Article Author: Ray Dodd, a Yorkshireman and almost an Ex-pat and Brit in Crete, pens his thoughts and asks: "What's Crete really like?"
Crete is big. It’s quite nice, and you’ll probably enjoy it. The guide books may tell you that it’s the most southerly and sunniest point in Europe, largest of the Greek islands, cradle of Western civilization and cultural and culinary melting pot of three continents; but you can’t beat a concise subjective appraisal in my opinion. What? Oh you can beat a concise subjective appraisal, especially mine. Well I suppose I could elaborate a bit. But they just copy off each other you know, those travel writers with their “land of contrasts” clichés, how do they know its 260km. long? Have they measured it? I bet half of them haven’t even been.
Anyway Crete is big, which is patently obvious, but it goes beyond that, Crete is big in a way that transcends it’s physical dimensions, if you never venture too far from the airport, beach and hotel it will look pretty much like any other Greek island, but take a trip into, or over the central mountain ranges and the scale of things changes. At times it seems as if you could be driving through the Sierra Nevada mountains in southern California, rather than a Mediterranean island. This is serious countryside with proper mountains that go straight up and down and remain covered in snow all winter. It’s very popular walking and kyaking country, and if you avoid the tourist magnets such as the Samaria Gorge it’s not difficult to find solitude and isolation; and all within a few kilometres of the beach.
The 20th Century arrived late in Crete. At least, the post world war two consumer boom that shaped and continues to shape western society did. The Nazis arrived on time, but being occupied by an oppressive foreign power was hardly a novelty to the Cretans, and they have left no lasting cultural legacy. German tourists are in fact made surprisingly welcome despite the less than exemplary behaviour of the occupying forces during WW2. Being an agricultural economy Crete was largely unaffected by events in the outside world during the last century. The first awakening to the world at large came with the advent of tourism in the 1970s, though they had a little aperitif with the arrival of American hippies in the 1960s. At first, and to a lesser degree even now, tourism was seen as a diversion from the land. Make a few quick bucks during the season then get back to the serious business of farming. Nowadays tourism vies with agriculture for the position of main economic generator for the island.
Though the signs of the tourist economy are impossible to avoid, the influx of two million foreigners every year doesn’t seem to be having much ideological impact on the Cretans, who manage to maintain a discreet cultural distance between themselves and yet another, if more benign, foreign invader. If anything does manage to influence the stoic national character of Crete it will be the tourist dollar as opposed to the tourists themselves, coupled with the increasing influence of television on successive generations.
All of which, after a rather lengthy preamble now brings me round to answering the question of what is the prevailing ambience that the tourist may encounter? Yeah, like what’s the vibe dude? (I myself of course am completely immune to the influence of television). Well it’s quite nice, and I mean that much abused adjective quite sincerely. It’s not fantastic, incomparable, stupendous or peerless, it’s nice. It’s nice in a Sunday evening nostalgia TV kind of way. The 1950’s England ethos portrayed there may be gone, and in reality may never have been, but if it exists anywhere, it exists here. It is old fashioned, and some may say backward looking, but only in an idealistic sense. Cretans no longer dress exclusively in black, ride donkeys and read the bible by the light of a rusty hurricane lamp of an evening. They have embraced the modern world whilst retaining their independence from it.
Cretans are family and community oriented, and have a well deserved international reputation for their hospitality. A quality best exemplified by the fact that “Xenoi” their word for stranger, also means guest. They are as genial and helpful a people as you could possibly hope to meet, and I can’t think of a more benign environment in which to spend time.
Though in the interest of a fair and balanced assessment I should mention that they have also throughout the centuries enjoyed a reputation as some of the finest, blood thirstiest mercenaries in the Mediterranean and rivalled the Sicilians with their propensity for blood feuds. That there is no shortage of ordnance on the island is no secret as the bullet riddled road signs will tell. Many find this a strange paradox, and I must admit I find it difficult to reconcile myself, but I take comfort in the fact that most blood feuds are, or largely were, sheep oriented. So if you want to enjoy Cretan hospitality at its most benevolent, just don’t mess with the livestock.
Crete is about village life and small seaside towns, it is the antithesis of Benidorm (Brits in Spain). The Cretan geography and the people conspire to make it small and user friendly, and just plain friendly. It’s probably best suited to families with young children, and discerning old farts such as myself, though I’m told there are some jiving juke joints out to the east for people who like to spend their leisure time in Union Jack underpants. But above all else it’s laid back, and then some, throw away your watch, take a stroll, and catch the scent of the wild herbs drifting on the summer breeze. Then stop by an old taverna and watch the sun sink over the top of your wine glass. You’ll probably enjoy it.
As a Crete Dreamer British Ex-pat in Crete, Raymond recounts how he came to be connected to the Greek Island: "We had intended to rent out the house pending retirement, and the purpose of our web site was to publicise it. For reasons I wont bore you with here we decided against renting, by which time I had bought the domain name and just about completed the writing. So rather than bin all the effort I put it together with the idea of creating a database for rented properties on the island. As far as I know there isn't a site dedicated to Crete in this way. The idea is to let people put a link to their rental site for free and hopefully pick up some advertising from the associated service industries. I've always been a keen amateur photographer so I probably put a bit more time and effort into my pictures than the average snapper, though I'm not sure this always manifests itself in the finished product."