The winding cobblestone streets of the medieval old city were a delight to explore. Colourful crumbling facades adorned with vibrant bouquets and and painted wooden doors were everywhere to be seen. The locals walked about the streets looking to their daily chores with radiant smiles beautifully complemented the chatter of voices and traditional music emanating from the numerous cafes and stores dotted along the streets. Occasionally the serenity was punctuated by the surprising madness of scooters flying effortlessly through the meandering narrow streets, hilariously at odds with the otherwise relaxed atmosphere of this tranquil town.
The little winding side streets paved with blocks of stone wound gently through the quaint picturesque town. The street was lined by archaic buildings on either side, often decaying but truly beautiful to behold in their brilliant array of colours. I stopped by this gorgeous cafe, a green wooden door standing slightly ajar warmly welcomed the passerby. The aroma of traditional Mediterranean food mingled with the melodic sound of music beckoned one inside. Cautiously stepping inside, I glanced at the staff with their genuine war smiles and open hearts ready to welcome a stranger with traditional Greek hospitality. Their warmth and generosity matched the beauty of the decor inside simple, elegant yet thoroughly authentic.
The faint echo of my footsteps disappeared into the profound silence that manifested an aura of sanctity about the monastery. The buildings seemed archaic, yet the passing of centuries had merely enhanced their beauty. Decaying yet dignified, the monastery walls and church were marvellous to look upon in their simplistic beauty. As I stood looking upon an archaic facade, a monk with flowing black robes suddenly came up to me full of joy and smiling. He talked in such a beautiful melody, rich and resonant. I could not help but look upon his face in wonder. The thought crossed my mind “Is he slightly mad?”. After a few moments, looking upon the purity of his disposition, I felt ashamed of my thoughts and merely stood in silence. The monk radiated a childlike innocence and joy, yet his words were filled with wisdom and love as he gave me his blessing and wished me well upon my journey. I stood for a long time in silence, not wanting to leave, sensing that I was in the presence of someone special. It was with a heavy heart that I eventually walked away deep in thought. I often think of this unknown monk. The purity of his warm eyes and loving words have left me a lasting impression. A monk living a simplistic life dedicated to prayer and fasting yet somehow filled with profound peace and joy.
Walking along the Venetian harbour, I felt at ease. The sun cast its radiant glow over the blue water lapping against the yellow sandstone walls. The picturesque walk was complemented by a lone man selling sea sponges on a boat bobbing gently in the water. From early morning to late afternoon, he would be ply his trade; despite rarely ever selling anything he was blessed with a radiant smile full of joy. I was drawn to this man with whom I struck up a friendship, talking to him every day. Harris as he was known was a sailor, having travelled extensively around the Greek islands, and settled long ago on Crete where he had raised his family. He had seen times of prosperity and more recently adversity. I offered to pay Harris to take me around the Greek islands, knowing that he had difficulty making ends meet, however he answered, “My boat is in disrepair, nevertheless I would take you around for no money whatsoever”. One cold winter day he asked me if I wanted to have a drink of schnapps with him. Out of respect I said yes. I admired the heart of this man, even though schnapps was not to my liking. Harris then proceeded to order a couple of drinks from the restaurant across the street from where his boat was moored alongside the harbour. I was deeply touched yet saddened as Harris was willing in a moment of sheer hospitality to spend several days wages on a couple of drinks in order to please me. I remonstrated with him not to order any drinks, as I thought that he had the drinks within his boat. He asked “Why not, it’s fine! Are you worried about the money?”, as he noticed the concerned look on my face. After reassuring him that it was okay he finally relented. Suffering had merely tempered his beautiful heart, and in this man I sensed a deep sense of humility and serenity despite providing for his family in difficult times. How could one not love such a man? Never before had I experienced such hospitality amidst suffering. I told Harris “May God bless you and always be with you”. Harris responded with a sad smile of conviction. “And that’s the greatest gift that one can ever wish for in life”
The walk down the cliff face was arduous. Several hundred deep stone steps hewn out of solid rock, formed a long meandering path from the cliff edge to the shoreline. The muscles in my legs burned with the intensity of effort, nevertheless I carefully descended the stairs full of anticipation and joy. After reaching our destination I paused briefly and looked back from whence we came. Blue domed churches amidst white washed buildings overlooking the caldera captured my imagination, an awesome display of sheer beauty.
Walking along the cliff edge overlooking the caldera, my heart was full of joy as the sun’s rays peeped over the horizon, illuminating the earthy colour of the stone houses perched along the cliff face overlooking the ocean. The sweet smell of baked bread permeated the morning air. A few more steps and I entered a bakery barely visible, a hidden gem amidst a sea of white washed buildings. An elderly lady looked at me with big beautiful eyes, warm and pure with a childlike innocence yet sad with wisdom born of pain and suffering of years gone bye. She fixed her eyes on me, and for a few seconds all I could do was look with reverence at her face. Eventually I spoke in basic Greek, “Good morning aunty”, a term of respect and reverence for elderly women, reserved even for strangers. “Good morning and how may I be of service to you” she replied with a warm intonation looking into my eyes while smiling. We spoke at length exchanging pleasantries before I politely asked for some bread. After paying, I noticed some sweets and looked at the change in my hands. “Aunty how much are the croissants?” She looked at me with compassion “Please take one my behalf”. I was deeply touched and responded “Aunty I have money to spend please, I would also like one for my wife. She responded without hesitation “Then take one more for your wife and don’t worry about money” I was deeply touched in my heart, and I walked up to her pleading “Please aunty I would prefer to pay”. She looked at me with those warm beautiful eyes “You have a good heart that much I can see; please take what I offer with all my heartfelt pleasure. I responded “No aunty it is you that has a beautiful heart and not myself; I pray that God blesses you in every way”. Slowly, she came out from behind the counter and reverently pulled out a bible and said with her warm voice, “This is what I read in my spare time; the grace of God is what grants me hope and strength to continue in life”. My soul stirred and my heart rejoiced with sheer joy. Holding this beautiful person at arms length I embraced her and kissed her cheeks. This elderly lady whose face manifested hardship and suffering had the capacity to love a perfect stranger. “God bless you aunty, and may the love of Christ sustain us in all things” I uttered while holding her within my arms and resting my head against her beautiful face. Her arms clasped me lovingly as if I were her own son.
The Venetian bay was calm, as the sun cast forth its luminous rays upon the quiet town stirring in the early hours of the morning. The beauty of the Renaissance era was manifested splendidly against the calm deep blue of the ocean. I paused in awe and looked out yonder in profound reverie. In a moment of serenity, I pondered at how the creative beauty of mankind blended so perfectly with the majesty of nature