Athletics

With the new year, Sofia has joined Giugiu at athletics.

They have a lot of fun playing games with the new teacher Kelly and the other kids, as you can clearly tell by their expressions in these pictures.

Seriously though, they love it and are always eager to go.

Now that the weather has gotten warmer it’s even better.

African wind

On the last day of January a strong Southern wind hit the island. It brought tons of African dust and very tall waves.

We drove to Sfinari for some fun. The waves were amazing, perfectly formed and huge. We had the company of some guys trying to surf. We later discovered they were Erasmus students in Chania, and surfing beginners. This much we could tell. There were 5 of them, not one managed to ride a single wave! And only two managed to get past the break for a go. On the other hand, out of 2 surf boards they came with, one came back in two pieces.

We spent most of our time playing ‘catch me if you can’ with the waves on the shore, which is Giugiu’s favourite game, and hunting for driftwood, Fiona’s great pastime. After we finished, we had to put the seat down in the car, so full was the boot with the most beautiful pieces of driftwood. Big logs, long forks, red roots, holey branches, a brilliant yoke, you name it.

Snow in Crete

Snow on Rodopou mountains

Snow on Rodopou mountains

With the new year the air turned cold. Icy cold.

After an especially cold night, as we got up it looked like it was snowing. It must have been an illusion, because we rubbed our eyes, took a second look and it was just plain ol’ rain.

The morning was kind of sunny, the air was crisp. We had a drive around. As soon as the mountains of Rodopo peninsula were in sight, the white shine hit us. A light snow cover. We resolved on the spot to hit the road North towards the mountains.

Snowy Elos

Snowy Elos

We got out boots, gloves and mittens, hats and we drove towards Elos. We could see snowcapped peaks on both sides in the distance. We got to Elos and there was a good cover of fresh, perfectly soft snow. After some grey clouds, the sun peered out again as we started throwing snowballs around. Sofia needed help making balls, while Giugiu just threw whatever shaped block she happened to extract from the snow. Fiona was busy testing slow-mo parabolic trajectories, while I just hit randomly whoever was around.

Then we built an Olafaki, that is, a “Frozen” inspired snowman. Alas no picture, but Fiona’s engineering skills were put to better use in this case so it looked pretty good.

We had a quick walk around, still long enough for Giulia and Sofia to fall down in the slippery snow.

Then we thought it best to abandon the playing field before numbing our extremities to the core.

Giulia and Sofia were still asking for more. We left saying ’till next week’.

Snowball fight!

Snowball fight!

Christmas day in Elafonissi

Elafonissi pink sand, pink bottles, pink girls


On Christmas day the forecast was good, so we took it as a chance for a day trip.

Naturally we pointed South, and drove to Elafonissi along the West coast.

After over an hour we got there. It was just before noon, and we were alone on the beach. The tide was low, we walked on the sandy strip. We didn’t need to cross any water, the small island was completely attached to the mainland. The lagoon on our sides, we walked to the beginning of the little beaches on the Eastern side. We found some shelter from the cool wind behind some rocks. The sun was out so we took all our clothes off for a Xmas swim. Giugiu and I pushed forward and swam around for a bit in the reinvigorating water, while Fiona and Sofia hesitated behind and quickly got out. There’s a funny story about this moment, but Fiona censored it so it will stay in our memories only.

Christmas in Elafonissi

 

We played around a bit longer, took some pictures, saw some people strolling around the lagoon. Then we drove back along the beautiful coastal road, inevitably thinking and talking about Christmases past, family meetings, awkwardness, overflowing stomachs, senseless opulence and all those Christmas spirit staples. This year we were on our own, and it was simple.

Family Xmas picture

Family Xmas picture

The colours of dusk

Roof artists

Roof artists

Some evenings the colours of dusk are out of this world.

One of these evenings I took Giugiu and Sofia to our favourite observatory: the roof.

We tried to capture some of that spirit on paper. We took up to the roof their drawing albums, crayons and two chairs.

I helped them draw the landscape looking North, the sea in Kissamos bay enclosed between Gramvousa and Rodopou peninsulas, the local port, the boats, the olive groves, the scattered houses. Then they coloured while I took some pictures of the apocalyptic sky.

Ultimate dusk

Ultimate dusk

In search of Kokkina Gremna

Black goat

Black goat

Today we went to Falasarna, but decided it was too windy so we drove past it.

Back up the hill and South towards Sfinari, we took a steep dirt road going over a ridge towards the sea.

When the road became too bad to drive, we left the car and walked a bit. Sofia wasn’t on her best day, so we didn’t walk much. We still got to the end of the road, where we could only see sheep, rocks and great views. I studied a possible way down to the beach of Kokkina Gremna through the barren ground. I couldn’t clearly see one but left with the impression that it should be possible. Then we turned back.

Stivos and moonbow

Giugiu the little athlete

Giugiu the little athlete

Giugiu has been happily going to play with a group of small athletes three times a week for a while now. After our past experience with other activities, initially I was just hoping that she’d give it a try. After the first couple of times she got very excited about it, and I understand why she likes it so much.

The older kids train in athletics around the track, checking out all the disciplines, sprint, obstacles, jumps, lightly. They also play games sometimes.

The little pre-school kids just play games together in a small team, which is easier than in school. The teacher, Efi, speaks good English and she’s very gentle and soft spoken. So Giulia and Efi are friends, Giulia is also a much easier kid than most, usually well behaved and listening to the teacher.

Sofia didn’t want to do it, even though some of the kids are her age. Then one day she asked to try it, but she didn’t really join the others. That’s all right, so we¬†usually spend the hour while Giulia is playing with the team just hanging around, sometimes with Gabriella and Luca.

The stivos, that would be track in English, starts at 5pm, which is around dusk now, and now they finish in darkness. We watch the day fading away as we watch the kids play on the track.

The other night we came back to see a moonbow, so I took a picture.

Moonbow

Moonbow

Loading driftwood on the kayak

Our steed on the driftwood beach

Our steed on the driftwood beach

Yesterday we finally went on our kayaking trip to collect some driftwood that we had planned for a while.

The sky was cloudy, so were not exactly kissed by the sun warmth. Luckily the air was still enough that we didn’t really get splashed and paddling was easy.

It took a while to reach our destination. I remembered it closer from the time we walked through there. We saw someone walking their dog on the way but they never got to the beach where we were.

Eventually we did get there, and Fiona set off in search of the best items. She came back with some nice bundles, and of course some rocks as well, to make sure the kayak wouldn’t be too light.

Fiona happy to have found a pallet, unaware of future developments

Fiona happy to have found a pallet, unaware of future developments

We also spotted a very nice and new looking pallet, which I wanted to take back. We tied it to the back of the kayak and set off from the beach like that, but soon realized that the drag was enormous. Fiona didn’t fail to make that clear for the whole 5 minutes we tried to kayak with it and also some of the following hour. So I untied the pallet and we left it there. The best prize then was a big dry sponge.

We got back to the car quite dry, if not exactly warm.

So we now know that it’s ok to kayak even in the winter, but it’s better to have not only a still, but also a sunny day.

Back to Nopigia with our driftwood load

Back to Nopigia with our driftwood load

Sfakia

In Greek twilight goes under the name of lykofos, literally (and appropriately) 'wolf light'.

In Greek twilight goes under the name of lykofos, literally (and appropriately) ‘wolf light’.

Over the week we decided to spend some days on the warm Southern coast of Crete.

We knew it would take a long time to get there and a long drive, so we decided to set off on Friday straight after school and spend two nights in Chora Sfakion.

After the pass, past Askifou, we were welcomed by some awesome ‘wolf light’ with a view on the Lybian sea, Gavdos and Gavdopoula. The air was crisp on the mountains, then hazy towards the sea.

In Chora Sfakion we had a look around the small harbour with huge cement blocks before going back to our hotel for dinner and bed. On the first night we did two amazing discoveries. First both Giulia and Sofia were so hungry that they both devoured cabbage and carrot salad. When it was finished Sofia asked for more, and she has requested it again in the following days. Then at night we saw a moonbow, a fuzzy wide light circle around the not quite full moon.

Sunset on Gavdos descending into Chora Sfakion

Sunset on Gavdos descending into Chora Sfakion

On Saturday we bought some lunch from the bakery and we set off towards Finikas. We took the long and winding road West of Chora towards Anopoli. We saw many griffon vultures on the way, six flying all together. Past the quiet village of Anopoli, we got to Aradena and stopped for a look around the famous bridge over the narrow gorge. Very impressive drop, we saw signs for bungee jumping from the bridge. It was built only some 25 years ago. It’s made of wood planks resting on the metal structure. The chilling experience is made of the wide gaps between the free-moving planks. It’s impossible to resist the temptation to look at the 100m drop underneath.

Then we took the partly dirt road descending to Finikas. The slow drive let us take in the wild landscape. When we got to Finikas nobody was around, it was like the scene in “Mediterraneo” when the Italian soldiers arrive at the small seafront village and it appears abandoned. Except Finikas is even smaller, and nobody turned up even later. So we put down our stuff on a small jetty and dutifully proceeded to swim in the chilling water. I went snorkelling but the swell was strong just out of the bay and visibility so and so. Giugiu and Sofia bathed merrily in the sun with their floats, playing with the inflatable ball we found floating behind a rock. Even Fiona jumped in, if only for one minute.

So we thought to hike up the hill over towards Loutro. The path is good but a bit steep for Sofia. We stopped at the top and had lunch in the Frankish ruins of a castle. Then we walked a bit more to take a peek of Loutro before turning back. By this point Sofia was tired of walking and the good mood was turning too. We made our way back to the car and drove back to see more vultures flying very close to the road after Anopoli before descending to Chora.

Back in Chora we had showers, then we goofed and walked around a bit more. Eventually we went to have dinner ‘downtown’. We saw some people eating in one of the only restaurants. It turned out to be the owner and his friends, but they were very welcoming and probably a bit drunk. They joked about omelettes while we had our delicious dinner. We had some more good tsikoudia to finish the meal, not quite as good as the one we tasted the night before though.

On Sunday we left Chora and drove to Frangokastelo. On the way we took a turn to a beach a few km before Frangokastelo. The sun was out but so was the wind. We climbed over a rock hoping to find a more sheltered shore, but it was just as exposed and the water was full of shallow rocks. I went in for a snorkel and monofinned my way West. Visibility was not so good by the shore, temperature was decent. I found some rocky coastline but didn’t see much life. I was surprised because I’d seen two spearfishermen and a fishing boat so I thought it would be a great place. Back nearby the beach I found that the sea bottom was more interesting, with plenty of small rocky arches rising from the seabed. I dived under one of them and hit my foot causing my fin to come off. In the meantime Giulia had been playing with the waves a bit.

Then we went to Frangokastelo itself, where we had a look around the castle (literally, because it was closed) and a yummy picnic with leftovers from the night before. Few people around, a mum with her kid, some ‘mature beachgoers’. We also walked to the shore, Giugiu and Sofia splashed around, then we got back in the car. We drove a long time to get home. It was well worth it.