Sunday, 29 June 2008

To Sicily and Cyclops 14th-17th June

The Cyclops cave, Pizzalongi

Tuna fishing boats, on the shore near Pizzalongi. Tuna fishing stopped ten years ago, and the boats have been left to rot.

Birgit, Antonio and Andreas, enjoying dinner in Antonio's favourite restaurant in Trapani. Food is glorious in Sicily, and stuff that would cost a small fortune in a deli in London is remarkably cheap here.

Corfu to Palermo in 24 hours....overnight by ferry to Bari on the SE coast of Italy.... then trains from the heel to the toe of Italy....the train is carried across to Sicily by ferry and then goes straight on to Palermo. A marathon, and we didn't really wake up until we arrived at 10.30pm at Palermo Station. But three cheers for Greek and Italian public transport; it really does get you there, no hanging about, and at a fraction of the cost in Britain. Our first impressions of Palermo when we walked around next morning were not encouraging. It looked poor, down at heel and very dirty, despite the occasional glorious building. We were keen to get out as soon as possible, and by lunchtime had decided that our best option was to take a bus to Trapani on the West coast.

We were still half asleep when we arrived at Trapani, mid afternoon. The heat was bouncing off the concrete pavements, and Sabrina needed a loo fast. There were no obvious places of refuge and then, when we were already fervently wishing that we hadn't come all this way, we saw a single sign for 'Bed and Breakfast' on the wall of an apartment block. A man, who we later knew to be Antonio, answered the door and showed Sabrina up to a rather elegant room. He gave a price which was alot more than we had been paying in Greece. Should we stay?.... We pondered outside and then rang the bell again to ask some more questions. Antonio did after all speak English, which was a rarity in Sicily. We wanted to go to Pizzalongi, about 12km further down the coast. Did he know if there might be a B&B there? He didn't. Were there any buses? No, there were not. Why, Antonio asked us, did we want to go there? Embarassed pause...we wanted to see the Cyclop's cave. Ah...would we please let him know by 5pm if we wanted the room.

From there on things got better by leaps and bounds. Antonio, it turned out, was very into the local myths and legends. He offered to take us to the cave in his car the following day, along with his other lodger Birgit, a very nice customs officer from Brenen. Both got into the spirit of discovery, and Antonio laughed alot. The cave wasn't too hard to find. Pizzolongi turned out to be a small hamlet of holiday homes with two streets, named Via Cyclops and Via Polphemus, running up the hill to a ridge of cliffy limestone rocks. Following one of these we came to a small overgrown path leading up to our cave. An information board outside it told us that it had been occupied by stone age people (flints and animal bones had been found there), but there was no mention of a Cyclops. It was a very fine cave, easily big enough for a Cyclops and his flock of sheep and goats; and there were many other caves along the ridge. Even if you couldn't quite believe that one-eyed giants lived in the area, it was interesting enough that our stone-age ancestors, and perhaps even some Neanderthals, had made their homes here.

Antonio showed us more places of interest, and then sent Birgit and ourselves off on a bus trip up the hill behind Trapani to a mediaeval town, Erice, which also been occupied since time immemorial. On a clear day you can see Tunisia from here. It wasn't that clear, but we could see the islands of Favignana and Maretimo, which both feature in the Odysseus story, and we were content with that. We left Trapani the next day feeling we had made more friends and had a very good time.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

something for the kids

Cretan snake goddess...pretty scary lady

'...maybe I'll be lucky today...'

lighting candles to the christian god in a church in Paros

We were woken up at night in Corfu by the most tremedous storm....thunder claps so loud that we were shaking in our beds. In Sami, Kefallonia we felt the earth moving under us. Luckily for us it was just a small earthquake, but 50 years ago a quake shook Sami town to pieces. In Santorini we saw how a whole island had been blown apart by a volcano, and in Sicily we saw red smokey lava still trickling down a big volcanic mountain. All of these things can be frightening, but imagine how much more frightening they were three thousand years ago, when people had no idea why or when the earth would suddenly change.

The ancient Greeks believed that there were lots of gods, and if you didn't give them proper respect, then they would call up all sorts of disasters, like storms and earthquakes. Zeus was the big daddy of the gods. He spent most of his time on Mount Olympus and usually had the final say,but the gods were an unruly lot, and were always coming down to earth to meddle in people's affairs. Zeus' brother Poseidon was the god of the sea. He didn't like Odysseus at all, because he had blinded his Cyclops son Polyphemus. Odysseus was very unlucky on his journey home; his boats were always getting caught in storms, and when Odysseus was all alone on his home-made raft, he very nearly got drowned in a storm. Who was to blame? You guessed it, Poseidon.

Athena on the other hand was very fond of Odysseus and often gave him help. She was the beautiful daughter of Zeus, tall and with grey eyes. She could change herself into any body. She came to the young princess Nausicaa in a dream, disguised as the girl's best friend. She pursuaded Nausicaa that she should go down to the river the next morning to wash her clothes, which were lying about her bedroom dirty and crumpled. And there, as the story goes, Nausicaa found the ship-wrecked Odysseus, and gave him olive oil to wash with, and clothes to put on.

There were lots of gods and godesses and whenever Odysseus and his men had a piece of really good, or really bad, luck, then the gods were usually held responsible. The ancient Greeks also had a strong belief in fortune-telling and in omens. (ask mum or dad what an omen is) Fortune-tellers who made the right predictions, or who interpreted the omens correctly, were often given a big reward. Penelope waited twenty years for Odysseus to come home. When an old man from abroad told her that he would be home soon, she said she would shower him with gifts if he was proved right. He was right; luckily for him!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Nostalgia in Corfu 9th-13th June

We meet up with Angeliki and George at Liapades
The monastery at Paleokastritsa...the site of Lord Alcinous' palace?

A snake slid over Doreen's sandals while she stood by this spring on the beach. An omen from the gods maybe that THIS was the place where Nausicaa washed her clothes?
We have been reading Homer's story as we go along. Once you've got to grips with the flowery prose it's a really great read, with lots of meaty descriptions. Here's a little taster.
Corfu (Kerkyra for the Greeks) was Odysseus' last port of call before he reached his home in Ithaca. All his comrades were dead; he was the sole survivor of the long journey. He had spent seven years with the lovely lady Calypso on the island of Gozo (Malta) but at last the Gods took pity on him and decided to help him get back home. Following Calypso's advice he made a raft and set sail with a fair wind behind him. As sailors always have, (until satellite navigation), he depended on the stars to navigate his course. Homer describes it thus: "He sat with his hands on the steering oar and in expert fashion began to guide his course. Sleep never fell on his eyelids as he watched the Pleiades, watched the Wagoner, slow to set, watched the Bear that some call the Wain, and which ever on the same spot with anxious eye upon Orion, and which alone among the constellations has no share in the baths of the ocean. Calypso the goddess had bidden him in his sailing to keep the Bear on his left hand side. For seventeen days he sailed onwards across the sea; on the eighteenth day there loomed before him the shadowy hills of the land of the Phaeacians (Corfu); at the point where it was nearest it looked like a shield in the misty sea."

So close to home, but Odysseus' luck runs out again. The god Poseidon, who never liked Odysseus, conjures up a terrible storm; the mast of the raft breaks in two and the waves sweep the craft along "like the North wind, late in summer, sweeping thistle stalks over the plain" At last the raft breaks up and Odysseus must swim for his life. After two days in the sea he sees land..."But when he is no further distant than the voice of a shouting man can reach, he heard the roar of the sea against the rocks, for the heavy breakers dashed themselves on the solid coast, thundering in fury....there were only jutting headlands and reefs and crags". After hours of struggling, and searching for safe spot to swim ashore, he "came abreast of a flowing river, where he thought the ground best to land on, being clear of rocks and sheltered from winds". He manages to drag himself out on to the beach. "His body was swollen now all over and brine in streams gushed from his mouth and nostrils" Poor guy! However he manages to drag himself up the beach to the shelter of two olive trees, cover himself in leaves and fall into a deep sleep. Next day, he is found there by Nausicaa, daughter of one of the island chieftains, lord Alcinous. She, with other young women, has been washing her clothes in the river. She gives him olive oil to clean himself, some clothes to wear, and shows him the way to her father's palace. Alcinous listens to his tales of woe - about Cyclops, Circe, the Laestragonians and the cattle of the sun god. Odysseus had been in uncharted waters and, being the sole survivor, had no-one to contradict his stories. Wouldn't you exaggerate a little to justify how you had managed to lose the crews of twelve ships? Alcinous however had a generous nature, and he loads Odysseus with gifts and takes him back to Ithaca in one of his own ships.

We have our own, rather more prosaic, story of arrival to tell. There are no direct ferries from Ithaca to Corfu. With Doreen, we boarded a huge luxurious ferry to Igoumenitsa, a large port on the mainland very close to Corfu. At midnight, we were the only foot passengers disembarking, into a dark, empty harbour.....deserted except for one playful dog, who picked up the ball at the end of the ferry's mooring rope in his mouth and ran off into the darkness with it, leaving the harbour worker scratching his head. A funny moment...but then we had to roll our suitcases a good half mile to our prebooked hotel...not such fun.

Next morning another ferry took us the short distance to Corfu, which was looking dreamy in the gentle sunlight. We had arranged to stay in a friend's flat in Corfu town, and this turned out to be ideally situated, close to the sea and a short walk to the old town. The Venetians ruled Corfu for 400 years and they certainly made themselves at home. Walking round this beautful town we had the feeling that we already half way to italy. Lines of washing are strung across the narrow streets; tall building in various shades and pattinas of yellow, white and ochre, with green and blue shutters; ornate balconies with flowers tumbling down; squares and collonades; churches with domes and painted ceilings. That first evening we sat outside a small snackbar and listened to a choir, practicing in a room opposite; hundreds of swifts were sweeping overhead making their shrill little screeches. We were enchanted.

In Corfu we wanted to find lord Alcinous' palace, and also the beach with the river where Nausicaa found Odysseus. As usual, many places make the claim to fame, so we would have to decide for ourselves which ones fitted the story the best. We also wanted to visit the places where we had family holidays many years ago. Serendipity, these happened to be in the same area. A bus to Paleokastritsa. Our first stay in Corfu was here, when Mikis was only 8 months old. The area has wild, rocky headlands and spectacular cliffs -fits Homer's description. We walked up to the little monastery on the promontory. It has a commanding view over the bays on both sides, as described by Homer , and is Lawrence Durrell's favoured location for Alcinous' palace, but there are no ancient remains to back up the claim. The monastery itself is pretty and simply built, with storerooms below, a bell tower, and with the rooms and church around a central courtyard. We could imagine the original palace might have looked something like this, and bought some herb tea.

From the beach we took a water taxi to Liapades, in the next bay along the coast. For old times sake we stopped at 'The Cricketers' taverna for a drink, and then walked up to the villa where we had spent two long summer holidays with family and friends in 1981 and 1982. And there they were, 25 years older but still looking good, George and Angeliki, the owners. They remembered us well, as we were one of the first occupants of their prize posession, the first holiday villa to be built in Liapades. There is now a bar and swimming pool in place of the olive grove, and other villas and hotels around it, but it's still very pleasant. We sat and drank coffee with them and reminisced. The people at the Cricketers insisted that Alcinous' palace was on another site nearby -Angelocastro (Angel's castle). Next day we hired a little white car and buzzed around the northern part of the island. We visited the castle, and also possible sites for Nausicaa's washing expedition- Ayios Georgios bay to the North of Paleokastritsa and Ermones bay to the South. Both have rivers flowing into them, but we favoured Ermones, which is smaller and has nasty sharp rocks all around. With the sun going down, it had a romantic feel to it which stirred the imagination.

On Friday 13th we said farewell to Doreen and to the Greek islands. Doreen flew back home (only a little pinker than when she arrived) and we boarded another rust bucket bound for Bari in Southern Italy. (why do they save the rust buckets for the long haul trips, we wondered). The Pope had prevented us taking a more direct route to Brindisi. He was spending the w/e there and all ferries had been cancelled. Was that a godly intervention? No doubt Odysseus would have thought so.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Something for the kids

Coming back to Corfu has been a trip down memory lane. We came here several times when our kids were young. Alexis, Mikis, Sonia, Jo, Jenny, Matthew, Laura, and Dominic will remember those long summer holidays in Liapades -still a lovely place. Corfu was the home of another family, called the Durrells, a long time ago. The mother brought her three children here after their father died, and one of the boys, Gerald Durrell ,wrote a lovely book for children called 'My family and other animals'.

There's a very funny story in the book. The family have just arrived in Corfu, and went to a hotel. While they are having dinner, Gerald's sister, Margot, says that she's just been to the loo and found that the hotel keeps its toilet paper in a basket, instead of on a roll. The others tell her that the basket is for the dirty, used toilet paper . Margot is horrified (she's a fastidious girl) and she rushes back to the bathroom to scrub her hands..... and after all these years nothing has changed. There is still a little bin in every toilet in Corfu.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Kefalonia and Ithaca 2nd-8th June

Lots of people in Stoke Newington will know Liz Vernon, or her sons who went to Stoke Newington School. We bumped into her in Kefalonia, on the last leg of her trip around the world.

A possible site for Odysseus; palace in Ithaca. Andreas and Doreen are listening in awe to Spiros Arsenes, one of the 'Friends of Homer'


Jane dropped us at Ariopoli for the 9am bus and we travelled northwards 150miles that day, reaching Kefalonia around 9pm. The first part of the journey, to Kalamata was beautiful, the bus passing slowly along narrow raods through villages with houses made of silvery-grey stone; dramatic mountains rising on the right hand side, and a lovely coastline on the left. After spending time in Kalamata we continued north but the landscape got less interesting -flatter, more built up-until we reached the unlovely town of Pyrgos. A few miles further on we were dropped off the bus at Leheinia; took a taxi the 12 remaining km to Killini port and then a ferry to Kefalonia. The public transport system can work very well. We had a windy crossing, and were quite tired by now, and for the first time sat below in the smokey saloon.

We checked in at the only harbour taverna in Poros for the night. Next morning we looked out of the window; the sky was overcast and the sea a milky colour and there in the distance was Ithaca. The island had a misty shimmer around it and we were thrilled with the sight of it. Homer's story starts and finishes in Ithaca and we couldn't wait to go over and see it for ourselves. Investigation of bus timetables soon revealed that we were going to be stuck in the harbour unless we hired a car, so we did -a little blue one- and were soon looking around Kefalonia. Is the largest of the Ionian islands and very beautiful. Gently rolling mountains, covered in oak and cypress trees. Only the highest mountain in the centre of the island, Vounos Aetos (Mount Eagle) was steep and the bare rock shines a silvery white against the surrounding green.

We decided to stay in Sami, as this has the nearest harbour to Ithaca and is the main ferry port. Before owt else, we went to the min-market there and Sabrina found herself face to face, shopping baskets in hand, with Liz Vernon... it felt surreal. She and her partner Nick have been sailing round the world for seven years, and their little boat was moored in Sami harbour. Over tea she recounted some of their travels. The boat is a floating house and means of transport and it is, Liz said, a very economical way to see the world...her teachers pension is stacking up!

Sami is a pleasant but ordinary little town, rebuilt after a severe earthquake in 1953. We found ourselves a very nice apartment with great views over the mountains and the sea (and Ithaca). Our fellow guests were German engineeers who were installing more wind turbines along the mountain's ridges. Doreen, Sabrina's Salford University friend, joined us after a couple of days and was installed in the apartment below us. (a veritable ballroom in size) . As we sat on our balcony eating supper on our first evening together the whole building shuddered around us-a mild earthquake. On out last day on the island there was another bigger quake, whilst we sat on the beach. A strange and rather scarey experience, to feel the ground you sitting on moving. A while later we found out that the tremor had been 6.5 in Patras on the mainland, resulting in two deaths and a lot of building damage.

The three of us explored Ithaca together for two days, taking the ferry over in the early morning and returning to Sami in the afternoons. Ithaca is a small island and these days is part of the municipality of Kefalonia. The reverse would have been true in ancient times, as Ithaca had the most favourable position for trade by sea. Although small, we had to hire a car if we wanted to see all the ancient sites in such a short time. Homer gives very detailed descriptions of Odysseus' s palace, of where he landed when he finally returned to ithaca and where he hid his treasure (in a cave where nymphs were worshipped) There are two major sites which have buildings and artifacts of the right age (Mycenean) which fit the palace descriptions pretty well. The first is on a small hill close to the little harbour where we arrived by boat; the second at Pelicata, close to a village called Stavros. We went to a tiny museum near the latter which had some little bronze figures, pots etc from Pelicata. By some lucky chance there was a party of Greeks who were about to take a tour of the site itself with members of the local 'Friends of Homer'. The leader of the expedition , Spiros Arsenes, an ex mayor of Ithaca, invited us to join them and we spent a fascintaing couple of hours in theiri company. The Pelicata site has only been subjected to limited archeological exploration in the 1930's (by Brits) but now the Friends were raising money to buy the site and do more extensive exploration. It felt like a time-watch programme. Without too much imaginative invention we were easily convinced that this was indeed the palace -with steps down to basement storerooms, a cystern and a bath fed by a fresh water spring, where Odysseus' wife Penelope bathed each day, as described by Homer.

We came back to Kefalonia exhilerated and with lots of lovely photos of what we had seen. Should we have wished, we could also have taken away shards of ancient pottery, which littered the site, but that would have been naughty. Hoepfully next time we come to Ithaca the Friends will have started their digging and found more evidence to support their claims. Our last day was spent on the beaches around Sami. There is a particularly fabulous one called Antisamos where scenes from the film 'Captain Corelli's mandolin' were shot (boo,hiss). The Kefalonians only allowed it to be filmed there if the very anti-communist stuff was taken out.... and they seemed to be happy with the result, and much money was paid over into the local economy. We waited in a harbour taverna for our ferry to Corfu -the last Greek island that we will visit- and indulged in some very delicious fish soup. A fitting farewell to these two lovely islands.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Gythion, with Jane and Stavros

Andreas dancing the Rembetica in Paleochora, Crete
Jim and Rachel deciphering the Phaestos Disc of Linear B. Minoan Period
Jaane and Katerina in the Venice outfit ready for the beach
Stavros just caught a baby octopus (only for show, we released off to the wilds again)

Our ferry to Gythion was a rust bucket called Pegasus. Built to hold at least a thousand passengers, it looked like the Marie Celeste when we boarded. It seems that nobody but us had managed to buy tickets in advance. Slowly a few more dozen people got on, and then we left Crete's beautfiful shores at 8am.

There are two islands, AntiCythera and Cythera, on route, floating between the western tip of Crete and the Southern tip of mainland greece. Odysseus, like us, has travelled down the Aegean from Troy and then through these staights, the passage between the Aegean and the Ionian seas , and known for their treacherous currents and weather. According to Homer, Odysseus' ships were caught by storms and the strong Northerly wind and blown off course, 'across the teeming ocean' for nine days and nights, and finally landing off the Tunisian coast, on an island called Djerba. This was the land of the lotus eaters (hashish perhaps?); the land of forgetfulness.

We decided not to be blown off course (just too expensive) Instead we planned to reach Ithaka by crossing the Peloppese by bus, but first to Gythion. The sea was as smooth as silk for our Pegasus. We arrived at Gythion mid afternoon and waited for Jane to pick us up. Jane is the daughter of our old friend and neigbour Liz Webber.

Jane lives with her partner Stavros and baby daughter Katerina in deepest countryside close to Gythion. We were installed in a lovely apartment on the hillside behind the family farm. Here we learned alot about how people make a living in these parts. This farm was not the monoculture factory that we still grace with the name of 'farm'. Here everything was grown (olives, grapes, vegetables) and marketed locally; chickens, goats and a pig kept close by, and the income topped up with beekeeping, fishing, and, in the summer, a taverna and rental from apartments . Built up by Stavros' parents, who worked in Germany for ten years in their youth, and now continue to work seven days a week.

We had lunch one day with Liz's brother John and his partner Noni. Noni's house sits alone at the top of a hill with the most magnificent views of the Camares bay below. One of the advantages of being old is that a lot of water has run under your bridge, and sometimes other people have been swimming in the same waters, and there is much to talk about. So it was that we spent good time with Noni and John, and learned of local politics -the hotspots being rubbish collection and forest fires. Last year this part of Greece was devastated by fires, and we could see the blackened hill, perilously close to the farm and other homes in the area.

This tip of the Peleponnese is fertile, green and beautiful, and has wonderful beaches. Amazingly, it is almost untouched by tourism. Andrew, Rita, Mikis and Monique and their tribe of kids will be coming here for their holidays in August. It couldn't be bettered, and we are delighted for them. Local legend has it that Odysseas and his crew moored in Skoutari bay but were seen off after making advances to the local maidens. It seems as if it only happened yesterday! This is now an annual celebration to mark the occasion.

Jane has lived here for three years now and she speaks and understands Greek well. She and Stavros have just moved into their new house. We were impressed by how she has made a life for herself here, with many friends. It's the sort of dream that we had when we were her age, but stayed instead in london.

June 1st marked six weeks 'on the road' for us, a half way point both in time and the place we had reached. We do miss family and friends a lot (the blog is a way of keeping in touch)...but we're in no hurry to come home yet. Travelling is compulsive, and this particular journey is one that we have wanted to take for a long time. So on June 2nd Jane took us early to the bus station in Ariopoli, and we were on our way to Ithaka.

Monday, 2 June 2008

A week in Crete 20-28th May

This a giant Kouros (young man) some 1000 years after the Minoans (we have no Creatan pics yet!)
Coffe morning at Mesta in Hios

Crete is long and skinny (257km long) and far far the largest of the Greek islands. We pulled into the harbour of Iraklion in the evening, our travelling companions Vanvi and Sofia still with us. There were no welcoming room touts and we soon realised that getting a roof over our heads for the night wasn't going to be easy. Iraklion is a big city and the darkening streets felt gloomy and unfriendly. Finding all hotels/rooms either full or pricey we finally opted for a youth hostel, where we paid over the odds for the most dismal accommodation. The four of us sat over an equally dismal sausage kebab and considered our fall from grace. We decided to change our plans and leave iraklion first thing in the morning, without seeing Knossos or anything else that the area had to offer.

Next morning early we caught a bus to Chania, at the other end of the island, where we bid farewell to the girls and continued on to Paleohora on the South coast. There Rachel and Jim were waiting for us with a cool salad in a cool apartment overlooking the small harbour. We quickly found a lovely room on the other side of the bay (five minutes walk away) and happiness was restored.

Crete has more than its fair share of tourist resorts, but Paleohora is a two hour drive through mountains from the nearest ferry harbour and airport; too far for the average package holiday. Around it is the most rugged mountainous countryside, shot through with deep gorges that run down to the sea. Much of the coast is inaccessible except by boat. (we watched a truck loaded with beehives drive on to our boat at one tiny port, and off at the next -moving hives around to the best sources of nectar is common practice here)

Our apartments were at the end of town and we would sit on our balcony at breakfast and watch energetic-looking Northern Europeans making off to the hills with hiking sticks; on bikes; or even jogging. But we were enticed out of our bed at dawn by the sound of the sea, and go straight down for a swim. What greater luxury could there be?

We were specially interested in a place a few miles up the coast called Lyssos, because it is said locally to be the home of the Cyclops. It is only accessible on foot or by sea, so we hired a small speed boat taxi from 'Capitan Georgios' to get there. According to those who have studied the ancient greeks Lyssos would not have been Cyclop's home -that would be much further afield, probably in Sicily, but it certainly fits Homer's quite detailed description well. Ruins of a Roman necropolis add to the atmosphere of the place, and there is also the remains of an ancient greek temple. The only occupants now were a group of campers who chanted, bathed naked in the bay and set up a small shrine in the temple. We aslo ran into some hot weary people who had walked from Paleohora. Hardened walkers that they were, they didn't even stop for a swim before they headed back. (a 3.5 hour walk each way, in the heat!)

None of us wanted to leave Crete without seeing Phaestos and Knossos, archeological sites of the most ancient of the Aegean civilisations, the Minoans. And of course the famous Iraklion archeological museum. This, we decided, required a 2-3 day expedition. Jim, our sole, long-suffering driver, clearly missed his vocation as a rally car driver. Taking us through unmade mountain tracks with crumbly edges; through towns with no noticable traffic rules, all in temperatures around 30', we will be forever grateful that we somehow got to places, slightly frayed, but in one piece. Cretan roads also suffered from a dearth of signposting -strange when you consider the huge number of visitors each year. One time, we got completely lost. Instead of being on a slip road on to a duel carriageway we found ourselves on a dead-end, confronted by a large factory buidling. It was getting late, and there were only two men "drinking" and certainly not working inside. We were not allowed to leave (nor would they give us directions) until we had sat down and accepted the famed Cretan hospitality -the local firewater Reki with bits of cucumber and artichokes. We still hadn't found a place to sleep for the night, and Rachel looked as if she were sitting on hot coals. All ended well, in a small and delightful town close to Knossos.

There are geological fault lines right down Greece, all the way to Cyprus. This means frequent earthquakes, so it is rare indeed to find an ancient site where stones are still standing. Knossos is an exception: It was excavated in the early 1900s by Evans, who decided to resurrect columns, staircases and even rooves of this ancient palace. We quite liked this, although the reconstruction is educated guesswork, and you have the impression from the information boards around the site that other scholars may have preferred it if Evans had left it alone. The archeological museum is something else, and deserved of its reputation. The fabulous artifacts, going back 5000 years include the famous snake goddess and fresco of bull with dancers jumping over. The Minoans were already in decline by 1200BC, and the Myceneans (from mainland Greece) had Crete in a firm grip by then. It's unlikely then that Odysseus would have got so hopelessly lost (for seven years) on an island that was already well known

So we returned to Chania, well satisfied and said farewell to Jim and Rachel, who were going back for another week at Paleohora. Without our learned friends we would not have known that the birds that tumbled over the gorges on ragged black wings were ravens (croaking ' ; that the birds waking us up at dawn were collared doves; and maybe, just maybe, the big birds that sometimes circled above us were booted eagles. We also learned that a huge sinister-looking black lily, growing wild, was a Dragon Arum, and that insects slide down inside it's smooth trumpet, not to be released until the plant has ripened and produced its pollen, when the surface becomes rough enough for an upward climb!

Our next destination was to be Gythion, at the southern end of the Pelopponese mainland. However, ferries were infrequent and we could get no definite information that there would be one until the day before its departure. By sheer dogged determination , Andreas managed to obtain tickets, and we stayed in the harbour town of Kissamos, near Chania the night before departure. In a little taverna on the sea front Sabrina had the most delicious dish of the whole trip; rabbit and onions cooked in wine. (pushing back the meomory of the sweet baby white rabbits, with pink ears, that she's seen in a petshop in Chania earlier that day.)