates each." And they certain ly looked as though they could: as primary-school children with their pregnant stomachs and tree stumps for legs, they walked around on their flattened hobbit-like feet like teletubbies.
I stayed firm. "I'm not having a main."

She shrugged and left it at that. Along comes the waiter. "Ready to order?" My friend asked me to give my family's order first. My son called out 'calamari' while my daughter called out 'pizza'. I asked for a serving of stuffed bifteki and a separate order of fries.

"Hey, how many servings of fries d'you want? I can't listen to everyone's order separately," boomed the pot-bellied waiter, who might have been having a hard day, but that was not my problem. I let the others do the talking; they were expert at taverna ordering:

"Let's have three fries, make that four, one with staka, three tzatziki - is that too many? OK, make it two tzatziki - one large combination salad with some dakos, another stuffed bifteki for you, one shrimp saganaki for me, one paeedakia (lamb chops) for my daughter and one grilled octopus in wine sauce for my son (?!?), and let's see, is that enough?" Speak to Greek taverna owners and they will tell you that there are no better customers than Greeks, because they order a lot of food, whether they eat it or not; they leave money for the time they spend at the table, not like the tourists who order two plates and a salad to be shared among four people over a period of two hours.

"May I suggest the mixed fried vegetables (courgettes, aubergines and mushrooms) to go with the tzatziki?" asked the now happy smiling friendly waiter, who could see we were over-ordering, especially since he didn't bother telling us that the biftekia, octopus and paeedakia each came with their own serving of fries.

"Great," my cheery friend agreed. "And a couple of cold beers with that, thanks. Could you just make sure that the paeedakia have a bone, you know, I want them to look like little pork chops with the bone, you know?" She brought her hands up to her face, joined together the thumbs and forefingers, and pulled her hands across in the shape of a rib-bone smile. "It's for a child," she added, with a knowing look on her smiling face. Her daughter must be a very fussy eater.

"Could we have a couple of Cokes, too?" I added.

"Aren't you having any beer, Maria? Why don't you order one bottle of Coke at a time so they bring it to you cold?"

"They're for the children." I never drink alcohol when we go out, because I always end up doing the driving, as if I'm being punished for demanding a no-cooking day. And the children never have fizzy drinks at home. Today is treat day; anything is permissible.

"Your children drink Coke? Oh, wow, our children never drink soda or pop drinks. They only drink water."

There's a time and a place for everything. I had kept my mouth shut long enough. That was enough to get me started. "Why are they so fat then?" I asked innocently with a bewildered look on my face. "And how on earth did they require 1000 euro worth of dental treatment each?" The conversation topic took a 180-degree turn after that: the price of petrol is crippling their use of the SUV in Athens, air-conditioning is a way of life if you live in an apartment, you need more than 100 euro in your pocket each time you go to the supermarket, all topics of unknown quantity to us rural dwellers living off a garden surrounding a detached house all within short distance of our local big smoke, Hania.

Some of the plates we ordered started drifting onto our table. Some dishes came on time (chips and kalamari), others needed a little longer (paeedakia and biftekia), while some never came at all (pizza). The salad had far too much dill, and the salad ingredients did not blend well. We were treated to sugary watermelon and tasteless cherries at the end of the meal. Total cost: 102 euro, for what was basically grilled and fast food (pizza not included).

tavronitis beach hania chania

At least the beach at Tavronitis did not fail to disappoint: it was perfect for swimming - crystal clear water in the shade of the blue in the Greek flag, a pebbly beach with little sand and plenty of shade. Mind you, it isn't shallow: after about two metres in from the shore, the water becomes too deep for children who are used to wading around Kalamaki Beach for a good twenty metres. Next time we're in the Tavronitis area, we'll stick to Anemomilos, just down the road from Periyiali, the no-nonsense place which makes no pretentious claims to what it offers: fast food at decent prices.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

ABC Wednesday: B for Barn and Bridge

It's ABC Wednesday again, and B is for barn and bridge.

barn fournes hania chania

Abe posted about barns a while back. The ones he photographed looked old and disused. This barn looks rather old too; it was built by German soldiers in the village of Fournes (where we own fields with oranges and olives), to be used as offices and a storeroom during the occupation of Crete by the Nazis. Its present use is by the local community as a processing plant for olive oil. We pass it every time we go into the village to our orange groves; as you can see in the following photo, the barn is surrounded by orange and olive trees.

barn in amongst olive and orange groves fournes hania chania

The Nazi regime lasted only four years, but the occupants thought they would be here longer. The barn was not the only important structure they built which had great strategic significance. A river runs just below the hills in the village of Fournes, with its source being a stretch of high mountains (Lefka Ori) in the middle of the western province of Hania.

The German soldiers also built a wooden bridge to the left of the road from the barn, which opened up better access to the remote (and Nazi-resistant) mountain villages. The bridge is now disused, as a more modern roadway has been built right beside it to replace it. It makes a good place to watch the river passing by furiously in the winter.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Kalamaki beach pirates

The best time to enjoy the beach is when the sun is about to set. Your body cools down just enough to enervate you and give you the confidence you need to conquer anything that comes your way. When these children grow up, I wonder if they'll remember that they were pirates conquering the seas, building castles and looking for treasure.

Thanks to Phivos Nicolaides for featuring the pirates of Kalamaki in his blog.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Odd shots Monday: bottles

We go to the beach every day in the afternoon, never before 5.30pm. It's still hot, but Mum says it's not so hot that your skin will burn if you're under the sun. That's why she doesn't bother slapping sunscreen oil on our skin. Even though we're there every day, we're hardly brown, which just goes to show you can protect yourself from the sun if you want.

At this time the deck chairs are usually empty, as this is tea time for most of the Northern Europeans who come to visit out town. They've been here all morning, drinking and sunbathing, turning beetroot, as Mum says. The litter bins on the beach are filled with all types of bottles, probably bought from the numerous cafes and beach bars behind us. We fished them out of the bin, filled them with sea water and lined them up for you to see. They made better toys than spades and castle pails.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Camera critters: crab

Crab playing peek-a-boo in a hole in a rock, Agious Apostolous beach, Hania.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The bird memorial

This memorial is known as 'the bird', after which the area it is located in was named. There used to be an eagle sculpture sitting atop it. A few years ago, there was a rather strong storm in the area, and the bird structure, already in a state of decline, finally received the chop. Its remains were scattered on the steps below.

I was upset to hear that this distinctive monument had been destroyed because it had become an important landmark in my town. Areas are usually named after churches. Even though there is a church dedicated to St Sophia in this area, the parish that belongs to it is still known as 'he Bird'. But then I didn't expect it to be restored: the Nazis erected it, and it is unlikely that a Greek will want to restore anything that belonged to them. There is a new welcome sign at the bottom of the steps, but the actual monument has been defaced with a lot of graffiti. Still, I feel lucky to remember the days when an eagle rested on the top of the monument. And I also know how to explain to my children why it is called the bird, even though there's no bird sitting on it.

The memorial, found on the coastal road to Kalamaki Beach and Agious Apostolous, is still called the bird, but what did it look like when there was a bird sitting on it? Click here and find out.

Friday, 25 July 2008

SkyWatch Friday: sunset

No, it's not a tropical paradise, it's the sunset over Kalamaki Beach. I once complained that turbulent skies are rare in Crete, making my SkyWatch participation seem like a poor addition to the event. That's when Hyde pointed out that I should concentrate on sunsets in my town, like he did when he visited Hania, and I think he was right. We've seen the sun set nearly every day for over a month from this spot. Today marks the last day of swimming lessons, giving us a chance to move on and find another sunset watching spot.

Check out more sky watchers at the SKY WATCH site.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Zucchini baseball

When you can no longer stand the look of zucchini on your dining room table or kitchen bench top, and the wholesaler offers you a low price on your orange production, there's always this solution.

(The courgette escaped our notice. It is perfect for animal feed, but not much else.)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

ABC Wednesday: A for Asylum

Another round of ABC Wednesday has started, and this week, it's being hosted on its very own website, ABC Wednesday, created by Denise and her team.

This week's letter is - of course - A, and the word is asylum.

This is one of the old buildings that reminds the residents of Hania of its former more glorious period, the years between the world wars, even though it now looks like a dumpster. The plaque on the building simply states the owner's name and that he donated it to the University of Crete. He must have been an important person in the community. People become important in Greece usually because they are connected with money or politics. To build a house like this one means the former owner was wealthy and/or possibly involved in politics (the two still go hand-in-hand in Greece).

Riches don't always bring happiness, and this is probably the reason why the former owner of the house passed it on to the state in his will. The state had no money to spare (as usual) to maintain it by repairing what needed to be fixed, so the house was left to stagnate in a state of ruin. The University of Crete was expanding and took over the building, as was the original owner's wishes.

There's only one catch with university properties. University areas are protected by asylum: the police can't enter them under any circumstances, according to an archaic Greek law created no doubt for the benefit of the advancement of science and knowledge. This is why not a single university building in the whole country has remained unscathed by attacks from hooligans, vandals, drug dealers, squatters and all other kinds of vagrants. The building in question has been occupied by student activists for the last two years, its present use probably not envisioned by the former owner.

This building is found on the main shopping road in Hania, diagonally across from the Agora, which coincidentally also begins with 'A'.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Swimming pool with natural wave movement

My children take swimming lessons in the sea. Today was a particularly choppy day, and the pool was overcome many times with waves. Lessons continue in this weather - the children are taught to jump or ride the waves, and there are lots of laughs and shouts as they do this.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Bad timing (Κακιά ώρα)

(This post is based on a short story which was originally written 25 years ago, published in the Evening Post, the former evening newspaper of Wellington, New Zealand, and awarded a prize of 20 dollars. Part one of this story was posted on 9 July 2080 in Organically Cooked.)

When I came to Greece on holiday in 1974 with my parents, I thought I was coming to a place where everyone lived by the sea under the sun wearing smiling faces. I didn't expect to experience the feelings aroused by war and sending away soldiers to fight for their country. After three and a half months, our holiday had finally come to an end: our return tickets to New Zealand stated 21 July 1974 as the departure date.

On the eve of our departure, we woke up on a hot summer's day in Pireaus. It was a local holiday in the neighbourhood, as the district church was celebrating its patron saint, the Prophet Elias. Our bags were packed and ready for our departure the next day. Peace and quiet is expected on holidays, and the neighbourhood was silent. My father's sister told us to get ready to go to church. She was about to prepare a picnic to eat near a park in the churchyard. At this moment, there was a knock on the door; it was her sister-in-law.

Barbara had a scared look on her face. My aunt was used to it; Barbara had always been the worrying type. "Seen a ghost, again, Barbara?"

Barbara's hollowed eyes were overcome with tears. "Haven't you heard?"

"Heard what?" snapped my aunt. Now she was worried.

"There's a war on; haven't you heard?"

We turned on the radio. Every single radio station we tuned in to was playing the same pre-recorded message: "... state of war..., ... emergency... γενική επιστράτευση (mobilisation of military forces into combat)..." Now my aunt was worried.

On 20 July, 1974, Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus (which it has been occupying illegally for the last 34 years; its status in the region is still not recognised globally) and the Greek airports closed down to all international flights. Overnight, from holidaymakers, we had officially become overstayers.

crete 1974
(the tombs of the famous Venizelos family, heads of state, Hania; orange groves in the village; 1974)

All men aged under 40 were called up for compulsory enlistment. My father was 39 years old at the time. As a Greek citizen, he had to do his duty. The state asked for the enlistment of all men who, upon completion of their military training, had received a coloured certificate when they were dismissed. Those given a white certificate were excused from service at this time. Dad couldn't remember what colour his certificate was, but he knew where he kept his military documents: in the inside pocket of an old blazer he had travelled to New Zealand with, which was hanging in the wardrobe of our home in Wellington. After a few phone calls from neighbours' houses - we begged them to take our dollars, phone calls were not cheap back then - we managed to track down my aunt who had a key to our house. She found the certificate (and the house broken into), and called us immediately from our home, to tell us it was white. We told her not to expect us at the airport. When will you be coming back? she asked us. We don't know, my mother replied. Take the girls and go home, my father told my mother. I'm not leaving without you, my mother cried. He didn't really want to go back anyway.

At the tender age of eight, to me, war signified guns, Nazis and starving naked children, all of which bore no resemblance to the war that was unfolding in Greece. People wouldn't come out of their houses, the streets were empty, not a sound to be heard - music had practically become banned overnight (most of it had been censored in any case, under the military junta regime). Everyone had the radio turned on to hear all the news reports. People would walk around their houses, in their yards, with long faces; if they had to go somewhere - cars crossed the roads only occasionally - they would walk hurriedly, as if they feared a bogeyman. Whenever they came across a religious icon, they solemnly made the sign of the cross and whispered a prayer. My sister and I, once regarded as the 'Greek tourist foreigners', the centre of attention, were now noticed.

Our father was not drafted; other children's fathers and brothers were not so lucky, making them grow up so quickly. Children my age would be talking about the war situation in as serious a tone as their parents', fearing that they may have to face up to losing an important member of the family, and in Greek families, all the men were like electricity pylons, heading and directing everyone else.

The days of the war period passed slowly. We stayed at home, with the radio on all day, tuned into a news station, waiting for any updates to the situation. The report we had been hoping for came quite suddenly. We were at Barbara's house. Her husband had also escaped military service, and her son was under 18, the age required to be drafted. They were a happier family than most others in the neighbourhood. The radio had been playing soft music, when suddenly it was cut off, and the standardised melody signalling the news report came on.

This time, there was more than the usual commotion when the scheduled news reports were broadcast. "Ta nea, ta nea!" This was a signal for everyone, especially children, to shut up.

And then we heard the news report. It consisted of three words, because the rest - if there were any - were drowned by the whole neighbourhood's cries of joy: "Ο πόλεμος τελείωσε." (The war is over.)

Shouts, screams, laughter, hugs and kisses filled the streets. The grown-ups put on music, the children let off firecrackers. This all began to happen in less than a minute, which just goes to show, everybody - literally - was listening to the radio, and probably the same station. I can still remember the first question I asked my aunt: "Does this mean we're going back to New Zealand?" Everyone laughed. "So you want to go back now?" she asked me, with tears in her eyes. Despite the end to my war, the conflict still continues in different form in Cyprus.

My parents were eager to leave as soon as possible in case more hostilities broke out. No one cried on the day of our departure, except for one hysterical aunt who cried at any emotional event, whether happy or sad. They all asked us not to forget them, and to come back again some time, not to visit, but to stay for good. I do not recall the return journey to New Zealand. We had no time to call anyone back home to tell them we were coming. When we finally touched down at Wellington Airport, we picked up our suitcases and took a taxi home. There was no one to welcome us back.

cqs 1978
(school photo, Clyde Quay School, Wellington, New Zealand, 1978)

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in Mt Victoria. My sister and I had the same thing on our minds: to walk down Armour Avenue to our aunt's house and announce our arrival. We could see the light on in her house. Telephones were not that widespread in the mid-70s, no matter which part of the world you lived in. I remember seeing my four-year-old cousin; he had grown taller in the four months we had been away. And it didn't take long for our neighbours to find out about our return: Mt Victoria was still very much a Greek suburb of Wellington in the mid-70s; in 1978, seven of the 12 school leavers at Clyde Quay School were of Greek origin. They started crowding into my aunt's tiny house, to hear us tell them all about out adventures in the land they left, but yearned to go back to.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Camera critters: kids

Some people might call this kid 'cute'; others will think 'delicious'.

Goat and kid in Vamvakopoulo, Hania.

Saturday, 19 July 2008


Every year, we visit our friend Aleko in his summer house in a small village close to one of the most impressive nature spots on the south-western coast of Hania, Elafonisi, which also sports probably the most aesthetically alluring beach in the region of Hania: crystal clear water, whose rippling ground-level waves roll onto coral-pink sand, tucked away in a remote area of the province which was once extremely difficult to access. The wind always blows hard here, making the water icy cold, even in the middle of summer; maybe it's done on purpose, to keep too much development away from the area, on which point of course it has succeeded.

Κάθε χρόνο, επισκεφθόμαστε τον φίλο μας τον Αλέκο στη θερινή κατοικία του σε ένα μικρό χωριό κοντά σε ένα από τα πιο εντυπωσιακά σημεία της νοτιο-δυτικής ακτής Χανίων, το Ελαφονήσι, το οποίο επίσης έχει μία από τις πιο ελκυστικές παραλίες των σε όλη την περιοχή. Κρυστάλλινα νερά, μικρά κύματα που σπάνε στην κοραλλιογενείς-ροζ άμμο, όλα βρίσκονται σε απομακρυσμένη περιοχή της επαρχίας η οποία κάποτε ήταν εξαιρετικά δύσκολη η πρόσβαση. Ο άνεμος πάντα σκληρά φυσάει εδώ, το νερό παγωμένο, ακόμη και στη μέση του καλοκαιριού! Ίσως αυτό έγινε επίτηδες, για να κρατηθεί πάρα πολύ μακριά από την παγκόσμια ανάπτυξη της περιοχής, στο οποίο σημείο βεβαίως έχει πετύχει.


To get to Aleko's house, we drive off the main highway onto very narrow country roads, passing a few sleepy villages, like Topolia, which is famous for the freshness of its water. It is located on a rise, so that the melting snow from the mountains surrounding it passes the area before it gets to the town of Hania itself. We sat under a walnut tree in the central square and cooled ourselves off with some of that refreshing water, with which people fill up plastic containers and take home with them (it's legal).

Ο δρόμος στου Αλέκου το σπίτι μας πηγαίνει από τον κεντρικό αυτοκινητόδρομο σε πολύ στενούς δρόμους, περνώντας μερικά γραφικά χωριουδάκια, όπως τα Τοπόλια, διάσημα για το νερό του χωριού. Το χιονι λιώνει από τα βουνά που περιβάλλουν την περιοχή και περνάει από εδώ πριν να διοχετευθεί στη ίδια η πόλη των Χανίων. Καθόμαστε κάτω από μια καρυδιά στην κεντρική πλατεία και δροσιζόμαστε με το νεράκι, με το οποίο οι άνθρωποι γεμίζουν πλαστικά δοχεία και τα παίρνουν στο σπίτι τους (είναι νομιμο).

walnut tree topolia hania chania

The plaque at the square reads as a mantinada, a form of Cretan poetry:
Drink water from Topoliana,
which Nature freely gives,
the whole of our community
welcomes you to our village.

Μια μαντινάδα έιναι γραμμένη σε μια πινακίδα:
ιέτε νερό Τοπολιανό η φύσις το χαρίζει
και ολόκληρη η κοινότητα σας σε καλωσορίζει.


From this point on, the road narrows to a single lane, as it passes through the Gorge of Topolia (not the famous Samaria Gorge, but a narrow chasm nevertheless. A tunnel was built through the mountain. The traffic lights indicate which direction of the traffic has the right of way: only one car fits its width.

Από αυτό το σημείο και μετά, ο δρόμος στενεύει σε μια μονή λωρίδα κυκλοφορίας, καθώς περνά μέσα από το Φαράγγι των Τοπολίων (όχι το περίφημο Φαράγγι της Σαμαριάς, αλλά παρ 'όλα αυτά, ένα στενό χάσμα). Η σήραγγα κατασκευάστηκε μέσα στο βουνό. Τα φανάρια δείχνουν την κατεύθυνση της κυκλοφορίας και ποιος έχει το δικαίωμα να περάσει: μόνο ένα αυτοκίνητο χςράει στο πλάτος της.

tunnel before ayia sophia cave hania chania

The tunnel leads directly to a hillside containing a cave of archaeological importance, turned into a shrine dedicated to St Sophia. Church services, even wedding ceremonies and baptisms, are held here, especially when the family concerned has been ''promised' to the saint (another meaning of dedicated: 'ταμένος').

H σήραγγα οδηγεί απευθείας στην πλαγιά ενός λόφου που περιέχει μια σπηλιά αρχαιολογικής σημασίας, οι οποία είναι αφιερωμένη στην Αγία Σοφία. Στην εκκλησία αυτή γίνονται γαμήλιες τελετές, ακόμη και βαφτίσια για τις οικογένειες που είναι ταμένες στην Άγια.

ayia sophia cave hania chania

The road then passes through the village of Elos, which gets its name from 'swamp'. It used to be a breeding ground for malaria, but is now one of the most verdant villages in Hania, home to the oldest vineyard in Crete, and an environmentally important eco-system with native flora and fauna. Water runs freely in this area, the tall trees and dense foliage being living proof of this.

Ο δρόμος στη συνέχεια περνά από το χωριό Έλος, το οποίο ήταν γόνιμο έδαφος για την ελονοσία, αλλά τώρα είναι ένα από τα πιο πράσινα χωριά στα Χανιά, σπίτι του αρχαιότερου αμπέλιου στην Κρήτη, με ένα περιβαλλοντικά σημαντικό οικολογικό σύστημα με αυτόχθονα είδη χλωρίδας και πανίδας. Το νερό τρέχει ελεύθερα, ζωντανή απόδειξη τα ψηλά δένδρα και πυκνό φύλλωμα.

elos valley hania chania

The region also has one of the biggest chestnuts plantations in all of Greece.

Η περιοχή έχει επίσης μια από τις μεγαλύτερες φυτείες κάστανα σε όλη την Ελλάδα.


Whenever we visit him at his house, he and his wife always make us feel very welcome: traditional Cretan festive fare is the norm - kalitsounia with mizithra, kalitsounia with vlita, summer salad, boiled chicken with pilafi, pork steaks and potato chips, all followed by a juicy watermelon. he was only sorry that we oculdn't sit outside because the wind was roaring upwards of 7 on the Beaufort scale today (the plastic chairs were flying off the verandah).

Κάθε φορά που τον επισκεφθόμαστε στο σπίτι του, ο Αλέκος και η σύζυγός του πάντα μας κάνουν να αισθανόμαστε πολύ ευπρόσδεκτοι: η κρητική κουζίνα είναι ο κανόνας – καλιτσούνια με μιζιθρα, καλιτσούνια με βλήτα, καλοκαιρινές σαλάτες, κοτόπουλο βραστό μα πιλάφι, χοιρινές μπριζόλες και πατάτες τηγανιτές, και ένα ζουμερό καρπούζι. Σήμερα μας ζητούσαν συγγνώμη που δεν μπορούσαμε να κάτσουμε έξω γιατί ο άνεμος τα έπαιρνε όλα.


On the way to Elafonisi from Aleko's house, the road takes you past the monastery of Hrisoskalitissa (meaning 'the Virgin of the golden steps') built on the rocks above the roughest coast of the western shoreline of Hania; it stands like a sparkling gem, glistening under the glorious sun. There is a port close by to Hrisoskalitissa monastery; the area once played host to a large customs office, due to the area's inaccessibility to Hania. These times are now long gone, with the coming of extensive road networks.

Στο δρόμο προς το Ελαφονήσι από το σπίτι του του Αλέκου, ο δρόμος περνάει από το μοναστήρι της Χρυσοσκαλίτισσας, χτισμένο πάνω στα βράχια σε ένα άγριο σημείο της δυτικής ακτής των Χανίων. Είναι σαν στολίδι αφρώδη, γυαλίζει υπό τον ένδοξο ήλιο. Υπάρχει ένα λιμάνι κοντά στη μονή, παλιά σημαντικό λιμάνι με τελωνείο, λόγω της ελλειψης πρόσβασης στα Χανιά. Αυτές οι εποχές έχουν περάσει με τον ερχομό του εκτεταμένο οδικού δίκτυου.


The sandy dirt road leading to the beach has been widened since the first time I came to Elafonisi, but nature is still in its rawest form here. The hills rise high and dry above Elafonisi, while the coast is bordered by low dense shrubs resulting from the high winds which do not allow trees to gain any height. The trees have taken the shape of an upside down witches broom, being swept to one side as the wind blows hard against them. The water is shallow for a long way out, and you can walk all the way to an islet in the middle of the sea, from which the area takes its name, the 'nisi' in 'ealfonisi' means 'island', while 'elafo' comes from the word 'elafi', meaning 'deer': I didn't see any!

Ο αμμώδης χωματόδρομος που οδηγεί στην παραλία έχει διευρυνθεί, αλλά βρίσκεται ακόμη σε αγρια μορφή εδώ. Τα βουνά πάνω από το Ελαφονήσι φαινοντε ολόξερα, ενώ η ακτή συνορεύεται με χαμηλούς πυκνούς θάμνους. Οι ισχυροί άνεμοι δεν επιτρέπουν τα δέντρα να κερδίσουν ύψος. Τα δέντρα έχουν λάβει το σχ΄μα που τους αναγκάζει ο άνεμος να πάρει. Τα νερα είναι ρηχά, και μπορείτε να περπατήσετε όλο το δρόμο στο νησάκι στη μέση της θάλασσας, από το οποίο η περιοχή πήρε το όνομά της, μ’ονο που δεν είδαμε κανένα ελάφι!

elafonisi hania chania

Life in the main centers of Crete do not have that air of island life that many of the smaller islands in the Aegean Sea do: fantastic beaches, seaside cafes, peace and quiet. Like many other south-west coastal towns of Crete, Elafonisi reminds you that Crete is in fact an island, even if you do have to drive a long way out to prove it. The waters are clear and clean, like sparkling crystal. They are shallow but you may find them too icy for your liking - but that's only in the beginning. Once you dip your whole body into the water, you warm up in no time at all. But on the coastal stretches of Elafonisi, you need to lie down like a starfish to immerse your whole body in the water because it is so shallow. The children literally ran to the island from the main shoreline, the water reaching at the most up to their tummies.

Η ζωή στα κύρια κέντρα της Κρήτης δεν έχει τον αέρα του νησιού, όπως τα νησιά του Αιγαίου: φανταστικές παραλίες, παραθαλάσσια καφενεία, ησυχία. Όπως πολλές άλλες νοτιο-δυτικες παράκτιες πόλεις της Κρήτης, το Ελαφονήσι σας υπενθυμίζει ότι η Κρήτη είναι στην πραγματικότητα ένα νησί, ακόμη και αν πρέπει να οδηγείσετε μια μακρινή απόσταση για να το καταλάβετε. Τα νερά είναι καθαρά, κρυστάλλινα και αφρώδη. Είναι ρηχά, αλλά παγωμένα - αλλά αυτό είναι μόνο στην αρχή.

It's not just the depth of the water that will amaze you: the coral pink gravel that forms part of the sand is not seen on other coasts around the island. It all adds to its unique character, along with the flora found on the island itself...

Δεν είναι μόνο το βάθος του νερού που θα σας μαγέψει: το κοραλλιογενείς ροζ χαλίκι το οποίο αποτελεί μέρος της άμμου δεν θα το δείτε άλλού. Προσθέτει στον μοναδικό χαρακτήρα της περιοχής, μαζί με τη χλωρίδα που βρίσκεται στο νησί ...

pink sand elafonisi hania chania

... which plays host to a wide variety of prickly cactus-like flowers that grow in the sand without irrigation.

... υποδοχής μιας ευρείας ποικιλίας κάκτωειδών, όπως και τα λουλούδια που αναπτύσσονται στην άμμο χωρίς άρδευση.

fauna of elafonisi hania chania

Even cypress trees grow without any help.

Ακόμη και κυπαρίσσια μεγαλώσουν χωρίς καμία βοήθεια

fauna of elafonisi hania chania

It's always a joy to run wild in these waters.

Είναι πάντα χαρά να τρέχεις μέσα σε αυτά τα νερά.

elafonisi hania chania

And we love going back to this little paradise every summer.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday, 18 July 2008

SkyWatch Friday: the clear blue summer sky of Hania

And here's what the other side of the bay looks like - the old military barracks in yesterday's post (which has also been featured the day before in a 1960s photo) on the other side of the cove, on a sunny day early in the morning before the tourists hit the beach. This side of the beach is called Hrisi Akti (Χρυσή Ακτή) - Golden Sand.

(The supermarket is only up the road from here, which explains how I came to be in the area at eight in the morning.)

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Agious Apostolous: the old military training site

Yesterday's post
showed an old photograph, taken more than 45 years ago, of my mother standing on some rocks facing a military training site. These buildings are still standing, albeit in a state of ruinous decline. Had they been privately owned, there would now be a cafe-bar or a hotel in this area. Since they are state-owned, they've been left to rot, nobody showing interest to maintain them as a historical site, not even as an investment. Every day from May until September, the place is crawling with people looking for some refreshing shade. The people are locals, Greeks from other areas, and Northern Europeans. Why were the installations left in ruins? And why haven't they been torn down so that we don't have to watch their gradual erosion? I wonder what the authorities could say about this situation.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

ABC Wednesday: Zambia

(Phivos Nicolaides featured this post on his blog.)

It's ABC Wednesday again, and the second round of the alphabet has come to a close with Z today, which stands for Zambia.

Zambia (on the left) was the name of my mother. She's standing here with a friend at Agious Apostolous beach, where her grandchildren (unfortunately, she didn't get to meet them) now go for swimming lessons. The buildings in the background were once used as a military training centre, but are now disused, left in a state of ruin. My mother left Crete when she was 30 years of age. As an olive picker from a poor family, the island offered no prospects for her in the 1960s, so she emigrated to New Zealand, where she lived the next 30 years of her life. It was a very prosperous life, albeit a very short one.

Zambia is an unusual name. It's common in the villages around where she was born (Kambous, Keramia, Hania, Crete), and in a few other pockets of the island, but is hardly known in other parts of Greece. There is another similar woman's name in Rhodes (Tzambika, where churches are dedicated to St Tzambika), but I'm not sure if it is of the same origin. An archaeologist friend of mine told me that the name has Venetian origins; this means that my mother's ancestors have been living in this town since before it was occupied by the Ottoman army, ie before 1500. My mother's history is an integral part of the history of the town she was born in.

It's the custom to name children after their grandparents, but I clearly remember my mother telling me that she didn't like her own name (because it was so reminiscent of Greek peasantry), so I gave my daughter her other grandmother's name (Christine). I didn't want my children getting teased over their names, like Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii does, or maybe Superman in New Zealand does whenever he walks into the room: "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Superman!" I suppose it's better than the original name his parents had planned for him: imagine if Superman did eventually get called 4Real: "Are you for real?" everyone would be asking him. Some parents have no foresight; they are oblivious to the fact that they have
screwed up their child's life before the child itself can have a chance to do it for himself.

The photograph of my mother was taken in the early 1960s.

Η Ζaμπiα (αριστερά) ήταν το όνομα της μητέρας μου. Εδώ βρίσκεται μαζί με μια φίλη της στην παραλία στους Αγίους Αποστόλους, όπου τα εγγόνια της (δυστυχώς, δεν τα γνώρισε), τώρα πάνε για μαθήματα κολύμβησης. Τα κτίρια στο παρασκήνιο κάποτε χρησιμοποιήθηκαν ως στρατιωτικό κέντρο εκπαίδευσης, αλλά σήμερα είναι εγκαταλελειμμένα. Η μητέρα μου άφησε την Κρήτη όταν ήταν 30 ετών. Ελαιομαζώχτρα από φτωχή οικογένεια, το νησί δεν πρόσφέρε προοπτικές στη δεκαετία του 1960, οπότε μετανάστεψε στη Νέα Ζηλανδία, όπου έζησε τα επόμενα 30 χρόνια της ζωής της. Ήταν μια πολύ ευημερούσα ζωή, έστω και αν ήταν πολύ σύντομη.

Το όνομα Ζaμπiα είναι ένα ασυνήθιστο όνομα. Είναι κοινό σε χωριά γύρω από όπου γεννήθηκε (Κάμποι, Κεραμιά, Χανιά, Κρήτη), και σε μερικές άλλες τσέπες του νησιού, αλλά είναι ελάχιστα γνωστή σε άλλα μέρη της Ελλάδας. Υπάρχει άλλο παρόμοιο όνομα της Παναγίας στη Ρόδο (Τζαμπίκα), όπου εκκλησίες είναι αφιερωμένες στον Αγια, αλλά δεν είμαι σίγουρη αν είναι της ίδιας καταγωγής. Μια αρχαιολόγος φίλοι μου μού είπε ότι το όνομα έχει βενετσιάνικη προελεύση. Αυτό σημαίνει ότι οι πρόγονοι της μητέρας μου ζούσαν σε αυτή την πόλη για πολλά χρόνια, δεδομένου ότι μετά τους Βενετσιάνους τα Χανιά είχαν καταληφθεί από τον οθωμανικό στρατό. Της μητέρας μου η ιστορία είναι αναπόσπαστο μέρος της ιστορίας της πόλης που γεννήθηκε.

Είναι το έθιμο να κατονομαστούν τα παιδιά με τα όνομα των παππούδων, αλλά θυμάμαι τη μάνα μου να μου λέει ότι δεν ήθελε το δικό της όνομα (διότι της θύμιζε φτώχεια και χωριά), ώστε να δώσω στην κόρη μου το όνομα της άλλης γιαγιάς (Χριστίνη) . Δεν ήθελα τα παιδιά μου να τα κοροιδεύουν για τα ονόματά τους, όπως υποπτεύομαι για τον Superman στη Νέα Ζηλανδία, όταν μπαίνει μέσα σε μια αίθουσα: "Πρόκειται για πουλί; Είναι ένα αεροπλάνο; Οχι, είναι ο Σούπερμαν!" Υποθέτω πως είναι καλύτερο από το αρχικό όνομά που είχαν προγραμματίσει η γονείς του γι 'αυτόν: φανταστείτε αν η Ταλούλα η ο Superman λεγόταν 4Real: "Είστε πραγματικός;" όλοι θα τον ρωτούσαν. Ορισμένοι γονείς δεν έχουν καμία πρόβλεψη! Αγνοούν το γεγονός ότι έχουν καταστρέψει την ζωή του παιδιού τους πριν μπορέσει το ίδιο παιδί να βρει την ευκαιρία να το κάνει για τον εαυτό του.

Η φωτογραφία της μητέρας μου είχε ληφθεί στις αρχές της δεκαετίας του 1960.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

An olive field

That was then...

The dark clump of olive trees had become an island forest among the neighbouring carefully tended fields in Fournes. It was no longer an olive grove but a jungle. The neighbour on the left - a distant cousin, as all the area is owned by related people - asked us if we were interested in cultivating the trees. We told him we couldn't even access them. So he asked us to sell him the land.

...this is now.

He cut down all the tress on the more accessible part of the field, and now he's going to plant new tress in the same spot. A new lease of life has been given to a very old piece of land. The lower part of the field will be left as it is for the time being, as it's difficult to access the trees in that area, and hence, will be too difficult to cultivate.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Odd shots Monday: Horny goats

You might be wondering what these goats with kerata are doing up on the roof. George (the owner of the house) put them there. This way, he doesn't have to worry about their knocking over the furniture or ramming the car.

Here are some true stories about kerata (the Greek word for "horns"):

In last year's school Christmas pageant, my son had to dress up as a reindeer.
"I'd like some kerata, please," I asked the shop assistant at the toy shop.

A taxi-driver colleague of my husband's was approached in his taxi by a man who got into his car and showed him a gun. The driver asked "Do I know you?" The man answered: "I'm the kerata." He then asked the driver to stop screwing his wife, advice which the driver heeded.

Instead of saying 'fuck you', you could say 'ta kerata sou' as a term of abuse to someone instead. They'll understand why you mentioned reindeer horns.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Ancient Kydonia

Every time some soil in the main town of Hania is dug up, whether it's for sewage, pipe or cable laying, or construction of houses and large buildings, ancient artefacts, or maybe some foundations of an ancient house or building are discovered, which show the history of the area and add to our knowledge of what life was like for the citizens of the town from past centuries. These digs are found in the area of Koum Kapi. One of the ancient names given to Hania was Kydonia, hence the area has been called "Ancient Kydonia" (which by the way is also the word in Greek for quince).

A year ago, the NZ Parliament called for Britain to return the Elgin marbles to Greece, which was welcomed by the NZ Parthenon marbles committee.

Boy, those Greeks cause so much trouble
For the loss of ancient marble
From the site of Parthenona -
You would think it was a mecca
Of some kind - but wait a minute;
To get in you need a ticket
To admire Greek works of art
Which will touch your soul and heart.

To see the Doric columns high
Rise above the clear blue sky
Like old stumps from olive trees.
But what is missing? It's the frieze!
Yet still they stand proud on the hill
Where St Paul preached goodwill to all,
Denuded of their jewel atop
When Elgin heaved a mighty chop!

Lord Elgin went to so much trouble
To turn the frieze into mere rubble,
To gather and store the ancient stone
So he could sell it off at home.

But no one wanted it for money,
So he bequeathed it to the country
Who thought: "Good oh, now we have something
That will look good with Egypt's mummy
And Chinese jade and Turkish weapons
We chanced upon in foreign lands.
But where to put them - let us build
The best museum in the world!"

And so they started scrubbing white
The marbles so they shone in light.
Alas! Too late they re-a-lised
The marbles looked like dynamite
Had ruined their outer appearance
And showed signs that they were to perish
In that stately grand museum
Where all go if they want to see them.

And now those rabble-rousing Grecos
Are saying that the marble curios
Do not deserve to stand alone
With all the rest of them at home
Under the clear blue sky of Greece -
Let's have them back! Return them, please!

This post is dedicated to the late Zisis (Bruce) Blades.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday, 11 July 2008

SkyWatch Friday: quarter moon

"Look Mum, there's something wrong with the moon, it isn't round!" said Christine.

"Yes, it isn't. It looks more like a banana, doesn't it?" I replied.

"That's not a banana," exclaimed Aristotle. "It's a croissant."

"Apricot or chocolate filling?" I asked.

"Banana!" they both cried.

(The answer to yesterday's riddle is: a restaurant.)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The well of the Turk

What do you think you will find if you walk 50m up the road to the well of the Turk? This sign is found in Splantzia, on one of the high walled narrow buildings in the maze of streets that was once the Arabian-Turkish area of Hania.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

ABC Wednesday: Yellow

It's ABC Wednesday again, and Y is for yellow.

is the colour of choice for safety and visibility. The traffic light post, the telephone box and the notice board) which is empty, are all painted yellow, outside Hania's stadium, which is found behind the iron bars. The stadium is used by a lot of young people every day; it's a pity it has to look so drab on the outside. Maybe Y should have stood for yuck instead.

This shot has been taken across the road from the kitschy quaint clock tower in the municipal gardens.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The beach

A while back, I took a photo of a calm deserted beach.

Here's the photo of the same beach as it looks today, from a slightly different angle. It will be like this for a little while longer before it takes its undisturbed appearance in October once again (when the last European chartered flight departs Chania International Airport, and turns it into Chania Domestic Airport for the winter season).

Monday, 7 July 2008

Cool kids


After a quick visit to the barber:

As cool as cucumbers,
As grubby as worms.

Saturday morning outside the tax department in Hania.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Camera critters: bumble bee

The bumble bee isn't alone - there are another twenty or so insects in the artichoke's purple petals, all feeding off the nectar.

Fournes village, Hania

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Souvenir shop

Souvenirs, anyone? Stall in the Agora, the central market of Hania.

deep sea sponges
black and white scarves
olive oil soap
and ouzo carafes

old men's worry beads
refrigerator magnets
postcards, key rings
I-Love-Crete gadgets

It's all Greek
but made in China
where it's cheaper
to buy labour

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday, 4 July 2008

SkyWatch Friday: clouds over the sky

All of a sudden, the sun disappeared, even if only for a temporary minute. Two stubborn grey clouds refused to budge, forming a shape reminiscent of the yin-yan symbol. The sky was dark enough to allow me to take a photo without the whitewash effect of a strong sun.

A turbulent sky is rare in Hania over Kalamaki Beach - I think this is the closest I'm going to get to one.

Thursday, 3 July 2008


Admittedly, it's not the prettiest part of town, near the central fire station. The mode of transport depicted is one of the most frequent causes of deaths among young Greek males, usually through a combination of the following reasons: not wearing a helmet, speeding, bad road conditions, joyriding, being knocked over while driving legally. In the last seven years of my life, I have lost relatives and friends' sons through potentially avoidable motorbike accidents: my cousin was wearing a helmet but didn't strap it under his chin, the son of a colleague of my husband's bent down to pick up his ringing cellphone, and drove into the back of a lorry, a friend's son fell into a ditch on a stretch of road that had been dug up for pipe-laying; these three cases are the most memorable.

At least this guy is wearing a crash helmet. He looks like a delivery agent.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

ABC Wednesday: Xylophone

It's ABC Wednesday again and X is for xylophone, which stands for 'xylo' (say KSEELO) meaning wood and 'phone' meaning sound.

Press the play button to hear the music of the xylophone (which happens to be made of metal tubes, and not wood), located at the children's public library of Hania, in the municipal gardens.