Spinalonga


Peering into dark rooms, staring at old forgotten cutlery and walking through streets that have had their fair share of history brought upon them. The Island of Spinalonga, now inhabited daily by tourists, still really belongs to those who lived there just a century ago. The history of the island dates back a long time and most of its years spent in the gulf near the harbour of Plaka were far from calm. Spinalonga isn't somewhere regularly associated with palm trees and long holidays. If you had been banished to this Island 70 years ago you wouldn't be picking which 3 things to take with you like in the classic game- you would have to take your whole life there and leave your family and friends behind.

Although Spinalonga dates back 1562 many know it well from its years as a home for a community of Lepers. Its position at the mouth of the Gulf of Elounda meant it spent many years in a strong defensive position for war but by the 20th century the disease of Leprosy was at a peak and with little knowledge of it, many feared anyone who had contracted it.

A person, or a leper, who had contracted Leprosy would have to wear a bell around their neck to warn those without the disease of their presence. From 1903 those with Leprosy in Crete and eventually other parts of Greece were forced to leave their families and homes to start a new life on the Island of Spinalonga. This was one of many colonies all over the world.

Now, as I walked around Spinalonga it wasn't entirely what I expected. I expected to see ruins and fragments of a life of misery. Being forced to live in quarantine for what they foresaw to be their whole lives should have made these people give up. At this point in time there wasn't much hope for a cure and I guessed the lepers of Crete would travel there to die in one big island hospital. This wasn't the case.

After reading a book called The Island by Victoria Hislop I learn that Spinalonga wasn't a place of death and misery. So when arriving there the ruins didn't paint a picture of misery and morbidness they showed me that this had once been a place thriving with community. 

Walking around, you first came to a main street which was a row of colourfully painted buildings stood side by side. Walking inside you could find cabinets of old cutlery that had been forgotten in haste when a cure had eventually been discovered. The houses and memories have remained almost completely untouched in an attempt to preserve the true history of it.

There are a few churches on the Island, one of which you can enter. Looking around it gave the impression that the inhabitants of Spinalonga had not all given up hope. Perhaps some had turned to religion or stuck with what they believed in in the hope that one day they would be saved. 

Finally, as your trip around the island draws to a close, you come to the communal graves. Now, not everyone who lived on this island is buried there as eventually a cure was found and some were fortunate enough to return to their homes. For some, this was a relief, others however had grown to love living on The Island and couldn't remember what life was like living off of it. They would have to live with the stigma and surrounding speculation of being a leper. For those who did pass away, the large grave was where they were buried. There were so many deaths it wasn't practical at the time for each person to have their own grave. It's horrible to look at it and think of all the lives that were lost.




























Agios Nikolaos & Plaka - Greece

Agios Nikolaos


Nothing can beat trading the cold, miserable days of a British August for that blast of heat that smacks you when stepping off a plane into a hot country. Even the beads of sweat that begin to form on your forehead and the feelings of regret as you begin to question your outfit choice of black skinny jeans aren't enough to put you off.

On return from my stay in Elounda, an exceedingly beautiful fishing town on the northern coast of Crete, I have put together a series of three blog posts full of our various ventures, photographs and small snippets of information. I often feel miserable after arriving home from Greece, especially when greeted with gloomy skies and an abundance of puddles, and writing blog posts about my stay is a way of comforting myself. That, and making sure my parents have booked our next trip to our favourite destination for the following year.

After a short, air conditioned coach ride from Elounda's harbour and some exquisite views we found ourselves in the town of Agios Nikolaos. Here I was grateful for having pulled my hair back into a plait as the heat seemed to cling to your skin. It got to the stage where I had to dish out four euros for a hand held fan, which did come in very handy for the rest of our stay and provided with me with some very strong arm muscles.

Central Agios Nikolaos has a large selection of water-front tavernas and back streets of shops full of anything and everything any tourist could ever want. I heart Crete mugs, t-shirts with pictures of the island plastered of the front, beach towels- you name it, they've got it.

Our first point of visit was to the Lake Voulismeni, also known as the Bottomless lake. This lake gained the epithet bottomless due to a local urban legend that states, as the name clearly implies, that the lake has no bottom. This was partially due to the fact that when an earthquake occurred in Santorini locals noticed a difference to the waters surface there in Agios Nikolaos. Unfortunately, which isn't as exciting, Lake Voulismeni does actually have a bottom and it is 64m deep. It was a lovely stop off place to have a quick wander around as the scenery is very eye-catching and there is certainly no shortage of well decorated & quirky boats for you to capture with both your eyes and your camera.

As you can see from the photo above, we found a small cafe/taverna just past the lake full of multi-coloured chairs, flowers and ornaments. It was a lovely place to hang out and cool off in the shade of the plants. You can't fault a place when they give you free cucumber and olives to nibble on and I found myself fascinated for a good 5 minutes on how they managed to grow a tree with it's trunk woven around a bicycle. Our stop their almost lead to us missing our bus home.







Plaka


The village of Plaka is situated along the northwesterly coast of Crete. From Elounda, dealing with the temperature, it wouldn't be wise to make the walk to Plaka as there is a risk of overheating. One evening on the day we had our jeep on hire we made the drive over. However, on our daytime visit, the easiest mode of transport was the Happy Train. The train took us along the road at a speed slow enough to take some pictures of the island of Spinalonga as it drew closer. It was nice to see how the locals waved at the train as it passed them and we had a nice breeze as we journeyed along the waterfront.

The view from Plaka over to Spinalonga is really something you can't miss out on. The blue of the water alone is enough to captivate anybodies attention. The island is set right ahead in the opening to the waters surrounding Plaka. It was originally used as a defensive position during wars before it was occupied by the leper colony and it is clear the position would have been a strong one. It was hard to resist the urge to swim across which would evidently be harder than it first appears. The clear water is so transparent that it takes so much willpower to not jump in fully clothed- especially when the weather is as hot as it is.

Around Plaka you can find a range of different stalls and shops. These are very different to the ones in Agios Nikolaos and contain everything from delicately painted jars and ornaments to traditional pieces of jewelry which can be picked up for just a couple of euros. The splash of colour that fills the streets was often the highlight of many tourists photographs.

Alike many other places along the Greek coast, Plaka has a range of waterfront tavernas. Here you are paying more for the view than the food, but they often have wires similar to washing lines outside the front which are used for a very different method that is nothing to do with drying clothes. On these lines you can see octopus and squid, pinned in rows, waiting to be dried out by the sun. This makes them much tastier when it comes to eating them.

The best place to go for food, wherever you are in Greece, is a more traditional taverna where you can share a meze. A meze being a selection of small traditional dishes that you place in the middle of the table, almost like an English buffet, before eating as you please. We often find that these meals are not only the tastiest but also the cheapest and it is at these more traditional places that we receive the best hospitality. Whether it's Calamari, Fried Courgettes or Tzadziki we always leave feeling fulfilled.

If you are interested in finding out a little about the history of Spinalonga, the leper colony and life beforehand keep an eye out over the next few months as I will be sharing some of my writing and photographs from my trip there. Alongside this, I will also be posting some content similar to this talking about Elounda itself before going on to talk about the small, picturesque village of Mochlos.

Happy holidays. 







Bulworthy Forest Lodges


It's that time of year again. Hopefully when you're reading this I'll be in some quaint little Greek Taverna drinking an awful lot of peach ice tea. Or maybe I'll be on the Island of Spinalonga learning about the lives of the lepers. Or I could quite possibly be having a bicker with my brother by the pool over who gets to sit by the window on the plane home. In fact I can pretty much guarantee it'll be the last option!!

In the mean time, before setting off tomorrow I need to pre-write something that will go up for you guys during my time in Elounda. Taking things back in time a little, you may have been here long enough to remember a post I wrote back in March called The Great Outdoors (if not, you can read it by clicking here). This consisted of a selection of photos I took with my friend Mollie on a walk we went on the previous May. Recently, feeling like another was way overdue, we were back again to walk through the trees that surround Bulworthy Forest Lodges as never before have I found somewhere so lovely to capture with my camera.

Before I could even get my camera out we were confronted by a gang, yes a gang, of evil ducks. No, this is not some sort of twisted fairytale. We were in fact chased by what must have been about 15 ducks and let me tell you they did not seem to have good intentions!! I don't know if they were protecting their young or if they thought we had food, what I do know is that making random shouting noises didn't scare them whatsoever!! We had to resort to pretending we were chucking food in the pond before making a run for it. Recounting the story lead to us receiving some very strange looks.

Down in Devon we are obviously not blessed with beautiful weather. You can leave the house smothered in suncream and find yourself needing an umbrella by mid-day, it's that unpredictable. Currently it is a mixture of clouds, rain and a bit more rain. The 30 degree temperatures of Crete will be welcomed with open arms. I hope wherever you are in the world the sun has made an appearance and that you enjoy the rest of your summer. Sorry this is a shorter post than I would have liked but I am currently trying to stuff a very large Peter Pan stuffed toy into my suitcase because I can't bare to leave him behind. If you don't know me that sounds very peculiar but to everyone else that last sentence will most probably make complete sense. Goodbye for now!!










We will never know what happened to this pheasant. R.I.P.