"I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love forever and ever." Psalm 52:8

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kala Hristouyenna (Merry Christmas!)

In the short three months we've lived here, we have found ourselves winding down and actually enjoying the simpler life. We are reminded each day to slow down and keep our eyes wide open to the "God Sightings" all around us including the magnificent snow covered Lefka Ori mountain range that shadows Hania and the Aegean Sea in Western Crete.

We've learned that we can live very comfortably with a fraction of our belongings, that life doesn't revolve around Blackberrys and overcommitted agendas, that there's always time for lunch and a long walk (even if it's Greek style - 3 hours!) and that a smile and an easy "hello" is the universally understood sign of kindness no matter where in the world you are. Maybe it's the water - it just seems second nature to slow down and enjoy.

But most importantly, we've learned to lean into God during these times of exciting and challenging change because we are convinced of His steadfast love that supercedes over all languages and cultures, time and space.

So, as you celebrate our Saviour's simple birth, we pray you will find a quiet moment to reflect on the miracle of God coming in the flesh to "dwell among us" all because of His extravagant love for you.

May His deep peace wash over you this holiday season and may you find more joy than you could ever imagine in the simple things He brings into your life throughout the coming year.

With love to all,

Melanie and Richard

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Road trips


This morning we woke to a reprieve in the drenching rainy weather we’ve had for the past few days. The sun is peeking out but the Lefka Ori mountain range is still obscured by a thick blanket of menacing clouds. They are getting snow in the “high country” and when the clouds lift we will be treated to one of the most beautiful sights on the island. It’s quite a paradox to stand with your feet in the sea while looking up at the snow-covered mountains. Seeing the snow makes us all the more excited for our upcoming Colorado Christmas with family and friends. The Greeks here just shake their heads at our excitement to get to play in the snow. When Richard showed some pictures of winter sports like snow shoeing to a colleague, she just asked, “Why?!” Of course, you have to understand these people are in full winter gear now (boots, scarves and DOWN coats) because the temps have dipped below 60 degrees. No wonder we got funny looks last week when we went to the Laiki and Richard was wearing shorts!

We’ve been here 3 months now and can finally say we are settling in thanks to pieces of home arriving here. We picked up our car from the ferryboat last week and heard that our furniture should be here this week. The best news is that we found a house to put it all in! We’ve come full circle in our thinking about permanent digs. At first, we thought an apartment in the city was for us but soon found out that Hania is not really “European” city living. And the more time we spent out in the country riding our bikes, walking to the beach and enjoying the quiet (relatively speaking depending on if your neighbors own a barnyard full of chickens - hence, roosters) the more appealing country life looked. Our new home sits on top of a small hill above the village of Horafakia (about 5 km from where we are now) and is set in an olive grove surrounded by a stone wall. It’s a pretty new home, contemporary design, with a kitchen to die for! The best part is the view of the sea and the mountains from the loft and balcony upstairs. We really feel blessed that this place opened up for us at just the right time. Once we get moved in and after we return from the States, we can take up our exploring beyond the Akrotiri again.

This fall was full of little side trips and one of our first outings was enjoyed with our friends Daphne and Reg who took us to a nearby Roman settlement called Aptera. Like most ruins, they are built on top of even older Minoan ruins. We were amazed at the size of the cisterns designed and used by the Romans for their water storage and usage.

And the maze of Roman baths were testimony to that important social ritual in their every day lives. Because of the time of year, we had the place virtually to ourselves with our own private, very knowledgeable tour guides.

After poking around the ruins, we enjoyed lunch at the local taverna. A great day especially because we shared it with good friends!

About 30 minute drive to the West of us is the Rodoupou peninsula and a little exploring there bought many wonderful sights and surprises.

Before heading up on the high road that skirts the coast, we indulged in lunch at a fish taverna in the seacoast village of Kolimbari. As is the norm, the proprietor ushered us back into the kitchen and opened the icebox to let us pick our fresh fish for preparation. We chose a smaller variety and they cooked it up with loads of olive oil and after spending way too much time trying to pick out the bones, we washed it all down with wine and water and headed out. The Rodoupou road hangs way up above the seacoast and precariously winds its way around and through some absolutely gorgeous scenery. Once in a while, there is a little bit of a shoulder to pull off on and take pictures of the sea view and chapels carved into rock or hanging on a cliff above the water. Of course, the whole time, Richard is lamenting that he’s not on his bike and I’m thinking, “What?! Are you crazy?!” (Most hard-core bikers are.) It really would have been a white-knuckle road trip if I hadn’t been so distracted by the beauty of it all.

Speaking of chapels, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of little stone chapels tucked away everywhere. You see them in monasteries, in caves, in seemingly inaccessible gorges, along roadsides and in back yards. Some are very intricately decorated inside and others are very simple and rustic. But all of them are always kept very tidy and clean. Many of them are “name chapels” that may be used only once a year on that name day. (Name days are more celebrated in Europe than birthdays).

One of the chapels we went into was at the Preveli Monastery on the South coast. It was very ornate inside with frescos and icons. One of the Greek Orthodox practices is to hang an icon with an image that represents a personal prayer for healing (eyes, legs, etc.) The Preveli monastery is beautifully set above the sea and has made its mark in history as a safe haven for British and Australian troops who had fled there and were helped by the priest to evacuate to Egypt during the German invasion of the island in WWII

The road trip to the South coast was especially scenic as we crossed the island from north to south at the skinniest point following a road that took us inland through a gorge, past fertile valleys and back out to the sea on the south side.

We stopped and jumped in the ocean for a refreshing swim at the site of Frangokastello, an old castle fortress built originally in 1371 and inhabited by Venetians, then Turks, then finally a Cretan revolutionary named Daliani in 1828. He and his small force of rebels were martyred there and have become heroic legends that, according to locals, appear as ghosts in the morning mist around dawn every year on May 17th.

From Frangokastello, we continued along the coast and ended up staying the night in a beach town called Plakia where we dined on fresh fish and watched the sunset from the sea wall.

As I look back on these photos I’m amazed at how dry and brown the landscape looks. Now that the rains have come, everything is greening up even though it’s winter. The previously brown olive groves are now decked out with a lush carpet of bright green clover that I would swear popped up overnight!

Enough for now!

Ya sas! (Standard greeting and farewell meaning, literally, “health to you”!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Around the "neighborhood" - first impressions

Hi all,

If you are new to our blog, forgive me if it seems like I’ve jumped ahead. These photos are in reference to some of correspondences I sent out as “Crete Journal” emails before the blog was set up. So, if you were on my mailing list starting in September when we moved here, you might remember me talking about some of these places and events. But as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I’ll just start with some sunsets that left even me speechless!

through grape vines…

past shepherd huts…

past typical Cretan mailboxes…

meeting up with a local bee keeper (Giorgio)…

and a local farmer…

and sometimes ending up at the neighborhood corner taverna for a robust “CafĂ© Alinika” (Greek coffee). Footnote to the Greek coffee – we really tried hard to acquire a taste for this thick, muddy liquid but finally gave up and have resorted back to a good old fashioned espresso.

After a full day of taking in the sights, we return to our little apartment in Stavros which serves as our temporary digs until we find a permanent home. It’s quite comfortable with beautiful views of the cliffs…

the pool and sea beyond…

and a flower bedecked “garage” for our island beater (the car!)

In the kitchen, Richard prepares a great Greek salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, olives, a big slab of feta cheese sprinkled with fresh oregano and topped off with some local extra virgin olive oil. (The secret ingredient is “freshness”!)

And when we stop for a moment to relax from all the sightseeing, we indulge ourselves by finding a quiet cove where we can just sit still, read, pray and thank God for blessing us with each other, for old friends and new, and for creating another beautiful spot in this world to enjoy.

“God’s word and our prayers make every item in creation holy.”

(1 Timothy 4:1 The Message)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Akrotiri Peninsula

Crete is divided into four regions. We live in the northwest region called Hania named after it's major city. The Naval base (NSA Souda Bay) and our new home is on a helmet shaped penisula called the Akrotiri Penisula. We are presently living in a town called Stavros and it's big claim to fame is that Zorba the Greek (starring Anthony Quinn) was filmed here. I can see why they chose this location...beautiful secluded beach cove and stunning cliffs.A long hike up to "the Zorba cave" revealed some really amazing views over the peninsula but the cave itself was merely an enormous cavern completely filled with goat droppings. I didn't stay long - just long enough to score some great photos.

The day after we arrived on the island we couldn't wait to explore so we set off for a hike up in the hills starting at an old monastery called Agia Gouverneto. The rocky path started at the top of a hill and descended quickly down to the ruins of Kathaliko Monastery. Eventually the path winds down through a giant gorge and ends at the sea. This hike has continued to be our favorite to this day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cretan blog up and running!

Hello (Ya sas!) Melanie and Richard here in Hania, Crete. We are finally blogging and have so much catching up to do. We'll start with some photos and post a little more each week. Enjoy!

A typical Greek "kafenio" where the Greek men (and an occasional woman) hang out in the afternoon and tell stories, argue politics and converse (loudly) over a bottle of raki.

This is a typical street in the Old Harbor section of the town of Hania. The merchants sell their wares such as olive oil, wine, leather goods, clothing, knives, artwork and lots of souvenir trinkets.

The Cretan hills are harsh and forboding, accented by sheer cliffs and deep gorges. But the thousands of olive groves that dot the landscape in the shadows of the mountains are proof that the fertile soil produces abundant agricultural crops.

The Aegean sea is the color of liquid jade. It's unbelievably clear and warm - perfect for a relaxing swim!