One of my favourite holiday destinations is the island of Crete. Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands, Iraklion is the capital. Rethymnon, known as Rethimno to the locals, is the old town and is the second capital which has miles of golden sands, great for sun worshipers and tourists who like a mixture of cultural delights. In the summer the temperature can rise to 40 degrees Celsius. It is far better to visit the island in late summer when one can enjoy the many attractions on offer.
In the September of 1988 my husband and I booked an apartment near the sea for two weeks. The first impression we had was how very friendly the Greeks were. They would shout kalimera, which means good morning and yassas meaning hello and also goodbye. What a warm welcome for a distant traveller abroad.
Near our apartment was a small taverna. It was owned by a Greek family called Sotos. Everyday we would pass the taverna and could smell the different aromas of freshly barbecued chickens, dolmadas and pizzas. We got to know the Sotos family very well. They would invite us into their taverna and serve us Soumada, a drink made from local grown almonds. It was delicious. They would try and talk to us in broken English which was quite funny; we all ended up laughing, unsure of what had been said.
After a couple of days sun bathing we decided to hire a car and go sightseeing. Our first stop was Chanie. The streets were very narrow and were lined with souvenir shops laden with leather, pottery, ceramics, lace and home woven clothing and bed covers in an array of colours. Aromas of coffee, sweet fruit and cheese pastries surrounded us.
Our journey continued up high winding mountain roads, twisting and turning with stony edges, without barriers. The wind whistled and echoed around us, hot dust rose from the deep ravines below. I must admit I was quite scared, but soon we found ourselves descending and I could enjoy once again the glorious scenery of the many pine forests and olive groves.
We passed some quaint and charming villages. White painted flat roofed houses with small gardens. Some had terracotta pots filled with scarlet red geraniums while other were filled with purple bougainvillea. The perfume from these blooms was intoxicating. Dark haired bronzed children played happily in the narrow streets. The elderly sat in their doorways, or tried their luck playing backgammon in the many bars. Life seemed so slow and relaxing; I envied their peace and tranquility. What a fantastic day.
A night in the old town of Rethymnon sounded appealing. We visited the small Venetian harbour where fish restaurants line the harbour walls. The Greeks boast that one can eat any fish imaginable at these restaurants. Guitarists were serenading customers with their old traditional love songs. Candles flickered and colouful papier mache lanterns hung in the narrow streets, so pretty, swaying in the warm evening breeze.
The shops stayed open very late. Minoan art and cleverly embroided table covers were in abundance. The splendid Platanos Square with its richly decorated Rimondi Fountain. Built in the seventeenth century and still supplying drinkable water for residents of Rethymnon.
We realized our holiday would soon be coming to an end. The sun had never stopped shining. We achieved a great tan, but our memories of Rethymnon would last far longer than it takes a tan to fade. The wonderful Sotos family who made us laugh, the refreshing almond wine they served us. The many friends we made from Denmark, Sweden, America and of course our dear friends Frank & Gladys from Walsall, whom we still see today.
Unforgettable memories. Yassas.
We returned to Rethymnon in 2008 with our friends Frank & Gladys hoping to see the Sotos family. As we neared the street we saw their old taverna once again. To our great surprise it was still owned and run by the Sotos family. The old taverna looked more or less the same but it had been refurbished and had an automatic sunshade fitted, the favourite feature.
We stopped for refreshments and to reminisce. The son told us that his father and grandfather had sadly died. He had been quite happy to carry on running the business with his wife and daughter and still enjoyed the job very much.
By the way, he did remember us.