Returning to our ‘hovel’, we were confident, as we had set up the small machine that burned insect-killing coils before leaving. As we entered, we were sure that the thing had set the apartment on fire, as a cloud of smoke greeted us. It was stinging our eyes, and making it hard to breathe. Of course, we had to fling open the door and all the windows, immediately making the whole thing pointless. No doubt many mosquitoes had been lined up outside waiting for this moment, as by the time we had cleared the noxious fog, the place was once again full of hungry biters. That machine went into the bin, and I tried to get some sleep, sure that I could hear the buzzing of the blighters all around me.
The next morning, it was an early start for a planned trip to the town of Rethymnon. This was almost two hours by car, so we wanted to get out in time to make a day of it. I slapped on my cream, took a tablet, and dabbed on my ammonia pen, with a series of ‘ouch that stings’ exclamations accompanying each application. Rethymnon was located to the north and west, back past Heraklion, but the main roads would take us to it, so we were sure that we would get there easily. And I had my map. Despite the high season influx of visitors, the roads were not that busy. There was an abundance of other tourists driving hired convertible Suzuki Jeeps; hoods down, and generally over-crowded inside. Some passengers perched precariously on the back rim, holding on to the roll bar; disasters waiting to happen. Other disasters had already happened. Many travellers hire cheap motor scooters on the island. The reliability and service history of these things are dubious at best. Add to this the inexperience, or sun-fuelled bravado of the riders, and we saw many come to grief. Dazed foreigners standing at the side of the road, legs scraped by tarmac, scooters wrecked in the background. There was no point stopping, as it happened so often, we would never have got anywhere. Sometimes we just saw the abandoned scooter, and could only speculate on the whereabouts of the rider and passenger. Most of the other traffic was made up of lumbering trucks. Once they built up a decent speed, they stuck to it, and woe betide anyone in their way.
There was probably a great deal to see en route, but we didn’t see it. We carried on into the old centre of the city, and found it to be delightful. It has influences from Venetian and Turkish culture, and a lovely old town area, as well as a large fortress dominating the harbour. To visit this was one of the main reasons we had travelled there, but it was already so hot we chose to park the car in the nearby public car park, and head straight for the beach nearby. There are better beaches further along the coast, but I wanted to get into the sea. Even though I can’t swim, I just wanted to lie down in it. I regret to say that I also saw little of the ancient old town, except for stopping off for a cool drink in an attractive cafe on the way to the sea. Most of the afternoon was spent between being up to my neck in the water, or retreating to one of the few bars near the beach for more refreshment. Culture was suffering from the heat, as much as I was. It was a very nice place though, and I was left wishing that we had chosen to stay there, rather than where we had ended up. We drove back to Aghios Nikolaos, stopping in the town once again to eat that evening. I couldn’t face the prospect of sitting eating a meal in the tiny apartment. It did occur to us that self-catering was pointless, after all.
We had abandoned all ideas of also visiting Knossos the previous day. Although it was ‘on the way’ as such, as it is south of Heraklion, it had been so hot in Rethymnon, the idea of walking around this large ancient monument in the afternoon was something we could not even think about. We decided that we would have to go during the second week though, as this important site was pretty much a must-see. So, the next morning, we headed in the opposite direction, east to Vai Beach. This sandy beach, fringed by one of the largest palm tree forests in Europe, had become a well-publicised destination in the few years before our trip. It had been made famous in England as the location for the filming of the ‘Bounty Bar’ advert on TV. This coconut-filled chocolate bar had used this advertising campaign for years, and the thought that we could go to this idyllic location was very exciting for us. It was about ninety minutes from our place, so we had a long breakfast, and felt no need to rush. Once again, traffic was very light. Once we got close to Vai, the roads were not so good, but we made it in the estimated time, and found it easy enough to park.
Even then, it was very popular with tourists. The soft sand, and swaying palms made you feel that you were somewhere very exotic. I don’t know what it is like there now, but when we went, we found only a couple of small cafes, and some stalls selling tatty goods for tourists. The beach was already quite crowded, but it was big enough to find a peaceful spot eventually. We noticed quite a few backpackers, and others actually camping on the beach. It also seemed popular with old-enough-to-know-better Hippy types, but everyone was quite relaxed, and we spent a pleasant day there. To make it even nicer, there was a breeze. It was the first we had enjoyed since arriving, and was very welcome. That night, we ate once again in our ‘home town’, chancing another meal at the original waterside restaurant, and using the parking spot offered. It proved to be a bad choice for me, as when I got back to the apartment, I had been bitten many times once again. I now had bites on bites, others between my toes, and some on my neck and shoulders. And that was with the creams applied beforehand. I was beginning to wish that we had gone somewhere else that year.
I have to mention something rather distasteful now. It is by way of a public service announcement, and also quite relevant to this account of our stay in Crete. One of the things on the information leaflet we had been given, had been an instruction on how to use the toilet. This sounds strange I know, but they do not have mains sewerage in Crete. Because of this, no paper can be put down the toilet, under any circumstances. Otherwise, you use the toilet as normal, and flush it in the time-honoured fashion. Any paper used has to be placed in a bin put next to the toilet for this purpose. This was very strange to people used to using normal facilities in countries like England. For one thing, it is very hard to stop yourself dropping the paper down in the first place, even when you are reminding yourself that you cannot. Even after you have got used to this distasteful chore, having a bin full of used toilet paper in the bathroom is not very nice, as I am sure you can imagine. A cleaning lady came in every day to tidy the studio, wash the floors and clean the kitchen and bathroom. She also had the task of bagging up this paper for collection by whoever did such things. It was suggested we left her a tip. She earned it.
The morning after the day in Vai, my wife used the toilet, and flushed it. Instead of the water going away, a horrible mess appeared inside the bowl, filling it to the brim. It was accompanied by such a bad smell, we had to immediately vacate the apartment. I am sure that you can guess what it was. I went upstairs to our neighbours, to see if they had the same problem. We had only seen this young couple once since arriving. They had been waiting at a bus stop, and we gave them a lift into town. They explained that they had little spending money, and told us that it was their first holiday together. They used the local shop and taverna mostly, and bought food to prepare in their flat. By coincidence, they lived not that far from us, in Kingston, Surrey. He answered the door dressed only in a towel around his waist. I had the feeling that I had interrupted something. I told him what had happened, and he went to look at his own toilet. He reported that he had no problem, then added that this was strange, as his girlfriend refused to use the bin provided, and had been flushing paper since they had arrived. It was obvious that this was the cause of the blockage lower down, that had found its level in our bathroom. It said on the information sheet that we had to pay the costs if we blocked the drains, so I advised him that this charge would be his responsibility. He told me that he would go to the taverna and ring the agent, and apologised for causing us any discomfort. We headed off in the car, to the beach near the town.
When we got back that evening, the problem had been solved. The guy upstairs had had to wait in all day for the plumber, and the cleaner had been in to our bathroom and cleaned up. He told me that he had to pay the equivalent of almost £40 for the call-out, which had left them with very little to last the rest of the holiday. I sympathised, but told him that it was his girlfriend’s fault, so I didn’t see why we should contribute.
As I was still plagued by the insect bites, we decided to have a couple of quiet days, and see out the first week around Aghios Nikolaos. More trips were planned for the second week, and we used the local taverna that we could walk to for a couple of nights, striking up a good relationship with the owner and the waiters there.