Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Spina-wrong-a Part the Second

The island is visible through the restaurant seating area.

At the small café on the front in Plaka, there was one customer. It was a man, a rather portly man who was probably in his sixties and evidently a regular. I tell a lie, across the other side of the path there were tables under a canopy where two other people were sitting, one puffing away at a cigarette. Neither seemed to be interested in us.

I tell another lie. It’s not a café, it’s a taverna, and one with two names apparently. Its sign reads “Taverna Plaka Giorgos Giovanni’s” - Take your pick. Maybe they get a lot of Italian tourists, I don’t know. Anyway, this man soon gave us a cheery “kalimera” and so we trotted over to him. He was fiddling with a mobile phone. Times have changed. Once upon a time it would have been a komboloi.

After we’d exchanged a few pleasantries, he asked us what we were doing, evidently expecting us to say that we wanted to make the crossing to the island. Of course we didn’t disappoint him and so he asked us how many of us there were. We replied that we were just the two of us, but that down on the jetty there was a French couple and also there were the two German ladies who were mooching about nearby. 

“Ooh, at least six of us,” we replied, hopefully.

“Hold on then,” he said, “I’ll make a call.” And he did. He was soon talking to someone at the other end who apparently runs a boat that makes the crossing to Spinalonga and was telling him “Yes, some tourists here want to visit the island… About six, seven at least… Yes, they’re here now.”

He waited while the bloke at the other end made his excuses, all the while glancing occasionally at us with a look that said, “Don’t get your hopes up”, whilst his eyes rolled upward slightly.

After the person at the other end had talked a while, he added, “Yes, of course they’re willing to pay.”

‘Ooer,’ I thought, ‘…Could be costly this. Personal service and all that.’ My wife gestured to get his attention, so he looked her way and she said: “Our friend. Well, no, our friend has a friend, I think he’s called Tassos. He used to work here. He’s an archeologist or something. He told us… well, no, he told our friend, that there are crossings to the island off season, at least on Saturdays and that’s why we came today. it’s our only chance. We’ve come a long way. The weather’s perfect…” She was right on that score. But the man, who evidently had been trying to get his pal on the end of the phone to hear this too, raised his head slightly in that tell-tale Greek backward nod that says, uh oh. He placed the phone back to his ear.

Another minute or so passed before he hung up, placed the phone back the table beside him and said, “He won’t come.”

“Really? But we were told that there would be boats. There would…”

“If you were here last Saturday, there were boats. But they’ve stopped for the winter now.”

Great eh? 

Ah, well, there was nothing for it but to have a little further stroll around Plaka and then make for Elounda and then Agios Nikolaos. Seeing the island up close and personal would have to wait for another year. But before we could leave a young chap appeared at the door of the taverna and asked us where we were from. He spoke perfect English, explaining to us that he’d been schooled in the UK, although he hailed from Plaka. Not that we’d spoken to him in English at all but, like so many Greeks, he wanted to practise his English on us and he did so. Not that he needed practise. I even detected a regional accent from the UK in his speech!

Whether he was hoping that we’d take a seat and order a coffee I don’t know, but he was nice enough and, after a natter of five minutes or so we made our excuses and headed back to the car.

TTFN, then "island". Maybe next time...

Before we reached the car, the two German ladies that we’d seen approached us and asked, 

“Do you know if there will be boats? To the island?” 

Why they were asking us wasn’t too clear. As I’ve often said, although my wife looks Greek enough, I look more like one of their countrymen than do quite a few of their countrymen. We explained what had just gone on around the corner, which anyway they’d been observing from a distance and they were as disappointed as we were. We’d actually followed them along the coast road from Elounda earlier and surmised that they were off-season travellers hoping for what we’d hoped for. Their little Japanese car had the name of the hire company emblazoned on each of the doors. A dead giveaway. Turns out they were friends and were staying with other friends in Heraklion. They, like us, love the islands when the tourist hordes aren’t in evidence.

After we’d wished them a happy remainder of the stay and they’d slumped off dejectedly, we hopped into Tim’s car and made our way back to Elounda. Of course, it never occurred to us until much later that the two women would have thought that we’d know what was going on since the car we were driving is very obviously not a hire car and looks very much like it’s owned by locals. You know what I mean, liberally sprinkled with scrapes, bumps and cracks in the bumpers. Never thought about that at the time.

Elounda has a pleasant enough harbour area, but we weren’t so impressed by the buildings, which seemed to us to be quite modern. It has the Kefallonia feel about it. We decided though on balance that we could have had a nice holiday there. After a brief stroll along the front, we made off to Ag Nik. where we so wanted to see the bridge and the lake.

Have you been to Agios Nikolaus (various spellings, we know!)? It had been on our “to do” list for years, after all those fabulous photographs one keeps seeing showing the outer “port”, the bridge and the inner lake. TBH, when we got there and found a place to leave the car, then began to explore we missed it first time around. It all seemed to us to be much too small. I had the impression that the harbour and lake were pretty huge, when they’re actually not much larger that a couple of tennis courts. Mind you, once we’d adjusted to it and eventually come to realise that the bridge was in fact the one we’d been seeing in all the photos, we found that we really liked the place. Once again, all the photos of the area seem to be taken from a height. When you actually walk on ground level it comes as a shock to see how steep the streets are that lead away from the waterfront.

Anyway, by now it was well past frappé time and so we plonked ourselves down on a pavement table outside the Asteria Café/cake shop and ordered. Thus the photos that now follow…

Elounda harbour.

Still Elounda. or was this Ag. Nik? help!

Frappé at the Asteria, Agios Nikolaos

Taken from upstairs at the Asteria.


Umm, ditto again.

That's the Asteria, across the way, to the left of the bridge.

Of course, while we were sitting there a woman sauntered past with a little dog on a lead and a couple of newspapers under her arm. The Daily Mirror was one of them.

Hey ho, ex-pats are everywhere, eh?

The lake, which is reputed to be bottomless, hence the dark colour of the water, whilst it's quite blue in the harbour outside.

We'd crossed the bridge twice before realising that it was the one in the photos.


  1. A places on my list to visit too. Oh and you got so close... But that's the joy of out of season travel you never know what's going to happen next!

  2. Of course I LOVE this review of my local area. Visiting out of season has more benefits than drawbacks and now you'll just have to visit again to make that trip to Spinalonga. If you do visit again let me know and if we are 'at home' in Kritsa we'll give you a tour around behind the usual tourist scene. Thanks for all you share and Happy New Year. X

    1. Yes Yvonne, I did think about you as we came thru Elounda, but we didn't have a lot of time to go too far off our planned route or to go hunting for the book store (run by Lynne M. Am I right? Apologies if not), which I assume would have been close anyway.