Crete has an enviable reputation for low crime, though this is often talked up a bit by the tourist industry. Cretans have a deserved reputation for honesty and whilst it is true that crime figures are very low here, crime is not non existent. And of course not everybody in Crete is a Cretan so it does no harm to take sensible precautions.
Many houses in Greece are, or appear to be, unfinished, as evidenced from the steel reinforcing bars protruding from the roof, or less commonly by an occupied upper storey on top of a concrete skeleton. The popular urban myth is that this is a tax avoidance measure, which is nonsense. The simple truth is that Greeks build to meet immediate needs, and as and when funds allow.
It is also common traditional practice in Greece for parents to build houses for their daughters, and also for daughters to inherit the houses of their parents and grandparents. Sons, it would seem, are best looking for a bride from one of these traditional families.
The white trunks of trees that abound in Greece have been lime washed to control insects, primarily ants. This is another local custom that has attracted some highly imaginative interpretations, but insect control is the reason. That said, they do make very useful aids for night time driving, and are quite aesthetically pleasing.
SHEEP & GOATS
It's unlikely any journey into the mountains will not be interrupted by sheep, and/or goats, displaying a flagrant disregard for the highway code, and the likely outcome of any interaction between themselves and a motor vehicle.
There are 1,500,000 sheep and goats in Crete, a number now widely acknowledged as unsustainable. The animals have a preference for eating tender young plant shoots, which due to their numbers prevents plants and trees from becoming established.
Many years ago the hills and mountains of Crete were covered in forests. These were stripped back for their timber over the years, particularly during the Venetian occupation.
Overgrazing has prevented these forests from re-establishing. To compound this problem, the heavy rain that Crete experiences easily washes away soil from the steep slopes without plant growth to bind it. This is now creating a danger of desertification of much of the mountainous interior.
As you drive around the roads of Crete you would be forgiven for imagining that the humble woodworm had locally evolved into a mutant super beast with an appetite for metal. The real reason for the ventilated road signs is the most obvious, if the least preferred explanation, that they are in fact bullet holes.Gun culture is endemic to Cretan life, which has enjoyed a reputation throughout the rest of Greece for its lawlessness and feuds, as well as a proclivity for impetuosity and violence. Livestock rustling is also a national sport, though perhaps less prolific these days, as many traditional ways here as elsewhere fall prey to a global standardization that seems to be descending upon us all.
You can take comfort in the fact though that there is no record of any tourists ever having been shot, well not fatally anyway. (OK I'm kidding).
The many, and sometimes quite elaborate shrines by the roadside, are there for the obvious reason, to commemorate the life of someone who came to grief on that stretch of road. They should serve as cautions to those who drive past, but sadly this does not seem to be the case.
The Greek Orthodox church to which 98% of Cretans belong, dedicates every day of the year to a saint. The day of the saint that corresponds to the name you are given then becomes your name day. Name days are considered more important in Greece than birthdays. It is customary to take a present if invited to a name day celebration, where it will be placed on a table with the rest of the presents and left unopened. All the presents will be opened after the guests have left, to save the recipient having to pretend to be grateful for unwanted gifts.
ALL CRETANS ARE LIARS
The rather undignified epithet "all Cretans are liars" which has survived to this day, dates back thousands of years to when Zeus had serious credence as a god. The Cretans had it that Zeus was buried beneath Mt.Yiouthas close to Knossos, and that his profile could be seen in the mountain side. An idea probably born from the concept of death and rebirth, common in many ideologies. The rest of Greece though, believing Zeus to be immortal, took exception to this blasphemy and coined the phrase " all Cretans are liars ". An expression that will strike a chord with anyone who has made an appointment with a Cretan for a more specific time, than for example, Tuesday.
4,000 YEAR OLD OLIVE TREE
In the village of Ano Vouves stands one of, if not the, oldest olive tree in existence. The information sign at the site puts it at 3,000 years old, though scientists from the University of Crete estimate it to be 4,000 years old.
Even at the conservative estimate though, it would have been 1,000years old when Jesus dropped out of carpentry school and took up messiahing. Which is old by anyone’s standard.
The tree now stands in an EU funded ornamental garden, imbuing it with a little more dignity than it was previously accustomed to. Immediately prior its new surroundings being built, its hollow trunk was used as a dog kennel by a neighbouring house.
With a knotted and gnarled 3metre wide trunk it still produces fruit, and is well worth a look if you're in the area.
Ano (upper) Vouves is approximately 7km. south of Kolimbari close to Drakona.
This marvellous bastion of male chauvinism is surviving well into the 21st. century. There is, incidentally nothing to prevent women from frequenting kafenions other than their personal choice.
Besides serving refreshments and hosting backgammon games, the kafenion is a place for conducting business, and gossip, that provides a substitute for a local newspaper.
Up until fairly recent times it was not uncommon to have at least two kafenions in a village, regardless of its size, painted in different colours. This being to indicate the political allegiance of the owner, and attract like minded customers, thus avoiding political argument. Politics in Greece today though, in common with many other countries, is now steeped in public indifference, and colour coded kafeinons are now a relic of a bygone age.
The worry beads that frequenters of these establishments are so fond of clacking, have no religious significance. They are just a means of passing time by the exercise of idle digits, from an era before texting was invented.
Greek priests or "pappas" with their distinctive attire are ministers of the Greek Orthodox Church which has a significant social and political influence. They are not obliged to wear their "uniforms" at all times but most do. They are allowed to marry, but women priests are forbidden. As the picture shows they are no strangers to armed conflict when it comes to defending the island.
Should you wish to enter one of the many churches or monastries in Crete, visitors are required to have their Knees and shoulders covered at all times. This rule applies to both men and women, and is rigidly enforced.
Greeks take their religion very seriously, it is estimated that 98% of the population belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, an autocephalous church forming part of the greater Eastern Orthodox Christian communion. Easter is the largest religous celebration of the year in preference to Christmas as is the norm in most of Western Europe.
Since 1982 civil marriages have been legal in Greece, despite this 95% of marriages are conducted in church.
Arranged marriages and the payment of dowries are illegal, but are apparently still practiced.
Cretans, somewhat perversely in light of their affection for guns and feuding, are some of the friendliest and most helpful people you could hope to meet. They are internationally famous for, and very proud of their hospitality. If you are invited for a drink or a meal by a Cretan, let him pay the bill. He will expect to do this, and be very offended if he is not allowed to.