Autumn in Crete – Settling in to Ag. Nik and Gorging on Gorges


This is a long one sorry! I’ve finally got on to writing up the first part of our stay in Agios Nikolaos. This one covers autumn; at some point there will be one for winter and spring. A lot happened so settle back and hopefully enjoy ūüôā

Rhythmion to Agios Nikolaos

Our legs were quite grumpy after the day before’s long walk in the Samaria gorge but weather forecasts were urging us to leave Rhythmion or end up there another week. We’d been hearing some mixed reports about the availability of space in the marina at Ag. Nikolaos and we were keen to get in. The forecast was favourable to push on east so off we went.

Out of the marina we met a large swell from the west and wondered if we were doing the right thing as Emerald rolled about. The wind soon filled in and we were able to get the sails up to have Emerald romping along but it wasn’t a lot of fun; Colin writing in the log “massive swell, sailing but miserable”. Turning back would have been even more miserable so we surged onwards to the east.

The sun sets on our way to Agios Nikolaos

We’d considered breaking the journey into two with an overnight stop at Dia Island but we were making such good progress we continued on. However our arrival at Agios Nikolaos would be after¬†dark; the sun had dipped below the horizon as we rounded the headland north of Spinalonga. We were very grateful that Stephen and Anne from Wandering Dragon had kindly stepped in to be our helpers and had spotted out a space for us on the outer wall. The marina knew we were coming but a misspelling of our name had the marinero on duty that night saying he couldn’t find our details!

This was our first entry into a marina in the dark in Emerald so I was feeling a little bit anxious. But seeing the Dragon’s torch light got rid of any trepidation and we were smoothly tied up alongside.

The next morning we announced our arrival at the office and asked about moving to a permanent spot. They couldn’t give us a fixed timescale so in the meantime Stratos (our favourite marinero) came and set up our water and electric. Colin was very happy with Stratos’¬†comparison to the only other Irish Colin he had heard of – Colin Farrell!

We were getting settled when 20 minutes later there was a knock and Stratos was back with the news they’d found us a space and they¬†were ready for us to move now! Five minutes dashing around and we were off to our winter home on F pontoon, the last pontoon in the marina. It turned out to be a good spot; a little tight once boats were parked either side of¬†us but it didn’t suffer so much from the swell as the pontoons further down did.

Autumn in Crete

The settling in to the marina began in earnest. The marina was full this year with lots of cruisers choosing to over winter onboard. Weekly BBQs, Mexican train, music groups and happy hours filled up the social calendar. Fitness DVDs and discovering new running routes helped offset the social calories along with weekly walks in the beautiful countryside.

Kritsa Gorge

Our first explore into the countryside was to the nearby town of Kritsa. We took the bus, a 20 minute ride through olive groves, rising gently upwards to Kritsa where whitewashed houses hugged the steep sided hill and tourist shops crowded the streets but at this time of year we were the only visitors. Just outside the village the gorge begins and what a magnificent one it is too. After recently walking the Samaria gorge we wondered how Kritsa would compare but it more than held it’s own. Narrow and rocky with some small boulder climbs to negotiate with the help of iron steps hammered into the rock, it was an adventurous walk. It’s only a couple of miles long and all too soon it widened out and we reached the exit point to walk back to Ag. Nik. Dirt tracks then a road brought us to the ruins of the Minoan city of Lato; we decided to leave a visit for another day, which turned out to be a mistake as we never got around to going back. A stony Minoan track then wound us down the hillside, all brown and dusty at this time of year. We passed through a small holding then back onto a road to take us back to town.

Entering Kritsa Gorge

It’s narrow in places!

Oxi Day

Oxi Day – the Greek for NO – falls on October the 28th and is an important date in Greek history.¬†On this day in 1940 the Greek prime minister Ioannis Metaxas rejected an ultimatum from Mussolini to allow Axis forces to enter and occupy certain areas of Greece or face war. This began Greek’s participation in WWII. The day is now commemorated with parades. The residents of Agios Nikolaos did a fine job of representing their town.

The Oxi Day parade in Ag. Nikolaos

Spinalonga Lagoon Walk

This was the first organised walk we took part in and pretty busy with around 30 people signing up. Despite the group size, it was a good walk; starting on a wide track the path then turned into a guess-the-route through the scrubby bushes that dotted the ground. A church, the remains of ancient sites and some water cisterns provided things to look at, as well as the lovely views. A Minoan track took us back to the start and back in the marina it was beers and nibbles at the Two Brothers bar Рthe traditional end to a Tony Cross organised walk.

Fourni Walk

A walk through the hillside around Founi took us to monasteries and lovely views.

Driving in Crete

We hired a car for a week to do some further afield exploring. For ‚ā¨70 a car was delivered to the marina and collected again at the end. The company we used was www.carrentalgreece.com.

Driving on Crete turned out to be good fun, especially up in the hills negotiating the switchbacks and hairpin bends. Traffic was generally light and even the main national road was quiet. It seemed to be an unofficial rule that slower vehicles drove well onto the hard shoulder leaving plenty of room to overtake. The Cretans had wasted a load of white paint though as no one seemed to take heed of the double white lines marking where overtaking was dangerous. Blind bends and restricted views meant nothing; the Cretan drivers overtook wherever they liked.

Suzy Celery with a goat for company on the Katharo Plateau

Suzy Celery (a Suzuki Celeri) was our steed, a small 4 door but surprisingly roomy inside. To get anywhere we first had to negotiate the Pan’s labyrinth of the one way system in Ag. Nik. Thank goodness we’d been given a lift to Lidl already and had been able to get an idea of the driving route because otherwise we might still be stuck driving round and around or have traversed such a route that we’d have been sucked into the gates of Hell.

The Milatos cave

Having worked out the escape route we headed off for painting supplies to a Greek equivalent of B&Q, just outside Heraklion. On the way back we followed the coast rather than taking the ‘motorway’, passing through closed up holiday resorts. Heading back inland we found the Milatos cave, where a massacre had taken place by Turks of Greeks hiding in there. A church has now been built within one of the larger chambers of the cave. The roads here were great fun to drive as they wiggled and wound their way around the rolling hills.

Plateau to Plateau Walk

Next was up to the Kapartho plateau. Above Kritsa the road became steeper and twistier and soon we were down into first gear as the wee 1000cc engine strained. But all was good, Suzy got us up to the plateau Рa flat area where sediment had weathered off the surrounding peaks and formed a fertile plain.

The road became a dust track as we forded a dry river and bumped our way along the sometimes rough road. We passed an old man and woman tending their sheep; the lady was dressed in traditional clothes and riding a donkey. A much simpler way of life goes on here.

Suzy bounced her way along the track until almost the end where we parked up under the church of Agios Timios. The Greeks really do build churches in some out of the way places. Our parking spot was pretty desolate, just a few goats roaming about. The temperature had plummeted from 20c at sea level to a nippy 8c on the top and we realised we were woefully under dressed. We set off anyway, reckoning once we got moving we’d warm up.

Looking across the Lasithi Plateau

Are they the spotters for a goat ambush?

A track led us over rocky ground and up over a saddle for a fine view of the Lasithi plateau below us. A Minoan track zigzagged down the steep hillside. It started off ok for walking but then someone had decided to bulldoze the track and spread it with small stones which were a nightmare for walking on, our feet regularly rolling with the stones and both of us ending on our bums at one point. Glad to be at the bottom we walked along the flat track behind a reservoir before turning onto the Havgas Gorge. It was completely dry at this time of year but looking at some of the boulders that lay scattered around there must be some water coming down here when the snows melt.

We were able to pick our way over the stony river bed, following the painted arrows and dots, criss-crossing back and forth. We could have continued up the river but the route we were following bore away steeply up a hill. It was a bit of a slog, especially the first part where we gained the most height. We crested a rise and there was Suzy with a goat for company. Driving back down was far quicker than the journey up to the plateau and we were able to enjoy the stunning view across Mirabello Bay.

Pefki Gorge Walk

Another gorge walk, this time round on the south side of the island. In the tiny village of Pefki we parked and walked on down past fertile allotments. The path descended down into the gorge; steep brown walls rising up either side. A short walk at just over 3 miles but a very pretty and fun gorge to walk through.

The Pefki Gorge

At the tiny church on top of a hill

Pefki Gorge, the village of Pefki and if you look closely the tiny dot of the church on the hill

Stavros Timios Walk

Starting near the village of Kalo Chorio this was a walk up an old donkey track and out onto a hillside with fine views of the Difki mountains.

It wasn’t a long walk so we decided to tack on another as we were out this way. We took a steep, rough track down through olive groves into the valley we had been looking into on the morning’s walk. Crossing a dried up river we ended up on a dirt track winding through more olives and small holdings. Rounding a bend we were confronted with several barking dogs, all on chains and mostly behind fences too. Except for one; this one looked like it had dragged the concrete block it was tied to out onto the track we were walking. It’s chain allowed it to fully cross the track and with a fence one side of it and a big, prickly bush on the other meant we had no way of getting past. So we turned around. Shortly afterwards two dodgy looking blokes rode past on a scooter towards the dogs. Hmmm…. It wasn’t a very interesting walk anyway, so we didn’t mind too much cutting it short and we were home in time to join in the Sunday BBQ.

Time for Some Boat Jobs

I took a trip back to the UK leaving Colin with an opportunity to paint the headlining in the saloon. What was an already slightly grubby surface when we bought Emerald, had become decidedly filthy from the 12 years of cooking and living aboard. We’d originally painted the fore and aft cabin headlining with a water based paint, but in damp weather the surface got sticky and every floating object including hairs, flies and dust had stuck itself on. So we’d overpainted with an oil based paint and got a much better result.

Without me there Colin had much more freedom to tear the place apart to get the painting done. The cleaning was the worst of it, especially over the galley area. It’s made a fantastic improvement though.

Bat Cave Walk

It was a cold and blustery day for the Bat Cave Walk. Starting in Kavoussi we walked through olive groves towards the sea and down a small gorge to Agriomandra beach. Then it was up over rough scrub to the remains of an ancient settlement. Along the way we scrambled down the hillside to the entrance to the Bat Cave. On hands and knees we crawled through the entrance and into the large cavern behind. No bats to be seen unfortunately but it was oddly warm inside the cave, so much so that it kept fogging up my camera.

Leaving the Bat Cave

Plenty of churches but I still haven’t seen a sign for the Church of the Poisoned Mind

The Bat Cave Walk

Rictis Gorge Walk

A 40 minute drive towards Sitea brought us to a track signposted to the Rictis Gorge. The cars drove on down the track to reduce some of the distance, until we reached an old bridge and could drive no further. The path passed under the bridge between orange and lemon groves, the river running beside it. Water was running and it was lovely and cool under the shelter of the trees.

The path began to criss-cross the river and at times we had to get creative with where to cross. Usually there would be some stones or fallen branches to use as stepping stones, sometimes we had to employ big leaps. The gorge became more rocky as we descended and some rock hugging, bum shuffling and small scramble manoeuvres came into play.

Many ways to cross a river

After an hour we came to a steep drop off where wooden steps had been built to make it easier to descend. At the bottom and around the corner, the river fell in a lovely waterfall, 10m down the smooth rockface.

The path continues down to the sea, another 30 minutes walking, but the scenery was far less dramatic as the gorge widened and flattened. Lunch was eaten at the picnic tables placed by the sea before returning back to the start – this time uphill!

The Rictis Gorge waterfall

Colin’s Birthday

Colin’s birthday fell on a Sunday this year so we used the weekly BBQ as a chance for a party. Colin played a few tunes and I made a rocky road cake to share with everyone.

Playing some tunes on Colin’s birthday

Christmas

Snow arrived in the mountains in late December and the weather got chilly. Thought’s turned to Christmas and the town put it’s decorations up.

Snow on the hills

For Christmas around 30 of the winter live-aboards gathered for a Christmas dinner in the yacht club. A marvellous feast of turkey, roast veg and stuffing was followed by Christmas pud. Whilst the food settled Santa came to visit and the After Eight game was played before dancing on into the wee hours.

Boxing Day Swim

Our New Year hangovers kept us from swimming the last two years so I decided to join in with fellow Brits for the Boxing Day Swim. The sun was out taking some of the chill off the day and the winds were light.

The brave (or foolish) swimmers

New Year’s Eve

For New Year we started off with dinner aboard another boat before another night of dancing into the wee hours. The liveaboards here this winter sure know how to party!

Happy New Year!

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