Yoga on Crete – Iyengar with Constantinos (Hora Sfakion, Week One)

Yoga floor
Beautiful view to the port
Yoga on Crete guest house
View from the indoor dining room


Leaving Chania and getting to Yoga on Crete was a bit of a challenge.  I needed the help of two people to bring my suitcase down two flights of winding wooden stairs and then I had to roll it through town to the bus station.  Poor suitcase, it has been everywhere and now one wheel is starting to break.

I was really looking forward to meeting Eugenia at Yoga on Crete in Hora Sfakion, which is an hour’s bus ride south of Chania.  On the way the bus stopped to pick up many French hikers (there seems to be a walk similar to the Carmino Way except it is the Cretan Way) and the scenery was spectacular as we wound down from Imbros Gorge to the coast.  Eugenia was easy to spot with her red hair, and she was waiting for me in a old station wagon.  She was very welcoming and drove me up to a lovely Cretan whitewashed house on a hill overlooking the turquoise sea.  Bright pink bougainvillea hung down next to the main double doors, and there was a very pretty garden.  My shared room was large with grey stone slab floors, whitewashed walls and two shuttered windows, one of which overlooked the small port and bay of Hora Sfakion.

Iyengar yoga was the program for this week, and the first class was to start at 6pm for two hours followed by an included vegetarian dinner cooked by resident chef Josh.  I had some time to walk down to the village beforehand, and discovered many tavernas and a beautiful little pebbly swimming beach of the clearest turquoise water.  I was tempted by some Cretan pastries filled with cheese and greens, delicious!

Our yoga teacher Constantinos was a lovely Greek man with a kind heart and much knowledge about the mechanics of the body.  Every day he was to have us working our pelvic muscles in every which way possible!  This was so we would be correctly aligned when doing each yoga posture.  There was to be a two hour class in the morning and again in the evening with the days in between classes spent chatting over breakfast, down at the village swimming and eating, or off on an excursion.

There were six women staying for this first week, from varying places such as Russia, Egypt and Athens.  Federica (from Italy) is also on hand for craniosacral massage, which I experienced on the second day.   Her five-year-old daughter Mia provides much love and entertainment!  Three adorable kittens live in the pretty garden and are now learning to climb a very thin tree.  A blue table and chairs sit near a pebbly path and a hammock is ideal for laying back under the leafy green tree.  The view down to the port is magical, especially at dusk and early morning.  Charcoal coloured stone slabs are hot to walk on, but provide dramatic colour against the whitewashed house and hot pink bougainvillea.

The first excursion was to Sweetwater beach, a private beach that you could only get to by boat.  This beach has a taverna perched on the water, a nudist and non-nudist division and beautiful clear cool water due to a natural underground spring.  The weather was quite hot in the mid-thirties then suddenly it cooled and became windy.  This was the perfect day to hike Imbros Gorge.  Christina, Maria and I got a lift with Nikolaus who had come to give us a special concert with his sita (an Indian musical instrument) the night before.  His beautiful music soothed us all.  Nikolaus dropped us off at the top of the gorge, then it was a scenic two hour hike down to the little village at the bottom.  By the way if you have dicky knees, don’t hike gorges!  To get back to Sfakion we had to hire a taxi with a difference!  It was a modern ute, but the driver did not open the door for us.  Instead we had to climb into the open back tray!  It was a lot of fun though hanging on for dear life as we screamed around twists and turns on the road down the hill, bumping all the way.

The vegetarian food cooked by Josh is interesting (I am not a vegetarian) though I am not sure my stomach likes it particularly.  A gazpacho soup of beetroot, tomato, ginger and mint was the tastiest dish I ate.  Over the course of the week my back had stretched into a graceful downward dog, I could get into poses I never thought possible, and my problem knee alignment is forever in my mind.

On the last evening of this week, we all went out for dinner at a local taverna.  There was such a difference in everybody from the beginning of the retreat.  No longer did guests want to forget about their lives, they were a more relaxed happy bunch of people!

Irini Gorge and Souza – Crete (Day 7)

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I woke half an hour before my 5.30am alarm (as often happens), got organised and headed out the door.  Today I was on a tour to hike almost three hours through Irini Gorge.  I was a bit confused at the pickup point because the bus had a label on the front ‘Samaria Gorge’.  As it turned out everyone else was doing the 6-8hr hike through the famous Samaria Gorge (longest gorge in Europe) and I was doing the shorter but more peaceful Iniri Gorge.

The bus ride was very scenic as we climbed through the mountains and goats ran free everywhere!  As we stopped for breakfast at a mountain village, the air was cool and fresh and smelt of thyme and other herbs that grow naturally on Crete.

We arrived at the entrance to Samaria Gorge and dropped everyone off including the guide (see photo above).  The driver (Nikos) was to look after me for the rest of the day!   Luckily he could speak very good English.  He drove me another 25 minutes down the mountain a bit further to the entrance of Irini Gorge and said goodbye and that he would pick me up at the other end.

Just down the road a little bit was a very small cafe and toilet, and a woman collected my national park entrance fee of two euro.  It was only about 8.15am when I started, so still nice and cool.  A goat and her kid were bleating on the track.  There were six checkpoints along the track, all with natural spring water provided.  Checkpoint two had toilets.  Chestnut trees, an abundance of pink oleander, and herbs made for a very pretty shaded walk.   Crickets sung their loud choruses and birds sang gorgeous melodies.  There was plenty of rock climbing, steps up and down the hillsides and understory paths.  Mostly it was rocky and a good workout!

I found it very spiritual and beautiful to be out in nature, even though I had a bit of a sweat going near the end as the sun got stronger, and just a wee bit of sunburn on my arm.  I made friends with two older German couples as we kept crossing each other’s paths.

Nikos duly picked me up from the taverna at the end of the track and my reward was a ride down to Souza beach for a whole afternoon swimming and lounging.  The beach at Souza is pebbly with very clear and calm water, just gorgeous.  We had to wait for the group to come by boat from the end of the Samaria Gorge at about 6.30pm, and it was a very late trip home.  While we were waiting Nikos chatted about how the men often had to have two jobs now to pay the very high taxes in Greece and showed me photos of his lovely wife and four children.  Everyone came back on the bus in one piece after the long hike and it was a very congenial ride back with Nikos and the guide making fun of me doing my hike again as we drove back up the mountain past the start to Irini Gorge. This was one of the best days so far!

Chania – Crete (Day 6)

I felt really tired this morning and had to have another snooze after breakfast.  Tossing up between staying to do some work on my IPad or go for a walk, I ended up heading out to find a travel agent to book a boat to Santorini for July.  I had been told the boat went from Rethymno every day but no, it only goes on a Tuesday or Sunday and I need to be there on a Monday…  So I need to get a bus from Rethymno to Heraklion to the port there for the high speed ferry.  I carried on walking in the heat to the bus station to get a ticket for Hora Sfakion for Wednesday, and that was all ok.

Then the coolest places to be were the clothing shops!  Seems to be a bit of a heatwave here at the moment!  One thing I have noticed in Chania is that there are no homeless people or anyone openly selling drugs etc, it is all very safe which is what you want for a holiday.  Fashion prices here are very good and on my walk I had to resist very hard buying a handbag.   By this time it was well into the afternoon (getting used to Greek time I think!) and I went to find the restaurant with the little dog.

The waiter was outside and when he saw me he opened his arms wide and said “where have you been?!”.  So nice to be remembered, and I have found everyone to be very warm and open in Crete so far.  It was nice and cool in the bar area and I asked yet more questions then chatted to the owners when they came in.  This time I received a complementary goats cheese and honey dessert.  An hour is a good time to ponder over lunch I decided, then headed back to the hotel for some quiet time.

This evening I had to go for a walk back to the lighthouse to take my SLR camera, and planned to visit a seafood taverna for dinner.  A classical band was setting up at the back of the protected pink mosque (Muslims used to live here but do not any more – they were sent home in 1943 or thereabouts).  I did not know but it was International Music Day.  Horses and white carriages also wait in a line around this area of the port.

Walking around further you couldn’t help but marvel at the luxury yachts and look with curiosity at the vendors selling sea sponges in all shapes and sizes.  After taking the shots I wanted I walked back and tried to remember the name of the restaurant I had been recommended by hotel staff, but they all looked similar.  How did I choose?  Well I picked one with a good looking board showing photos of various seafood, and then ordered grilled octopus.

As I was sitting waiting I kept picturing a live octopus with its waving tentacles and had to tell myself to stop it!  Another band was setting up now for the music festival.  Unfortunately I had forgotten the main hotel front door key and I had to be picked up in the morning at 6.15am in town!  So either way I had to be back by 10pm.

Anyway the octopus was delicious chargrilled and also the complementary semolina pudding.  I was given Raki as well, and if you have had that before, you will know it is like firewater!  In other words, pure ethanol…  Two sips and I was coughing!  The band in the corner turned out to be a DJ playing nightclub music and a group was doing a dance performance to each song.  When I left to walk back to the hotel the classical band was in full swing with many people sitting watching, and throngs of people filled the waterfront restaurants.  Shame I have to get up so early…

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Palace of Knossos, Rethymnon – Crete (day 5)

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According to tradition Knossos was the seat of the wise King Minos and is connected to legends such as the myth of the Labryinth with the Minotaur.  The palace was inhabited from the Neolithic period until the 5th century AD.  Today I was to see Knossos…

The early morning was so peaceful at Talo Square and I sat overlooking the sea as I waited for the bus.  Though it was not a bus that picked me up, instead a young man in a very small car came to take me to the waiting bus in town.  We then set off for a much more relaxing drive this time, passing green countryside on one side and the blue coastline on the other.  The mountains provided a lovely backdrop in the distance.  The bus was about half full making for a more pleasant tour with a nice group of people.  Our tour guide, a dark skinned Cretan woman, joined us a bit later and spoke of the history and myths of Knossos.  The Minoans, the Cretans, the Turks, even Muslims, lived here for a time.  No wonder I felt like Crete was similar to Turkey!  One similarity in particular is that all the food waiters are men.

A quick stop for a fresh orange juice (which is a daily ritual now), and it did not seem long before we were at the palace of Knossos which is located just outside the capital city of Heraklion.  The ground layout of the palace remains (the upper part was destroyed by a fire) and copies of some of the upper buildings have been made.  Frescoes and pictures, tall round burgundy coloured columns and fake wooden door and window frames show what the palace would have looked like.  A miniature replica of the whole palace that is in the Heraklion Archaeological Musem made more sense as it was hard to understand our guide sometimes.

The museum is very well laid out with excellent displays as you can see in the photos above.   A couple of interesting facts – the Cretan women wore their breasts on display (outside of their dress) as a sign of fertility, and Bulls were fought with, played with and then sacrificed to the gods in large rectangular pots.  The baths above are sit baths, and in the middle is a game like droughts.

A quick bite to eat and a short walk around Heraklion then it was time to head to Rethymnon for an hour’s visit.  Rethymnon is similar to Chania in that it is an old walled town.  Heraklion on the other hand got severely bombed during the war and as a consequence most of the city was rebuilt using a modern style.

Most of us were snoozing in the bus on the return trip as it was so warm again today.  Back in Chania it was a gorgeous evening, and I was kept cool by the shade of old trees in the back alleyways as I ate stewed fish and veges.  A strawberry juice was refreshing too and I highly recommend it!  Local musicians played lovely traditional music and the atmosphere was idyllic.

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Elafonissi (Crete) – Day 4

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Elafonissi is known as the ‘Cretan Maldives’ with crystal clear water and pink sand.  I was picked up at 7:30am for a tour to head across the island to visit this area.  So popular is this area that our bus took an hour to pick everyone else up along the way and was completely full.  Sitting next to me was a Polish girl ‘Margret’ and it wasn’t long before we started chatting.  It was quite funny because every time she started to tell me a story the tour guide also started to speak.  Our guide was a lovely blonde haired woman who was easy to understand and gave us some great information about the areas we were travelling through.

For instance we were driving on the ‘old road’ that the Germans and Commonwealth soldiers built during WWII.  Apparently unusual friendships were formed between these two enemies when they were working on the roads.  I also learned that oleander bushes that are very pretty and line most roads, are extremely poisonous and so deter goats from roaming onto the roads and causing accidents.  Goats are everywhere on Crete.

We had a breakfast stop at a traditional Cretan village and then on through the rocky mountainside region of Topolia Gorge to the Holy Monastery of Chrysoskalitissa.  This is one of only two churches in the world dedicated to Saint Sophia, the other is in Istanbul, Turkey.  The building of this monastery has a true story – a shepherd found an icon on top of the hill but usually all monastery’s were easier to build at the base of hills.  So he started to build at the base of the hill, created some walls and went home. Next day he came back to find the walls crumbled down and the icon back on top of the hill.  He did this for two more days with the same thing happening.  He finally realised that God wanted him to build the monastery on top of the hill!  And there it is today, and you can view the foundations of where he first tried to build the monastery…

Inside the monastery was a tiny room used as a secret school, three small kittens and a beautiful church.

Ten minutes away was the island of Elafonissi and we were being dropped off here for four hours but the temperature was forecast at over forty degrees!  I was therefore slightly worried I might come back looking like a beetroot..  I had picked up some lunch at the little village and had plenty of water thankfully.  Walking off the bus it did look like an idyllic setting.

A group of us set up camp in a small patch of shade under some trees and changed into our swimwear.  There was a couple of change booths, lots of umbrellas and loungers for hire, and a small canteen.  People were wading out into the lagoon which was only waist high.  I followed Margret to the actual island which you could wade out to in shallow water, and the colour of the water on the other side of this island was spectacular!  Clear turquoise blue contrasted with the charcoal coloured rocks and pink stretch of sand.

Margret (who described herself as ‘the crazy Polish girl’) had me taking photos of her on just about every rock, but actually we had a lot fun as we both had our cameras.  Along this section of the island we eventually came to a stop, decided to turn around, and hello there was a naked man sitting in front of us!  He offered to take our photos together but we just giggled and carried on.

Between taking photos, swimming, eating lunch and napping the time soon went and we made our way back to the bus.  The driver then turned up and he looked suspiciously like the naked man we had seen earlier!  Thankfully I got back on the bus suffering only sunburnt feet, which happens to me all the time…

A quick stop at a local stall for a taste of Cretan runny honey and raki (with honey), then it was an hour or so for the drive back through the mountains to Amygdalokefali where it was extremely hot and stifling at the restaurant.  I did have a lovely Greek salad and the view was magnificent across the coastline, but it was so lovely to get back and have a refreshing shower.  It was a long 12hr journey and I was so tired but it was excellent value for money and now I know why Elafonissi is on all the postcards!

Chania, Crete (Day 3)

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I started the morning socialising with other tourists over breakfast then headed off in search of the public park, my camera slung around my neck.  I had trouble finding it actually, I asked a shop attendant, still got lost, then looked left down a side street as I was walking and there it was.  I had thought it was going to be some glorious botanical garden, but no it was just a public park.  It was only worth a couple of photos and so I ambled down the street I should have come down passing many more shoe shops!

However I did spy the indoor market and inside were many food shops, souvenirs and the like.  The building was really unusual in that it is shaped like a cross with a door at each axis.  It has domed ceilings with great structural detail.  Suddenly a striking looking woman appeared and asked if I would take her photo.  She repaid the favour and I couldn’t get over how articulate her speech was.  She could have come straight from a royal household, possibly South African.

After the market I ended up somewhere to the right of the main waterfront in front of some crumbly old buildings that were great to photograph.  I passed a colourful funky bar, some Cretan knife shops, then a garden caught my eye.  It has lots of old pots with red geraniums, overhanging leafy green vines and tables and chairs set out on a stone slab floor.  A little chihuahua was outside chewing on a bone.  It was a bit early for lunch but I felt drawn inside, and asked a man cleaning tables if they were open yet.  He replied “in 10-15mins” so I asked if I could sit and wait.  He agreed (only because I said I couldn’t come back) and I watched the dog being fed more bones until he decided he was going to be open.  Which he was after he washed his face and hands…  He was quite hospitable really and answered all my curious questions.  He even showed me how the dog could jump on a chair.

I ordered the tastiest salad of chicory leaves, pear, walnuts, local goats cheese and a sweet tangy dressing.  I was given the customary bread basket and to my surprise he gave me a plate of diced watermelon free of charge.  Then it was time to go back to the hotel and do some work (yes I still have a bit of work to do) before heading out to Starbucks for a chai latte and cheesecake.  The thing is after having these I now don’t want them any more, they just don’t seem Cretan!

As I sat I could not help but notice the architecture of an old multi-story building across the square.  Yellow shutters on all the windows against a white painted exterior reminded me of Havana in Cuba.  After the guys smoking at the next lounge chair annoyed me I went for a walk to discover what was around to the right of the main waterfront.  I ended up walking all the way around to the lighthouse on a stone walled path.  It was a long walk, and I noticed a mature woman continually calling someone’s name and walking up and down the path.  After spending time taking photos and admiring the views I meandered back, but this woman was clearly distressed by now.  I tried to ask her if she had lost a boy, girl or dog, but she was Italian and according to an Italian man nearby she had lost a large man!

He had been taking a photo, was wearing green trousers and had totally disappeared!  They had to call the police in the end, and I wish I knew what had happened to him.  I really felt for the woman…

Feeling the heat, I headed back to the hotel for an early night for an early start to see Elafonissi Island tomorrow.




Chania, Crete (Day 2)

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Breakfast here in Chania does not start until 8am so there is plenty of time to do yoga beforehand (luckily I have a DVD player in my room).  Downstairs I got to meet the two lovely women who would be serving breakfast every day, and they made me feel very welcome. They freshly squeezed orange juice, made teas and coffees, eggs how you like it and provided a selection of hot and cold foods on a little buffet.  The hospitality was of the best I have found.  It was no trouble to book my tours and they also arranged to make up picnic boxes of food for me to take on the early morning starts.

The weather looked glorious and so putting my jetlag aside I decided to go exploring with my camera.  Spoilt for choice, the narrow alleyways in the walled old town had so many photo opportunities!  Bright coloured flowers filled the streets and overhanging vines made the back alleyway restaurants look so inviting.  I was in my element, loving every minute, and to top it off I found a chai latte at the Starbucks cafe, a Greek phone charger and a good book to read.  Not to mention that the shoe shops here are to die for, and I just had to buy a pair!  The port was peaceful and calm and the old stone buildings made a wonderful contrast to the blue water.  My first greek salad was bought here, and the fresh tomatoes and cucumber with local goats cheese was scrumptious.

Being out of my timezone I then had to buy fruit at 3pm because I was so hungry, and then of course I was not hungry at all at Greek dinner time.  At 8pm there was still a buzzing crowd on the waterfront, and the gyros I ordered just didn’t seem to taste as good or as healthy as I remembered all those years ago on Santorini… Maybe it was because I was not hungry and just a little tired…

Crete, Greece (Day 1) – Chania

I was forced to wind down while I had to wait over 8hrs for my flight from Athens to Crete.  It was a nice hour or so sitting outside at the cafe just watching the backdrop of the hills, and people walking by.  The downside was that most people smoke out here and chai latte is unheard of!

Well what a greeting in Chania!  A navy band and an army brigade were there to meet the plane, and as I had the very back seat and we were to disembark from the back as well as the front, I got to see the band playing!  Unbeknown to me there were some very special Greek priests on board, who received the special welcome.

So it was very late, about 11.30pm by the time I walked my suitcase down a cobblestone street (no cars can get into the walled old town section of Chania) and managed to find the hotel Colombo Del Porto.  It was all shut but I used the telephone outside the door, someone answered and gave me instructions to open a box and there was an envelope with my keys.  This hotel is over 700 years old and used to be a base for Turkish soldiers way back when, and a prime ministers house too.  There is no lift, and luckily I only had to get my suitcase up two flights of stairs.  After 24hrs of travelling, I could not muster up the energy for a shower nor could I keep my eyes open a moment longer, and so just crashed into a deep deep sleep.

Stockists of ‘Abandoned in Paris’ in Perth, Western Australia

Current stockists are:-

Planet Books, 646 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley

The State Library Shop, State Library of Western Australia, 25 Francis St, Perth

Millpoint Caffe Bookshop, 254 Mill Point Rd, South Perth

Oxford St Books, 119 Oxford St, Leederville

Collins Booksellers Cottesloe, 23 Napoleon St, Cottesloe

Crow Books, 900 Albany Highway, East Victoria Park

Diabolik Books & Records, 149 Scarborough Beach Rd, Mt Hawthorn

New Edition Bookshop, 41 High St, Fremantle

Dymocks Karrinyup, Shop F121 (upper level), Karrinyup Shopping Centre



Dolphin Experience at Monkey Mia

This was one of those lucky journeys!  A few days before my man and I left for Monkey Mia at Shark Bay, I scored a brand new duodome tent for just $80 advertised on Gumtree.  However unpowered tent sites were not able to be booked so all fingers and toes were crossed that there would be a site free by the time we arrived at 4.30pm.   The Alpha Romeo with the back seats down fitted all of our gear nicely and the eight hour drive was great without much traffic on the road.   Car parking was at a premium at the resort and I think we found the last spot at the campsite.  Our neighbours looked on as we put up the tent super efficiently even if we were missing a few pegs.

Shark Bay is 800km north of Perth on its own peninsula which is 100km in from the main highway.  It is quite a remote area, with beautiful beaches and as you guessed it many sharks, but also a diverse marine life including dolphins and pelicans.  Dolphins have been coming in to feed at Monkey Mia since the 1960s and I overheard a travel guide saying that a 40yr old female dolphin came in and unexpectedly started rubbing herself on peoples legs last week because she was saying goodbye after visiting every day of her life.  She was never to be seen again.

Two of the 15 dolphins that regularly visit
Two of the 15 dolphins that regularly visit

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We camped for three nights, cooked meals in the camp kitchens for two and enjoyed dinner out at the resort restaurant for the last evening.  The facilities are great for families, couples and backpackers with plenty of water activities on offer.  The weather was fabulous in the early thirties, just beware the water is cold!  Also my man managed to lose sunglasses and chapstick on separate occasions as he dove into the water but the dolphins swimming right by him made up for the loss.  As for me I suffered from badly sun-burnt feet so don’t forget to put suntan lotion on them…

One thing to be aware of in school holidays is that the tent area is busy so everyone is packed in right next to each other and you can hear every word!!  All in all it was a gorgeous break from city life and we met some lovely fellow campers.  We also checked out Shell Beach on the way back down the peninsula.

Water activities Shell Beachshark bay map