Where to go on Crete

Obviously visiting the White Lady is an important reason for coming to Crete. You will also, of course, want to laze around the pool or chill out on the beach and there is nothing wrong with that. Crete, however, has a lot more to offer. This is not intended to be a guidebook to Crete, there are plenty of those on the market already and numerous websites extolling the virtues of the island. Really all I can hope to do here is to whet your appetites for Crete and encourage you to get a good guidebook (see below) before you arrive. Many of you return year after year to Crete. What is it that draws you back each time? For me, seeing the sights became unimportant; I came to meet the people of Crete, particularly my "family" at the White Lady (which is why I am now living here). Having said that, I do get around from time to time to see other places on the island.

I have divided this guide into three sections, Festivals & National Holidays, Places and Useful references.

Festivals & National Holidays

Most of the festivals and holidays are religious and based on the Orthodox calendar, which is why Greek Easter rarely falls on the same day as the western Easter. In addition there are many local festivals, called paniyiria which celebrate the patron saint of the village church. Even the non-religious would find it difficult not to be moved by some of the Easter activities, and there is always the eating and drinking that accompany many festivals to guarantee your participation.

Carnival (Apokries) and Clean Monday (Kathera Dheftera) ‡

Carnivals occur all over Greece during the three weeks prior to Clean Monday. The word carnival is from two Latin words meaning "Goodbye Meat". On the Thursday of the second of the three weeks is Tsiknopempti (literally smoky Thursday, the smoke coming from the barbecue). This is normally the first day that people dress up in costume. The carnival at Rethymno is one of the most famous of the Greek carnivals and is huge fun as you may have seen from the Photo Gallery. Unfortunately it is well out of the normal holiday season, but if you are lucky enough to be on Crete then come prepared for a lot of serious fun. The main carnival parade in Rethymno takes place on the Sunday before Clean Monday. Clean Monday is the first day of the Lenten fast, so food like octopus, squid and shrimps is consumed (as usual in great quantities). Kite flying is traditional on the day. Details for the 2014 Carnival programme can be found on the Carnival Website. THIS YEAR IS THE 100th RETHYMNO CARNIVAL.

Independence Day (March 25th)

Parades are held all over Greece celebrating the beginning of the revolt against Turkish rule in 1821 and the start of the modern Greek state. Crete finally became part of Greece in 1913.

Easter ‡

Easter in the Greek Orthodox calendar is the most important religious festival of the year. On Holy Thursday (Megali Pempti) the red eggs are prepared. The first big ceremony takes place on Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) when Christ's funeral bier, the epitafios, is paraded through the streets of the parish to the accompaniment of (for me) one of the most moving of Byzantine hymns. On the morning of Good Friday the bier is decorated with flowers by the ladies of the parish. Late on Holy Saturday is a mass to celebrate the return of Christ from the dead, and at midnight all the lights in the church are extinguished. From behind the alter screen the priest brings a lighted taper, the Light of the World. Gradually, from this flame all the candles that the congregation have brought with them are lit. As one person passes the light to another he or she will say "Christos Anesti" (Christ is risen) to which the reply is "Alithos Anesti" (Truly He is risen) or "Alithos o Kyrios" (Truly He is the Lord). Before you know it the church is completely lit by candlelight. At the same time, church bells ring out, firecrackers are lit and efigees of Judas Iscariot are burned. The Lenten fast is now broken and so on Easter Day (To Pascha) most families roast a lamb and eat and drink a lot. You might not want to eat meat for a week or so afterwards.

For some reason package tour companies rarely have deals that start early enough for Greek Easter despite the fact that it is normally later than the western Easter.

In the area of the White Lady there are two chuches, Ayia Triadha (just after Platanies) and Ayios Nektarios (in Tsesmes). One of them does the Good Friday rites and the other the Holy Saturday rites. Antonia's mother Kiki will always know which is which.

As Easter is a moveable feast, so all dates based on Easter are moveable. If you want to know when Greek or Western Easter is for any year, try the Ecclesiastical Calendar website. (For Greek Easter click the "Orthodox - New Calendarists" option button when the site has loaded.) This year, 2014, Greek Easter and Western Easter are on the same date, 20th April.

Alf and friend

Battle of Crete (Around May 20th)

The anniversary is celebrated around Crete, but particularly at the official cemeteries. The main Allied ceremony is in Chania (Soudha) every year and also at the White Lady. The site in Soudha is lovingly looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This (2014) year the ceremony in Soudha will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, 22nd May. We will be remembering the Battle of Crete at the White Lady on Saturday, 24th May with special guests including Frank the Piper.

Summer Festivals in Rethymno

NOTE: We are not resposible for any of the information published on external websites, nor for when they update them for the current year

Ochi (No) Day (October 28th)

This is a national holiday in Greece and a parade is held in Rethymno. It commemorates the Greek Prime Minister Metaxas saying "Up yours" when asked in 1940 by the Italian ambassador if he would mind very much if the Italians invaded Greece. OK, he didn't say "Up yours", but then neither did he say "Ochi". He is reputed to have said "Alors, c'est la guerre" since the Italian Ambassador did ot speak Greek and Metaxas did not speak Italian.

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Places

Around Crete

In and around Rethymno

Argiroupolis

A little way towards Chania on the Old Road is the village of Argiroupolis. Cretan village life continues much the same as it has always done. The village, as you can see from the photographs, has some very beautiful waterfalls.

Melidhoni Cave

The cave is one of the most impressive on Crete and signs of inhabitation have been discovered dating back to the Neolithic period. In mythology, it was the home of Talos, who protected the coasts of Crete by hurling rocks at unfriendly ships. The cave was also an important Minoan shrine. In 1824 370 civilians and 30 solidiers died as martyrs. They had taken refuge in the cave during the struggle for Cretan independance. The Turkish army blocked the entrance to the cave, lit a fire and chanelled the smoke into the cave and over a period of a few days choked to death the Cretans hiding within. A shrine near the entrance to the cave commemorates the dead.

There is a small café next to the ticket office where you can sit and enjoy the views over the surrounding countryside. The proprietors of the café and the ticket office speak excellent English.

Arkadhi Monastery

The date of the foundation of the Monastery is not known. The earliest written inscription dating from the 14th century verifies that the original church, dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helen (Άγιοι Κωνσταντίνος και Ελένη - Ayii Konstantinos ke Eleni), was built during the same period. Towards the end of the 16th century (1587) the monastery underwent restoration and the church that you see today dates from that time. The new church was dedicated to the Metamorphosis of Christ (Μεταμόρφωση του Χριστού - Metamorfosi tou Christou). To day the northern aisle (left as you look towards the iconostasis) is dedicated to the latter, and the southern aisle to the former. Before the event that made it famous (see below), the monastery was one of the richest in Crete and a well known stop-over for travellers.

The Monastery acquired glory and fame on an international scale during the Cretan Revolution of 1866-1869. Mustapha Pasha had attacked the rebellious inhabitans of Réthimno and some 700 women and children from nearby villages sought refuge in the monastery. In charge of the garrison at Arkadhi was Colonel Koroneos who, realising that the monastery could not provide sufficient defence, left with some of his men to distract the Ottomans away from the region. This left 287 armed men in the garrison of whom 45 were monks and 20 volunteers under the command of Lieutenant Dhimakopoulos. There were also 12 of the 16 members of the Central Revolutionary Committee, including its chairman, the Abbot Gavriïl (Gabriel).

Following a three-day battle, the Ottoman artillery eventually broke down the monastery gates and on entering slaughtered everyone in its path. The Abbot gathered all those remaining alive in the monastery's gunpowder store and, together with another hero, Konstantinos Yiamboudhakis he blew up the gunpowder, martyring all those inside, but also taking hundreds of Ottoman soldiers with them.

This heroic resistance shocked not only Greeks, but also Europe's politicians and intellectuals and the press in Europe and the United States wrote articles in favour of liberty for the Cretans. Celebrations of the anniversary of the blast are held each year on November 7th to 9th. Crete finally gained independence in 1898 and joined Greece officially in 1913. †

† Based on "The Monastery of Arkadi", Provotakis T M, Page 14 (available from the monastery museum shop).

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References

If you are looking for a guide book on Crete then look no further than "The Rough Guide To Crete" (Fisher J and Garvey G, Rough Guides - there is a 2010 edition on Amazon, but with a poor review; maybe the 2007 edition would be better). To quote my favourite travel author, Bill Bryson, "Rough Guides are consistently readable, informed and, most crucially, reliable". They also publish a good map of Crete on waterproof, rip-proof paper. The only other decent map I have seen is published by Road Editions (Ilía Iliou 41, 117 43 Athina, Tel: + 30 210 929 6541) and is available in all good bookshops in Greece (also available in German and Italian). Do remember that all guide books can become out of date very quickly.

The Rough Guide to Crete is now available as an e-book in ePub, mobi and pdf formats (visit the Rough Guides Shop for further information) and in azw format for Kindle users from Amazon. Don't forget, Kindle users, you can also put mobi format books on your Kindle.

Rethymno on the Web

Here is just a small selection of sites featuring the town. For the most part I have tried to restrict them to Rethymno-only sites. All the sites featured here are available in English, and some of them also in German and other European languages.

The White Lady is not responsible for the content of external web sites. We do try to ensure that the links are up-to-date and working. Please report broken links to . If you come across somewhere interesting that you think I should include, please send me a brief description and some photographs and I will add it to the site.

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