I am delighted to host this guest post from Packabook reader and travel blogger Jackie Smith whose trips to the Greek island of Crete with her husband Joel have been heavily influenced by books…read on to find out how Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzkis and Victoria Hislop’s The Island impacted on their travel decisions…Over to you Jackie!
Finding Zorba’s Beach…
We had two ‘novel destinations’ tucked away in our travel plans for Crete when we arrived there in 2009. And finding “Zorba’s beach” was the first.
The 1952 novel Zorba The Greek by Cretan author Nikos Kazantzkis led us to the 1964 movie of the same name. One of the black and white film’s most famous scenes is of Anthony Quinn, as Alexis Zorba, teaching the sirtaki dance to his boss (played by Alan Bates); arms-interlinked-step-step-kick on Crete’s Stavros Beach.
Click on the video image below to see the scene from the film…
We often use novels and narratives as supplemental guidebooks on our travels, so in this case, who would be a better guide than Zorba himself?
Stavros is a crescent-shaped beach on the Akrotiri Peninsula, 14 kilometers east of Chania at the base of a rocky mountain (it is this mountain in the film that Zorba’s ill-fated logging plan failed). The beach was virtually empty on our mid-morning visit; a few beach chairs and a single food concession stand. In fact, there isn’t much in Stavros (a plus!) other than a few scattered restaurants and beach homes.
By chance we picked Mama’s Place across from the beach for lunch. The white-haired, 61-year-old owner, Petros Vasiliki, told us that his family opened the restaurant in 1951. The movie’s cast and crew had dined there while filming, he told us, and because they couldn’t pronounce his mother’s name, they’d simply called her ‘Mama’ and the restaurant has been “Mama’s Place” ever since. Vasiliki was 16 when the movie was filmed and today entertains diners with tales about the filming, proudly telling the stories behind the dozens of photos taken during the filming that line the restaurant walls.
Our second ‘novel destination’ in Crete was at the opposite end of the island: Spinalonga, just off the north coast. This small island served as Greece’s main leper colony from 1903 to 1957 we learned when reading The Island, a 2005 novel by English writer, Victoria Hislop. The book, definitely a light-read, love story spanning generations, brought the island – that we’d previously never heard of — to life for us through the story of a Greek family whose loved ones stricken by the disease were taken to Spinalonga.
We based ourselves in Elounda, just down the road from the small town of Plaka, which plays prominently in the novel. From Plaka we took one of the many shuttle boats that deposit and pick up tourists on Spinalonga. As we toured what is left of the town created by the lepers, I thought of Hislop’s story but also of the thousands of real people who had spent their lives turning this tiny lump of a rock island into a world. It was a fascinating tour and one we would have missed had we not read the book.
Who Pays the Ferryman?
Elounda itself led us to another novel. While exploring this harbor town we passed The Ferryman’s Bar which called to mind the title of a late 1970’s BBC television show, Who Pays the Ferryman? set in Crete.
After returning home from Crete and researching that show, we found Who Pays the Ferryman? a novel by Michael J.Bird, that is based on his BBC television series of the same name. Reading the book ‘took us back’ to some of our favorite Cretan spots as we followed the story of Alan Haldane’s return to Crete after a 35-year absence and the love story that ensues. The book was first published in England in 1977.
Winds of Crete
Among our favorite souvenirs are books. So, while in Crete, we searched for one that had been recommended – a narrative, not novel — but we were unable to find it. It wasn’t until months later, back in the Pacific Northwest, that I struck gold when I found a very used, dog-eared paper-back copy of Winds of Crete, by David MacNeil Doren, in a Portland, Oregon bookstore.
While not a novel, it was a great ‘guide’ that we used on a subsequent trip to Crete. In it the author writes of the Crete he and his wife experienced during the six years they lived there. Their accounts of places they had visited enriched our travels. The book was first published in England in 1974.
One of our favorite Cretan destinations is Chora Sfakia, a small harbor town on the island’s southern coast, best known for the role it played in World War II as the route for Allied Troops who boarded ships to escape the approaching Nazi troops. The town these days is a quiet, laid-back community, a good base for hikers and other visitors who want to get away from the maddening crowds of mass tourism.
English writer Peter Trudgill fell in love with the place and wrote about his decades-long love affair and his more than 60 visits there in his book In Sfakia published in 2008. We purchased the book while there and savored the memories it provided after we’d returned home. We also used it as an excellent travel companion when we returned to the town last year.
Thank you Jackie for this wonderful peek into your travels and inspiring us to explore Crete a little further.
You can see where else Jackie and Joel have been adventuring at TravelnWrite.com where they are documenting their journeys…and if you are looking for more Crete-inspired novels to read, you can find them at books set in Greece…