Into the Unknown – Greek Island Living

(*The following is a teaser excerpt from my book Uniquely Crete:  Life Redefined on a Greek Island to be released April 30 – available for preorder now on Amazon)


I have a love affair with maps: Old out-of-date ones or slick, still-crispy new ones. It doesn’t matter what condition they’re in.   As long as there’s a longitude and latitude, I’m mesmerized. Wanderlust is in my family genes. My father was constantly on the move traveling for business and making it pleasure; the more exotic the destination, the better. He came home with stories of magical places and the people who populated them. His memories were the wings under my imagination from a young age. But moving to a Mediterranean island was never on my radar, and definitely beyond my imagination.

Gonia monastery on Crete
Gonia Monastery, Crete

We arrived in Crete on a hot August day in 2009 during the season when the island hums with the buzz of a billion cicadas and the heat drives locals and tourists alike to the cool waters of the sea. When my husband and I decided to pick up our lives and relocate to a Mediterranean island, my idea of what to expect was vague at best. We were both old enough to be settled into our careers but still young enough to embrace change. Only married for two years, we were still navigating the difficult territory of yours, mine, and ours that is inevitable with second marriages. Your car, my car, your house, my house, your kids, my kids, your friends, my friends, your cats, my dogs. We wanted to grasp onto something that was totally, unconditionally ours. Moving abroad was an opportunity to go out into the unknown hand in hand and make it our adventure, our life, our mess…together.   And at times, it was messy…very messy. Brilliantly messy.

Broken walls and bougainvilleas

Crete is an island like no other, knit together by family, faith and food. It is crazy and chaotic and captivating. A part of Greece, yet apart from Greece. Separated by a vast expanse of Mediterranean Sea from its mother country, Crete stands on its own with its feet firmly planted in a culture that has evolved over 5000 years. The centuries of unwelcome foreign occupation only strengthened the fiercely independent spirit of its people. This independence is exhibited in the dance, stories, food and traditions that are exclusive to the island.   Crete holds to its own traditions with stubborn determination, and takes a certain pride in being dubbed the “bastard hillbilly child” of mainland Greece.  Cretans are a tough group of survivalists with a creative bent. They have to be in order to eek out a living on this land. Its very landscape requires a tough hand to tame it.

Freshly plowed and planted

At first blush, Crete seems stuck in time. Change comes slowly to the island. But it does come, as sure as the winter waves that undulate on its rocky shores; as sure as the seasons that nurture the island culture. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “Everything changes and nothing stands still. The road uphill and the road downhill are one and the same.” Circumstances in our life take on different meaning depending on how we see them. Different people can travel the same road and see completely different views.

Niki’s taxi service, Horafakia village

Living in Crete as a foreigner was a lesson in adapting to the unpredictable.  We never knew what joys or struggles waited for us just around the corner. But one thing is certain…you can’t come to Crete and leave unchanged. This magical island in all its wackiness and wonder has the power to charm and fascinate, bend and break, redefine and recreate.

Life is a beach…and everything in between.







12 thoughts on “Into the Unknown – Greek Island Living

  1. Kathy Ziegenfus

    I am so happy to hear you are publishing a book on Crete. You are a great storyteller and you bring Crete to life through your descriptions. I will be ordering a copy.


    1. Anna Tophamdaki

      Laying in bed drinking my morning coffee looking through large double windows at these majestic snow caped mountains lafka hori. Reading your messages news and recipe of kotopolou lemon soup, laughing to myself of the beurocracy of this Island which is so very frustrating ( a long story of Paul’s driving license renewal because of being 76) Can’t help but love this Island even with all it quirky rules and regulations and Stubbornness. Just started
      our 14 year last December and trying to decide on our future as we are getting on in years should we stay or leave. A big decision, all friends say NO stay, but this land is not suitable for wheelchair use of which I’m in need of more now, So what does one do ? Well we are downsizing for a start, whist awaiting a final decision.


      1. Melanie A Crane

        Kalimera Ann! Yes, I agree – there is something about that crazy island that just gets under your skin. Oh, the bewildering beauty of it all! I pray you and Paul are in good health. I know God will guide you in your decisions about where to live in the near future. I just read Psalm 37:23,24 – for you! Blessings and hugs to you both.


  2. jantrish

    Beautiful book Mel, I hope you do well and pray the people who read it will get so much more than just a readGod  Bless from a very cold and extremely wet Crete xx

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android



    Hey Melanie,

    Hope you are doing well. Good luck with your book. I read the passage from your book. I must say that the term used characterizing Cretans as the “bastard hillbilly child” of mainland Greece is truly a politically incorrect term to say the least.  I am not sure where you got that term from but I think you have misinterpreted the historic perception of Cretans in Greece. I should also point that the term “bastard” is kind of offensive for Greeks. Sorry if I am so direct in my feedback but as a friend I thought I should let you know. I guess people in Alabama or Georgia would probably say the same thing if you called them that term. Anyway. Good luck again with your publication and pass my greetings to Richard.Sifis.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


    1. Melanie A Crane

      Hi Sifis, Oh my! Thank you for pointing that out. I NEVER intended to insult anyone with the terms I used describing the northern Greeks’ view of the Cretans. I only wished to portray the Cretans as a “part of Greece, yet apart from Greece” in their special culture and traditions. The term “bastard hillbilly child” was something I heard many years ago that I think casts a more derogatory light on some northern Greeks’ perception of their southern neighbors while describing the independent spirit of the Cretans which I have always admired. But as you point out, I can see how others might not understand and take the term literally. Absolutely NO offense intended! Apologies, my friend.


  4. Petterson Grande

    Wow congrats for such a change! I love Greece and its Islands, I could not make it to Crete in my last visit, but I have no doubt you made a great choice staying in there. Enjoy it!


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