A Travellerspoint blog

To Market, To Market!

The exotic splendor and charm of the old-world Venetian market of Chania

semi-overcast
View Crete, Greece on lelanius's travel map.

Every Saturday, something special comes to town.

A surprise awaits both locals and visitors who venture to the old town district of Chania that lies adjacent to the harbor. In the labyrinthine grid in front of the lighthouse are a series of streets, alleyways, and footpaths that house a farmer’s market, an old world style market, and an outdoor market district that give credence to the richness of culture and to the delectable flavors of a simpler life.

IMG_9863

IMG_9863

The flea market is a hodge-podge collection of various items for the home, such as clothing, kitchen linens, dishes and utensils, and even hardware items. Some jewelers have booths that show off their creativity with crafting unique jewelry pieces from local beads, glass, and gems of vibrant colors and hues. Across the street from the flea market, the Chania farmer’s market is teeming with local farmers that eagerly boast the fresh fruits and vegetables that overflow from the crates and tabletops. Rows of the tomatoes and cucumbers found in the traditional Greek salad sidle up next to the corn, cabbage, eggplant, zucchini, and greens that bespeak weeks of precious labor. Booth after booth of juicy morsels that beg me to pluck them from the table and into my mouth make me wonder why I still go to the grocery store. An elongated orange pumpkin-like fruit bears witness to just one of the many fruits still foreign to me, as are the fruits from the local cacti so common here. I eagerly purchase a parcel of figs that beckon me from the table lined with plums, dates, peaches, apples, pears, bananas, a variety of citrus fruits, and cherries. Red and green clusters of grapes are the most abundant here at the market, and the farmer who sells me his plums and nectarines generously adds a cluster of his own dark purple grapes as an added treat.

IMG_8890

IMG_8890


IMG_8891

IMG_8891


IMG_7510c

IMG_7510c


IMG_7510d

IMG_7510d


IMG_8886

IMG_8886

I recall the watermelon patch near our house as I espy the neatly stacked piles of watermelons at varied intervals along the street between booths and tables of the less cumbersome stock. Having tasted the rich sweetness of local Cretan melons, I am tempted to indulge but have no rolling shopping cart which with to carry the heavy burden. My loss!

Legumes abound in unprocessed goodness. The plentiful dried beans await in cellophane bags by the kilo, and I grab several bags before they are all consumed by the people in front of me who also value the low-cost, healthy, and versatile staple that can complement any table. Assortments of nuts rest humbly alongside their counterparts but present an inviting image, and thoughts of nut-filled salads, desserts, and snacks invade my mind.

IMG_8885

IMG_8885


IMG_9056

IMG_9056

At one table, a man sells at least fifteen different types of zesty Mediterranean olives offers to let me taste them to see which olive variety I like best. I think I shall like them all, and perhaps then some.

IMG_6902

IMG_6902

Several tables of fresh herbs and spices allure me with their intoxicating fragrances. The brilliant, deep greens of the oregano, basil, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, and dill are testament to their just-picked status. They seem to still glisten with dew as if embedded once again in the rich earth. No packet of powdered artificial meal flavorings fill any meals here.

Earth’s goodness is so alluring to those who can merely taste its summons.

At the end of the street, the assorted fish stare at me from their death bed on the fishermen’s tables, boasting even in death their freshness, so newly out of the sea that creeps into the harbor of the city with robust promises of marine life to fill one’s plate and satisfy one’s palate. They continue to watch me with fixed eyes as I pass, pausing briefly to glance at the fresh sea snails (a la escargot!) that try in vain to escape their bin as I make my way onward from the farmer’s market to the indoor market.

IMG_8887

IMG_8887


IMG_6922

IMG_6922

The indoor market seems to have a snippet of everything. Butchers and fishermen occupy one limb of the cross-shaped building, but the other wings are occupied with souvenir, clothing, leather, textile, and craft shops that rival the varied food shops and tavernas. The aromas from the baker’s many breads tempt me into trying the plethora of baked goods. The bread meat is a soft whole grain loaf, but the rusk is a sturdy substance meant to stay with a person. Sweetened honey and fruit pastries wait patiently next to the spinach pies and cheese tarts that seem to be the locals’ favorites. Next to and across from the baker’s shop, gouda and edam rival the Greek traditional Feta in the booths that offer fresh cheeses and Mediterranean olives.

IMG_8961

IMG_8961


IMG_9058

IMG_9058


IMG_6920

IMG_6920


IMG_6921

IMG_6921


IMG_6924

IMG_6924


IMG_8824

IMG_8824

Then I see what Greece is known best for: the purest virgin olive oil. No other olive oil worldwide can compare with the purest essence practically straight from the olive press and into the jar. Alongside nearly every display of olive oil is honey, small jars and large jars alike. Some is pure while other varieties have been blended with flowers and herbs, even chamomile and thyme. My mouth begins to salivate as I am offered a sample of a new peanut dipped in honey and covered in sesame seeds.

IMG_9986

IMG_9986

Dried herbs and spices line several shops that specialize in the natural seasonings that flavor local cuisine. Single packets are just as tempting as the variety packets that have the best of everything needed for the Greek kitchen. Herb and spice mixes are available for fish and poultry, gyros and souvlaki, mousaka and tzatziki. In some shops, great bundles of herbs have been gathered and dried and consume large bags with their bulk. Despite the massive quantities of local wines and spirits made from the local vineyard grapes, the aromatic herbs make a heady brew all their own.

IMG_8856

IMG_8856


IMG_9062

IMG_9062


IMG_9063

IMG_9063


IMG_9064

IMG_9064



Nearly every shop and taverna we visit has their own Raki distillery, and those home brewers hold out their hands, offering me samples of their finest wares. I will not repay hospitality with what would be considered a grave insult were I to refuse, nor will I miss the flavor of this culture so exotic to my senses; thus, I partake of the newly distilled Raki that stings all the way down despite the medicine-spoon sized sample. Alongside the potent brew, the kinder honey Raki is a sweetened fire that pales in comparison to its much stronger parent but offers a sugared warmth in bold confidence, hinting at the spiced nectar promises of the rare fruit Raki found only in the more hidden shops deeper into the discreet paths in the market.

Raki

Raki


IMG_9988

IMG_9988


IMG_9989b

IMG_9989b

The walk down the steps and into the outdoor market mystically transports me into a new time and place, alleyways lined with street shops and old Venetian houses with pale facades draped with window box flower gardens and crumbling walls that hint of simpler times. Stone mason walls ooze bougainvillea and the occasional morning glory vines that supplant color into the crumbling stucco and plaster walls of sugar-cubed ochre and variegated mauves.

IMG_9968

IMG_9968


IMG_8947

IMG_8947


IMG_8949

IMG_8949


IMG_9963

IMG_9963


IMG_8952

IMG_8952


IMG_8975

IMG_8975


IMG_9068

IMG_9068


IMG_9077

IMG_9077


IMG_9097

IMG_9097


IMG_9120

IMG_9120


IMG_9767

IMG_9767


IMG_9792

IMG_9792


IMG_9931

IMG_9931

The shops that line the streets give way vertically to two, three, and four-story houses that rise above them. Some shop owners live where they work; others see fit to rent out the living space above their shops. Either way, the European grandeur greets me and propels me further into the Venetian-style market district of Chania. I recall from one of my readings that the Ottomans destroyed much of the architecture during their occupation, but this area has survived to whisper the secrets of the past despite its bustling streets packed with the daily throng of tourists.

IMG_7519

IMG_7519


IMG_8912

IMG_8912

The alleyway shops are filled with the trappings and trades of Cretan life. One street seems to be dedicated almost exclusively to leather goods in any variety a person might wish for. Homemade leather and woolen booties and slippers offer comfort and warmth for people of all ages, but shoes, purses, wallets, and belts are also ever available here. Textile shops offer with pride the many cloth goods woven with locally produced sheep’s wool and quality cotton. Tablecloths bearing embroidery of olives and the classic Greek key pattern – the national symbol of life – are on display next to blankets spun of bright, vibrant hues crafted on the wooden looms of local weavers. Full of a myriad of natural olive oil based cosmetics and health and beauty products, cosmetics shops tempt the more organic visitors who are more in tune with nature. Some shops even sell handcrafted wood made of the olive trees when they are pruned each year or when they no longer produce fruit. Clothing shops dot the Venetian alleyways and offer everything from the gentleman’s linen shirt to pashmina scarves, maxi dresses to beach wear, embroidered blouses to modern Greek dresses that resemble ancient designs. Other crafters ply their trade in shops that sell everything from jewelry to pottery to ceramics, offering visitors a broad scope of products that range from the standard and typical to the uniquely Greek and Cretan products.

IMG_8904

IMG_8904


IMG_8902

IMG_8902


IMG_9540

IMG_9540


IMG_9774

IMG_9774


IMG_9777

IMG_9777


IMG_9779

IMG_9779


IMG_9784

IMG_9784


IMG_9786

IMG_9786


IMG_9788

IMG_9788


IMG_9985

IMG_9985


IMG_9987b

IMG_9987b

Souvenir and the ever-present tourist shops are around every corner, but the true delights are the shops belonging to local artisans who display their acrylics, tempera, watercolor, charcoal, and oil on canvas, pictures brought to life by the talent of the artisans who wake up every morning to the loveliness of the Cretan countryside and go to bed every night with the colors of the sunset dancing on the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, artisans who capture and recreate this beauty for others. These are some of my most-cherished souvenirs, the scenes that bring to life once again the images in my mind’s eye, the memories I wish to take back home with me when this year is over.

Closer to the harbor, tavernas line the shoreline and flaunt their cuisine, eagerly seeking out hungry travelers to coax into their dining establishment. Fishing poles line the stone wall that angles down into the harbor, evidence of the freshness of the fish in the tavernas and farmer’s market. Pigeons adorn the edges of the water and waddle over into the areas around the tavernas, happy to clean up the crumbs from the complementary breads served at every taverna. Small children extend hands or cups in plea for euro while others proceed around the market district with harmonicas, drums, accordions, and other musical instruments that make a more subtle request. On one side of the harbor, a Turkish mosque stands as a memory to the Ottoman occupation. Next to the mosque, horse-drawn carriages gather to transport tourists who prefer a touch of the romantic with the picturesque as they tour the city. Nearby, in the center of the harbor area, glass-bottom boats offer tourists a chance to see local marine life close up and even go snorkeling during parts of their boating tours. Additional shops line the remainder of the harbor before the walk gives way to the old Byzantine wall and bastion that hovers in front of the Venetian lighthouse that is the icon of the Chania harbor.

IMG_8899

IMG_8899

Greek Lyra
IMG_7537b

IMG_7537b


IMG_6927

IMG_6927


IMG_6934

IMG_6934


IMG_6929

IMG_6929


IMG_6955

IMG_6955


IMG_6940

IMG_6940


IMG_7531

IMG_7531


IMG_8837

IMG_8837


IMG_9164

IMG_9164


IMG_9348

IMG_9348


IMG_9916

IMG_9916


IMG_9927

IMG_9927

Off the harbor, side streets lead off between the shops and tavernas. We decide to take one of these side streets and find an alleyway that winds off behind buildings hidden into the Kastelli hillside and deeper into the less well known areas of the market. The path narrows into cobbled steps that mimic those in the famous footpaths of Oia and Fira on the Greek isle of Santorini. I am sufficiently tempted to explore further. Shops line every wall of the footpath while side paths lead to nook shops carved out of the side of the hill. One shop features original carvings and sculptures from well-known Greek artists, another displays the finest in ceramics and pottery and blown glass, and still another simply offers an eclectic collection of books and reading miscellany. In one shop we see an old-world style weaving loom with threads and fibers on the woodwork piece. Handmade cloths and textiles hang from ceiling and wall mounts to portray the fine craftsmanship with which each piece is made.

IMG_9946

IMG_9946


IMG_8942

IMG_8942


IMG_9947

IMG_9947


IMG_9949

IMG_9949


IMG_9952

IMG_9952


IMG_9981

IMG_9981

Farther up off to the side of the footpath, I espy a honeycomb which I find upon closer inspection bears a sign reading “Bee’s Workshop: Honey, Pollen, Beeswax.” That alone is enough to send me over the edge into the bliss natural goodness, and I inch into the shop. Handmade goods made from olive wood line the shelves on one wall, while the rest of the shop is filled with olive oil, honey, Raki, and dried herbs in tiny pouches. My nose is enticed by something sweet yet mysterious and lifts into the air slightly to take more of the fragrance in. I instinctively look upward to find suspended from the ceiling bundles of dried chamomile, lavender, thyme, oregano, and cinnamon that form an invigorating herbal potion all their own. Surely no chemical-laden parfume could come close to the perfume that is innate to the earth. The kindly shop owner notes my interest in the herbs and breaks off a sprig of lavender, crushes it into my curiously outstretched palm. The aroma bursts from the crushed flowers, wafts upward, and reaches my nose with renewed richness. My eyes open widely as I almost squeal like a child. After we make a small purchase and leave, I keep my fist balled tightly as though I could carry this precious gift forever. I feel like I am holding a secret in my pocket, some special delight unknown to any other in a place and world all my own.

IMG_8956

IMG_8956


IMG_9543

IMG_9543

The market area also houses several cathedrals, minarets, museums, Byzantine ruins, Venetian buildings and shipyards, Jewish synagogue, and the Minoan Kydonia excavation site from the Bronze Age, but, alas, I shall have to save those for another day!

Many shops now closing with the day over and locals enjoying afternoon siesta, we slowly make our way out of the market past visitors who are finishing a day of shopping or sitting down to enjoy coffee or late luncheons. As we make our way out of the final streets of the market past a music store, the lively chords of traditional Greek folk music follow us as if to extend the invitation to come again to the market someday soon.

Ah, the exotic splendor and charm of the old-world Chania Venetian market!

IMG_9375

IMG_9375


IMG_9389

IMG_9389

Posted by lelanius 03:02 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Ancient Aptera

The day we didn't let a cancelled tour stop us

sunny
View Crete, Greece on lelanius's travel map.

There is a place for tours, given the right time and price. We decide to take a tour one Saturday and arrive early; no one else has shown up. Thus, we shall make our own tour.

A map reveals a somewhat local but scarce-visited archaeological site at the base of the White Mountains that just beckons to be explored. Off the beaten path and boasting no nearby beaches or expensive hotels, Aptera is not so frequently touristed as some of the other sites that lie closer to the lusher conveniences coveted by holiday-bound travelers.

A quick drive up the national highway yields to a winding road up the hillside into the quaint village of Megala Horafia, whose dusty roads are lined with quiet tavernas and cobbled mason-work houses that hint at a bygone time. Flowers of brilliant shades lend color to the dried shrubs that peek out of crevices of the earthy rock that litters the knoll. The road forks, and we take the left branch up the curvy road that leads into the low hill of Palaiokastro. White stucco houses and aged stone walls follow us higher into the hills.

Then suddenly the village gives way to a view of Souda Bay on the north and ancient ruins that rise into the hillside to the south. The village is gone suddenly as we step into ancient history. The first view from the road only hints at the Roman and Byzantine settlements that once existed here, tall walls of blocks that partition off what once was a grand tower where guards stood watch and carriages passed from the gently sloping road through the gate into the settlement, the grooves from their wheels still faintly visible on the ground below. At the base of this ancient road built in the 4th century A.D., well before the gate tower, an old cemetery illustrates the common practice of the wealthy to bury their dead in elaborate fashion at the entrance of a city with lavish grave steles. Near a shattered column surrounding a series of steps, a single stone heroon juts upward, still bearing an ancient inscription of praise to the hero whose bones once rested below.

Aptera Tower Wall, Main Entrance

Aptera Tower Wall, Main Entrance

Heroon at cemetery outside Aptera gates

Heroon at cemetery outside Aptera gates

The ancient cemetery outside Aptera gate

The ancient cemetery outside Aptera gate

Placing my feet on the very stones of the cobbled road that the ancient Romans built and walked before me, I begin my climb into the city. A trek up the incline of steps and down the road above the ruins lead to the remains of a peristyle house built sometime between the 1st century B.C. and the 4th century A.D. Nearby, the area is strewn with severed columns, the ground is fertile with native wildflowers, the weeds are taller than my own six foot frame, and shrubs bear thorns the length of my fingers. Columns still show the notches where dowels held together the cylindrical segments that once formed a grand walkway that enclosed a stylish atrium where perhaps a 1st century lady of genteel upbringing surely stopped to rest on a garden bench, sip a cool drink in the shade of the portico, and smell the sweet fragrance of native flowers during a moment of meditative reflection before paying homage to the shrine of the household god, Lares. Smaller rooms to the side of the peristyle reveal a rounded grinding mortar still containing a wheel that once milled flour, grains, and herbs to provide food and sustenance to those living there. In the fields beyond the house and grounds, a Byzantine temple of St. Christodoulos remains concealed by stones, sparse trees, and brush.

Ancient roman road leading to Peristyle house

Ancient roman road leading to Peristyle house

The Allure of Ancient Aptera

The Allure of Ancient Aptera

Peristyle house

Ancient grinding mill/press outside Peristyle house at Aptera

Ancient grinding mill/press outside Peristyle house at Aptera

A walk up the ancient footpath to the crest of the ancient settlement ends in a view of the extremely well-preserved Byzantine Monastery of Agios Ioannis, or Saint John the Theologian, built in the early 12th century A.D. during the 2nd Byzantine rule. A small chapel lies just inside the northern entrance and possesses an atmosphere of reverence. Byzantine style religious icons and art denote the enclosure as a sacred place of worship for believers. Outside, a small garden of flowering shrubs and a single olive tree to the side of the path opens into a courtyard that shelters the smaller in-buildings that once housed monks and served as offices and specialized rooms for tool and trade. While the central fountain spurts no water, a small water spigot ad water basin to the side of the courtyard quenches the thirst of a pair of young kittens that seek a different kind of respite at an ancient place of worship known for its hospitality to all living creatures. At the western side of the courtyard is the larger portion of the monastery, the place which once provided a sanctuary for both solitary and group worship until the 1960’s. If only the ancient chants of the monks could be carried on the wind from the past into the arched doors and shuttered windows…

Monastery of St. John the Theologian

Monastery of St. John the Theologian

Bell tower above entrance to Agios Ioannis monastery, Aptera

Bell tower above entrance to Agios Ioannis monastery, Aptera

Courtyard inside Agios Ioannis monastery

Courtyard inside Agios Ioannis monastery

Slingshot balls stacked inside Agios Ioannis monastery

Slingshot balls stacked inside Agios Ioannis monastery

Surrounding the monastery are the ancient remains of the settlement that further suggests the strong Roman presence that dominated the isle of Crete from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. Deep, vaulted cisterns indicate the sheer power of the people to store the water that provided nourishment so long ago. Nearby, the impressive arches and chambers of the three-parted cisterns that still stand with resolute solidarity give credence to the advancement of the empire that reigned supreme here. Echoes of the past can be heard throughout the triplicate chambers. Deeper into these remains, the once-lavish public baths tell tales of war and peace, politics and religion, love and hate. As the Roman baths were the ancient equivalent of a present-spa, many a Roman man saturated himself in the restoring waters of the hot, warm, or cold bath chambers, engrossed in conversations of great import with other men of esteem in his day. If by some miraculous chance they could talk, these walls could tell us stories of grand passions or notions of social ambition, plots of political conspiracies or legends of epic battles.

Single chamber of 3-part Roman cisterns, Aptera

Single chamber of 3-part Roman cisterns, Aptera

Ancient Roman Cisterns

Ancient Roman Cisterns

Ancient Roman vaulted cisterns, Aptera

Ancient Roman vaulted cisterns, Aptera

Ancient Roman baths at Aptera

Ancient Roman baths at Aptera

Room in one of the ancient Roman bath houses, Aptera

Room in one of the ancient Roman bath houses, Aptera

Roman public bath house, Aptera

Roman public bath house, Aptera

A Doric temple dedicated to Demeter and her daughter Persephone nearly escapes notice higher up on the crest of the mound, a sacred place where believers would worship their goddesses of fertility, spring, and harvest and seek favor in the afterlife from the wife of Hades. A smaller Doric temple hides in the field beyond the theater. Blocked off to the public for further excavation, the temples and the ancient theater tell me no secrets from the past. Inaccessible to visitors, they allure me all the more.

I crave the information from the signs that pinpoint key areas of interest throughout the site. The central chamber of the monastery reveals a wealth of information put together by the archaeologists, scientists, and researchers. Apparently, Aptera’s much earlier settlements from Minoan, Mycenaean, and Hellenistic times are no longer visible to any but the archaeologists who have uncovered the trace artifacts that remain. Many artifacts from the site, such as statues, figurines, coins, lamps, grave stele tablets, inscriptions, and pottery remnants, now reside in the Archaeological Museum of Chania, which I shall be visiting soon. My thirst for antiquity is quenched for now.

Aptera panorama

Aptera panorama

In sore need of water, we head back down into the small village beneath the remains and come back to the fork in the road, an inviting taverna right in its juncture. The Cretan Corner café welcomes us with the casual atmosphere and generous hospitality of the local people but with a grandiose view of the Lefka Ori, the White Mountains that flank the isle of Crete. Our palette is whetted with bread dipped in pure olive oil with vinegar and herbs followed by a Greek salad and savory entrees of meats and vegetables. Fresh watermelon and sweet ice cream top off our late luncheon as swallows entertain us with arcing semicircles around the café’s corner that overlooks the peaks of the White Mountains that rise into the sky above us and the pastures of sheep that graze peacefully in the valleys below.

Delicious lunch at the Cretan Corner taverna

Delicious lunch at the Cretan Corner taverna

Ambience at the Cretan Corner taverna outside Aptera

Ambience at the Cretan Corner taverna outside Aptera

View of the White Mountains beyond the Cretan Corner taverna

View of the White Mountains beyond the Cretan Corner taverna

Bellies full of delicious local Cretan fare, we head back to the hilltop to explore the last of the ruins. The only Ottoman structure at the site, the Aptera Castelli or fortress stands proudly at the north ridge of the hill in an imposing posture that once proclaimed strength and power in the days of old to approaching pirates or invaders who might dare an attack against the ruling Turks, who built it in 1866. Now secured for renovations and temporarily blocked off from the public until further notice, the fortress still rises high in a carriage of pride in the beauty it possesses: crenellations scaling the topmost edifice and towers jutting confidently into the sky. Wildflowers and shrubs encase the fortress that looks down with almost parental admiration over a turquoise bay with waters that glitter in the afternoon sun.

Aptera Castelli

Aptera Castelli

Aptera Castelli, the Ottoman Fortress of 1866

Aptera Castelli, the Ottoman Fortress of 1866

Aptera Castelli, the Ottoman Fortress of 1866

Aptera Castelli, the Ottoman Fortress of 1866

The view beyond Aptera Castelli, the Ottoman Fortress of 1866

The view beyond Aptera Castelli, the Ottoman Fortress of 1866

View overlooking Aptera Castelli, outer wall of Aptera city-state, and Souda Bay

View overlooking Aptera Castelli, outer wall of Aptera city-state, and Souda Bay

Having explored the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman ruins, we make our way down the hillside, our minds quiet with pondering reflection on our experiences of the day. Widows in mourning garb of black dresses and white aprons attend to their daily business and the occasional cat scurries along the roadside as we slowly pass through the village once again. We wind through the village and down the hillside, heading to the fortress-like structure we noticed as we scanned the bay from the Aptera Castelli above. Right off the coast of the bay lies Itzendin, the ancient Turkish fortress built in 1872 which was later used as a prison during Greece’s battle for independence from Turkey in the later 1800’s. When we arrive to the outlying village surrounding Itzendin, we make our way in a car that seems too large for the increasingly narrow roads. In a moment, the fortress is before us. After we park at the back entrance, we stroll leisurely up the gravel path to the front as a nearby rooster in an adjacent yard crows to announce to all the impending sunset. The air is rich with the sweetness of sun-ripened figs from native trees that line the drive and hang above the gravel in ripe invitation. A stray dog playfully bounds toward us, follows us as if to show us the way, and prances off heading into the heart of the village. But, alas, we have arrived too late, and the fortress is closed for the day, leaving us to wonder if we shall ever have chance to trod this road yet again.

We leave then, but we do not leave empty-handed.

Tours certainly have their place, but adventure is the owner of its soul.

Ancient Itzendin Fortress

Ancient Itzendin Fortress

Outside wall of ancient Turkish fortress Itzendin

Outside wall of ancient Turkish fortress Itzendin

Posted by lelanius 11:30 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Busy with the Grapes

Today I spied on my landlord...

sunny
View Crete, Greece on lelanius's travel map.

We called our landlord to ask if we could bring over the rent money for this month; they said they were “busy with the grapes” and would call us when it was a better time.

Today they arrived in the morning when the air is still cool and the scant dew is still on the vine leaves. I awoke to the sound of snips and clips accompanied by the soft padding of footsteps through the red clay-like soil. A quick peak outside my window revealed a small group of workers – the landlord and his extended family – harvesting the grapes that had ripened in the Mediterranean sun.

With the quietest of footsteps, I crept through the house peering through slanted windows and peeking off of balcony edges to watch their movements and their progress as they were “busy with the grapes.” Casually tilting the camera to get a better view, I dodged their glances in my direction and then proceeded with my spying out of sheer curiosity and interest. Much to my glee, I was largely unnoticed.

As the yellow-orange sun rose higher in the sky, they made their way quickly and efficiently through the vineyards around our brief quad of houses while chatting to pass the time. Occasionally one of them would go to the rusty water spigot near the whitewashed tool shed to wash off tools and then return to the vineyard, argue about whether a bunch of grapes was ready to be pruned yet, or playfully fling a lone grape at a friend or sibling. The sheep in the melon patch beyond would occasionally baa a guttural welcome as the workers made their way down the rows, and the swallows performed in grand acrobatic dives and arcs as they feasted on the insects disrupted by the harvest. Craving sweet nectar, bees gathered en masse to the sugary smell of the freshly-picked grapes, clustered around the crates and bins.

The severed bunches quickly filled the crates until they were stacked by twos and threes in rows nearly ten crates long. Then out of the corner of my espying eye I took in yet another growing collection of crates burgeoning with green and purple-black clusters that fairly shone with a ripe freshness that isn’t readily seen in most stateside grocery stores. Yet another collection of crates was mounding higher by the minute if my ears were correctly detecting the sounds of additional crates being stacked underneath one of my balconies where I couldn’t openly watch without being seen. By the end of the day it took three truckloads full of grape-stuffed crates to haul off the juicy bounty.

They were finished and gone an hour after noon, off either to prepare them for tomorrow’s outdoor produce market or to clean and smash them in some stomping frenzy to start the process of turning ripened grapes into the sweet wine for which Crete is famous.

To be busy with the grapes!

Busy with the grapes

Busy with the grapes

Posted by lelanius 13:24 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Music to My Ears


View Crete, Greece on lelanius's travel map.

Before I left home, I made sure to update my mP3 player and download some new tracks and tunes to my music library to drown out potential situations such as crying babies, snoring plane-mates, and noisy terminals. Alas, earplugs or earbuds are indispensable in such an event!

But do not be deceived. To truly experience a place, one must experience its sounds as well as its sights. Few occasions have required music to stimulate my mind and senses here in this country where even stillness has its own melody, where even the air hints at a tune all its own.

Many people wake up to the blaring of an alarm clock, much like I did before life led me to Greece. Here, I awaken to the gentle bleating of sheep grazing in the nearby melon patch. The shepherd comes in the still moments of the morning to move them to a nearby pasture; he calls in a voice they know by heart, and they eagerly answer by trotting to him in delighted familiarity, joyous obedience. Fuzzed tails wagging as they gallop to him through the melon patch, they begin to baa zealously as if to say, “Wait for me! I’m coming, I’m coming!” The shepherd galvanizes them to hurry to the next pasture, the bells around their necks tinkling as they amble down the road, hooves padding softly down the winding road.

Morning greets me, and I welcome it by opening the doors and windows to bask in the incandescence of the morning sun and the downy-soft gusts of the wind. As I make my way downstairs and open the kitchen and living room windows, the only sound that meets my ears is the whispering of the leaves from the grape vineyard that sidles up against the stucco wall of the villa as they rustle in the Cretan breeze that blows inward from the sea.

From time to time, the cicadas chirp and chime in a relentless chorus in the age-old struggle to secure a mate; their vibrations permeate the isle with their hopeful song of romance while reminding Southern expats of the crickets and grasshoppers back home. Soon the birds begin a new harmony: swallows swoop in time to the buzzing of passing insects, finches and sparrows and other as-of-yet unidentified birds twitter from their hiding place among juicy clusters of dark red-black grapes, and hawks cry out overhead in triumph over the sky.

Then one day as I’m sitting on the lounger on the third floor balcony to evaporate into transparent bliss in a quiet peace all my own, a song floats up to my ears, draws me. I quietly get up and stealthily peek over the balcony wall to see a young Greek woman riding her bicycle up the sloping street to where the olive groves and the orchard grass meet on a curve that obliterates the path’s destination from onlookers. She hums a tune to herself, oblivious to my presence; her voice carries on the wind to my eager ears above. Simple and wordless in a chord of minor tonality, that tune still haunts my thoughts. I keep waiting for her to return and grace my hungry ears with her refrain.

Nature itself sings to me, allures me. So why would I need my trusty playlist here?

After all, the only thing to drown out is the beauty and the silence of the still moments that remind me who I am.

IMG_3671.jpg

Posted by lelanius 08:00 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Blowing in the Wind


View Crete, Greece on lelanius's travel map.

The first thing we often notice in a new place is something visual, something that catches our eyes quite literally and captivates us with either delight or disgust.

I don’t count airports as a true experience of a place because they are merely transitions, entry and exit points, a meshing place for the comings and goings of people from diverse corners of the earth.

For me, the first thing I noticed when I stepped on Greek soil for the first time was the wind. It caressed my face, lifted individual strands of hair upward into the breeze, and whispered iridescent words of comfort into my ears. After an arduous journey and many stuffy moments in airports, terminals, and various aircraft of different sizes, the breeze was something of a balm to my harried soul. It touched me. Literally. If the wind could have fingers, then they stroked me, calmed me, soothed me.

When I arrived to my year’s abode, I quickly learned the secret to a cool clime. The Greeks open windows and doors to invite the invigorating current inside to cool off their houses. The wind, not air conditioners which can quickly mold and mildew the insides of stucco-like walls with their humidity, is best at diminishing the heat of the day. The doors and windows here slide open, tilt open, lean open at the tops, or swing open from the sides. I prefer at times to open mine wide up until my villa becomes a wind tunnel at every turn.

The gales here come straight inland from the Mediterranean, sweeping a refreshing hand over the inhabitants of the isle. Falcons hover in circular crescents on its gusts and swallows soar in the blustery thrusts over the grape vineyards and olive groves in hopes of snatching a tasty morsel from the air or earth below. The breeze carries their calls to my ears, reminds me of the raw freshness of the place. Distant sounds of some dog barking or a mother calling to her children brush through my windows and seduce me out onto my third floor balcony to take notice of the landscape, but I see no dogs or mothers or children. The wind simply lifts its feathery fingers and thrusts snippets of sound in my direction, gifting me with only a hint of the daily life all about me.

So I sit and wait and watch, hair whipping around my face, my skin pining for respite, as the wind secrets promises into my heart.

Posted by lelanius 03:55 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 »