Our Big Fat Greek Holiday: The First Days

(photos at http://flickr.com/photos/dsmithsteeves ) May 28, 2008

We're here! Crete is hot, gorgeous, sunny and inviting. We had a long day of travel yesterday to get here, which began at 4:30 a.m. Ouch. But all went off perfectly...taxi, train, flight, bags, rental car, finding the resort, well behaved children... we couldn't have asked for a smoother trip.

Our room is clean and comfortable, and to my orderly little heart's thrill has enough storage space to completely unpack and organize for the week. The boys were elated to discover their own bunk beds, and Quinton continues to call this "my beach holiday."

Crete is spectacular. Turquoise sea, stunning coastline and just a few kilometers in begin rugged mountains. Living here must not be for the faint-hearted, considering the cold winters, rugged terrain and hot, hot summers. Thank goodness we are here at the end of May - we already have highs in the 80's and it goes well beyond that late summer.

Today we spent the morning at the hotel pool (after the requisite 1/2 hour for sunscreen smearing), and got a preview of how difficult it will be to pull the boys out of the water all week. They really do love to swim. Then we hopped in the car to go into Elounda, where we had a lovely Greek lunch on the water. Our boys ate grilled fresh sardines, and Quinton even at the head of one. What a riot! He had been advised to not do so, but he must have been feeling either oppositional or adventurous!

A little drive up the coast after gave us a spectacular view of the Venetian fortress on the little island of Spinalonga. It was also used as a leper colony in the early and mid 1900's. We hope to take a boat cruise there later this week.

Now we are settled back in our room for a little siesta and air conditioning. We have discovered the room darkening shades on our patio door, so hopefully tomorrow morning will bring a later start than today, a brutal 5:45 a.m. as Elliot announced "It's day time!"

May 29, 2008

Today started much gentler, with all of us asleep until 7:30 (thank you, room darkening shades!), and a nice big family cuddle in our bed. Off we went to resort breakfast, and then our first road trip to Knossos. Knossos is home to the remains of the first European civilization, created more than 3000 years ago by the Minoans. Portions of the palace have been recreated, and it is all rather interesting to look at. However, we learned quickly that we won't be doing anymore sight seeing in the heat of the day, as Elliot was really not coping well.

Two cranky hours later we headed into the Crete capital of Heraklion to hunt down the city center and lunch. Driving in Crete has proved to be quite the adventure, and today was no different. What we would consider two lane roads in America are used here to go three wide on a regular basis. The rule is that you just straddle the shoulder and stay right, and then just cut to the middle of the road to pass, despite oncoming traffic. At times this feels rather harrowing, but overall actually works amazingly well. The town center of Heraklion was filled with very narrow one-way streets, so we were relieved to finally find parking and a gorgeous shaded roof top cafe to eat. We ate overlooking the harbor and all its ships, breathtaking indeed. We left refreshed and cheerful, headed back to our resort and a very relaxing couple hours poolside before cleaning up for dinner.

The Greeks are very family-oriented, and it shows almost all places we go. Not only are the children welcome, they are rather doted upon. This is wonderful since our holiday consists of no "grown up only" time!

Tomorrow we are going to laze on the beach, at one of the recommended locations we received from a mom at school who grew up in Crete. Off to sleep with me now. All the sun and fresh air basically knocks us out at the same time we put the boys to bed. We try to stay awake, but alas.....it has yet to happen.

May 30, 2008

Today began a little rudely, with an upset by Elliot over going into town with Dan. He chose to not go, and then decided to change his mind and run out of the hotel room to find Dad, already gone, and me in my pajamas still in bed. Not fun, but I guess we'll chalk it up to a learning experience for him.

The day perked up after breakfast and coffee. We donned our bathing suits and gallons of sun cream and headed to Istro, a tiny little village, to enjoy it's beach. It was magnificent. Gorgeous sand, beautiful rocks to collect, only around ten people, a snack bar, lounges and umbrellas, and a clean bathroom....you couldn't ask for more. We spent most of the day there and finally begged the children out of the water to give their poor skin some relief from the hot sun.

We treated ourselves to a late and very Greek lunch at a local place in Agios Nikolas on our way back to the resort. Agios is a beautiful harbor town set into the foothills on the water. Our lunch consisted of spinach-stuffed pastries, stuffed tomatoes, greek salad, chicken with mushrooms and some bread. Yum, yum, yum! The boys have been scarfing the local food, which couldn't make the foodies in Dan & I any happier. It's hard to find "rubbish" here to eat, the food is local, fruit & veg heavy, and simply prepared. Pure heaven.

That being said, it's off to dinner with us and then early to bed for a very exhausted Elliot & Quinton. Nothing like all that sun, fresh air and sea to wipe them out!

June 1, 2008

It is afternoon, and my family gets ready to go swimming at the resort pool while I recall the last 36 hours. Van Halen blares in the background, a certain party for my three men.

Yesterday was another pleasure, as we drove up to a small old traditional village in the mountains called Kritsa. There's one road into the village as it winds up, and another single road out. We shopped for local hand-made treasures, finding some nice Christmas gifts. Dan & I got some much-needed salad spoons made of gorgeous olive wood, and the boys each bought an olive fork made of the same wood. They put them to work at lunch, feasting as always on the local olives.

Lunch was in a taverna's upper veranda, treating us to a view of the surrounding mountains and another simple but delicious meal. On the way down the village we caught a glimpse of local life as we noticed an elderly woman up on her veranda doing her wash in a big concrete tub. Traveling to these places makes you feel as though you have also time traveled to some place much more pure and precious than our fast-paced lives in the big cities. We even paused to watch the local shoemaker cut leather, much to the boys' delight. As we left the village there was a typical Quinton comment about how the shoemaker's wife had a mustache. Hilarious.

Then back to the resort for hours of sun and swimming in the pool, and then dinner out to Elounda. We feasted on an enormous plate of mixed local grilled fish, served whole. The boys love this, and it's quite good I think, for children to actually see where their food comes from. They loved getting a proper look at the fish bones and how to get the meat out. The waiter was my Dad 20 years younger and Greek, making me want to adopt him while we were here. He scolded us saying "we should have asked him sooner" with a smirk as we desperately had him fillet the last fish after slaughtering one of the others.

Our night was complete with ice creams in the village square, with what seemed like hundreds of Cretan youngsters out late. They were having a blast playing games and ball together with a noticeable complete lack of toys and playground equipment. It made me wonder how many of our children could have had just as much fun doing the same. Elliot entered the fray followed not far by his brother, and we ended up dragging them away from the fun much past their bedtime. It was hilarious to watch them speak English to the Greek children, all sort of looking at each other confused like, "What on earth are you saying?"

This morning (after a lie in by all until 8:00!) we drove to Plaka, another very small village just north of our resort. We took a boat there to the small island of Spinalonga, a Venetian fortress with amazing history as first a fortress and then later a leper colony. The boys loved climbing to the top giving me multiple heart attacks, while I enjoyed experiencing the reality of the place after just having finished a historical fiction novel called The Island which took place there and the surrounding area.

We are continually amazed at the friendly service and love given to our children. The culture here is so warm and inviting, what a privilege and gift this holiday is to our family.