Disillusioned by our experience in Kos, our next destination was Crete, the island where Ianni was born and which he had extolled frequently. “Ah, Kriti, it is the most beautiful island in the world,” he had assured us. We decided to find out if that was true.
We booked a fortnight in a shared villa in Chania, a short distance from the harbour. The villa was named after El Greco, who had, reputedly, lived there back in the mists of time.
A little back story is in order here. At the time TOH was a senior branch manager for a relatively newly-formed ‘financial services’ company. The supreme head was a friend of 20 years standing, a warm, funny man. TOH’s contract with the company stipulated that he was entitled to six weeks holiday each year. The job of a branch manager was a demanding one of 10-hour days, 6 days a week, under pressure to deliver results. Weekends were frequently taken up with obligatory meetings and motivational activities. The company owned its managers lock, stock and smoking barrels, and we hadn’t had a holiday in two years.
When TOH announced that we had booked two weeks away, all hell was let loose. I won’t bore you with lengthy details of the negotiations that ensued, but it came down to the fact that if we did go away for two weeks, TOH would find his contract terminated. So off we went, at the beginning of September when the weather in Crete would be at its best.
Chania is a spectacularly pretty town, and the El Greco villa was quaint and comfortable.
Our fellow guests were a lively couple of our age, who had the room below us. On the same floor as us were another couple. There was a wife, but we only saw her once as she popped her head out of the door as we were going past, and quickly retreated like a high-speed tortoise retracting into its carapace.
In glorious sunshine we explored the town, the harbour, the restaurants, visited the beach where Zorba was filmed, and walked the gorgeous Samaria gorge. Kriti was indeed very beautiful, just as Ianni had said.
The hot water in our villa was entirely produced by solar power, which was fine when the solar was working. However, on the 5th day we awoke in the night to lashing rain and a soaking bed. Water was gushing through the ceiling. The room was small, and no matter where we put the bed, the water hit it. We laid some plastic bags beneath the cascade, but the noise of the water sploshing onto them made sleep impossible. It was suddenly very cold.
Next morning, bleary-eyed, we shared breakfast with the lively couple, Rich and Helen. The street outside was an ankle-deep fast flowing stream. There was no hot water, and would not be for the remaining nine days. During a brief break in the downpour, the four of us paddled down to the sea front. The sea had climbed out of its bed and taken up residence on the harbour and in the restaurants, piling heaps of seaweed against the buildings. The restaurants were under water and closed, their awnings ripped, plastic chairs and tables strewn among the seaweed. We made our way uphill, to a museum, where we examined shards of pottery with Greek labels. The local cinema was showing Rambo; in Greek. It was bitterly cold.
We bought a carpet to put over our bed to keep warm. And a large plastic sheet to keep the rain off, and a load of towels to heap onto the plastic to deaden the sound.
There really wasn’t much to do in Chania, in the relentless pouring rain, but we were all keen readers with a good supply of books, so we settled down in the lounge with mugs of coffee and a plate of biscuits, wrapped in our warmest clothes, and sat reading in companionable silence.
“Did you know,” said a voice from the doorway “that there are at least 10,000 species of spiders in Australia?”
It was our neighbour from the first floor, husband of the reclusive wife. A portly man, with a long beard.
Common politeness meant that we all laid down our books and introduced ourselves. We learned that our new friend was a tax inspector *Mutual Flinch*, and a leading member of, and evangelist for The Church of Sweet Running Waters. He talked at great length of the church, which didn’t have an organ but everybody in the congregation shook tambourines and clashed cymbals, both large and finger-sized, or tinkled little bells. He invited us to join him for prayers, which we all politely declined. Moving on from the church, he gave a talk on how the tax system had changed over the years, oblivious to our stony silence.
Rich broke the spell by jumping up and saying it was time for lunch. We followed suit, and heedless of the swirling stream around our ankles and wet stair rods belting down on us, we almost ran uphill in search of somewhere to eat. Installed in the furthest, darkest corner of one of the few tavernas that was open, as we were ordering Rich groaned, “Oh, for goodness sake.” Peering through the rain-lashed window was the tax inspector. He raised his hand and came over to our table, pulling up a chair. “I thought I’d lost you,” he said. “Been looking everywhere. But seek and ye shall find: Matthew 7:7.”
This formed the pattern for the rest of our stay. Cold, wet, leaking roof, stalked by a religious maniac. We never saw the wife, but in our efforts to avoid him Rich would tap gently on the ceiling of their room, signalling that it was time for us to tiptoe downstairs and go to find somewhere to eat in peace. Sometimes it worked, but mostly the tax inspector/evangelist would track us down, never doubting his presence was welcome.
One morning, lying in the small bed, listening to the irritating plopping of the rain onto the towels, TOH gave a little sigh and said: “I gave up a perfectly good job for this.” 😀
The drachma was devalued. Suddenly our spending power was vastly increased. But there was nothing to spend it on. You can only eat so much food.
We decided to try to escape from Kriti, and went to a local travel agency to book a flight home. There was nothing available. We were too late. The more desperate holiday-makers had already left.
Despite the tax inspector/evangelist, the cold and the rain, we enjoyed our holiday. Good company, good books and a sense of humour passed the time pleasantly until our departure. The Cretan people we met during our forays out into the tempest were charming, kind and sympathetic, embarrassed by the failure of their climate.
When we arrived in Heraklion for our homebound flight, it was snowing. The flight was delayed for several hours. A woman in front of me in the queue turned around and glared. In a loud voice she said: “Bloody hell, that woman behind me stinks of garlic. Disgusting.” People turned and stared. I was past caring.
At home, there was an envelope on the doormat. TOH no longer had a job. 😀
Would we ever go back to Crete again? A million times yes. Maybe not in September. And maybe somewhere with electric water heating.
We still had one more Big Fat Greek Holiday up our sleeves. 😉