Travel Talk – Crete 2017

This is my Dad, my Mum, and my brother. In June, we went on ‘the last family holiday’.

Every time I say that phrase, it sounds very morbid. None of us are dying or are off to war or have sworn a familial hatred. I personally think this title of ‘the last family holiday’ is an abbreviation. From my parent’s view, it was ‘the last family holiday when both of the kids are sort of kids, well they aren’t kids anymore, but the last one before university and full time employment ‘, and for Joseph and I it was ‘the last family holiday where we both don’t have to pay for anything’. So, let’s just call it ‘the last family holiday’.

Crete sunset

We went to Crete to spend time together, but also to celebrate my brother’s belated eighteenth birthday, and my twenty-first. My twenty-first birthday landed right in the middle of the holiday. I’ll be honest; there was nowhere I’d rather be on my twenty-first than RUNNING AROUND PRETENDING TO BE NATHAN DRAKE IN UNCHARTED 4. (For those of you who have not played the PS4 games Uncharted 4, Nathan Drake basically drives around some hills in a warm country and climbs small, run down towers looking for treasure. I know, I make the most cultural parallels).

I will be honest; Crete has the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen (and I grew up in hilly South Wales). It is naturally untamed, flowers bursting through old stone buildings. Dusty rock faces that crumble into the sea. Twisty roads that climb into the mountains. It’s just like if the Scottish Highlands and Dubai had a baby. Goats and shrubbery and hills; Scotland. Dust and sea and heat; Dubai.

As a child, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I was in love with Ancient History; the Romans, The Incas, the Greeks. When I found we were going to Crete, I was so happy; ‘think of all the crumbling old pillars I can see! The walls! The foundations…’ I was a little disappointed when I researched the area of Crete we would be staying in, and found almost zero remains of Ancient Greek history. I was in Greece and I couldn’t even learn about the Greek Gods.  What a first world problem. Of course, I was wrong. Crete was bursting all areas of history, including hidden Greek history.

On one of our first days, we visited the ancient city of Aptera. Aptera was a Roman built city, then take over by the Greeks, until it was destroyed by an earth quake in the seventh century. A monastery of St John Theologos was built on there by the twelfth century and only shut within the last fifty years. Considering most of the city is a thousand years old and was ruined by an earthquake, much of it still stands. Nature had begun to take its course and would have definitely taken over if not for the occasional care of the Crete government. We walked through shrubbery and rocks to explore the still standing cisterns, and the caved in temples. The theatre obsessed side of me was very happy to discover they had an intact Roman theatre with usable seating bank. I imagine we would have stayed much longer if the heat hadn’t been forty-two degrees without a breeze. (Also, when researching for this post, I discovered Aptera was actually a very important place for Greek mythology! Well, sort of. The Muses and the Sirens once had a riff off there.)

Skipping forward a few hundred (quite a few hundred) years, we visited the populous Chania Old Town, and the historic Fortezza of Rethymno, both built by the Republic of Venice in their mid-millennia take over. Both places were subsequently taken over by the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century, but hey, let’s look at that in a good light; more history for us to see! Chania Old Town is made of dusty orange brick work, and is famous for the Venetian lighthouse that stands in the harbour. It is as typical as you would think of a large tourist town in Crete. Winding alleyways, open doors into homes, dogs and cats roaming the streets. Sellers trying to flog you jewellery, the warm smell of fresh bread, desolate houses next to luxury villas.

Fortezza of Rethymno was a historic sight as opposed to a historic town. We walked around, admiring the old buildings that populated the inside of the fort; the chapels, a mosque, store rooms, a random contemporary art gallery that scared me a little bit. I would advise wearing walking shoes when visiting the Fortezza; the Venetians did not cater for a sprained ankle and sandals.

I was surprised to find that the island had a strong historical presence from World War 2. The German Army attempted to invade Crete by air, but the Allied and Greek troops defended the island. All that is now left of the war are abandoned pill boxes and War Cemeteries. At the end of the holiday, we visited the Souda Bay War Cemetery, where hundreds of Allied soldiers are buried, many of them unnamed. It was a simple, beautiful, and moving place. A memorial in the centre, white gravestones fanning out across the green grass, flowers perfectly kept. It was a place of stillness.

On this ‘last family holiday’, we did more than just sightseeing. After the first two days of blistering heat, it settled to a gorgeous thirty-four degrees at midday; perfect weather for the beach. We tanned on the sand, read under the sun, and swam in the sea.

Oh, the sea. The sea in Crete was a beautiful azure colour; it looked like someone had taken the entire sea and put a saturation heavy Instagram filter on it.

When I go abroad, I like to be a cuisine connoisseur. What I mean by that is I love food and want to try and eat all of it. When it comes to food, Crete truly holds my heart. My birthday cake was a traditional Crete sweet cream pastry from a traditional street vendor. My birthday dinner consisted of wine, chicken, and the ultimate food; rice stuffed vine leave. Oh my. I felt like I had died and gone to foody heaven.

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As you can tell, I love Crete. I love its beauty, its food, its history. But there was one thing that I became particularly enamoured with, that I would request we pull over on the side of the road for.

Shrines.

On every road, there would be a small open-able box on the side. There were more on the mountains and on the winding roads. Some were made of metal and were rusting away, others of stone with their door hinges falling off. Some were small and made of marble; some so large they took your breath away. In each little box, there were remnants, memories of someone. There would always be a candle and a picture of a saint within, but the contents would vary beyond that. A perfume bottle, cigarette from two years ago, a medallion, a baby photo. I found out that each of these shrines are dedicated to someone who died in a crash, either on the certain part of the road, or nearby. The shrines are put up to remember those who lost their lives, the contents linked to the person and their families. Some of the shrines were much newer than others; glass doors, no dust, fresh flowers. Some were older but still cared for; you could tell this by the lit candle within.  Some were fifty, sixty, seventy years old, derelict and untouched, apart from the curious tourists. Some of the older ones had been reclaimed by nature; we opened one to find it was now a wasp’s nest, another to find that a rat had made the shrine its home. I found all of them curious and fascinating, but the one marking the entry to a small town was incomparable. There was a stone monument with steps up to the centre, where there must have been at least eight separate shrines. At the bottom of the monument there were even more. Despite my attempts at researching, I can’t find out why such a large monument is there. However, it has stayed with me as pure fascination and admiration.

It may be ‘the last family holiday’ (although I highly doubt it; we’ll always have family holidays), but I only have fond memories of my time in Crete. I turned twenty-one in our rented villa. I found out I was graduating with a 2:1 sat by the pool. I spent time with my family, something I miss now I live in Winchester and them in Wales. I learnt about the country and its history, and lots about the food and wine.

Crete is a damn beautiful island and I had a very special time there.

me

Talk Literary to Me

Excuse my language here, but there is no other way to say it – books are the shit. I mean that in a good way. Books are my greatest joy, apart from carbs and my dog Chewie. For three years, I studied BA English Literature & Drama at the University of Winchester; I basically did a degree in books. However, doing a degree in books means that you have to read and you more than likely don’t get a choice of what you read. When you do get a choice, you quickly learn to regret that choice (don’t pick a favourite book for a dissertation topic, it will soon no longer be a favourite, at least for your final year). Reading becomes graded and regimented, and the joy of reading can sometimes fade (especially when you look at texts through psychoanalytic lenses. Thanks for that, Freud).  However, university is now complete, I never have to look at Lacan again, and my love of reading has returned! Less sitting in a hot study room, banging my head on the table, more sitting down with a cuppa with a good book. Riding off the back of my renewed love of reading, here are my top six books (so far). Let me know in the comments below what you think of my choices, and what your favourite books are.

 

6. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, 1911

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Ah, that childhood classic. Well for me, the book was not a childhood classic. The 1953 Disney move certainly was. I remember young Rosie putting the VHS in and singing along to ‘We’re Following the Leader’, only to rewind it to sing it again. Looking back, the film was certainly not very politically correct, but young Rosie had no care for that; she just had a desire to sing and an odd crush on Peter Pan. It was when I was older, in my early teens, that I discovered Peter Pan was a book. In my early teens, I was going through an ‘elitism’ phase. I had a side fringe, a studded belt, and an attitude that shouted ‘the only real music is classic rock’. Yeah, I was one of those. That elitism seeped its way into my reading habits, and I started reading classics because ‘they are the only real literature (followed by a teenage grunt and sassy hair flick)’. I remember reading it in bed, feeling ridiculously proud of myself for ‘being cooler than the other girls’ because I was reading a classic book. However, it elicited something more. It was the first book that ever truly struck a chord with me. It pulled me back into childhood wonder and totally absorbed me into the world within its pages. I read it in one sitting, and swiftly read it again the next night. As a teenager, it brought me back to being a child. As an adult, it’s a book that makes me happy in its simplicity, something I have yet to find in another book.

 

5. Voyage in the Dark by Jeans Rhys, 1934

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This was a book introduced to me by The Modern Age module in my second year. I had never heard of it or Jean Rhys before, nor had I ever been really invested in Modernist literature. I mean, I liked a bit, but that was all. I did something that you should never do in university (please learn from me and my mistakes), and that is read the book at 1am the night before the module. I thought I would do a little skim read, maybe check out Shmoop.com for the book’s themes, but I became instantly invested in the text. It’s about a young woman, a chorus girl, who moves away from her home and has to support herself in rainy England. It’s a simple premise, but incredibly enticing. The text deals with taboo subjects of the time, notably female sexuality, race issues, abortion, and the crushing of the darn patriarchy. Feminist and ground breaking? Hit me up. This is the book that really turned me into reading Modernist literature, and turned me into an accidental Modernist scholar. If you like feminism, modernism, and aren’t afraid of bluntness, give this book a go.

 

4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005

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I’m not normally a dystopia kind of gal. All of the dystopian fiction I have tried to read was too violent or too regressive for my taste e.g. too many alien slave girls. That is, until I read Never Let Me Go. This books follows the character of Kathy as she grows up in a specialist English boarding school and how she deals with love, loss, and life. Very simple, very lovely. Oh, and a large group of humans are bred as clones to serve the purpose of being a donor. Ah.
I’ve managed to put my finger on two points as to why Never Let Me Go is one of my favourite books. Firstly, it’s just a good, easy, heartfelt read. I took it on holiday with me to Dubai and read it sat by the pool. It is the perfect holiday read. It’s also easy to read because the characters are easy to understand and to relate to (that is, apart from being bred as a clone). Personally, I believe these characters are the most realistically written of any book I have read so far. Secondly, it has an underlying socialist message that questions human morality and ethics. That’s right, lull the audience into a false sense of warmth and then strike them with the Orwellian messages. I have always admired books that can entertain and make you think, and this book made me question the notion of morality and identity for days. In fact, I haven’t read it in about a year and it’s still making me question what I thought I knew.

 

3. Ten Years in an Open Neck Shirt by John Cooper Clarke, 20143. Ten Years

A-Level English crushed my love of poetry. We seemed to only study Romanticism, Blake, Bysshe, Byron; all self-important men with whiny words that bored me to death. I decided poetry was not for me, except for good ol’ Shakespeare’s sonnets.  That’s until I discovered John Cooper Clarke. I was meandering my local Waterstones, and came upon this book in the poetry section. I loved the fantastical Rolling Stones-esque cover, opened it up to page 49 and was sold. Page 49 was a poem entitled ‘Evidently Chicken Town’ and it was like nothing I had ever read before. It was rude and rhythmic and real. It was intelligent and silly and garish and all encompassingly punk. After buying the book, I fell in love with one of the poems called ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, which was made famous by the Arctic Monkeys. For me, Ten Years, upholds everything I like about poetry. The musicality, the brashness, the honesty, the creativity. I tell you, I would pay good money to read John Cooper Clarke’s rewriting of the Romantics.

 

2. Just Kids by Patti Smith, 2010

2. Just Kids

My enjoyment of Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids came as a big surprise to me. I had heard such marvellous things about the writing of the book, but I had never listen to any of Patti Smith’s music before. I just assumed she was your usual nineteen-seventies punk rocker, all loudness, sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Hand on heart, Just Kids is the most beautiful book I have ever read. It is so incredibly descriptive, you can feel her emotions dripping off the page. It documents the struggles she and others like her went through, the rise to fame, the high and the low points. What impressed me the most, is that you can hear Smith’s voice throughout. She has such a distinctive way of writing, whether that be poetry, lyrics, or her books, and she unashamedly keeps her voice. I would recommend Just Kids to anyone for the sheer beauty of it, but I would highly recommend it to my friends trying to make their way in the arts. She documents that endeavour perfectly, but also inspires.

 

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, 1963

1. The Bell Jar

This is the book that made me me. I would not be the Rosie Lewis I am today without it. I first read this book when I was about fifteen, when I knew that I wanted to study Literature. I was starved for influential female writers, so I made it my mission to read as many books by female authors as I could. When I read The Bell Jar at that young age, I could feel the importance of the book. I could tell it was ground-breaking and daring but I couldn’t really relate to it. I enjoyed it and put it back on the shelf and in the back of my mind. I re-read it again when I was eighteen, and I broke down sobbing on a train because it affected me that much. The story follows Esther Greenwood as she tries to be successful whilst struggling with mental health problems. Every theme, every interaction, every thought Esther had had felt like mine. Every struggle and joy she had, I had a variant in my life. I have read this book more than ten times in the last two years and it has gotten me through my worst depressive period. I can genuinely say what pulled me through was anti-depressants, love from my family and friends, and The Bell Jar. For a book written by Sylvia Plath about depression, treatment, and oppression, it’s a surprisingly uplifting book. Every time I read The Bell Jar, I find something new and resonant within it. It has made me, changed me, and inspired me; that is why it is my favourite ever book.

 

Thank you for reading! Let me know what you think of the post, and what your favourite books are in the comments. I’m all about that conversation.

 

Rosie, out.