(The following is an excerpt from my book, Uniquely Crete: Life Redefined on a Greek Island. Available now for preorder now on Amazon)
I’m sitting in a shady spot on a stone wall in the Agia Triada monastery courtyard on a divine spring morning. After the short easy 15 minute bike ride to this peaceful green oasis, I wonder why I don’t do this more often. Usually on a nice warm day, the sea beckons me and I find myself on the beach instead. But today, I find my favorite shady spot in the monastery to write and reflect. I lean against the ancient warm stone walls and take in the scene around me. Potted flowers and herbs, blooming fruit trees and cheerful birds relish in the serenity of these walls. And of course there’s always as stray cat (or ten) looking for a lap to sit on. (Journal entry March 2014)
Warmer weather descended on the island and our outings became more frequent. One such outing was in the hills outside of Hania. Agia Kyriaki is a former 17th century monastery with an intriguing history. When the Turikish occupation was at its height during the 19th century, it served as a haven for refugees and freedom fighters. Now owned by the nearby monastery Chrisopigi, it is the quiet and hospitable home of about twelve nuns.
We left our car in the dirt parking area under the olive trees, and rang the little doorbell of the small convent. A sweet-faced nun opened the door and greeted us with a soft “Kalimera. Kalo Oriste?” (Hello. May I help you?)
She offered us a cup of cold water and motioned to another nun in the courtyard to join us. The other nun approached us with a smile and a slight bow and said in perfect English, “Hello! Welcome!” I was delighted to know we could relax and speak in our mother tongue with this friendly nun.
“My husband and I are living in Hania and heard about Agia Kyriaki from a Greek friend. She told us we must visit this place and now I can see why. It’s really beautiful here, so peaceful and serene.”
I looked around the small courtyard filled with flowers, herbs and a large but sweet dog that looked to be as old as the stones in the building. He sauntered up to us and happily received his pats.
Our hostess invited us to enter into the small gathering room equipped with rustic wood furniture and a long table. A centerpiece of cut flowers from the garden graced the table. The scene was charming and I longed to hide in its silence for a while, but the day was approaching the noon lunch hour.
As we walked through the courtyard, we enjoyed easy conversation fueled by genuine interest in each other’s lives. The nub showed us to the door and before we left, offered us a booklet written by her, about practicing the Greek Orthodox faith at Agia Kyriaki. When we walked out the convent door, she called after us,
“Don’t’ forget to visit the gardens. Just continue up the path.”
We promised we would, and with a smile and a wave, she closed the large wooden door softly behind us.
The long walk up the stone path revealed small doorways tucked under overhangs in the rock cliffs. These tiny chapels were built into an ecosystem that had been painstakingly honored through the cultivation and care of the surrounding gardens.
In the distance, we could see the main convent through the trees. It sat like a golden beacon on the hill at the top of an ever-ascending stairway.