Salad And Omelets In Kritsa 1975
In 1975 my wife and I had our first continental holiday – two weeks in Crete, self-catering, cost £105. The resort was Aghios Nicholas, one of the island’s showpieces situated a short 30 miles from the airport in Heraklion.
It was the month of May and the sea was still cold, so we spent a lot of our time sightseeing. The accommodation was basic – Spartan I suppose – and in a private house.
When I enquired why there was no light switch in the bedroom, the landlord smiled indulgently and explained that all I had to do was to move the wardrobe out from the wall, and I would find the switch behind it! The bathroom was down the hall and was shared by all and sundry, but then, what could one expect for the price?
So, the people were very friendly and the weather was warm, apart from the steady gale which blew for two hours every day! Of course that was siesta time, two to four, as we soon realized.
A visit to Knossos was mandatory and there was a regular bus service leaving from the town square, as it was then. On arrival at this bus station, we got tickets at a “hole in the wall” and wondering whether the service was national or private, I asked a native who spoke English how did one become a bus driver, “You buy a bus,” he answered.
The bus was decorated inside with hand-knitted brightly coloured hangings and over the windscreen was a picture of the owner and the bus, the owner and his wife, a few religious pictures, a rosary beads and nearest to the driver, a calendar girl leaving nothing to the imagination.
The visit to Knossos was memorable, and the journey back took us two hours travelling through tiny mountain villages and terrifying roads with hairpin bends galore.
Later, we went to hire bicycles in order to visit the village of Kritsa, which we discovered was eight miles away – all uphill. The proprietor of the cycle hire place was a twelve year old with a red baseball cap and he quoted us fifteen shillings each for a day’s rental. But then he took me aside and said:
“Sir, I have much better bikes which I keep hidden from the tourists and I would like you and your lady to have two of them – it’s only an extra five shillings.”
In the interest of safety, I agreed and arranged to pick them up next morning. We did so next day and were about to depart when our friend said dramatically “Wait, Sir, you can go nowhere without your box of punctures.” Having taken same on board, we cycled off and after doing the eight miles uphill, we arrived in an exhausted state in the village of Kritsa.
It was a quaint little village perched on the side of a mountain, and the centre, which held the only cafe and also the only tree, was a triangle where all the streets converged.
We saw people eating bread, salads, tempting omelets, tomatoes, and coffee, so we entered the triangle and I attempted to order from the man at the coffee counter. He nodded and said “Sit down please.”
I returned to my seat and fifteen minutes later, when nothing had happened, I repeated my request, with the same result.
By now I was peckish and my fuse was quite short. But then we noticed a very old, very tiny woman tidying up tables, and my wife approached her and indicated what we wanted. She smiled and nodded and disappeared up the street.
We decided to give it five minutes more, and were about to leave when she arrived with two plates of exactly what we wanted. Then she brought the coffee, and the bread, and the bill and disappeared again.
Well, we had a handsome lunch and then I saw her again and I followed her out of curiosity. I discovered that the cafe was a family co-operative. Only the coffee came from the counter at the café, the omelets came from another house and the bread and salad came from yet another house – and the old lady was the key to it all.
The return journey downhill was pretty hairy and I was glad that we had those “extra good bikes” which had brakes! That evening, chatting to two other tourists, we found out that there was a bus to Kritsa three times a day, and the return fare was about two shillings!! We slept well that night!
We were not to know that on Crete this was Easter Week, two weeks later than ours and on the Saturday we understood there would be a Greek Orthodox Mass in the church on the hill. We considered that this would be better than no Mass, and we went there. We were not familiar with Greek Orthodox procedure, and were amazed to find the congregation standing and all chatting noisily and the altar was behind a screen. The priest came out every so often and there would be a kind of silence while he blessed the people.
A choir of four men chanted incessantly during the service and at the end a casket like an Ark of the Covenant, covered with pink carnations, was carried out on the shoulders of six men. It was beautifully made of polished oak and was obviously very heavy. Four priests carrying lamps fell in behind and marched off downhill towards the centre of the village. It was almost dark at this time.
At the same time a second procession had started off from a church on the opposite hill and it was obvious they were going to meet at the centre. They did so and when they did, there was a cacophony of explosions as everyone fired explosive sparklers into the air. The assembled crowd then set off up towards the second church, where an outdoor altar was set up between two palm trees.
Having ascended to the altar the priests began a service while everyone chatted and fired more exploding sparklers, some of which I noticed had landed in one of the palm trees. Smoke began to rise and next thing, the whole tree began to blaze, but the priests continued undeterred. Then, up the hill came a group of men handling an antiquated fire pump, which was manually operated by six stalwarts. Out in front stood one guy pointing a hose up at the fire. The jet which came out of the hose formed an arc a full eight feet long, and merely drenched the approach to the altar. Consternation ensued and finally the fire died down and the “brigade” disappeared quietly though they did get a round of applause.
The priests wound up the ceremony on schedule and the crowd dissolved amid great chat and laughter.
Many other things happened during those couple of weeks and all in all, we had a lovely time and it was a great holiday. I still have some of the souvenirs we bought.
©Geoff Cronin 2005
About Geoff Cronin – 1923 – 2017
There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.
Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. This was followed by two further books that related tales of further adventures in Waterford and Dublin.
Thank you for dropping in today and you can read the previous chapters of The Colour of Life in this directory: