Crete: Going with the Flow

I’ve long been drawn to the principles of Taoism. Not in any major religious sense but because life experience has taught me that going with the flow, letting things take their natural course, often leads one along the best paths in life, even though it’s often only observed in small ways. Taoism doesn’t promote ‘giving up’ and never taking any action but when a door – metaphorically speaking – is closed firmly in your face after several attempts to get through, then frankly, only an idiot is going to persist. Trying to barge your way through a closed door is a way to get hurt.

Holidays inevitably bring lots of expectations. Some of us long for days spent doing nothing but lying on a sunny beach. Some of us want to fill every minute seeing as much as we can of a new place; every site in the guidebook. Some long for excitement; others seek peace and quiet. These expectations can go horribly wrong. The sun doesn’t shine. You’ve made too long a list of places to visit and can’t see them all, so come home disappointed. The quiet hotel turns out to be next to a nightclub. Or you go on holiday with the wrong person; someone who wants to do things completely differently to you. More of this later.

The beach this morning. No swimming. I booked this holiday in Crete with many expectations – hopes, perhaps – in mind. One of them was a last burst of summer weather before autumn really kicks in. I’m a summer person; I love the sun. To say I hate winter may be a little strong but not entirely inaccurate. Any poor person who has had to be out with me on a wet, cold and windy day in winter will know exactly what I mean. I tend to get a little grumpy. To lose three days of just one week here to bad weather could feel like a disaster. But I didn’t want to go through that metaphor of a door. Yesterday was easy. I took a chance, headed off to Agios Nikolaos and all worked well. Although I was holed up in the apartment for some of the day, I still had a brilliant day, ending especially well with my meal at Meraki taverna last night.

It wasn’t raining this morning but the wind was strong. Nowhere seemed to be open for coffee so I took the car along the coastal road for a bit of an exploration and in hope of an open cafe. No such luck. I went some way before deciding that the wind was so strong, and the little Kia was being buffeted so unnervingly that I had to slow right down, that the best thing to do was to come back to Istron. I headed down to the beach cafe. Closed. At the top of the slope I looked at Panorama Taverna. They had an Illy coffee sign. Promising but no sign of life. Then a young woman called down to me from the terrace. Could I get a coffee, I asked. Yes, come up, what did I want. She suggested I sat in the sheltered part of the restaurant while she disappeared.

I watched the white horses ride the stormy sea through plastic. My coffee seemed to be taking time. Finally, the girl came back bearing a large plate.

This was a bit on a par with un grand cafe in France where coffee at the end of a meal comes with a few mini desserts. Once I’d got over my surprise, I tucked into the little pot of Greek yogurt and honey, and ate a little cake. The coffee was excellent too. As I paid, the owner George came over to talk to me. Where was I staying? Where were my friends? Surely I wasn’t alone! I had to assure him I had plenty of good friends and lovely family and often went on holiday with them. But sometimes I was happy alone. (It was here I referred to the problems of going on holiday with the wrong person.) He wasn’t convinced. This wasn’t good for me! I must go back this evening and he will cook a special meal for me and find me a good Greek man. I laughed and said I thought my children probably wouldn’t be pleased if I met a Greek man and didn’t go home. George was having none of my excuses! Thankfully the talk turned to food. In particular how I cooked my moussaka. I had to describe this in detail, answer points of more detail. Yes, George concluded, this was a good way to make moussaka. Then we parted with me promising to return at 8 tonight. Watch this space. I ventured onwards up the coastal road – along which lies an excellent path for walkers.

Later, at lunchtime, I headed down to the beach cafe again, certain it would be open by now. It wasn’t.

Alex (from Liquid Gold Cave back in Richmond) had told me this was her favourite place for souvlaki. I’d thought souvlaki in pitta with tzatziki and salad on a windy beach would be perfect. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Today at any rate. I stopped at Meraki again. A couple of meze, perhaps a Greek salad. That would be good too. As last night, I was given a warm welcome. Did I want to sit inside or out. I opted for in. A table was prepared. A menu brought. A pastitsio was in the oven I was told. Layers of pasta, minced lamb and bechamel sauce. It would be ready in 20 minutes. It sounded good but I didn’t want something that heavy if I was to eat a big meal this evening. I explained I wanted something lighter. Well, there was also a fish soup being prepared; that would be ready in 15 minutes. I waited. How could I resist such a freshly made fish soup.

I had a small cold draught beer while I waited. I checked in with my iPhone. Everywhere offers free wifi. I read my book. More people came in and were welcomed with hugs and laughter. Some people went straight into the kitchen area to see what was happening. It felt more like being in a family home on a Sunday when lots of family members come to lunch than a restaurant. Then my soup came.

Not exactly a light snack lunch but oh so good. It was delicious and, I thought, healthy too. They brought me some complimentary halva with my coffee. I was a bit uncertain and thought it might be too sweet for me – I didn’t want to offend by leaving it – but it wasn’t. It was textured with semolina and flavoured with nuts, sultanas and spices, the Greek way.

So, the day so far hasn’t turned out quite as I planned. But coffee and lunch turned out to be such a lot more fun than I’d imagined. The three days of bad weather has stopped me rushing off to do some of those busy things on my ‘list’, like driving an hour or so up to the Lasithi Plateau to see the famous windmills, visiting more towns and Minoan sites. But do you know what? The plus side, the being forced to go with the flow of the weather, has resulted in me slowing down so much more and having a good rest. And in the process I’ve met some lovely people and had some great experiences. (Though hopefully I won’t be too tested come Tuesday when I hope the wind has dropped enough for me to be able to fly home on time!)

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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