Showing posts with label Battle of Crete. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Battle of Crete. Show all posts

Friday, August 6, 2021

Crete ~ Those Haunting Echoes of the Past

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:

Chora Sfakia

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.


Don't believe everything you read in a guidebook, we reminded ourselves again when we were sitting at the cutest beach bar we've visited in a long time. We'd crossed the island again and were back at its west end. We were just down the road from the ferry dock in this port town of Kissamos, on Crete's west end. Our ferry back to the Peloponnese would depart early the next morning.

Kissamos, on Crete's west end

Lonely Planet had us believing if we blinked that we miss the town and it wouldn't be much of a loss if we did.  Au contraire, we would say now that we've been there.  So taken with the town and the hotel in which we spent our final night on the island were we, that we will likely use it as our base on our next trip.

Charming coffee shops, quaint restaurants and numerous shops beckoned.  But in the heat of the day, we headed to the beach - it was the perfect place to end the week.

We thank you for joining us on the last half of our travels in Crete. 

A firesky at our Stone House on the Hill

In closing, I know that many of you follow us on Facebook and therefore know that Greece is fighting a mind-boggling number of wildfires this week.  Some 80+ blazes, with several large fires remaining out of control as I write this on Friday afternoon. Additional equipment and human resources are thankfully arriving from a number of European countries.  The nearest blaze to us is some 12 miles away and we've watched water-bearing helicopters and planes fly a path back and forth dipping into the Messinias Bay in front of our home in their attempts to bring our closest blaze under control for two days now. Please keep Greece, its firefighters and victims in your thoughts and prayers ~

Stay safe where ever you are ~ hope you'll be back with us next week.

Linking in the near future with:

Monday, May 31, 2010

Lest we forget. . . those five days in Crete

Our travels in Greece have been a doorway into history for us.  Not just to the ancient civilizations but also into much more recent history. So, on this Memorial Day we remember the many lives, both military and civilian, sacrificed here during World War II. 

In particular, we remember those final  five days of The Battle of Crete - May 28 - June 1, 1941- when thousands of Allied troops evacuated to Alexandria on British and Australian war ships from the harbor at Chora Sfakia, on Crete's southwestern shore, while others*, primarily New Zealand troops, held off the Germans.  The Suda Bay War Cemetery, near Chania, on Crete's northern shores should be a required stop for all visitors to this island.

New Zealand, Australian and Greek troops made their way to Chora Sfakia while other Allied troops ambushed the advancing German troops.  The road they walked ended three kilometers and 500 meters (about 1,600 feet) above the harbor town, leaving them to make their way down the steep hillsides.  British and Australian warships evacuated 11,000 - 18,000* men  before the Germans overtook the Australian rear gear, capturing 5,000 - 12,000*.
     *Vary by source.
While we Americans have set aside Memorial Day as a time to remember those who have fought for the freedoms we enjoy, in Crete such remembrances are part of every day life. We found memorials along busy roadways, tucked away in remote areas and often the centerpiece of town squares.  While we couldn't decipher much of the Greek inscriptions we understood the date: 1941.

In Chora Sfakia, the unassuming little harbor town, that has won our hearts, a new memorial has been erected overlooking the harbor that tells the story of the evacuations that took place here. . . "lest we forget."


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