Finding Resilience in the Mountains of Crete
Story by Kayla Kurin



An escape from London and a deteriorating relationship leads to the idyllic village of Anogia in Crete, where the Greek gods have their own disruptive plans.


Crete travel story

"You are very lucky," a wrinkled Greek man tells me as our eyes meet in the reflection of the taverna window. 

"Oh?" 

"This is a special occasion. Very special. Only once every few years does it snow here. And you are witnessing it!"

Tyche, the Greek goddess of luck, must have blessed me with her graces. I've experienced two snowstorms in my two weeks living in Anogia—a 4,000-person village in Crete. 

Outside the window, snow covers the dull green shrubs lining the rocky mountain slope. The sheep, unbothered by the cold in their warm coats, graze the hillside, sniffing out patches of grass beneath the white. 

The low fire behind me can't warm the high ceilings of the taverna and I wrap my much too light coat closer around me, gazing out at the lost dreams of my winter escape. 

I'd anticipated my trip to Crete as a hot and sunny break from a damp wintery London. I'd imagined taking meandering walks to the cave of Zeus, asking the gods of Olympus to help me save a failing relationship and pay off my credit cards. Instead, I'm snowbound. 

Warmed by Fires and Food

Under the long wooden beams of the taverna, I gnaw at the best lamb chop I've eaten in my life and the man does the same at the table in front of me. I recognize him from the small supermarket in the village. He smiles and nods often, but he only knows a few words of English—and I know even less Greek. We're the only two patrons in the restaurant, and he soon leaves to go home to his family. 

I wave as he leaves and turn back to the panorama of the mountain range, snowy peaks jutting out in all directions. The waiter appears in the window's reflection, here to pour me a complimentary glass of raki. 

I take the last few bites of my salad, the oil and fresh cheese mixing delightfully with the cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions and then sip the drink, enjoying the burn on the back of my throat. 

I'm about as far as I can get from the takeaway meals I've been surviving on in London. Still, I feel like I could use another shot to help loosen the tension in my shoulders. 

I left London to get out of the zippy pace of life and come somewhere where the speed of living—and the speed of money leaving my bank account—were slower. But, as I linger at the restaurant, my thoughts stray to the life I'm avoiding. The boyfriend I can't make it work with and the city that's left me gnarled, cynical, and with dwindling finances. Somehow, it hasn't reached my attention until this moment, that Greece was the place my boyfriend and I first got together. After months of long-distance correspondence, we'd spent two weeks driving around the country, visiting beaches and wandering through ruins. Not an ounce of snow in sight. 

Be less stressed! I keep telling myself like it's my mantra, even though I hate mantras. Every time I repeat it my shoulders creep closer to my ears.

I've laid my hopes on starting an online yoga school for people with chronic illnesses. For the curious reader wondering if this was a good business venture, no it wasn't. But I was young and full of hope and dreams, not numbers and keyword research. 

So Much for Sun and Fun

I finally leave the taverna, my thin boots leaving a single line of footprints in the snow. Back in my apartment, I put on every piece of clothing I own. I came more prepared to go to the beach than build a snow fort, but through teamwork, my clothes manage to keep me warm. I'm staying in a one-bedroom two-story villa overlooking the mountains, with white walls and wooden fixtures. Coming from a teeny London flat, I'm not used to the spaciousness and spend most of my time huddled near the fireplace, feeding its hungry stone mouth with dried logs. 

snow on Crete mountains
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Fotinakis

Houses in the Mediterranean tend to be poorly insulated, more focused on keeping inhabitants cool in the summer than warm in the winter. I wonder how the ancient Greeks made it through the deceptively cold winter months. Maybe they had fleece togas. 

Focus! I tell myself. Would Sappho have spared a thought for winter fashion? No! She only creates!

Nearing the end of my third week in town, I leave the warmth of the fire and go out into the cobbled and frosty village square. A wartime statue is the only monument, its height matched by the town's church. Before the snowstorms, this square was full of men sitting in front of cafes sipping on strong coffee and playing backgammon, and women chatting at the doorways of fruit shops, selling cheese on the street. But now, I'm the only one out walking.

Even before the snow, I didn't speak to many people. My Greek is nearly non-existent, and while the man who helped me book my apartment speaks perfect English, he lives in Athens. It's his grandmother, a short, wrinkled woman with a mischievous grin and no English vocabulary, who runs the guesthouse.

At the end of the square, I find myself at the grocery store. I need to stock up on figs, feta, and olive oil ("More oil! More oil!" my landlord Yia-Yia mimes every time she stops by when I'm cooking.).

As I unload my groceries at the register, the shopkeeper says, "You are very brave! Going outside in this weather!" He's bundled up inside his store, protecting himself against the gusts of wind that enter every time the door opens. 

"Oh, it's not so bad," I say, "I'm from Canada." I've walked through snow up to my waist to school both ways! I want to tell him. But I don't know how to get the message across in Greek, so instead, I return home. 

Dinner of Few Words With a Grandma

I film my yoga videos in front of the fireplace, stacking books behind my phone to get the best angle. Three people sign up for my course at US$75 dollars a head. It's not much, according to London standards, but it covers my food and travel expenses for a month in Greece. As I chow down on a piece of freshly grilled calamari at the taverna, I can taste the financial security dripping down my throat with the fish, lemon, and olive oil. 

Anogia in Crete

The next night, Yia-Yia invites me to her apartment for dinner. Her English is just as limited as my Greek, but we manage to communicate a bit as she cooks spaghetti Bolognese. While the water boils, she pours me a glass of red wine and places freshly shredded Parmesan on the table. 

The TV behind me is showing election coverage. It looks like the leader of the far-left party is going to win after years of right-wing leadership. I try to ask granny how she feels about this new, young, liberal leader. 

"Etsi kai etsi" she says, "so so." But her unspoken words are louder. "They're all the same. I'll believe the change when I see it."

She then places the steaming bowl of spaghetti in front of me. The smell of freshly ground beef basked in tomato sauce fills my nostrils. Even though we can't talk, she sits with me and smiles, drinking a strong coffee well past an hour I'd dare. 

Even though we can't communicate well and she knows practically nothing about me, she seems happy to be with me, and that makes me feel happy to be with her, too. I feel my shoulders moving down my back. 

An Ill-fated Remote Business Launch

The night before my yoga course is scheduled to launch, a snowstorm hits. As the Wi-Fi bounces in and out, I keep seeing the error message "upload failed" as I try to get the files on my website in time. 

If I were still in London, I wouldn't have this problem, I say to myself. London: the place where I'm surrounded by my stressed-out friends in damp pubs that I can't afford, where I share a mouldy apartment with aggressive shower spiders, and where my boyfriend, who would do anything for me—except love me with the fierceness to transcend my body hair—lives.

London: the place with fast, reliable, Wi-Fi. 

Frustrated, alone, and ready to throw the computer at the wall, I realize the only person who can help me is my boyfriend. Reluctantly, I call him. He remotely gets the videos up in ten minutes using the high-speed Wi-Fi in his penthouse London apartment. I had been trying for hours. 

When I'm in London, we fight about the mugs I leave around his apartment, who we should vote for, and where we want to live. But, my course runs smoothly thanks to him. 

Despite this, huddled in front of the fire as the storm rages on, I realize we're not going to be able to save our failing relationship. It's strange, thinking about our breakup in Greece when that's the place we fell in love. Two beautiful weeks driving around the country, hiking, swimming, eating Moussaka, and wandering around ancient ruins. Now, everything is covered in ice and snow, but I can still feel the magic of the place.

Anogia in Crete travel
Flickr Creative Commons by Sovichjl

Anogia Perseveres

Anogia is known for its resilience. A holy place since ancient times due to its proximity to the cave of Ideon, where it's believed Zeus was raised, Anogia has been burnt to the ground no less than three times.

The town's mountainous location provided a safe spot to hide fighters rebelling against the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. The Anogians took pride in their strength until the Turks razed the place to the ground twice: in 1822 and 1867.

The Anogians rebuilt.

In World War II, the town was a center of espionage for the British Army and aided in the kidnapping of German General Kreipe. In retaliation, the Germans destroyed all eight hundred or so houses in the village. There was an order to kill every male Anogian found in the town and within a one-kilometer radius. As the story goes, no single brick was left on top of another after the Nazi raid. 

But the Anogians returned and rebuilt — again.

The town now stands as a symbol of strength and I can't help but think about the pettiness of the Germans who wanted to destroy a sleepy mountain village. It took twenty-three days of hard labor to blow up every single house (and some cheese shops). The Nazis did this during a war they were already losing. What was it they hated so much about the Anogians?

My thoughts are interrupted by a knock on the door. I open it to find a lanky teenage boy standing there with a box in his hand, shivering, scarf pulled tightly around his neck, his hands gloveless. He gives me the box and then runs away.

I close the door behind him and open my delivery. Inside I find fresh bread, cheese, and olives—a snowstorm care package! I'm spared from having to leave the house today, and I wonder if the man in the grocery store warned my hosts about my dangerous outings. Either way, the cheese and the olives make a delightful snack. 

I make my way through the care package while my students make their way through my course. Things could be worse, I think, as I wonder about rebuilding my life in a new place with no partner, no friends, and no real job. At least there's cheese.

cheese in Anogia, Crete
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Eltpics

As my month-long trip nears its end, snow still on the ground, I realize I feel more at home here than I do in London, where I've lived for more than a year. I'm dreading returning, knowing that I'll have to destroy every pillar of the life I've built there when I get back. 

On my last night in Anogia, I pull on my coat and my boots and face the snow to get something from the shop for dinner. I have food in my apartment, but, just for tonight, I want someone to tell me I'm brave.


Kayla Kurin is a travel, health, and fiction writer from Canada. She is the author of Where Can I Find Wifi? Work Anywhere, Travel Forever: Tales of a Digital Nomad and The Nomadic Art of Budget Travel. She has traveled, lived, and worked in more than 50 countries and loves writing about her adventures in real and made-up worlds. You can follow her journey at kaylakurin.com





Related Features:
Tracking the Elusive Loggerhead Turtle in Touristy Crete - David Kalish
Accepting Fate on the GR7 Hiking Trail of Spain - Jeremy Bassetti
Painting as Prayer in Greece - James Michael Dorsey
In Greece, Things Happen - David Lee Drotar


See other Europe travel stories from the archives


Read this article online at: https://perceptivetravel.com/issues/0621/crete.html

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Books from the Author:

Buy The Nomadic Art Of Budget Travel: Slow Down, Spend Less, See More: Travel Deep for Cheap at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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Buy Where Can I Find Wifi?: Work Anywhere, Travel Forever: Tales of a Digital Nomad at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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Buy Yoga for Chronic Pain: 7 steps to aid recovery from fibromyalgia with yoga at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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