The summer sun was already punishing as we began the mid-morning climb to that monument on the hill overlooking the village of Chora Sfakia on Crete's southern coast. It was tempting to stop mid-point in the ascent, but that wouldn't have been a fair tribute to those the monument honored. We have visited it each time we have been here and we weren't going to miss it this time.
As I last wrote, we were covering as much ground as possible during our week-long visit to Greece's largest island. I am beginning today's tale where I left off, in the small harbor town on the Libyan Sea that played a big role in World War II:
|The Chora Sfakia Monument|
In May 1941 Chora Sfakia was the last hope of escape for some 16,000 British, New Zealand, Australian and Greek troops after German forces began an airborne assault on the island, today known as the Battle of Crete. Over four successive nights 11,000 escaped. Five thousand were captured and held in captivity. In villages throughout the island, Cretans were subjected to severe punishment -- up to and including executions -- for helping the Allied Forces.
The plaque to the side of this monument reads, 'Lest We Forget, This plaque is laid to the everlasting memory of these Cretan patriots who in 1941 were executed by the Germans for helping New Zealand soldiers escape from Crete.' The skulls of those executed patriots are visible in the base of the monument.
Similar chilling reminders of the past -- monuments and statues - can be found throughout the island. We have visited a number of them but Chora Sfakia's will always stand out as among the most memorable reminders of war's atrocities.
Loutro and the Libyan Sea
|The Church near Loutro|
The ferry trip from Chora Sfakia to Loutro is short, about 20 minutes, but memorable. The landscape along this section of the southern coast is some of the most barren to be found. The harshness of the stark hillsides assault one's senses and lets the imagination soar. One of the few signs of humanity along the route is the small church, shown in the photo above. One might say its location is 'in the middle of nowhere'; perched above a steep cliff with only a hiker's trail, or goat trail, to get to it. Who built it?, we wonder. And who keeps it up?
|Loutro on the Libyan Sea|
I often describe Loutro as one of our favorite places on earth. And it cast its magic spell on us again as the ferry turned just slightly and the white washed village appeared, almost as if a mirage, in the stark landscape that surrounds it.
|Loutro in late June 2021|
Our previous visits here have been in the early spring when businesses were just opening and the season not quite in full swing. It was different place in late June . . .still charming, very hot, and full of tourists! We were glad we revisited this special spot but equally as glad this visit was a day trip.
On the Road Again
|Not far from Chora Sfakia|
Lonely Planet guidebook says you can tell you're approaching Chora Sfakia by the increasing numbers of gun shots in the road signs. I can tell you that all traffic signs we've encountered in Greece seem to be targets of graffiti artists and marksmen. But I will admit, signs are definitely full of bullet holes along the road to this section of the southern coast.
|Heading east: destination Plaka|
We headed north, then east, after two nights on the southern coast. Our next destination, Plaka, would be our base for the next two nights. It is the gateway to the island of Spinalonga, the island that for decades served as Crete's leper colony. The remains of the village created there by those castaway victims of Hanson's Disease, is today a tourist attraction. The island was made famous by British writer, Victoria Hislop, in her novel about the colony, The Island.
|Spinalonga island from Blue Palace Resort|
Our room at the Blue Palace Resort provided us a stunning view of his haunting place. Tour boats regularly take visitors to and from the island but having visited it on a previous trip, we were content to view it from afar - again letting our imaginations run with the echoes of the past.
|Elounda, near Plaka|
The weather was hot, as we've learned weather can be in Greece in the summer. We limited our outings to a few hours in the morning then sought the comfort of our air-conditioned room. We often ask ourselves why we travel in the summer in Greece and then further ponder what the appeal of Greece is to the thousands who come here each summer. (Spring and Fall are really much nicer times to travel here.)
|Blue Palace Resort, Plaka, Crete|
It was so hot that the resort, operating with the strictest of Covid protocols, (including downloading an app on your mobile and checking yourself in), had to discontinue the practice of taking the temperature of arriving guests before they entered the lobby. It was so hot that aiming the thermometer at one's forehead made it impossible to get an accurate reading.
|Kissamos, on Crete's west end|