Thursday, October 30, 2014

October 29-30

October 29 - After a night of almost continuous lightning and thunder rolling across the sea, up the cliffs, and back out to sea, we left Sfakia under blazing blue skies and fast moving clouds.

An hour and a half later, we were off the bus. A taxi ride to our hotel, and we were quickly settled in our cozy room overlooking the harbor under ominous skies.

We made a quick trip to the store for some cheese and crackers. Back in the room, we fixed a small snack and I took a two hour nap. It rained off and on all night, but it was warm enough to keep the doors open. I love to listen to the ocean!

October 30 - I took the usual pictures of my view. I could really get spoiled to this in a hurry.

Off to the market. The following are some of my best photos.


Salted fish

Herbs and spices



Scarves . . . Love the colors


More herbs and spices.

Fresh fish

I watched this guy carry 10 of these guys into the market two at a time. When I finally decided to take a picture he came in with just one pig, but the hog heads in his left hand were a bonus.

Next task: to find Vranas Studios so we know where to meet Sue and Gordon later today.

It's just to the side of the cathedral.

Orthodox churches share many characteristics in common with Roman Catholic Churches, but in many ways they are very different. It's always interesting to step inside.

One of the colorful heros who grace the square in front of the church.

The variety of goods for sale is almost endless.

I'd like to talk Stanley into a buggy ride, but so far no sale.

Back at the hotel, time to catch up on the blog and listen to the ocean. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October 26-28 2014


Sunday morning this little taste of magic filled my window. It came in pieces, never quite able to make it all the way across. Amazingly, within just a few minutes the sky cleared and we had a beautiful day for exploring.

The structure on the hill at the edge of town has been called fortifications, a fort, a castle, and a warehouse. I call it intriguing.

We scrambled around the ruins imaging how it might have been in its glory days. I even managed to stumble into a sticker bush . . . Purely for research, you understand. Trying to get the full sense of the place.

We had read about the cistern in the old structure, but we were quite surprised to find an operating water system hidden within the walls.

From the top I felt like I could see forever! What a great lookout point.

Sitting up there with the birds I determined to learn something about this place. 

Since it was Sunday, we took a short tour of the church. 

Lots of graves here, but certainly not all. I wonder where the cemetery is. Something else to find out.

A glass of wine at our favorite taverna, looking up at the ruins, and contemplating.

Back at the apartment, I soon had the poor computer smoking with all my questions. But there is always time for a sunset.

Monday morning we were up early for another sunrise rainbow!

And then off to visit the monuments in town honoring the evacuation of thousands of Allied troops at the end of the Battle of Crete and those Sfakians who were executed by the Nazis for their continued rebellion.

I talked with several people in town about more recent history, went back to the apartment and tried to summarize all I had learned. I posted it under the name A Small History of Sfakia. That pretty much took care of Monday. Just as I was publishing the post, we had another marvelous sunset! Will wonders never cease?!?

Tuesday morning we traded last night's gold for silver clouds.
And then came the thunder and lightening and a rain that has lasted all day long. Not a problem. I had packing to do. 

 Finished off the day with dinner on the water front and sparkling wine back at the apartment. Cheers to all of you! We are leaving Sfakia tomorrow morning. It has been a great visit and I'm already making plans to come back. This may be my new favorite place.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Small History of Sfakia

Piecing together the history of Sfakia is not an easy task. Even the name is confusing. Sfakia is the area, Hora Sfakion is the town. However, most tourists, myself included, call the town Sfakia. 

Behind a grove of pine trees is an old ruined fortification part Venetian, part Turkish, and part craggy rock. 

There is no clear reference to the area in written history before the 16th century. The first official recording of the fortifications was made June 21, 1526.

The people of Sfakia have always been fiercely independent. The Venetians who were busy for hundreds of years building fortifications along the Cretan coast found its most challenging opponents in Sfakia. Of the 11 castles they built along the coast, Sfakia is the least ancient. Surely the site was used as a fortification long before the Venetians arrived, but no one really knows what history lies beneath the stones they laid. 

As a result of the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire Crete fell under the rule of the Turks in 1669. This lasted until 1897 when the Ottoman Empire fell apart.

As the Ottomans moved out, the British occupied Crete. Their stated objective was to keep the peace between Muslims and Christians, and indeed their presence might have prevented a civil war. 

Crete did not become part of Greece until 1913. The photo above was taken in 1914.

Sfakia is famous as one of the centers of the resistance against the occupying forces of both the Venetians and the Turks. The impenetrable White Mountains to the north combined with the rocky beaches on the south helped the locals fight off all invaders. It is interesting to note that neither the Venetians, nor the Turks nor the British ever fully controlled Sfakia. In fact, Sfakia thrived under all three rules.

I am writing this as Hora Sfakion quietly celebrates Ohi Day. On October 28, 1940 the Italian government presented an ultimatum to the Greeks, demanding that Axis forces be allowed to enter and occupy Greece. According to legend, the reply was a simple Ohi - No! Greeks aren't easily intimidated and Sfakians don't give up easily.

After the Battle of Crete during World War II, Sfakians helped thousands of New Zealand and Australian soldiers evacuate the island. In spite of great reprisals, the Sfakians continued in their rebellion against the Germans during the four years of their occupation.

A monument at the new harbor honors the great effort to evacuate the Allied forces when defeat was inevitable. 

Another monument below the old castle honors the 26 men from Hora Sfakia and neighboring villages who were executed by the Nazis for aiding Allied troops.

Sfakians are still considered somewhat beyond the reach of the lawmakers and tax collectors of Athens with vendettas over stolen sheep and women's honor still fought late into the 20th century. 

Stealing and banditry had been considered a way of life in the mountains, even appearing in a Creation myth, which made God Himself a Sfakiot, as recounted by Adam Hopkins:

...with an account of all the gifts God had given to other parts of Crete - olives to Ierapetra, Ayios Vasilios and Selinou; wine to Malevisi and Kissamou; cherries to Mylapotamos and Amari. But when God got to Sfakia only rocks were left. So the Sfakiots appeared before Him armed to the teeth. "And us Lord, how are we going to live on these rocks?" and the Almighty, looking at them with sympathy, replied in their own dialect (naturally): "Haven't you got a scrap of brains in your head? Don't you see that the lowlanders are cultivating all these riches for you?"

In spite of their warlike nature, Sfakians are also famous for their hospitality and generosity towards guests. During and after WWII, the town was never completely abandoned, but the population moved away from the coast into the hills.  Gradually, the town fell into ruin. With the improvement and paving of the road from Chania to Hora Sfakia in the 1980's, more and more tourists discovered the town. Residents returned to the coast, restored many of the buildings and put up new construction. It was an easy transition for many Sfakians to turn from traditional labor to tourism. 

We have certainly enjoyed our share of Sfakian hospitality! 

The photos below are of the old fortifications as the look today.

The old fortification contained a cistern. I'm not sure how just how this played out, but under this slab of concrete is a water storage system. An excellent example of repurposing.

And views from the top