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TRAVEL FEATURE

Crete – Island Gem of the Mediterranean

A short guide to Crete


Tim Mitchell | March 28, 2006


The Greeks will tell you that when the gods created the world, they apportioned all the dry land out to each race, at the end there was a pile of rocks left, and these they threw into the Mediterranean Sea, and this became Greece. Whether the story is true or not, Greece remains a rocky country, which probably explains why the Greeks are so good at moving rocks about, but one particular pile of rocks, the island of Crete is a gem amongst rocks.

From fertile coastal plains to rugged barren mountains, from mellow stone houses to stark concrete modernity, from bustling capital to sleepy hill villages, Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands, is an island of contrasts. Home to around 500,000 people and several million olive trees, the island remains ever popular with visitors from northern Europe, other parts of Greece, and indeed, visitors from all over the World.

Many visitors never venture further than the beach, pool, or the nearest taverna, and remain (blissfully?) unaware of just how large the island is! Unlike the other Greek islands you cannot drive (or in some cases walk) around the island in one day, but having said that, four or five days is sufficient to give time to sample some of the islands� delights and attractions, and 3 weeks will give you time for a full blown tour. Driving around the island is an experience in itself, road signs appear in both Greek and Roman characters, the spelling however has a certain eccentricity which gives map reading a whole new angle. And the, sometimes, tortuous hairpin bends on the mountain roads could be a challenge to any rally driver. Add to this the occasional appearance of a goat from out of nowhere, and the odd large truck which can appear at any time, and you will soon find your driving skills much improved and your speed much reduced in line with the pace of life we experience here!

To many Crete means the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, and many visiting cruise ships stop only for the day to give their passengers time to see Knossos and it�s Minoan Palace and the Museum in the capital, Heraklion. To the uncomplicated farming people of many thousands of years ago, the �city� of Knossos would, indeed, have seemed like a Labyrinth! But outside the city there lie more ruins of interest, and greater simplicity, leading to greater understanding and more insight into the history behind the ruins.



The interior of the island holds many surprises, with spectacular scenery such as the Samaria Gorge, the longest in Europe, and traditional hill villages, churches and monasteries, where little has changed for many years, and where you are just as likely to see someone in traditional Cretan dress riding a donkey as you are a tourist riding a scooter. Even in the tourist resorts development has taken place around agriculture, and the olive trees and field of potatoes behind your apartment block will still be an active part of the life of Crete. Waking to the sound of cocks crowing and goat bells can still be a fact of life even when surrounded by concrete and glass.

Throughout the island the remnants of occupation by invaders from the Romans, through to the Turks, can still be seen, with aqueducts and architecture still plainly visible. But throughout these invasions the Cretan people have remained relatively unscathed and retain their justifiable pride in their island and their culture. With English spoken widely throughout the island to ask a Cretan a question is to invite them to sit with you, and with time measured differently here you are likely to be sitting for while! Long conversations will naturally require food and drink, and eating or taking coffee here are as much an art form as a necessity, with long leisurely meals often prepared from the caf� owner�s home grown produce accompanied by his own �village� wine. Larger restaurants in the tourist resorts serve �international� menus, but you came here to sample Crete didn�t you? Of course, we have some wonderful beaches, pick the right place and you can have a cove nearly all to yourself even in August, and our crystal clear, turquoise sea is ideal for swimming, diving, and other water sports. (I often have the sneaking suspicion, still after all this time, that someone puts dye in the water to make it that blue!). Add to this pony trekking, rock climbing, para-gliding, and a round of gold on the 18 hole �desert� golf course and your stay here can be as active or inactive as you like.

Many prospective visitors ask me about nightlife for gay people on Crete. The Greeks, of course, do not admit that they may have gay Greeks at all, for much of the time, although this is changing slowly (like everything in Greece). It is not that they ignore it as a way of life, they just take no notice of it! In the tourist resorts little notice is likely to be taken of a noticeably gay couple, but it is advisable to be like the Greeks and be discrete, but then this applies most places, in the quieter villages you may well raise an eyebrow or two! At the time of writing (March 2006) we do have one bar which is now openly marketing itself as �gay�, and we do have a busy nudist beach, which is usually of interest, and yes, there are gay Greeks, believe me, I live here!

Having said that, there are excellent bars and clubs, which serve the �mixed population� during the summer months and if your idea of a holiday is clubbing each night from 10pm until 5am, with your days spent recovering, then that is up to you, but I always suggest you try and get to visit Crete one day!

During the summer months transport links with northern Europe are excellent, with many flights each weeks coming direct to the island. Ferries to the mainland and other islands are frequent and make Crete an excellent choice for island hopping or as a long side trip on a general European itinerary. Many of my guests arrive on Crete via Santorini (which can be expensive!) and Mykonos (which they tell me is no longer the almost exclusively gay resort it used to be. I personally haven�t been there since the late 70�s!), and leave again by ferry for Athens. In the winter, ferries still sail as they are the supply chain to the islands. Flights can be a little more complicated as in most cases you will have to come via Athens. An out of season trip to Crete reveals the Cretan community as it really is, as there will be few tourists around and many attractions will be closed. On the other hand you will get to see the island clothed in a mantle of green, and the olive groves carpeted with wild flowers, particularly in March and November, rather than barren hills and red soil that summer visitors will see. The result of temperatures up to the mid 40�s Celsius and rarely any rain from May to September!

Trying to describe Crete, the birthplace of Zeus, the seat of Minoan civilisation, and home of olive tree culture, in 1500 words, is like trying to put a ship in a bottle, but much harder, but I hope this short article has given you some ideas and I look forward to seeing you on Crete, the island gem of the Mediterranean!

Some notes about me, the author. I was born in England and have travelled extensively in Europe including Eastern Europe and Russia when the �Iron Curtain� still existed. In 1981 I went to Australia where I lived and worked in Perth and Kalgoorlie until I was deported, because they have no taste! Returning to Brighton, England, I worked in the electrical industry until I started my own catering business. In 2002 after many happy times on Crete on holiday, I decided the time was right to move here. With goods and chattels packed, and after a long drive across Europe and three ferry trips later, I arrived on Crete in February 2004, and bought �Villa Ralfa� a few weeks later, opening it as a gay orientated guest house in September 2004. Since then I have had visitors from Australia, USA, New Caledonia (!), France, Italy, Holland, Spain, South Africa, and of course the UK. You can find my website at VillaRalfa.com and if you need any suggestions for travel to Crete the you are welcome to contact me by email ralfas@hrs.forthnet.gr – Gay Link Content


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