Friday, 9 July 2010

Days on the beach and by the pool

Strolls on the beach have added to my sense of well-being this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

My week-long holiday in Crete is coming to an end, with a flight to Dublin very early tomorrow [Saturday] morning.

It’s been a culturally packed week, with visits to the Minoan Palace in Knossos, the former leper colony in Spinalónga, the Venetian houses, palaces and fountains of Iraklion, the lake and harbour of Aghios Nikólaos, and churches throughout the island

Perhaps I tried to pack in a little too much into one week. But I managed to have dinner with my son on a few evenings, visited friends in their homes and their villages, and walked and walked and walked.

Because of my severe Vitamin B12 deficiency, I have had a constant sensation of pins- and-needles under my feet, every day for the past few years. The combination of B12 deficiency and sarcoidosis means my joints are in constant pain, particularly my knees and ankles, for the last two or three years at least. But I know I have walked too much over the past week and pushed myself to my physical limits because I’m complaining more about the blisters under my feet and on my toes than about my other symptoms.

But the sensation of being under direct sunshine every day is wonderful for my well being. My apartment in Koutouloufári has two balconies, one looking out towards the sunrise and the blue Aegean waters of the Mediterranean, the other looking out towards the sunset, the swimming pool here at Astra Village, and the Cretan mountains.

Each day has been a blessing here, with time by the pool or time to stroll along the beaches everywhere I have visited.

Nobody has prescribed swimming or beach walks for my conditions, but they make me feel happier, lighter in spirit, and full of the joys of God’s creation.

The sea is never more than 30 km away no mater where you are in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

You are never more than 30 km away from the sea at any point in Crete, and for the past week it has been difficult at times to know exactly where the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea meet on the horizon.

Hersónisos would never be a first choice for a holiday destination for me. But on a few afternoons and evenings, I have walked along both the sandy and pebbly beaches, beneath the overhanging balconies of the restaurants on the tourist strip. Hersónisos has a “young-and-lively” reputation that makes it difficult for people of my age to appreciate its supposed charms. But as the sun sets in the west, and the sky fills with delicate, merging hues of blue, purple and amber, it looks as beautiful as any picture-postcard image from more sophisticated destinations, such as Mykonos.

The bus from Hersónisos to Iráklion passes by some of the most beautiful stretches of beach, including Tobroúk, or rocky inlets, where the water swirls around in mixtures of aquamarine, turquoise, deep azure, sea green and the “wine-red sea” of Homer.

The beach In Réthymnon stretches for about 20 km to the east of the marine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In Réthymnon, the old town beach where I first learned to swim is now in an abandoned and deserted state. But to the east of the marina, the beach stretches for about 20 km, is sandy and clean, and the water was inviting when I dipped in for a swim.

The joys of the beaches on Spinalónga defy the sad history of the island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Later in the week, in Spinalónga, a few visitors defied the swirling crowds and the demands of history, and got into the clear water below the main fortress gate for a swim.

I’m looking forward to resuming my beach walks in the coastal villages near Dublin after I return home. But it’s been nine years since I was last in Crete ... and I don’t think I can leave it so long again.