Minos, Minotaurs and Mazes

Minos, Minotaurs and Mazes

Manolis, our obliging landlord at the Eleonas Country Village, organised an ancient treat for our last day on Crete. Our evening flight gave us plenty of time for a two-centre Minoan tour – the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and Knossos, the jewel in the Minoan crown.

The cool and well-appointed museum brings together archaeological finds from all over Crete, covering over 5,500 years of the island’s rich and varied history. Unsurprisingly, pride of place is given to the draw-dropping treasures of the Minoans. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Next stop the palace complex at Knossos, one of the most famous archaeological sites in all of Greece, if not the world. The terms ‘Knossos’ and ‘Minoan’ are lifted straight from Greek legend – King Minos and the labyrinth he used to imprison his son, the bull-headed minotaur. Nobody knows what the ancient Cretans actually called themselves, but judging by the artefacts and frescos, they were obsessed with their bulls.

Experts still squabble over the historical record but there is general agreement that Knossos eventually became the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilisation and culture. The first palace complex was established around 4,000 years ago (with traces going back a further 4,000 years) and abandoned at some time towards the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1380–1100 BCE). That’s seriously old.

Knossos today is overrun by visitors and we just added to the number wandering around the site on raised walkways to help preserve the delicate ruins beneath their feet. What people see is a partial reconstruction as imagined by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans who did most of the digging in the last century. Purists dismiss his confection as fanciful at best. Authentic or not, for the average punter, the site is spectacular and evocative in a way unmatched by many other ancient sites. We all queued up patiently to see the ‘Throne Room’. And who wouldn’t?

 

Postcards from Crete

Postcards from Crete

Aphrodite’s Sanctuary

Darkness had fallen by the time we opened the front door of the Aphrodite Guest House at the Eleonas Country Village. Expectations were high and it didn’t disappoint – simple pleasure, tastefully presented. On day one, Liam leapt out of bed and threw open the window to let in a heady scent of rosemary, sage and marjoram and a words-totally-fail-me view. Yes, this’ll do for our week of solitude and Scrabble, cards and cuddles, rest and recharge.

Toddlers on Acid

After two glorious days serenaded by monastery bells and a chorus of horny cicadas, the melody has been shattered by toddlers on acid. They weren’t expected up here in these hills. High-fibre parents encourage little Hugo and Matilda to express themselves in any way that takes their fancy, and so they do – loudly and often. Real life won’t be so obliging when they grow up.

We upped towels and fled to the tranquillity of our patio, dragged out the Scrabble, popped a cork and settled down beneath the canopy of a fat-trunked carob tree. As we supped and scrabbled, a panicky goat suddenly appeared from nowhere and scuttled past. A startled Liam jumped from his seat. Ever the expert sot, he didn’t spill a drop.

The Road to Zaros by Liam Brennan

Day four, and Jack has a case of the munchies. While he lounges under the shade of a carob tree, off I trot in the blistering heat to the local village in search of essential supplies (Pringles, Hobnobs and village plonk). I say ‘trot’. By the time I had negotiated the never-ending ‘road’ to Zaros, with its twists and turns through the hills into the valley below, my old-man legs had packed up, I was more or less blinded by sweat, and delirium was beginning to set in. It’s an indication of how pathetic I must have looked as I wobbled past the village tea house that one of the octogenarian villagers rocking gently in his shaded chair gestured for me to take a seat next to him.

‘Kàni polì zèsti’ (it’s very hot), he mumbled nonchalantly.

No shit, grandad.

I panted an appreciative ‘thank you’ in Greeklish and pointed at my wrist – time was ticking by and I was on a mission. As it turns out, that mission was accomplished in some style. Thanks to the local shopkeeper who steered me away from his dusty stock of imported wine, I staggered back to Jack with gallons of the local rosé, decanted into recycled one-and-a-half-litre plastic bottles at 3 Euros a pop. Not to mention the sour cream Pringles and a stash of chocolate bars. I may have lost half my body weight in sweat and pulled every muscle of my ageing body, but at least Jack was happy. That man owes me. Big time.

Much Ado

We dine late to avoid the over-fussy kids and their over-fussing parents. Food is gloriously no-fuss – hearty country fare, fresh and generous, and all washed down with robust local wine. And Διαμάντι (Diamánti), our waitress, provides a side order of wit and wisdom. On day two, a sparkling trio of West Country Brits emerged from the beige backdrop of pasty-faced, sensibly-sandalled hikers. We shared a joke or three and chatted our way through the honeyed raki. You know who you are and we thank you.

Déjà Vu

Our Cretan idyll delivers unexpected familiarity. If I close my eyes, I’m transported back in time to another land of randy insects, loose goats, old men in tea houses and pine-smothered hills.

In the end, who could tell the difference between a grandma riding a donkey in Greece, Bulgaria or trotting through a Turkish village?

Turkey Street, Chapter 13, Blesséd are the Meek

As I once wrote in a book. Ok, no headscarves or hassle, and the call to prayer has been replaced by the chimes of the local blue-domed monastery, but looking at the following snaps – the first of our Cretan digs, the second of our former house in Bodrum – you get my drift.

Host with the Most

Manolis, our gentle and affable host, runs a tight ship with a light touch – efficient but not pushy, with an ask-and-it-shall-be-given style. All the staff were helpful and friendly, but for us, it was Diamánti – our diamond – who really made our second honeymoon something to tell the metaphorical grandchildren about. It rained on our last day – a summer monsoon to frighten the herd, all snap, crackle and pop.

We took our seats in the taverna with a couple of glasses of white to enjoy the noisy spectacle. Diamante emerged from the bar to present us with a gift. Now that’s never happened before.

Efcharistó.

We never got to eat the fruit of the lotus tree. It must be the only shrub missing from Eden. So we went home, but we’ll be back.

Coming next – Minos, Minotaurs and Mazes

 

The Lotus Eaters

The Lotus Eaters

Greece beckons – seven lazy days round a Cretan pool. As with last year, we’re flying from Norwich’s bijou international airport but, unlike last year, we’ve gone up a notch or two, accommodation-wise. We’re so off the beaten track, there’s no track at all, just a collection of stone cottages sprinkled over the side of a hill with its own spring and a couple of travel awards. And the unpretentious comfort has earned it a sparkling set of five-star reviews. Our sanctuary for the week is the Aphrodite Guest House, close to the bar. Expectations are high.

Although it’s a paradise for hikers and bikers, we plan to do little but sleep, float, eat, sup, read, bonk, play snap and cheat at scrabble. The only exception, I think, will be a trip to ancient Knossos. As one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, it’s bound to be nose to nipple with babbling coach parties. But it’s there and it’s not far, so it would be an insult to give it a miss.

Who knows? We may turn into lotus eaters – from Greek mythology, that is, not the seventies TV series set on Crete starring Wanda Ventham, Benedict Cumberbatch’s mother. According to legend, those who ate the fruit of the lotus tree lost the desire to return home. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Top of the Pansy Pops 2017

Top of the Pansy Pops 2017

Perking the Pansies has recently passed its seventh birthday. It’s quite a milestone, I think. Most personal blogs are lucky to make it beyond the terrible twos. I still write it because I still enjoy it and I’m chuffed that enough punters still pop by to catch up on my news and views, rants and rambles. You make a fading fairy very happy. As it’s the turn of the year, it’s top ten time once again. So, ladies and gents, and those who are both, neither or someone in between…

The glitter ball goes to (drum roll please):

Sticky Fingers and Sticky Knickers

And the runner up is:

Tits with Chicks

The top two promised smut but delivered something altogether more innocent. I do hope visitors weren’t too let down, but this does demonstrate the value of a good headline, the ruder the better or so it seems. The also rans are an eclectic pick ‘n’ mix of danger and disability, dotage and death, beards and biography, civic history and doing the right thing.

The Story of Norwich | John Hurt, RIP | Life After My Saucepans | Praying for Time | A Message from My Husband | That Sinking Feeling | Seven Signs of Ageing | I Beg Your Pardon

In these social media-obsessed times, the most shared post was Home Sweet Home, an image-rich homily to little ol’ Norwich, published while Liam and I were away livin’ the vida loca, Greek-style.

Morris Dancing

And the most popular single image in 2017 (ever, in fact)?

Do we ever learn?

And the most popular old post in 2017?

Gran Canaria, Sex Emporium

Apparently not! 😀

Happy New Year to one and all.

Postcards from Corfu Town

Postcards from Corfu Town

Knickers in the Wind

Our final night in Corfu (or Kerkyra as the Greeks call it) is a slow meander through Corfu Old Town, a labyrinth of lanes and alleyways stuffed with churches and intriguing doorways, and shadowed by row upon row of crusty Venetian-era tenements – all tatty shutters and knickers flapping in the breeze. Down on the street, tourist tat competes with luxury labels, artisans with artists, tavernas with silver service. There’s a real buzz and we’re lapping it up. It’s the second UNESCO World Heritage Site of our mini grand tour and it’s gorgeous.

A Sticky Wicket

We’re ending the evening watching trendy young things doing what trendy young things do everywhere – chatting, flirting, larking about and having fun. We’re observing the crowd from the back row of a swish bar in the Liston, an elegant Parisian-style arcade built at the turn of the nineteenth century when the French were top dogs. The building overlooks a cricket pitch laid out after the British booted out the French. And surprisingly, the crease still resounds to leather on willow even today.

The Liston Exterior

Waiting for our late lift back to Elleana’s gaff, we chatted with Josie and George from Bradford. They’ve been visiting Corfu on and off for decades and despite being a little long in the tooth, they still gad about the island on a quad bike, Josie wrapped round her man, wind blowing through her purple rinse. While I’m slightly concerned about the serious risk of death or disability at every turn, I rather admire their pluck.

So that was Corfu – seven heavenly days, two countries, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and enough devil’s brew to sink a frigate. We shall return.

 

 

Postcards from Albania

Postcards from Albania

When in Greece go to Albania

It’s only three miles from Corfu at its closest point so it would be rude not to. We sailed the hydrofoil from Corfu Town and here we are sipping a cappuccino at a smart restaurant in Sarandë, a port and resort on the Albanian Riviera – yes, they’ve got a riviera. We’re on a coach trip with a herd of Saga louts – Brits and Germans mainly. We had neither the wit nor the inclination to organise the tour independently. Albanian’s call their country Republika e Shqipërisë. No, I can’t pronounce it either so let’s just stick with Albania.

Sarande

The Trojan Connection

Our first excursion is to the ancient city of Butrint – Roman Buthrotum back in the day and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After years in Turkey, I tend to be a bit blasé about old cities – Turkey’s got ‘em by the quarry-load. But I have to admit the site is pretty impressive with its Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman remains. And the setting on the edge of a lagoon is magical. According to Greek mythology, the city was founded by exiles from Troy. A fanciful tale? Maybe not.

We’ve meandered through a mozzie-infested thicket and over long-buried streets to various ruins in various stages of ruination, including a Byzantine basilica – reputedly the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in old Constantinople. While imposing, I didn’t think it was that big but what do I know?

Butrint

As we rambled, I Googled ‘Butrint’ and happened across the UK Butrint Foundation. Guess where it’s based? Yep, Norwich. Small world.

Pushy Fraulein

We’re back in Sarandë for lunch. Many of our fellow passengers would push their firstborn under a bus to get to the buffet first. It’s like feeding time at the zoo. I had to neck an Albanian beer to get over the shock of an ancient Teuton with fat ankles, bum bag and curly perm elbowing me out of the way to get her grubby hands on the köfte.

Eye Spy

Our afternoon excursion sped us through the Butrint National Park to the Blue Eye, a spring that bubbles forth from a deep pool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen waters so clear or iridescent. The images here are for real – no filters required.

Ooh, Aah, Kosovar

We have an hour or so to kill before our hydrofoil back to Corfu Town. Liam’s sniffed out a swish harbourside bar, with prices to match. I’m sipping Kosovar wine. I didn’t know they made wine in Kosovo. Sarandë is a handsome town – more modern than I was expecting but then I don’t really know what I was expecting. Actually, I’ve never visited an ex-‘Communist’ state before. I’ve been to yer actual Commie country – when I took the train 1,500 or so miles from London to Moscow during Brezhnev’s reign. And then there was Romania when Ceaușescu was on the throne. Both experiences were broadening but those eras are long gone. Albania is beautiful but it’s developing fast. There are mouths to feed and aspirations to fulfil. I just hope they don’t lose too much in the mad rush to be just like everyone else.

Here Endeth the Lesson

I’m guessing not many people know much about Albania. I certainly didn’t. But I know a little more now, courtesy of our guide, a splendid young man who speaks great English, and great German too by the sound of it. Throughout the day, he’s been giving us a potted history in bite-size episodes. He even mentioned the German occupation during the Second World War, something  I thought he might have skipped to avoid offence. It was done in such a matter-of-fact way, I’m sure no one was offended. Our young guide is looking to the future, not dwelling on the past. I’m rather taken with him (not in that way – get your minds out of the gutter). He ended the lesson by saying simply,

Don’t judge Albania by what you’ve heard. Judge Albania by what you see – good and bad.

He got a round of applause – and a tip.

Coming soon – Postcards from Corfu Town.

Laundry line

 

Postcards from Corfu

Postcards from Corfu

The A Gays

We chose simple and we got sublime. Our billet is a modest studio (A1 for the A Gays) overlooking a sparkling pool.

The Little Terrace

All we have to do is drag our tired old carcasses the few yards from bed to lounger – perfect for the R&R we crave. Most days we laze about dipping and sipping, reading and dozing. We deliberately booked the week after schools went back – to avoid over-wrought brats who scream and splash. We hadn’t wagered on the toddlers, though. We’re being diverted by the neurotic antics of four nervous grown-ups dancing round Lola, a tiny tot wearing a kamikaze-style sun hat and what looks like a suicide belt. Lola’s only word is ‘NO!’ and she repeats it a lot.

Elleana the Great

Our landlady is a magnificent Corfiot matriarch called Elleana – not one to cross, we think. Liam has charmed her with warm talk and a few well-practised words in Greek. It’s done the trick. She keeps a well-stocked bar which we’re eager to drain. Corfiot wine is surprisingly quaffable given it’s stored out the back in three-litre plastic bottles.

Elleana’s gaff is protected by a shaggy guard dog. He likes to call round for a sniff, frisk and lick. We’re not sure of the make or sex but we call it ‘Hector’.

The dog

Wasps around the honey pot

The vine harvest has brought the last hurrah of the season for squadrons of wasps. Puny by comparison to their angrier British cousins, they’re more annoying than menacing and are only really interested in sipping from the glass Liam keeps topped up by my side. I’m happy to share. Several have drowned during the mid-afternoon Bacchanalia. A leathered Brummie reclining at the far end of the pool keeps insect spray to hand. Every so often we hear ‘pssssst’, ‘pssssst’, pssssst’ then she returns to her chick lit. We call her ‘Ms Raid’. The wasps may be irritating but the mozzies are less voracious than expected. Either that or our four years in Turkey have turned our blood to poison.

The Youngest Gays in the Village

The resort is serene and spartan – just a few tavernas and pizza parlours – and most of our fellow visitors look like they’ve been pickled. It’s a novel experience being (almost) the youngest gays in the village. The locals are friendly and obliging, if a little frayed after a long hot summer. Liam was nearly laid low by an upturned beer crate. Fixed to the pavement with duck tape, it was there to cover a big hole.

Jack on the Road

Overheard

As many know, I’m a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) eavesdropper. Here’s a few random throwaway lines picked up on the radar as we gadded about:

What’s the wever tomorrer?

‘ow do I know? Do I look like a weather cock?

She’s very end of season, that one.

No, Joan, I don’t ‘ave a pair a woolly knickers.

For maximum effect, such quotes are best recited with a northern accent.

It’s all Greek to me

Sunsets are spent playing cards and Scrabble accompanied by the hard stuff. As the light gradually dims, we resort to mini-torches to read the letters. Liam tries to cheat with Greek and thinks I won’t catch on in the dark.

Wine that glows in the dark

 

Déjà vu

Our soporific Ionian idyll delivers unexpected familiarity. Closing my eyes, I’m transported back in time to another land of barking dogs, crowing cocks, randy crickets, loose cattle, manic drivers, ripe drains, pine-clad hills, goats, potholes, bugs and a nightly spectacle of glorious sunsets.

In the end, who could tell the difference between a grandma riding a donkey in Greece, Bulgaria or trotting through a Turkish village?

Turkey Street, Chapter 13, Blesséd are the Meek

As I observed in a book I once wrote. Ok, headscarves, hassle and the call to prayer are missing and they don’t play cricket in Bodrum but you get my general drift.

Coming soon… Postcards from Albania.

Albania