The Cretan Rhythm

So, you will have noticed by now that I am a bit of a Grecophile! I have travelled to Greece extensively and have been fortunate enough to visit some of the most unspoiled corners of the country. Places where you are welcome to visit but you are not catered for – bliss! No fast food, no English food on offer  – just seasonal, home-cooked food – like it or leave it – me, personally I liked it!

I have visited Crete a few times but generally for a short time and a few times with 30 travel agents in tow! One summer I was employed as a troubleshooter – travelling across the Greek islands sorting out different problems – (tough, but someone had to do it) and ended up right down in the South in Makriyalos – a bit of a shock for me to be honest – this was a quiet Cretan fishing village where the dialect was different and the pace of life was slow. Every afternoon the whole village would go to sleep! There was little to do but slow down. At first, I felt trapped, I literally planned my escape!!! After the bright lights of Faliraki, this was like landing on Mars. Day by day, slowly, slowly the Cretan rhythm took hold of me.

My biggest problem was the mad donkey that guarded the apartments where I lived and would stare me down and charge me when I came home! The food in the village was amazing – I remember the spicy feta cheese dip and eating it every day for breakfast! Just as I relaxed into the ebb and flow of the sun-drenched days I was moved on to another island but have always remembered those days with affection. (Except for the donkey!)

I took an educational trip of travel agents many years ago to the West of Crete – the Chania area – and can remember being really enamoured with Chania town and its beautiful harbour – back then I was a bit of a bozo and was bored stiff with the trip to the palace of Knossos and all the archaeological sites. (The travel agents weren’t there for the culture either!) However, fast forward a trillion years and I have recently returned from a two-week vacation to Chania where I found that Cretan rhythm got me again!

Since taking a very keen interest in what I eat and being plant-based as much as possible, my last few trips to Spain have proved tricky as far as food was concerned. Finding restaurants that had fresh seasonal plant-based foods was a trial and to be really honest the quality was poor. I knew that this wouldn’t be a problem in Greece and especially in Crete- the home of the Dakos salad! 

We stayed in a really rural location in a small beach resort called Stavros – this is where they filmed the iconic Zorba the Greek dance sequence – Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates with the mountain backdrop. This is a place for families and people who like the simple life – a few tavernas,  a couple (literally two!) mini markets and a church. We ended up here as a friend of mine’s family is from there and convinced us to try it. We’re glad she did!

The Cretan diet is olive oil heavy (yay!) and apparently, Cretans consume three times more fat than Americans – but only olive oil and often not boiled or fried. The Cretan diet was the original Mediterranean diet researched, which has been proven to prolong life  – and consists of seasonal, simple, organic fruits, vegetables, pulses, legumes and bread. Yes, bread (wholemeal) with everything and oil with everything! Yet, the Cretans are far healthier than their British and American equivalents and live on average much longer and healthier lives.
The majority of the population take a nap in the afternoon before restarting work or chores in the cooler part of the day and staying up later. They get up early but rest far more than we do. Yes, they have their own set of problems and stresses but the older Greeks will rise early and go for an early morning swim and relax on the beach before starting the day – now that is a natural de-stressor! Their mentality is different. – there’s no real rushing – they cook more home-cooked food, they eat together, they argue, shout, love, get in your business, repeat!

I am an early riser by nature (well in the last decade at least) I love to start my day when all is quiet and the world is only just starting to stir – even in East London where I live, at 5am – there is very little sound – the streets are quiet and the atmosphere tranquil- it’s wonderful to realise you have accomplished so much before the day really starts. So, in Stavros, while my family were still snoring – I was up and about. After a few days, I knew that once the sun came over the mountain it was too hot to walk/jog  – you had to be up and out early. My oldest son would accompany me on a walk to get fresh bread for breakfast. The Greeks had been up for some time and there were lone swimmers down in the bay taking their early morning constitutional. 

Greeks tend to eat breakfast far later than us Brits – around 10.30 – 11am and often a cheese or spinach pie or a koulouri on the go. If it is possible to eat too many spinach pies I did! Coffee and a spinach pie is my favourite way to start the day 🙂

Our friend would take us to a different beach every day and what can you do on a beach – lay down and relax and gently drift. I ate less during the holiday, not only because it was hot but I wasn’t in my usual routine sitting at a desk eating without thinking. My friend’s mum and dad would religiously nap in the afternoon ( I struggle with this as I like to be active during the day but totally see that even some downtime can assist with energy levels) in the UK we all seem to favour being busy all of the time – competing with each other as to who is the  busiest. Then after a couple of hours, she was up and about again recharged and ready for action!

In the second week of our vacation, I started to notice how much more energy I had in the evenings – there are some days at home when I come back from work and feel like I have nothing left to give, can’t face talking or socialising – I’m just basically out of battery. Now, I know I was on holiday so not having to do my usual duties but the difference for me was massive. Good sleep, early start, relax for a short time during the day, out for the evening and then bed. (My days of clubbing and bars are firmly in the past!)

There were other benefits too, my skin felt better, my digestion easier, my sleep deeper and my hair shinier. 

Ok, so it is easier to live like this if you live in a warm country – it’s actually a necessity to get out of the heat in the mid-afternoon. But, I carried this on when I got back to London and somehow I feel like I am more in control. By getting up at 5am and working through some chores steadily and quietly and by taking a bit of time out in the afternoons (on a weekend) and adjusting bedtime to earlier – I have really felt the benefit. It means I have more time on a weekend to actually be present for my children and husband – I have more time for socialising and cooking – my favourite past time. 

I now give my sons chores to do to help me out (that’s a whole different blog!) and am finding I am getting more time back and my sanity!

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed and like you are treading water – take a leaf out if the Cretans book – re-adjust – get up earlier – relax at midday – go to bed earlier and eat lots of olive oil and fruits and veg and see how it changes life for you!

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