Thursday, 30 June 2016
I am back in Crete for three weeks, and staying near Rethymnon, the Venetian and university town that I have known since the 1980s.
I arrived late last night [29 June 2016] 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 a week last September , 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.
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, including El Greco and Creta Palace, which were built in the area, along with the usual Greek rent rooms and pensions in the centre of the resort.
Behind Platanes is the pretty village of Tsesmés, with its quiet tavernas and a pretty village, which I resolved last year to visit when I returned this year. 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.
Julia Apartments is 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 night, Vasilis was delighted with a rowing T-shirt from Cambridge that I brought with me, and this morning it is 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.
I hope over these coming weeks to visit one 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 from a storefront crèche in Kastrinogiannaki Street, hidden in a dark street 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 who run 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 twice last September 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 perhaps swim in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Despite the intermittent rain in Ireland and England this week, the temperatures here are in the low and mid 30s during the day.
There are good Wi-Fi connections here, so join me each day on my time in Crete over the next few weeks.