Celebrating St Nicholas

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Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos, in Greek) is celebrated on 6th December.  This is a sort of kick off of the Christmas season, particularly in the town of the same name, as the celebration of its patron saint is an important occasion.

Agios Nikolaos, which is normally bustling on any other day, is even more lively on 6 December.  There is music, processions, people milling about, the lights of a massive tree are turned on for the first time in the season, and then the sky rips open and bursts with fireworks in the evening.  Because Nikolaos is also a common name, it’s not rare to see little groups of family and friends celebrating someone named Nikos or Niki on their name day. What a fantastic thing, to celebrate on top of your birthday!  Any excuse to hold a big party!

The celebrations start solemnly with a religious service, followed by processions and parades.  For a taster, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8gfhwTdY5Y

Agios Nikolaos was born in 270 AD, the son of wealthy parents.  However, his parents died whilst he was young.  Whilst he inherited a huge estate, he chose a religious life and moved from Lycia to Jerusalem.  He was ordained priest, then withdrew to an ascetic life and became the abbot of a monastery, and rose through the ecclesial ranks to become an archbishop.  He was not princely, though, but concerned himself with the protection of the poor and the needy.  His charitable works attracted the attention of the Roman authorities at a time when Christians were persecuted, during the reign of Diocletian.  He was tortured.  Later, Emperor Constantine the Great recognised and even embraced Christianity, so then Nicholas was able to return to his parish, where miracles were attributed to him and he was reportedly one who could restore those suffering from all sorts of ill health.

Nicholas died on 6th December 343.  Over six hundred years later, in 1087, his relics were removed from Lycia and brought to Bari (Italy) by a group of sailors.  The relics, vitally transported to this new home, started producing miracles for the local community.  Agios Nikolaos, then, is the patron saint of seamen and sailors, and those who live by the coast.  You may imagine how important his good favour is to anyone living in an island where most important cities come with a seaview!

The Christmas festive season here is solemn and meditative, yet also quite festive and often even boisterous at nights.  You can’t help but join in the celebrations!

If you would like more information about Cretan festivities to make your travel experience more authentic, contact Karma Travel.  You will then be in good, competent hands to organise a trip where you won’t just be an oblivious tourist.

Milia and a Chestnut Festival

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I thought that perhaps a new experience was in order. Somewhere without TV’s and gloomy news that make me conscious of living in ‘interesting times’. I thought a few days perhaps even without Internet access could do me good.  Mind you, giving up my Internet connection seems like being deprived of human contact, almost like becoming a modern-day anchorite.

So what is really essential for living?  What or how much can you give up?  I thought for these considerations alone, it was worth going to Milia.

Milia is a 17th century mountain settlement nestled in the Lefka Ori (white mountains) which has been transformed to accommodate tourists -mostly hikers- in its stone houses.  These have been restored to provide simple and basic yet very hospitable accommodation.  There are wood burning stoves for heating, and the furniture in the bedrooms is rustic. Solar panels generate enough electricity to meet the very basic needs, but there is no access to media or the Internet.  The houses have simple bedrooms, bathroom and a dining room.  Stream water is piped into the houses.  The experience is not about locking yourself up in one of the houses, though -there is a spacious communal dining room, where you can enjoy home-grown organic food lovingly prepared by Giorgos and Tassos.  Their delightful stifado with chestnuts, baby onions and potatoes in red wine sauce will stay in my memory.  I really enjoyed my stay and did not want to leave!  Indeed, it is possible to give up technology and embrace a simpler life without so much as a hiccup.

Then again, here I am, back in ‘civilisation’ and blogging.

From Milia, you can rent a bike or hike to visit the surrounding little towns, called the Innaxorion (‘nine villages’) dispersed in this mountain area, where time seems to be elastic and go slowly.  I found a few gems, such as a 15th century basilica dedicated to Agia Varvara (near Latsiana) and a church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos (near Mouri) which contains beautiful frescoes.  There is also the Topolia Gorge nearby, which makes for a most enjoyable hike.

Elos is the largest of the Innaxorion.  It is a pretty village surrounded by a chestnut forest and several natural springs,  and boasting  a few well-preserved Venetian buildings, such as a governor’s house and a fortress.  There are also fragments of Roman mosaics to admire.

The speciality of Elos are chestnuts.  I arrived in time for the annual Chestnut Festival, which this year was held on Sunday 4 November.   The festival sees everyone in the village get involved.  There was food, wine, music and dancing. A particular form of raki typical of this region was on offer (‘koumaroraki’). Small children had prepared ‘mantinades’ (poems) about chestnuts. Or at least this is what I was reliably informed that they were reciting!   Huge, sweet and juicy chestnuts were on offer, and you could also try them in a variety of dishes, sweet and savoury.  Then, in the climax of the event, the chestnuts are roasted.  What a pleasure!

If you would like more information about Milia or want expert advise to include local festivities in your travel plans, which will make for an unforgettable stay in Crete, contact Karma Travel!  Their expert advisors will help with accommodation, transportation and offer knowledgeable tips to make your travel a true delight.

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