The child is always too short. BRIGITTE editor Angela Wittmann, mother of three, flew alone with her youngest to Crete – to calmly take away his fear of the water.
“Mom, you are very crumpled!”
I’m dumbling in a pool that belongs to me all alone. On a pink XXL flamingo, which the sun of Crete has given a pleasant warmth to the bed. I’m in Agia Galini, meaning “Holy Rest”, and I’m off to the land of mother’s dreams: everything is fine. Nobody bothers. And if I do not move now, this Solosause will never end … Then my four-year-old forms his hands to a funnel, which he calls “Lautschreier”, and trumpets from the deck chair across the paradisiac hotel garden: “Mama, out the water! You are already very shriveled! “
“Bumpy start in Heraklion:” But we want to Greta !? “
Our two-day trip to Greece begins four days earlier with a similarly unpleasant disturbance of the peace and a great love drama: My youngest son Johann and I have just landed in Crete and wait in the airport of Heraklion luggage. “And where is Greta now?”, Asks Johann and is already very fidgety with excitement. “Here,” I say, “we are now on the island of Crete.” My child looks at me as if I was too stupid for his world: “But we wanted to go to Greta ??? !!!” Greta is the great love of my son – and now she is not there. She is at home in Hamburg. Stupid misunderstanding.
Johann throws himself on the floor in front of the luggage belt and roars like a spit. The Germans look annoyed away, the Greeks are interested in the outbreak of so much wild feeling: “What has he?”, Asks me a beautiful employee in airport uniform. “Lovesickness,” I say. Then she presses Johann tightly against him: “Just scream,” she says in German to the child, who only sniffs in astonishment. “Lovesick is shit!”
Take the water-shy from the child in Crete – if that will happen?
Maybe that was not such a good idea, once only to do with my youngest holiday. We have not been in the car for ten minutes, and he’s asked ten times, “When are we here?” No big brother on the right and no big sister on the left, who otherwise cause distraction (if they are not asking themselves …).
To Agia Galini on the south coast are still an hour and a half drive across the mountainous island before us. There I want to reconcile Johann with the sea, to take his time for him and to cure him gently, but sustainably of his water aversion. That’s why we do not do this, as usual, for five holidays. “Mom, when are we there ?!” roars the lonely child in the back seat. “Do not scream like that,” I say. “I do not scream, I just call,” my son yells back.
I develop understanding for my own parents: For fear of the “when are we there?” – question are the never before more than 45 minutes with me and my siblings went on vacation. During this time we came from Tübingen only up to the Swabian Alb. I always wanted so much to the sea. I then fulfilled this dream of family vacation with my children.
Since Johann was born, we were on the Danish island Rømø almost every year. Long days on the endless beach, the whole family sandblasted by the North Sea wind. The two big boys love that, but Johann hated it from the start. Sullenly he hid as a baby in his beach shell and did not want to leave the protective cover for a second. Not for digging and certainly not to cool his feet in the sea. I really do not know a child who is as water-shy as my youngest. We probably traumatized him. But what can you do when everyone wants to go to the beach – the baby has to stop.
Pools in sparkling blue and olive trees in the garden – for me the paradise
So my Crete holiday-to-second idea has a lot to do with reparation. And when the navigation system in Agia Galini finally answered Johann’s long-standing question with the beautiful sentence: “You have reached your destination”, we are not only greeted by the lettering “Irini Mare”. Between the many olive trees in the garden, three pools sparkle in seductive blue tones. For me it’s like the arrival in paradise. And a small miracle happens: My child, who otherwise refuses to take off her shoes in the outdoor pool, for fear that it will be put into the baby pool against his will, sits on the floor and plucks at his sock. Slowly we both dip our feet in the infinity pool overflow pool and take the first steps in the narrow channel.
“We arrived well, and I was in the water, ” Johann tells his siblings later on the phone. Up to the ankles!
A fantastic hike to the sea
After this breakthrough we plan the next morning a small hike to the sea. We walk in a dry riverbed through a valley that is pink spotted with oleander flowers. Above us on the slopes, mountain goats climb between small caves in which hermits have lived again and again since the time of the early Christians, and the child is actually jumping full of energy towards the water.
This must be a dream, I think, really a “Sacred Place”, a sacred place, as indicated by the signs at the entrance to the valley, and then this silence! When we reach the tiny chapel of St. Anthony, it is over: Johann and I pull the rope of the bell, which hangs in a more than 600 years old olive tree. This should protect against evil and is surprisingly loud. The wind carries the sound of the bell, which used to be part of an old aviation bomb, right up to the sea. It is not far anymore. Only a few steps away, and we see the dark turquoise of Agiofarango Bay, where we spend the rest of the day throwing stones into the sea.
Purely John does not want anything in the world, to him the pebbles “to Aua”. But at least he ventures close enough to the water to charge the spray gun and refresh his mother, who has been heated by the wandering.
The next day I have sore muscles – in my arms
The next day I have sore muscles. Not in the legs, but in the arm. Because, of course, the child on the way back flabbergasted, had to be carried and fell asleep, even before half the distance was mastered. Today we are approaching the sea on other paths. With the rental car.
Our destination this time is a seemingly endless sandy beach: Komos Beach , 20 kilometers from “Irini Mare”. We have all the essentials: sand toys, a beach umbrella and Johann’s little shark sleeping bag to cuddle up to when the wind gets too rough for him. He blows neatly on this day. The child immediately hatches the shark and does not want to go out anymore.
First I dig a hole in the fine dark sand alone, then I grab my son and drag him to the waves. He may start the socks. Nevertheless, he does not trust me. He clings to me and would like to climb on my head as I wade through the water. “Go in,” he yells in my ear to enforce his will against wind and waves. And he does not mean: into the sea. Our sanctuary is located at the very end of the beach and is called “Bunga Bunga” bar.
Long, dark beaches are beautiful, but if you drag a child through the hot sand, you also want socks. When we reach the rescue bar, my feet burn like fire, and my arms are so shaky that Johann even wins arm wrestling. We’ll play this for a long time on this day at the tavern table. Johann does not want to leave, nor me. The coffee is excellent here. And the friendly women behind the counter, which is decorated with a turtle, tell us that from May the turtles will come again to lay their eggs. Because the Komos sand is so nice and warm! “Then we can not walk around there, otherwise we may step on a baby turtle,” says the torn child.
A “divine day” with stories about Greek myths
The next morning my water habituation project is disturbed by an observation that Johann makes at breakfast: The other children in the “Irini Mare” come with a “holiday pass” from the child care to their parents. “I want an invitation like that too!”
“But we wanted to do something together, just you and me,” I say.
Obviously, my youngest is already bored with his mother. And unspeakable, because the child, who has hitherto rejected any form of care during vacation strictly, today wants absolutely to the “Divine Day”. This is the motto of the excursion prepared by the supervisors Paula and Simone for their guests aged three and over.
“Crusades devoured all his children – right after birth, they disappeared crying in his dark throat,” reads Paula from “The most beautiful Greek myths” before. “Why did he do it?” Kronos did it out of fear … “All the children are very enthusiastic and want to know immediately, how it goes with his son Zeus, who then – as predicted – pushes his father from the throne. As a baby, Zeus was hidden from Kronos by his mother Rhea. On Kreta! In a small cave where a divine goat raised him !! Thats something!!!
But today it’s actually about Icarus, who is said to have set off from the rocks above the small harbor of Agia Galini with his father and then ventured too close to the sun despite the ban. Icarus fell into the water and drowned … Johann gives me a meaningful look. And then I want to go with the others on the treasure hunt that follows the feathers of Icarus, at the 100 meters away “house beach” of the hotel (where I actually wanted to do our next bathing attempt), on the promenade of Agia Galini to the statue of Icarus who is as naked as Greek gods like to be, which fascinates Johann so much that he tells me nothing else when he returns. Not even where the treasure was, and what fat booty the children made.
Herbs for me and a donkey baby for Johann ❤️
My hunt starts the next morning: I really want to go up to the mountain village of Kouses to “To Botano”, the famous tea and herb shop. There, the world of aromas awaits, slumbering in nearly 300 tightly closed containers and, barely opening a lid for a blink of an eye, fill the entire room.
I decide for the Cretan mountain tea, which I know from the breakfast buffet. And herbalist Yannis advises for the cold winter at home to the dried sage, which is still to smell like freshly picked after two years. “There’s a saying in Crete,” Yannis says, “what, you’re sick, do not you have any sage in the garden?”
Because Johann finds herbs dull, we continue to the donkey farm “Agia Marina Donkey Rescue”, a gracious yard near Sivas, a village a few kilometers from Komos beach. To the great delight of Barbara from Australia and her Cretan husband Fanis, who are currently looking after more than 20 long-eared birds from all over Greece and other abandoned animals, a healthy donkey baby was born here four weeks ago. You called it Rhea. After Zeus’ mother, who also took refuge in Crete.
The last day we reserve for the pool. Would not it be laughable if I did not get Johann to it? I give everything, wear a shark swimming goggles and rush on the pink giant flamingo. My son stays on the edge. With a high safety distance. When I have to go out and want to hug my child, Johann says dryly: “Mom, do not be so wet!” He’s not cured yet, the little water hater. We’ll have to come back soon.
Our tips for a holiday in Crete with child
Condor flies in the summer months several times a week from almost all German airports to Heraklion. From ca.160 euros ( www.condor.de ).
Vamos parents travel child. For 25 years, the hotel “Irini Mare” has been a fixture in Vamos travel – countless families consider it as a kind of holiday home. It was founded by Mama Irini, today her children Marili and Antonis Markaki run the family business. For their promise “Come to us as a guest, return as a friend”, the operators and their very child-friendly staff are really busy: In the morning and in the evening there is a buffet with local products and specialties from our own production, which leaves nothing to be desired (not even with the kids!); In the garden grow the herbs, and thanks to the olive groves of the family is even the bio-oil brand.
The Markakis also pay attention to ecology and sustainability in the two garden pools and the children’s pool: The slightly salty water is not chlorinated, but purified by electrolysis, gentle on the skin. And the team of Vamos childcare plays in a league of its own: Even “caring mum” Johann, who was not actually registered in the “Kinderhaus”, did not want either one during the daytime or in the evening during the “blue hour” between 8pm and 9pm miss a single minute.
Family room (for 4 persons) from 191 Euro / day including half board and child care. Vamos also organizes transfer to the hotel, which is less than two hours drive (80 kilometers) from the capital’s airport in Heraklion. With the bus it costs back and forth for adults 45 Euro, 22,50 Euro per child, by taxi a family starts from 198 Euro and back ( www.vamos-reisen.de ).
Irini Mare Hotel. The magical hotel (description under “package tour”) is of course also open to other guests. Double / HB from 120 Euro (Agia Galini, Tel. 283 20/910 51, www.irinimare.com ).
Plakias Bay Hotel. Family run house on the south coast at the end of a beautiful bay. It’s also four minutes with children walking to the beach, which drops gently. DZ / F from 82 Euro (Plakias, Dimos Finika, Agios Vasilios, Tel. 283 20/312 15, www.plakiasbay.com ).
Diamond Village. On a hillside apartment complex 20 kilometers from Heraklion airport. DZ / F from 90 Euro. Cheap family arrangements via FTI (Piskopiano Hersonissos, tel. 289 70/240 07, www.diamond-village.gr , www.fti ).
Tavern Drimos. Large, also popular with Kretern excursion restaurant and starting point for hikes in the Agiofarango gorge with the chapel of St. Anthony. For the children there’s a petting zoo and playground. Specialty: meat grilled on an open fire (mix-plates from 10 Euro). Delicious also the starters (from 3,50 Euro), eg homemade aubergine paste or the garlic mashed potato Skordalia (Patsos-Rethymnon, Tel. 69 77 70 08 04, www.taverna-drimos.gr ).
Tavern Myli. Through the “valley of the mills” you pass by dilapidated water mills, the stream and the path lie in the shade of fig, lemon and orange trees. After about an hour’s walk you reach the tavern, where there is a delicious homemade tsikoudia, the Cretan raki variety; from 1 Euro (Rethymnon, Tel. 283 10/753 70, www.myli.rethymnon.org ).
Bunga Bunga Bar The tavern on Komos beach is in spite of its name quite suitable for family – namely, refers to the bunker in the rocks located above the caribbean styled bar at the southern end of the bay. Snacks and salad are served, but especially worth mentioning is the really good coffee machine, which is unparalleled in Crete. (Pitsidia, Komos Beach).
Agiofarango Gorge. Because of the adventurous gravel road, we did not dare (coming from Sivas and the old fortified monastery Odigitrias) to drive down to the entrance of the “hermit’s ravine”. We parked at the edge of the road and walked for about 15 minutes to the parking lot with the “Kuna Mata” barman (“Last Station before Africa”). From there you hike for about an hour through oleander bushes past the small church of Saint Anthony to the beautiful gravel bay with the crystal clear waters of the Libyan Sea.
Komos Beach. Beautiful dark, about 4 kilometers long sandy beach south of the village Pitsidia. Sea turtles (“Caretta Caretta”) regularly lay their eggs here. On the yellow-blue protective grids you can see the nests that must not be touched. Because of the baby turtles and because of possible antiquities, which are suspected here in the vicinity of the partially already exposed Minoan port town “Kommos”, the beach remains undeveloped. Gorgeous!
Agia Marina Donkey Rescue. Gnadenhof for old and abandoned donkeys and refuge for dogs, cats, goats and everything else that needs to be nursed. Animal lovers are welcome in the farm near the village of Sivas (from there towards Petrokefali and about 1 km before the village turn onto the dirt road on the donkey sprayed on a stone) and have free entry. If you want, you can donate (or give away) a donkey sponsorship for 100 euros a year and you will receive a sponsorship certificate, photos and regular updates. You can choose your protégé yourself on the homepage. The “adoption” finances food and medicines (Sivas, Petrokefali, tel. 69 49 16 87 63, www.agia-marina-donkeyrescue.com ).
Weekly market in Mires. On the main street leading through the village there are olive oil, soaps, arts and crafts, jewelery, fruit, herbs, mountain tea as well as the famous golden thyme honey on Saturdays from 7 am to 1 pm – and lots of plastic toys.
To Botano. Crete is a garden of Eden for herbs, and its display is “To Botano” in the mountain village of Kouses. Here, there is the concentrated healing power of nature in fragrant tea, herbal and spice mixtures, in oil bottles and honey pots. The well-stocked online store ships worldwide! (Kouses, Tel. 28 92 04 22 95, www.botano.gr )
To delve into the wonderfully scary world of the gods: “The most beautiful Greek myths” and “The most exciting Greek myths” for children (and their parents!) – retold by Dimiter Inkiow with memorable illustrations by Wilfried Gebhard (121 p. 90 euros, or 128 pages, 15 euros, Ellermann Verlag). There’s enough stuff: In Crete the Minotaur sat in its labyrinth, from Agia Galini Icarus flew over the Libyan Sea, and Zeus was born in Crete.
If I had known this
In fact, we could have saved the trip to the Zeus caves in the mountains – they are moderately exciting for children. The problem begins with the fact that there are two “birth caves”: the “Dikti Cave” and the “Ida Grotto”. The Cretans have the following creative solution for this doubling: the first is considered as the birthplace, the second as a kind of “Kita” of the father of the gods.
The calling code of Greece is 0030.
VIDEO TIP: First aid kit for children – that must!
Pretty Spot: The seaside resort of Agia Galini is on the south coast of Crete
If the child does not want to walk anymore, Mama has to go - like here in the bay at the end of the Agiofrango gorge
"Popo with wings" That's the name of Johann Ikarus, who started his misfortune flight in Crete
In the herb and tea shop "To Botano" in Kouses one finds fragrant souvenirs
Saved! Foal Rhea was born in the "Agia Marina Donkey Rescue" to the Gnadenhof für verstoßene Tiere