The Greek channel Mega sent the first episode of the series “To Nisi”, meaning The Island in Greek in 2010. Its the captivating story of the Greek family from Plaka, which achieved record ratings for Greek television. Plaka is a small fishing village in Elounda bay in Crete, opposite of the the small island of Spinalonga. To my surprise the history books did not cover the leper colony Spinalonga. A day trip to Spinalonga was on our schedule the third time we visited Crete to experience the scenes in tv episodes.
Its the fictional story is about leprosy patiens who lived and survived in Spinalonga and their relationship with the inhabitants of the little village Plaka. Giorgos Petrakis and his wife Eleni are the main characters in the story, they live in Plaka with their two daughters. He is a fisherman who transports supplies to the leper colony. This is a story about fear, passion, love of three generations and the best tv series Greek television ever produced I dare to say.
Venetians build the fortress in the 16th century. Spina Longa means Long Thorn and was used by the Venetians, Kalydon the official name. After this era Ottomans invaded Spinalonga and by the end of 1800s as many as two hundred families lived here in two-story houses and a mosque. Around the turn of the century the muslim population decides to abandon the island.
A leper colony
In 1903 the greek government decides that the abandoned island will become a leprosy colony as many with Dr Hansen´s disease as it called, live in caves to avoid to infect others. In the beginning there was no treatment and many lepers died. After some time doctors came to the island. A hospital was built, school and shops was established in Spinalonga. The lepers lived in the houses that the turks abandoned. After many years the cure to the disease was found. As the numbers of lepers decreased the hospital closed 1957.
How to get here
Plan your day trip to Spinalonga along with the boat trip from Plaka, Elounda or from Agios Nikolaos in Crete. Its a few hours drive from Rethymnon and a short boat trip from the village Plaka. More important is the hour of your visit, choose morning hours or late in the afternoons. Less tourists and nicer temperatures. Uninhabited island with a coffe shop and restrooms at the entrance. The island is open for tourists from April to October, more practical information at the official website for Spinalonga.
There are a number of books written about Spinalonga. However “The Island” is the name of the novel that made Spinalonga known to the public. Victoria Hislop British writer and journalist made her debut 2005 with the novel. With other words the book became a success and has been sold over 2 million copies world wide.
The Greek tv channel Mega broadcasted the series of 26 episodes in 2010. Most importantly shot in Crete and Spinalonga over two years. Watch the trailer in English version here. The story begins with Alexis who wants to learn everything about her mother’s past. To her surprise, she finds out that her family is connected with the isolated island of Spinalonga the former settlement of lepers.
Victoria Hislop about Crete and Spinalonga:
“Visiting Spinalonga for the first time was a very strong experience and I knew even in the first minute that I arrived there that I had to write about it. It was very compelling and very emotional. And I admit that this visit made a profound change to my life”. Read the article at Athensinsider.com .
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Welcome to the city where democracy was born. When you think about Greece you visualise beaches and islands. Athens may not be the city you associate with vacation. However Athens offers a lot more then you might think in the first place. Athens over the weekend is really is one of the best city vacations you can do in Europe. However I recommend you to stay centrally so you are within walking distance of the city’s attractions.
Athens has a lot of nice museums you can explore. I visited the museum of Cycladic art the last time I was there. Some of the museums offers additional photo exhibitions as well. During the summer months, the city explodes by many cultural events. In other words festivals, theatre, shows, dance events and concerts. More information about current events can be found here.
What to see
The city’s main tourist attraction, queues in the entrances are the shortest in the morning and during the winter season. If you visit the Acropolis hill during the summer, you need a hat or cap and bottle of water, as it is always warmer on top than at the entrance. Opening hours and ticket information at the official website.
Secondly Herodion theatre was built by the Athenian philosopher Herodion Atticus as memory of his wife. The theatre is open during the summer with concerts and other performances.
In addition Acropolis Museum, modern and beautiful, where you can follow the history and originals of the statues up close. After that have a cup of coffee or eat in the restaurant with the best view of Acropolis.
Plaka is the old town below the Acropolis hill, where there are plenty of restaurants, cafés and shops. The area was populated here in the 17th century and have today many neoclassical buildings in pastel colors. Certanily relaxing to take a walk in this neighbourhood and cozy to stroll around these streets. Its also known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” due to its proximity to the Acropolis and its many archaeological sites.
Anafiotika is the residential area under the Acropolis hill that looks like a small village. Here, artisans moved from the island Anafi to renovate King Otto´s palace at the end of the 19th century. Anafi is one small island in the Agean Sea. You definitely want spent a little time of the weekend to snap some picturesque captures in this part of Athens.
Monastiraki square is the meeting point for tourists and Athenians. Tzistarakis Mosque was built during the Ottoman Empire and is now a ceramic museum. You have the Metro station here and many shops in the streets around the area. Collectors love this place as you have basars and a flea market in this area as well.
Every Sunday att 11.00 you can watch the ceremony of Evzones or Tsoliades when they change the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The place is in front of the Greek Parlament at Syntagma Square. Likewise you can watch the ceremony every hour every day. However Sundays has a special ceremony and with the official costumes.
“I am not an Athenian or a Greek,
but a citizen of the world”
Where to eat
Eat like a greek or local when you are in Athens over the weekend. Here are the restaurants I have visited and I recommend. By the way Athens offers tourists a lot of food tours. Because food matters and it tells us something more about the history of each city.
- Quick Pitta- Mitropoleos 55. This place offers the best classical Pita with Giro in a fresh and modern interior.
- Skoubri -Drakou 14. Fish restaurant witch resides in the upcoming area Koukaki. Fresh dishes and light interior with a nice fish menu.
- Seychelles - Keramikou 49 Metaxourgeio. Trendy restaurant housed in a cute, early 19th century building. Don’t forget to make a reservation its a popular place.
- To Kati Allo - Chatzichristou 12. A family restaurant serves greek homemade dishes, magirefta, in an old style taverna. It could be greek bean soup, moussaka and other traditional dishes that my mother used to make.
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My family comes from the mainland in Greece. I have traveled to many islands through the years but never been to Crete until recently. Now I understand why it´s such a popular destination. Crete is the largest island in Greece and its geographical position have made the people love and grow their land. Olive groves, orange trees or vineyards can be seen after the roads. Above all the Cretan cuisine is delicious, more about the gastronomic culture on the island in this blogpost.
Are you going to Crete this summer? If you choose Rethymnon then you will be able to make day trips to the east and to the west side of the island. Or just explore what is around this city. Here are my best culture tips and Rethymnon in 13 photos.
Fortezza is built on the hill Paleokastro (means old castle) under the Venetian regime. The Venetians built it to protect the city from the Ottoman occupation. Despite the big castle the Turks conquered the city in the 1600s. In addition the fortress was destroyed during the second World War but is renovated and a mosque and two churches from the 1800s have been preserved.
Preveli Monastery is located 37 km from Rethymnon in a beautiful hill overlooking the water of Preveli beach. The monastery is consisted of two main building complexes, the Lower (Kato) Monastery and the Rear (Pisso) Monastery which is in operation today. Nevertheless the beach where the river Grand River opens into the sea, is located about 2 km from the lower Monastery. You will reach the beach within 15 minutes, just walk down the stairs down the hill to the beach.
Arkadi Monasterys church was built in 1587 by Italian architects and was heavily influenced by the renaissance art. However I’m more impressed over the interiors and beautiful colour of ochre on the walls. So nice to be a monk here and have time for reflection and inner thought in this beautiful environment. I captured a lot of photos here and in the Rethymnon are, more than 13 actually. You will find them in my Instagram feed!