It’s no secret that, as a family, we just love to travel; be it beach or city, we just love adventures – although we don’t do it as often as we would like. Whenever we do find ourselves on unfamiliar turf, regardless of where we may find ourselves in this great world, we like to explore and immerse ourselves in the local culture, in order to see how the locals live.
Myself and AJ have always had a soft-spot for the Greek Islands with each island having a unique charm all of its own. It’s not just the warmth of the sun on our weary bones which we love, it’s the warm hospitality the Greeks have always shown us, which has made us seek out those little corners of paradise time and time again – both pre and post children.
Having visited more islands than I can remember over the years, we decided to embark on a family beach break to Crete. Although one of the bigger islands, we had yet to pay it a visit. Having our youngest child as a toddler at the time, this seemed like an easier option to travel to, than the usual smaller, lesser known islands which we would normally opt for.
We stayed in the very welcoming Golden Bay Apartments in the village of Gournes. The resort is just a 20 minute ride from Heraklion airport and its better known, somewhat larger neighbour, Gouves, is a walkable distance along the coast road – past the Crete aquarium, which, incidentally, is well worth a visit.
In its day, the resort was home to a sprawling American Naval base which had long been deserted and left to fall into disrepair. Although an interesting sight in itself – with its abandoned airfield, bowling alley and fire station – its desertion adds to a sadness that the village had been hit hard in the height of the Greek financial crisis; wonderful little traditional tavernas, which were no doubt once the life and soul of the place, were left standing empty, leaving the resort with just a smattering of other eateries. The Greeks have seen hard times before, however, and the hospitable spirit – for which they are famed, still endures.
Having a little tot with us, AJ did his paternal duties by taking the little one for a walk each afternoon, to get her off for a nap. Whilst I was proud at his fatherly spirit, what I hadn’t realized was this adventurer of sorts wasn’t ‘just’ taking his daughter for a walk to aid her sleeping quest. No, he was exploring other people’s allotments! It’s no small wonder he was gone for hours at a time! Going on a family holiday, little did we know that one afternoon, myself and daughter number 1 would be dragged around to join him in his quest!
Walking up the side streets, through the neighbourhood, we were struck by the pride the locals held for their homes. They were spotlessly clean – even in this dusty place, and adorned in the most beautiful array of colourful flora; yellow, white, red, bright pink…the air was heady with sweet, fragrant abundance. Wonderful! The flowers looked like little sculptures – natures stunning perfection.
Our eldest was quite taken by all the different critters she came across along the way; from the usual cats and dogs to goats, dragon flies, all manner of bugs, lizards – and much more.
On our travels, we came across the traditional olive and lemon groves which are always a pleasure to see. We also witnessed a local man gardening in nothing but his pants and flipflops… something I am pleased to say we’ve not witnessed on our lottie back in old Blighty! There was also a very old, frail looking little Greek lady working her land to tend to the crops. This would be back breaking work for someone half her age in this dry, arid landscape yet her ‘allotment’ (or front garden!) was overflowing with crops. Some plots we came across were unbelievably immaculate and precise – with fruit and vegetables grown in perfectly straight lines and not a weed in sight!
The Greeks are very resourceful people; terribly efficient at self-sustenance – over the course of history they have been invaded by almost everyone, so I guess they have needed to be resilient. We noticed that they were using every bit of spare space to grow all manner of crops:
Abundant grape vines adorning pergolas were drooping under the weight of the crops; several varieties of plump tomatoes and melons soaking up the sunshine; potted chilli and pepper plants; rows of brassicas; juicy bright pomegranates falling from the trees; tall corn sheaths – even natures own wonder-medicine, aloe vera. All manner of fruit and vegetables could be found. We even came across a sign for organic farming.
Every bit of land was used for growing something: be it to eat or to decorate. Potted flowering plants were used to decorate the outdoor spaces providing such a welcoming entrance into the home. We could smell their sweet fragrance from the footpath!
At first it was baffling: in such an arid landscape how can this fabulous array of natures bounty look so healthy? I mean our polytunnel has been known to look barren after a particularly hot spell when we’ve returned from a 2-week holiday? Then we spotted an ornate little fountain on the side of one property and homemade irrigation systems (AKA puntured hose pipes laid in the trenches beneath the foliage) in many others. Like I said, resourceful. This is true recycling – nothing goes to waste here.
Some local ‘entrepreneur’ was selling much of his produce out of the back of his van – imagine that in South Manchester!
AJ and I love the Greek way of life. You grow your own produce and then have great get-togethers where you share it with family and friends. What could be better? I always love the tomatoes you find in Greek salads. They taste absolutely fantastic – must be because they have been kissed by the sun!
After such a tiring walk in the heat of the day, it’s always a pleasure to head to the beach to watch the beautiful sun set over the crystal clear water, with a well-earned cold Mythos in hand, obviously. Until we return…Yamas!