Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hammersmith – 17 January 2010

In contrast to yesterday, today was sunny, and even warmer, reaching a balmy 10deg.

A circular walk from Hammersmith, mostly along the Thames, was very enjoyable, until the camera battery ran out. So after admiring the recently cleaned church in Hammersmith, and the bridge, I was unable to record all the cox eights, out in the early morning, practicing. The river is lined with rowing clubs.

The walk went from Hammersmith to Barnes and back via Fulham Palace. This Tudor palace is now open to the public, a very quiet and tranquil place with a largely neglected garden, beside the Thames.

London Ice Festival - 16 January 2010

Last Saturday would have been an excellent day for the London Ice Festival, with the cold temperatures and crisp, fine sunny day. Unfortunately the Festival was today, and the weather turned a little warmer, but more to the point, very wet.

The five teams of carvers worked all day in rain, finishing the sculptures that were started yesterday. They started with 2m blocks of ice, with a theme of 'Cool Trading'.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

From 'summer' to winter – 3 January 2010

Snowy mountains behind Heraklion - preparation for London?
Archaeological Museum, HeraklionOur final day in Crete was again beautifully warm and sunny. We were told by the rental car rep at the airport, that it was the warmest Christmas for 100 years. She was not impressed, but we have been delighted.

We spent the first half of the morning in Heraklion, at the Archaeological Museum. Unfortunately it only has a small display open at present, as the museum is being redeveloped. But the best of their artefacts are on display, and it is amazing to see items that have been recovered from the sites we visited.
Archaeological Museum, HeraklionArchaeological Museum, Heraklion
monastery near GourmesBefore returning to enjoy the sun on our apartment balcony, we detoured to see a renovated monastery nearby, which other guests had recommended. Apparently the bishop in charge was credited with many miracles, and money obviously poured in to redevelop the original monastery. The new monastery is amazing, but we were told the bishop is truly a man of God,Roadside shrineand has moved away from the crowds to a more secluded monastery elsewhere in Crete.

The whole time we were in Crete, the warm 'summer' weather made us long for an ice-cream. But no one stocks them in the off season. So waiting in Athens for our un-hurried connection to London, we at last were able to have an ice-cream, before flying from the high 20s to the sleet and snow showers of London.

Through the interior – 2 January 2010

Agia Galini
Church of the Panagia, MeronasThe main road to the south coast, took us to a Agia Galini, a very attractive seaside town. After walking the town & enjoying a coffee beside the harbour, we set off on a circular drive around the Amari Valley. This drive would be difficult without the detailed instructions in the AA Crete guide book. Large holes on Amari Valley road near Hordaki

We felt as if we had seen the real Cretan village scene, after completing the 100k round trip.
Many of the villages had a war memorial, which in particular remembered the German slaughter of these villages, just the same as Anogia. Most of the houses have been rebuilt, as whole villages were destroyed, along with schools and even cemeteries.
Byzantine church near Ano MenoaDetail on Church of the Panagia, Meronas
Venetian tower, Amari villageThe villages had real charm, from a distance, and were spaced about every 5k around the valley perimeter. Many had Byzantine churches, and one anomaly was a Venetian tower which we were able to climb for a rather windy view.

At the end of the drive, we visited another nearby coastal town - Matala. The interesting feature is the catacomb caves cut into the cliffs as long ago as Roman times, and lived in down through the centuries until the 1960s.

Sea cliffs at MatalaDuring our time on Crete we saw various ruins on our travels, and after leaving the coast, we passed two more extensive sites. The first was Faistos, a Minoan palace, and Gortys, a Greco-Roman city. Both sites were closed by the time we arrived, but what could be seen from the road was interesting, especially a 1,600 year old protected olive tree at Gortys, which has grown around a Roman pillar. Both are so old now, we weren't sure which was holding the other up!
Minoan palace at FaistosOlive tree at Gortys

Central Crete – 1 January 2010

ArolithosThe New Year started with a very windy, although warm and sunny day. We set out to explore the central area of Crete behind Heraklion, up into the foothills of Mount Ida.

Our first stop was Arolithos, which is a purpose built 'traditional village'. ArolithosIt is privately owned, and really delightful. In the busy season, it would be very interesting as all the old crafts are on show for the tourists.

The road climbed higher to the village of Tilisos. Here a modern village is built right beside an ancient Minoan town. Unfortunately the archaeological site was closed for New Year's Day, but we were able to see part of it beside the road.

Tilisos Minoan townAfter Tilisos, the road started climbing in earnest, and unfortunately, the wind picked up considerably, so by the time we reached the interesting village of Anogia, it felt like gale force, and was most unpleasant. As a result, we only toured the village by car. Monoan ruins by the roadsideThe villagers have a reputation for toughness, they certainly would need to be tough to endure the winters, so close to snow covered Mount Ida. They have had a very sad history, being the target of various invaders, most recently in 1944 the Germans shot every male in the village and burnt every house to the ground in retaliation for their part in the capture of the German General in charge of Crete.
Our accoommodation at GourmesWe had planned to drive up the mountain, as the road goes another 21k to the Idaean Cave, but the wind made it far from pleasant, such a contrast to the previous days.

Rethymno – 31 December 2009

Rethymno harbour
Rethymno harbourThe last day of another year, and we choose to head west again to visit the third largest city on the island – Rethymno. This is also a Venetian town, like Chania, with the largest fortress the Venetians built anywhere. We parked on the far side of the fortress, and it seemed to go on forever, as we walked around it's base. We drank the best coffee on the island, sitting beside the small harbour.
Rethymno fortressRethymno narrow streets
Once again, the traffic was chaotic getting to the old town from the east, but leaving towards the west, was very quick and easy. We headed inland and followed the signs to the Arkadi Monastery. This was one of the finest Venetian churches built on Crete, and seems really amazing in it's isolated setting. It has had a troubled history, which was hard to imagine on such a beautiful warm winter day.
Arkadi MonasteryArkadi Monastery
We wended our way back to Gourmes, via Eleftherna, the site of an old Doric and later Roman city, and Margarites, an attractive town where the industry is still pottery making. Unfortunately they weren't prepared for the tourists making the most of the sunshine and driving in the foothills to the mountains.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Chania – 30 December 2009

Seaside resort of Bali, on the way to Chania
ChaniaIt was time to explore Western Crete, and we had been told Chania was the most beautiful town on the island. It largely escaped being bombed in WWII, so the old town is still made up of narrow streets, lined with Venetian houses. The harbour still has it's Venetian lighthouse, fortress and shipyards. This is definitely a place to relax, the only non-relaxing aspect, is the stressful drive in and out, through the modern town. I had investigated accommodation here, and although it would have been lovely, the 30 minute drive in and out of town would have spoilt the therapeutic effect.
ChaniaAfter leaving Chania we drove to the nearby town of Souda where the Allied War Cemetery is a green contrast to the surrounding barren hills. About a third of the war graves are New Zealand soldiers, many of whom were defending the airfield, which fell to the Germans in May 1941. It was a very moving experience to visit this now tranquil spot.Allied War Cemetery
Men, in khaki dressed.
Twenty columns, twenty rows; a rose between the headstones grows
Rank and file, creed and race, all are gathered in this place
Now all here is neat and ordered, not so then, for the war dead
Cretan soil their final rest; four hundred men in khaki dressed.

New Zealand's shores they'll never reach; Souda Bay, their nearest beach
May '41, the leaders knew, the date their foe's arrival's due
Enigma signals told it all, but Freyberg had to hold the call
Strategy, played close-to-chest, doomed these men in khaki dressed.

Brothers, uncles, fathers, sons: family heroes every one
Heard the call their country made; great the price that many paid
Now that generation's passed and we wander on this grass by sea
And in our freedom feel so blessed by all the men in khaki dressed.
M Grainger, Souda Bay, December 2009