Thursday, 29 June 2017

Back in Crete for a two-week
holiday in Rethymnon

Blue skies and the long sandy beach at Platanes, east of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Crete for two weeks, and I am staying on the fringes of Rethymnon, the walled Venetian and university town that I have known since the 1980s.

I arrived late last night [28 June 2017] on a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Chania Airport, and it was a 40 km journey to Julia Apartments in the village of Platanes, where I am staying once again for the next few weeks.

I stayed here for three weeks last year in June and July [2016] and spent a week here the previous September [2015], and I am delighted to be back again in Platanes, which is about 5 or 6 km east of Rethymnon and just 300 metres walking distance from the long sandy beach that stretches in lengths east of Rethymnon.

There is a bakery on the ground floor, offering fresh bread for breakfast each morning, supermarkets two or three minutes away with fresh locally-produced fruit and vegetables each morning, and a variety of shops, bars and tavernas right on my doorstep, some with Greek and Cretan dancing several times a week.

Just two decades ago, Platanes was an unremarkable suburb of Rethymnon on the old road between Rethymnon and Iraklio. But it has grown and developed over the last 20 years, and there is a number of luxury hotels here too, along with the usual Greek rent rooms and pensions.

Fresh fruit for breakfast at Julia Apartments in Platanes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Behind Platanes is the pretty village of Tsesmés, with its quiet tavernas and a pretty village, which I visited a few times last year. Restaurants like Pagona’s have a unique cuisine, brought here almost a century ago by the ancestors of the families living here today as they fled the persecution of Greek-speaking people in Cesmes in Anatolia. Nearby are other pretty, traditional villages such as Adele, or Maroulas, with its Venetian tower houses and churches, and Arkadi with its historically important monastery is 17 km to the south.

I have plans next week to visit friends in Piskopiano, and to stay a night or two in Koutoulafari, two pretty villages in the mountains above Chersonnisos, east of Iraklion. Perhaps too there may be a day in Iraklion, an afternoon in Panormos, or I might visit Knossos.

A table for two in Koutoulafari (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Julia Apartments is a family-run complex, run by Vasilis Vogiatzis, his wife Brenda from Scotland, their daughters and his mother. There is a pool, a poolside bar and a restaurant, all set in a blossomed garden, along with a children’s playground. The apartments look out onto the garden or up to the mountains, and the studios have a kitchenette with dining area, fridge, cooking hobs and a flat-screen TV.

Last year, Vasilis was delighted with a rowing T-shirt I brought from Cambridge , and it was soon hanging proudly in the bar.

Once again, this is an interesting time to be back in Greece. The nation is still in a bleak economic and political crisis, and remains at the centre of the disturbing crisis involving refugees fleeing from Syria through Turkey to the Greek islands.

Shopping in the narrow streets of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During this fortnight, I plan to visit once again a place in Rethymnon that is trying to make a difference and bring about change in the midst of these crises. In the back streets, away from the gaze of tourists, the Voluntary Welfare Clinic Rethymno (Εθελοντικό Ιατρείο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης Ρεθύμνου) works in a narrow sidestreet where there are no tourist shops, yet only a few steps away from the seafront, the restaurants and the bars.

The doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and other volunteers at this clinic are not part of any EU-funded or government-funded programme, and they believe in a free public system. At the end of their busy working days, they provide free attention, advice and consultation for anyone who is without health insurance. That includes migrants without proper papers, but also includes many Greeks who have fallen on hard times.

They refuse to call themselves a charity, because they see health care as a human right. The clinic is open to all people without access to health care. It is a gesture of solidarity by experts and professionals who have already seen their own salaries and incomes cut in public spending cuts and in the decline in the Greek economy.

Some of the hidden work here also includes helping refugees and migrants trace missing family members.

I visited them last year and the year before too to see some of the work of the clinic. But it is hard-pressed, the workload is heavy, and the numbers needing attention are growing.

The Voluntary Welfare Clinic Rethymno (Εθελοντικό Ιατρείο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης Ρεθύμνου) can be contacted at Kastrinogiannaki 12, Rethymnon Old Town 74100, Crete (Καστρινογιαννάκη 12, Παλιά Πόλη, 74100).

Visit their website here, watch their work on this video, like their Facebook page or contact the clinic directly: ethiatreio@gmail.com

During the coming weeks, I also hope to visit one or two monasteries or convents, see some archaeological sites I have not yet visited, go for walks on the beach, and to swim in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Despite the intermittent rain in Askeaton this week, the temperatures here this week are in the low and mid-30s during the day, and there was a heatwave last week.

There are good Wi-Fi connections here, so join me each day during my time in Crete over the next two weeks.

Julia Apartments, in the heart of Platanes, is run by Brenda and Vasilis Vogiatzis and their family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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