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Sunday 6 September 2015

The Lasithi Plateau and Gournia

The Lasithi Plateau is an agricultural area located just south east of Agios Nikolaos at an elevation of about 2800 feet. The orchard crops are mostly apple, pear and almonds. Since Minoan times this has been a productive area and when the Venecians conquered the island they installed many windmills to irrigate the land. At that time about 20000 windmills were in operation, however now there are less that 5000 remaining. At the time most of the windmills that operate in summer are for the tourist industry, but there are incentives in place to return the area to wind power, rather that run the generator for the pumps that have taken over the task. The wind mills that work for the tourists are still an impressive sight.


In the middle of the plateau is a small town where we had intended to walk about and maybe enjoy some lunch. Amazingly the entire town's streets we being repaved and all the paving stones were pulled up. Mud everywhere so a walk about was out of the question. We slowly drove around the muddy streets and upon leaving town, stopped to photograph an old man and his donkey. He actually came out of his house by the front door with his donkey! When he saw Shelagh and her camera he turned his back to us, understandibly, bloody tourists!

The drive was nice, a cloudy cool day and up at that elevation bordering cold. Time to head back to the coast and our hotel for a dip in the pool and a nice chilled glass of Boutari white.

After pool time and a bottle of wine it was time to think about dinner. Shelagh had read in the Lonely Planet guide book of a restaurant popular with backpackers because its inexpensive meals. We love a good bargain so off we went. Up the street a bit, then turn left and into a small alley. Along the wall little tables are set up. The alley is lit with patio lights and emit a warm yellowish glow, the tables have cloths and the menus are ready to be perused. We sit down at the last available table and start looking at the menu. A waiter approaches and suggests we put the menu down and come inside to see what Mama has cooked tonight. Before us lies a feast of traditional Greek fare; Kleftico, mousaka, goat shanks, calamari, rice and potatoes. I have never had goat shanks so my desision was made, Shelagh chose the mousaka. We were asked to return to our table and soon our dinners were served on platters all done up beautifully, with some rice, Greek salad, potatoes and our choice of entree. Wine flowed freely and the food was amazing and inexpensive. Mama done good! Sadly no pictures.

Walking back to the hotel we suddenly heard a loud voice saying, "Hey Kouwenhoven!" I turned around and there was Jan Verhees, who we met earlier at the hotel with his wife Joni. They were at Nico's pub and the Karaoke was in full swing. We went in and enjoyed it into the wee hours with locals and tourisis alike singing their hearts out. What a riot! Good beer and Raki, the local hooch like Grappa. A slight headache in the morning was cured by a good "Full English" breakfast in the hotel dining room.



Jan Verhees, with his rich voice is a natural and for the next nine years has entertained many visitors to Crete on boat cruises and hotel lobby get togethers. Today they still live in Crete and we are in touch once in a while.

Jan and Joni Verhees. Beautiful people who have chucked it all in and are living the dream. Power to you, my friends.

The last day of our car rental had arrived and we decided to do one more outing to the ancient ruins at Gournia. This archaeological site was once a Minoan palace complex and was excavatad in the early 20th century by American archaeologist Harriet Boyd-Hawes. All the foundations are still in tact and if you imagine the wooden structures on top of them you will see the enormity of the place. The admission fee is small and goes to general upkeep. We walked the narrow streets through the ruins where this place stood some 3500 years ago in the bronze age. The trade was weapons, pottery and ship building, and the complex includes a road to the coast where the shipyard is located. The excavation completed in 2014 by the Universty of Buffalo with participation from the USA, Canada and the EU.






When we returned to Agios Nikolaos, we contacted the car rental company and were told to just park the car somewhere near the hotel, leave the keys with the front desk and they would come and get it later. Crete is so laid back, no worries.

With the car now gone from our lives we were left to explore and enjoy Agios Nikolaos for two more days. The city has a seawall to walk along. It streches from Elounda to the marina. As we were strolling along the water we came upon a little pizza joint perched on the hill overlooking the marina. We enjoyed our last pizza on Crete here with an ice cold beer. Awesome view and warm Mediterranean breezes.

A little souvenir shopping and strolling through the weekly market, just enjoying the city, stopping for a snack here and there, and gaining weight! (I speak for myself)

Jan and Joni asked us if we could all go for a nice dinner on our last evening on this holiday and we gladly accepted. They had chosen a small family run restaurant in town. The food was great, but the homemade wine a bit premature, it was still fermenting, and produced the nastiest hangover the next morning. Within hours of getting up we were at the airport, with pounding heads, trying to eat a sandwich. When the announcement came that our flight was boarding 30 minutes early because all passengers were present and accounted for! You gotta love Crete!