THE PELOPONNESE Twice…
I first went to Greece in 1979 with the love of my life. We went to the Island of Paros in an attempt to rescue our relationship. Dear reader, it didn’t work. The only photographs I took were on a really crummy Instamatic and they are either too personal or too bad to appear here.
30yrs later, after my Father had died, my Mother told me that, before he died, he had asked her to give me enough money to go on ‘one of my trips’…anywhere I liked. Wow, what a parting gift. I struggled with overchoice and the fact that I had become my Mothers primary carer. I was still feeling rather numb after my fathers death and wasn’t really up for anything too challenging. Ethiopia was the place I really wanted to go to but my need for solace and something a bit more familiar was what drove my decision to go to Greece. I got the guide book that covers the whole of Greece and one area stood out…The Peloponnese.
Much less visited than the Islands and with a wide variety of landscapes and climates, it also had the added attraction of being where two famous Travel Writers had chosen to live and be buried. It’s Patrick Leigh Fermor, however, that has captured the imagination of Greeks. Immortalised by Dirk Bogarde in the film “Those Who Dare”, in which Dirk Bogarde plays the part of an Englishman [based on Patrick Leigh Fermor] during the 2nd World War, who works with the locals on Crete to capture a high ranking German Officer. It’s a good film and I recommend it. At the time of my first visit he was still living in Kardamyli where I ate at Lela’s Taverna. Lela was Patrick Leigh Fermors housekeeper and ran this wonderful Taverna with her English Public School educated grandson. It was him who persuaded his grandmother to let me take her portrait. Sadly, both Lela and her grandson have since died, and so has Patrick Leigh Fermor.
The other writer whose ashes were scattered near Kardomyli, was Bruce Chatwin. He and Patrick Leigh Fermor had struck up a close friendship in their latter years. A fitting tribute to a beautiful part of Greece.
My other guiding principle on this trip was that I knew my Father would have loved to go there and just to pile on the emotional load that I carried around the Peloponnese with me, my nephew, Paul, who had died at the age of 19 the year before, was the reason I was carrying a brand new Digital camera with me. The quality of the images it takes are way beyond anything I’ve used in the past. I hope I used it well.
The Peloponnese did more than absorb my pain…it lifted me up. It’s a glorious place with wonderful people and I loved it so much that I went back in 2016 with my godson, Robert. The first time I had travelled with someone else for over 30yrs. The ‘selfie’ [my first], that Robert took on his smart phone, speaks volumes about how much we enjoyed it. I could live there. I really could.
I know this preface is imbued with the loss of loved ones but it’s a testament to Greece and it’s people that I came away from that first trip with the desire to go back there as soon as possible. And last but not least, the Greek people have been through a dreadful time in recent years and if I was going to spend my money anywhere, I wanted it to be there.
In May ’23, I went to Crete with Yash. A long awaited trip together. Because of the Pandemic, I hadn’t been away for over three years. I was desperate to travel again and Yash decided he wanted to join me. He’d been there before with his family and his decision to accompany there helped me over the line. We were inspired by Helen, an old Mombasa Roadshow friend, who I had re-engaged with during the Covid shutdown. She and Allan, also an ex Mombanista, had bought a place in Crete and urged me to visit. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to be there when we went but Helen had furnished me with lot’s of tips of places to go that aren’t in any guide books. This insider knowledge proved to be gold dust.
We spent the first of two weeks in Spili, in the Rethymno region and then moved on to Ravdoucha in the Chania region for our second week. What an absolute gem Crete is! Despite some very disappointing weather, Yash and I absolutely loved every day we spent there. Endlessly driving around and constantly being amazed at how beautiful it was at every twist and turn as new vista’s presented themselves. I did most of the driving whilst Yash did an extraordinary job of trying to navigate us through the cobweb of, often poorly signed, roads. Because it was Spring, everywhere was verdant and awash with wild flowers, with mountain range after mountain range serving as a backdrop. The food was the best I’ve ever eaten in Greece and the people we encountered were beyond friendly and helpful.
Yash and I quickly descended into child like wonder and even when we got lost, which was often,[Crete has seriously poor signage], we just shrugged it off and said “So what” because we knew that that meant new opportunities to go on the roads less travelled…and we certainly did plenty of that. We worked brilliantly together as a team, me driving and him navigating. I love hairpinbendy roads, which is just as well because Crete has those in abundance, and Yash did a job that would have had me being car sick all the time. What larks we had.
Our two accommodations couldn’t have been more different. Heracles Hotel in Spili, tucked under a mountain, was made wonderful by our brilliant hosts…Heracles and Cristina. We all got quite choked up when when we departed for Ravdoucha. They had completely stolen our hearts with their kindness and care. And then there was Ravdoucha Studios, set at the end of a steep twisty road, by a secluded beach and a great Taverna, ‘Waves on the Rock’, run by the same family that ran the Studios. Nikos, the owner, was a wonderfully eccentric man, and with his son Georgos and his daughter Angelica, they also made us feel very much at home. I know it’s their job, but boy do they do it well.
I hope my photo’s, some sentimental and holiday snappy but some more considered, do this beautiful island justice. It embraced us in its arms and made an extraordinary impact on us both. Thank you Crete. 26/05/23.