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May 26, 2006

A day trip to Aryroulopis

Aryroupolis1 We took a day trip out on Monday to Aryroupolis, our first trip into the interior of Crete. We were especially interested to see it as it had been on our short-list of potential places to live when we reached the island.

From Chania you have to get the bus Rethymno, and then another bus on to Aryroupolis (which is one of those places which seems to defy Western spelling, we also saw the original Greek name Αργρουπλοη written as Aryroupolis, Argyroupolis, or Argiroupolis). There are only three buses a day from Rethymno, at 6:15am, 11:30am and then one at 14:45. There are even fewer return buses however, just the two at 7:10 and 15:45, with no service at the weekends. The fare was around €2.50 each way. Buying the ticket for the bus was a good test of Claire's pronunciation - between us we had left our guide book at home, and neither of us was 100% sure how to pronounce Αργρουπλοη. Claire made a sterling effort however, and we had no problem.

I'm no driver myself, but through playing video games I am aware of the concept of slowing down at corners rather than accelerating into them. Once we got out into the countryside it did make you wonder how much tolerance there was in the design of the coach for it being driven by mentalists around hair-pin bends on narrow mountain roads. Our second bus wasn't the most relaxing of experiences either, as we were sat near the back with a clump of teenage boys playing mp3s off their phones on top of the loud radio in the bus, chirruping at the tops of their barely-broken voices.

Aryroupolis sits up high in the ridge of hills and mountains that form the backbone of Crete, and it is famed for its water-falls. It is also the site of the ancient Roman city of Lappa. The star of Aryroupolis though is Stelios. He runs a small shop selling avocado based products, and has taken it upon himself to become the village's one-man-tourist-information-office. We had barely stepped off the bus before he was pressing into our hands a complimentry leaflet showing a route round the village taking in all the sights in German and English, and making sure we knew where to get the bus home, and what time it would be.

The first circuit, at the top of the hill, includes a stone inscription from 400BC, the beautiful 13th century Church of the Virgin Mary, and some spectacular views out to sea on the northern shore of the island.

Aryroupolis2_1 One of the sights is a Roman gate which carries a later inscription "OMNIA MUNDI FUMUS ET UMBRA", meaning "Everything in the world is smoke and mirrors". It was apparently carved after Francesco da Molin, a Venetian lord on the island, used the occasion of his daughter's wedding to the son of a local Cretan rebel Georgios Kantanoleos as an opportunity to ambush the party with 2,000 soldiers.

Our next destinations were the famous water-falls, although we had a little trouble finding them - proving yet again that even with a map Claire and I could probably get lost in a cardboard box. We kept bumping into the same lone Central European traveller who similarly was looking for the elusive water-falls.

Claire & started down some steps, and at last we could hear running water. It turned we were on a steep ten minute descent into the cool glade at the foot of the valley, with the sun beating down on our backs hard all the way, and there we found the water-fall, gushing from the hillside rocks. It had been built into the entrance of Kastro Taverna, and with it being so cool down in the valley, we decided to stop there for our food.

Aryroupolis4 We had a great little lunch, just ordering a Greek salad and a mix of some starters. The only downside was that I had managed to confuse the waiter when trying to order water as my main drink to accompany my meal - he must have taken a look at me and thought "he's not a water guy at heart" - because I got Ouzo with water instead! For desert we were bought a plateful of the most scrumptiously fresh and perfectly ripe cherries - they were gorgeous - and the obligatory Raki.

Of course, a steep ten minute descent with the sun at your back becomes a rather hardcore ascent with the sun blazing into your face on the way back, especially when you are full of food, Ouzo and Raki! We had to have a couple of stops for rest. It is amazing how we are still unfit despite having changed our diet to a healthier lifestyle, all the exercise during our travels, and both of us doing an hours walking or more every day now. Must try harder.

When we got to the top we sat on some steps at the top of the hill, and must have caused quite a spectacle. A woman sitting in the taverna opposite us just stared and stared at us as if we had dropped from an alien spacecraft rather than emerged from the steep road leading to one of the village's main squares. In fact, I began to wonder if they were running a sweepstake on when one of us would collapse. There is probably a parallel journal somewhere on the web, where that woman is writing about the crazy idiot British tourists she thought were going to expire before her very eyes at the side of the road.

Aryroupolis3 We were a bit early for the bus, so had another quick wander around the top of the village. That was when we saw the bank of postcards which rather implied that we had only seen one of the numerous spectacular water-falls and caves down at the bottom of the valley. We were in no fit state to re-investigate - we'll leave that for another trip!

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