A city break in Heraklion

As much as I love Pitsidia, and I really do, I have found myself missing city life a bit recently. I think it’s partly because I know I’ll be moving back to the city soon, but also because things have become even quieter here now that tourist season is over. I know, I’m never happy: when it’s peak season I get annoyed with the crowds and now they’re all gone it’s too quiet.

I decided to mix things up a little, and booked myself a night away in Heraklion. I got a good deal on a hotel right in town with views of the harbour from my balcony and I drove up on Friday morning. On the drive up, I was listening to the radio, and I kept hearing the mention of Black Friday…and then the dreaded word símera. Yep, I was heading into the city centre on possibly the worst day of the year, but there was noimg_7835 turning back now.

I arrived at the hotel and my room was ready – bonus! I dropped off my bag and headed straight out. I took a look at the map and located the spot I wanted to visit – the Archaeological Museum of Crete. Because of Black Friday, I tried to avoid the shopping areas of the city so I wandered through the back streets instead, taking in the atmosphere and sounds of the city in the background.

In the museum, there must have been more members of staff than there were visitors, I would guess twice as many of them even. So I wandered round the museum practically on my own apart from the guards sat in each room. I felt so excited and, for some reason, proud when I saw an artefact from Phaistos or, even better, Komos.

The Phaistos Disc was a particular high point as I’ve read so much about it at the palace of Phaistos itself. I was surprised at the size of it. I thought it would be the size of a wagon wheel but I would say it was no bigger than a CD (does using a CD as a reference mean I’m old?). I’d love to know what is written on it, but nobody has quite worked it out yet. My guess? It’s a children’s nursery rhyme. Perhaps it was a teething ring. No? Okay, maybe not.

Upstairs at the museum were a load of frescos partially rescued, but the gaps had been filled in so you could see what it would have looked like. I was surprised that there were images of monkeys and exotic birds as it didn’t really occur to me that the ancient civilisations would have travelled overseas to see such sights, but of course they did.

One of my favourite pieces was the tablet depicting Hercules on one of his Twelve Labours. He was carrying a live boar over his shoulder and Eurystheus (who set Hercules his challenges) was terrified and hiding inside a storage jar. Love a bit of ancient humour!

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After the museum, it was still early so I decided to wander around a bit. I found myself at the harbour and decided to visit the Venetian Fortress. When I got there, it was closed, but the harbour wall continued on beyond it so I kept walking. It is a longer wall than you think, I reckon it must have been about 1.5 miles long, but it was a nice day so I didn’t notice the distance.

On the return walk, the sun was setting and there were rowers out on the water, and it all looked so magical.

In the evening, I went to a restaurant outside of Heraklion which I had been told provided great views of the city, and it really did. It was a panoramic view of the entire area, and it was amazing, but my iPhone camera didn’t really do it justice.

I have been given a few more recommendations for Heraklion: the earthquake simulation room at the Natural History Museum, the best fish restaurant, a great little coffee shop and a classy cocktail bar. So I’ll have to go back again before I leave the island.

 

 

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Exploring the Minoan ruins

I have had the most amazing morning walking through the Olive groves in Gortyna, and was overwhelmed at the sheer number of ruins scattered among the trees. I have visited the ‘official’ site of the Gortyna settlement, but I was told that the ruins continue on the other side of the road, and there is no entrance fee.

As soon as you enter the grove, you can immediately tell there is historic significance nearby as there is rock debris everywhere. Mere metres from where I parked I encountered my first ruin – the remains of a small building and I thought it was so impressive.

Walking on a little further, and that first ruin paled into insignificance. The vast array of rooms, columns, walls, and even statues, was staggering. I loved it. The further I walked, the more there was to see.

For those that don’t know anything about Gortyna, a little bit of history for you. Górtys was established in at least the Minoan times/end of the Neolithic period (about 7000 BC) and is the first place in Crete that truly adopted Christianity. In 67 BC, under Roman rule, it replaced Knossos to become the new capital of Crete.

The most impressive aspect of these ruins to me is the sheer volume of them. So if you’re planning a trip to Gortyna, don’t just visit the official site (home to the church of St Titus, the Law Code of Gortys and the plane tree of Zeus and Europe). It is still worth a visit, but don’t forget to check out the expansive ruins on the other side of the road too. (Unfortunately, on my previous visit to the site, I wasn’t aware that the rest existed, so I was left a little underwhelmed by it all.)

Just walk down the road immediately opposite the entrance, and then take the first dirt road off to your left (there is also a site to your right which is worth a visit – I believe it is the ruins of the Great Basilica). You can stray from the beaten path too as there is so much to see. Just remember to take a camera!

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The olive trees and the ancient ruins live harmoniously side by side – no more so than in this example

#NaNoWriMo

This November I signed up to take part in National Novel Writing Month – an initiative accidentally created by Chris Baty in 1999. It challenges participants to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.calendar

So we’re now two weeks in and I’m struggling so much with this. I had my idea all sorted before 1 November, and even had a fairly detailed synopsis written, but now that it has come to the actual writing, I find myself struggling with the words. I keep writing pages and pages of rubbish, which inevitably ends up being deleted, so I’m way behind schedule. At this point of the month I should have written about 25,000 words, but I’ve actually written just 10,164.

I’m not giving up yet though, which is why I’ve decided to write this blog. I’m hoping it will serve two purposes:

  1. To make my intentions public and therefore apply more pressure for me to succeed.
  2. The act of writing this blog will kick-start my creativity and get me back on the ball.

If you’re also taking part, please add me as a writing buddy and help motivate me – if I see your word counts increasing and mine staying the same I might be shamed into writing more. You can add me here –http://nanowrimo.org/participants/sarah_stick

Right, I’m off to try again. Wish me luck!


 

Another soppy one I’m afraid

I woke up this morning to a warm breeze and blue sky (I know, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be here). Not quite hot enough to spend the morning at the beach, and the wind would probably mean that I couldn’t swim anyway, but I felt the urge to be outdoors. So I packed my rucksack and headed off to the olive groves.img_6947

It’s only a 3-3.5 mile walk, but it was just what I needed. An hour out in the fresh air to get my thoughts in check. I didn’t know I was going to think so much…I realise that sounds weird, but I guess what I mean is that I didn’t realise I had so much stuff in my head.

So as I was heading up the hill towards the giant agaves on my left and the breathtaking views of Pitsidia to my right, I started thinking about my life. I started contemplating what I wanted to do next as my time in Crete is coming to an end. I’ll be heading back to London for Christmas, and the chances are I’ll be staying there (so the cat is coming back with me). That’s not to say the door is completely closed on returning in the new year – thanks Mum and Dad – but it’s unlikely I will.

But then I started thinking about everything that has happened over the past nine months and it really is incredible. My family, primarily my sisters in all honesty, encouraged me to go to therapy a few years ago. I didn’t believe it would make any difference to me, but I started going and when she asked me what I wanted out of life, there were a number of things on my wish list which I had always been too scared of doing. I was too scared of failing which held me back with everything.

Fast-forward to now, and I can’t believe that I can actually tick things of that list. There are five things:

  1. Write a book (tick)
  2. Live abroad (tick)
  3. Lose weight (in progress)
  4. Start dating (on the horizon)
  5. Get my dream job

So I realised: I’m doing pretty well. Two ticks, one in progress and I’m excited about the last two goals. I don’t think I can do either of those from Crete though, hence the feeling that I’ll stay in London for a while now, but never say never!

Being in therapy, although I didn’t realise it at the time (in fact, I used to go in and say to her that I didn’t think it was making the blind bit of difference and that I wanted to stop) has made all this possible. It’s given me back some self-belief. Or at least, it’s taken away my impossible standards, allowing me to fail at things and not be completely destroyed by it. And actually, I think the failures are all part of what makes things exciting too.

And now I understand the importance of that old-school mantra that parents always say: It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

 

 

 

Love in a warm climate

I’ve been debating whether or not to publish this post or not as it is not my usual ramblings about my adventure, but I finally decided that this is still a post about my life in Crete and is a fairly significant change to my life. Were it not for moving out here last March, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be saying these things now. So without further ado, this is ‘Love in a warm climate’.

As with many of my posts, the title of this entry may be slightly misleading. I’m not in love, not even nearly. But the reason I’m writing about love is that I finally want it! Without going into too much detail, I haven’t really been all that bothered about relationships since my cancer treatment – I think in part because of the early menopause my surgery brought about. But for the first time in a long time I’m getting excited about the prospect of dating.

This all started with my relocation to Crete. I was a bit slow to take any notice, but when friends and family came to visit me they would comment on the flirting going on between me and one of the waiters at the local taverna. I wasn’t even conscious I was doing it, never mind him! Over the weeks and months, this flirting has got more and more overt and we have even got so far as to say we’ll go for drinks (I know, whirlwind romance right?). It hasn’t happened yet and I’m not sure that it will, but I’ve recently realised that it doesn’t matter either way.

Through my encounter with… let’s call him Georgios… something within me has awoken. Not in a sexual way, but I have really enjoyed flirting and the banter that is exchanged as part of that. So much so, that I’ve even signed up to tinder. In fact, when I was in London last month, I actually went on a couple of tinder dates. It was great just to get to know someone, have new conversations and discover different personalities again.

I think part of my new care-free attitude is also that I’m not really permanently located anywhere. I mean, I obviously live in Crete at the moment but I’m not sure how long for, and when I went back to London it was for a finite time. I think that helped me face my fears and meet up with people – it was just about putting myself out there and I guess testing myself to see whether I was up to it or not. 

So now I’m back in Crete, and still enjoying flirty exchanges on tinder. And although I’m not necessarily looking for love immediately, I’m enjoying flirting, and…well, feeling a bit more like a woman.

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Flora and fauna of Crete: part 3

I thought that I would have exhausted my photos of Cretan wildlife after being here for five months, but I still see new things all the time. I guess it’s like anywhere, when the seasons change, so does the landscape. So here are a few of my latest finds.

A beautiful array of flowers:

I wasn’t sure what half these things were, but after careful inspection there is only one I still can’t identify fully. So they are: grapes (obviously), young guava, old artichoke, fresh walnuts and a nest of some kind.

This little fella fell off the roof right outside my window one night, he was stunned – which is how I was able to take this photo – but he soon recovered and scuttled off.

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There are actually two geckos that come to my window every evening to eat the insects attracted to the outside light. It’s quite comforting to know they are there.

A few more bugs from my travels too, including the first one which is what-I-like-to-call a moose beetle:

And of course, life in Crete wouldn’t be the same without random sheep wandering up and down the road:

Since moving to Crete, I’ve been really surprised at my growing fascination with bugs and plants, but what has possibly surprised me most is my obsession with tree trunks. Olive trees have the most beautiful, wise and gnarly trunk structures I’ve ever seen. I know I’m probably on my own here, but I had to share some of the prettiest ones I’ve seen. I think they are actually breathtaking…especially when you just happen to pass by one without really looking. Obviously the last picture has been somewhat enhanced by the hippies in Matala, but it still looks impressive.

And finally, just because they’re cute, some cats I’ve had the pleasure of meeting since I’ve been here (and a few of my own cat too – couldn’t leave her out!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a while…

I haven’t posted for a while and there are a few reasons for that. First, my mum came to visit me for a week which is always a lot of fun. As usual, we spent the time eating, drinking and chatting and I had such a lovely time. There were a few scary moments though when we witnessed a couple of really big fires on the hills around our house. Luckily nobody was hurt and the fires were stopped before they reached any of the nearby villages, but some did have to be evacuated just in case.

The second reason is because I’ve been working hard trying to finish editing my novel – the whole reason I came out in here in the first place. I am now done, so tomorrow I will start making the changes to the digital copy. I have also come up with an alternate ending which I need to work through and see if it really is so much better – and I do think it is.

The final reason, and sorry if it sounds like I’m gloating, is because the weather here has been fab! I don’t think the temperature during the day has dropped much below 32 degrees, but it has also been really windy. That has meant I’ve not been able to go down to the beach as I would get sandblasted, and the sea was too rough. So instead, I’ve been struggling with the heat in (relative) silence.

But last week has been amazing. The wind has finally dropped and so I’ve been spending half my day down on the beach, swimming in the sea and reading my book on the sand. It has been fantastic.

For the next week or so though I’ll be working on my laptop so there will be plenty of opportunity to write blog posts – in case you’ve missed me.

Be back soon x

 

 

Sammy the sparrow

I want to tell you the true* story of Sammy the sparrow. He was born under my roof and is very new to this world. About a month ago, his mum and dad decided that he needed to go out and explore the area, see the wonders of Pitsidia for himself. And this is what happened.

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Sammy in safe hands

“Don’t go too far,” his mother warned. “Your wings are still very young and you will need to gradually build up your strength.”

Sammy was nervous, and scurried to the back of the nest as his brothers and sisters all took the leap of faith from the rooftop. He watched in fear as they plummeted to the ground, but then his heart filled with joy as he saw them all rise again into the air, one by one. With renewed confidence, Sammy strutted towards the edge of the tiles and looked down to the ground below. His eyes went blurred and he felt a knot growing in his stomach.

“Go on son,” his Dad encouraged. “You can do it, just remember to flap your wings.”

Sammy gulped, and took one last look back at his Mum and Dad, their faces full of hope and pride. He breathed in, and took a step forward.

“Flap Sammy,” his Dad shouted from above, but Sammy couldn’t hear him. All he could see was the ground getting closer and closer. Then he remembered, I just need to flap my wings, he thought.

Soon Sammy was flying high in the air, high above the houses and the trees. Everything looks so small from up here, he thought. He flew past the garden gate, round the wild fig tree, beyond the school. He looked back and his home was a tiny dot on the horizon. But then he started to feel tired. His wings wouldn’t work any more. He needed to rest, but knew it wasn’t safe to stop here. He turned around and headed back up to his home on the hill.

I made it, he thought as he flew past the olive tree at the bottom of the garden. He could see his Mum and Dad screaming to him from the roof, but then his wings just stopped working. He collapsed to the floor and just lay there, with no energy to move. A movement from the bushes caught his eye, a huge white cat stalking towards him.

Sammy desperately flapped his wings but couldn’t get more than a few inches from the floor. His parents were calling out to him, but there was nothing they could do but watch. The white cat pounced, and caught Sammy under it’s paws. He wriggled, trying to free himself, and the cat removed a paw, setting him free. But the freedom didn’t last long before he pounced again. He’s playing with me, Sammy thought. He’s playing with me before he eats me! Oh why didn’t I listen to my Mum.

“Oi, get off, shoo,” a thundering sound came from near the house. A lady person

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Sammy in the container

was running towards them both waving her hands. The cat ran off, leaving Sammy cowering on the spot. The human lady gently bent down and looked at him. He tried to fly away, but his wing was sore from where the cat had banged it into the floor. Help me, Sammy thought looking pleadingly at the lady.

 

“You’ll be okay,” she said, scooping him up and wrapping him in a towel. He wanted to be brave, but he couldn’t stop shaking. He was scared, and didn’t know if this person was friend or foe. She gently placed him in a container with smelly old, dry leaves. Whether from relief or terror Sammy couldn’t be sure, but he suddenly wet himself.

“Don’t worry,” the lady whispered down to him. “I’ll find out what to do. I’ve got the power of Google on my side!”

A few minutes later, the lady was taking him upstairs, up towards the roof where his Mum and Dad lived. She carefully lent out over the balcony and placed the container on the rooftop, right above his nest. He could hear his brothers and sisters bickering below him. He started jumping around, still unable to use his wing, but desperate for them to hear him. Then the lady disappeared through the door, and he saw her watching him from behind the glass.

“Mum, Dad, I’m here,” Sammy called out.

“Oh thank goodness,” his Mum said flying over to him. “I’ll be straight back. You’ll need some food to regain your energy.”

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Sammy’s Mum (on the left) returning with some food

Sammy’s Mum soon reappeared with something in her beak. She flew up to the side of the container and popped the item in his mouth. He swallowed it whole, not realising how hungry he had been.

“Thanks Mum,” he said flapping his wings tentatively.

“Are you ready?” she asked as he nodded eagerly.

The lady person watched with a smile on her face as the two sparrows flew off together, landing on a branch in the olive tree. They were soon joined by the rest of the family all chirping and tweeting about what they had seen on their maiden flights, Sammy’s ordeal soon forgotten.

Sammy looked back up to the window. Thank you lady, he thought.

*Sammy’s family have been put in witness protection after testifying against the white cat, so I’ve been unable to verify all the facts as I would have liked. Therefore some of the story has been assumed and I apologise for any misrepresentation that may have occurred as a result.

ON A SERIOUS NOTE: If you find an injured or fallen bird, please check the RSPB website for information on what to do. For example, you should never give it food or even water (you might drown it). And ideally you would either return it to the nest, or call a local bird sanctuary to come and collect it. Find out more on their website.

A Cretan workday

As you’ll have seen from my earlier blog about Cretan Life, my workday doesn’t start as soon as I get up. I take my time getting ready for the day, and potter a bit before I start. But when I actually sit down at my laptop with the view to work, I often get so absorbed that I won’t move from the spot for hours, resisting the urge to go to the toilet (yes, really, and I always need to go), make a drink or even check my twitter.

But who wouldn’t be inspired when this is the view from your workstation?

My work day actually reminds me of a song from Wizard of Oz, when they finally reach the city and everyone is singing:

We get up at twelve and start to work at one, take an hour for lunch and then at two we’re done. Jolly good fun!

And it is jolly good fun most of the time. But I honestly do work, unlike those singing in Oz. My ‘writing’ day, starts at about 11am usually, and I work until I’m hungry when I stop for lunch and I make the short trip from my workstation – the dining table – to the kitchen.

I take my lunch down to the patio area in the garden, where I sit in the sunshine and read my book. Bliss! I also take a few minutes to plan what I’ll eat for dinner that night if I haven’t already, as a lot of Greek recipes require slow cooking.

Then it’s back to work for the afternoon, sometimes with another coffee break at around 3.30. If it’s a particularly good day, I will stay there until six or seven in the evening (those are days when it is best to have something slowly cooking in the oven, but I don’t ever plan to work as late as that so it doesn’t always work out).

I have tried various approaches to my writing. To begin with, I was being strict about my working hours, working 9am to 5pm every day, but I found myself spending a lot of that time just stressing about not getting anything done, or thinking about other things that I needed to do – I think some people may call it procrastination.

Another approach was to set myself word count goals. Every day, I challenged myself to write 3,000 words and this worked for a while. But as I got to more complex parts of the plot, or needed to go back and edit something rather than writing anew, I would get frustrated not seeing the words add up.

So I find this method of working is the most productive for me. I’m not a morning person. In fact I think my mind is most active in the afternoons, so it stands to reason that this is when I am most creative. It may not work for everyone, but at the moment it’s working for me so I’m sticking with it. It means that I don’t feel I need a break at the weekends either, so most days I write for a little while at least.

I combine it with goals too so that I’ve got something to work towards. And slowly but surely, I’m getting there.

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My mini-break in Psychro

I’ve had an absolutely fabulous time up on the Lasithi plateau. I wasn’t sure where to go on my mini-break, as I don’t really know much about the rest of Crete, so it was a stick-a-pin-in-a-map-and-see-where-it-lands kind of decision. But I’m so glad it ended up where it did.

I drove up to the Plateau on the Sunday (the drive was a little scary to say the least – read more about in my earlier blog post) and didn’t arrive until early evening so I just unpacked and headed out for dinner. The owner of the house where I was staying had recommended the Taverna in the village square, if you can call it that as it was only a little more open than the rest of the village. He said the Taverna would serve up traditional Cretan food, a real local place.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t that enamoured with the food. The starter and the main came at exactly the same time so I couldn’t really enjoy the fava I had ordered for fear of my main meal getting cold. The main, a lamb ragu, was very fatty and oily, and most of the ‘meat’ was bone or gristle. The green beans in the tomato sauce were nice, but everything was covered in a greasy layer of oil or fat. Needless to say, I left the Taverna hungry.

Not ready to give up on the evening yet, I decided to take an evening walk around the village. The sun was on its way down but I figured I had another thirty minutes or so before it got dark. It was such a lovely village. Not very big, but incredibly pretty and very clean.

The next morning I awoke early and planned my walk across the Plateau. I wanted to eat lunch in the village on the other side so I planned to leave at 11am, guessing it to be about a two-hour walk. The heat was in the mid-30s and leaving that close to midday was a bit of a mistake. The Plateau, as you can probably imagine, is an open expanse of land with not much in the way of shade. There is a separate blog entry describing it in more detail here.

On my final morning, I went up to the Diktaean cave, one of the supposed sites of Zeus’ birth – read more here. After that, I packed up my stuff and headed off back to southern Crete, but this time I decided to follow the well-travelled roads. My phone overheated so I couldn’t use the satnav, but Heraklion was well signposted and I had no trouble getting there (and I could do the drive from Heraklion to Pitsidia with my eyes shut now…but I won’t because that would be dangerous!).

I went the opposite way round the Plateau on the way back, and I’m glad I didn’t get lost on my walk. There are parts of the Plateau that looked completely barren and desserted. If I’d ended up in those areas I think I would still be there! I also passed Karfi, which was somewhere else I wanted to walk to if I’d had more time (an early and particularly important Minoan settlement).

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Although I’m kind of glad I did the dangerous route, I found the views on the way back to be just as breathtaking. And it probably was a bit quicker coming back. I took a wrong turn too and accidentally passed through a vibrant village called Mochos which is maybe forty minutes from Heraklion. It was relatively close to Karfi and had a few different places to eat and stay so I think I may go back there and do the walk another time.

All in all I had an excellent few days, and definitely want to explore more of this richly cultured island.