A Conversation about Crete with Phil Cousineau and Georgios Spiradakis

Our Tour Leader Phil Cousineau recently had a passionate conversation with Georgios Spiradakis, about what most excited them about their upcoming tour “Mythic Crete with Phil Cousineau and Georgios Spiradakis,” and what they believe will make their journey unique.  Their conversation is a compelling read as if we are overhearing them talking in a charming seaside taverna on this legendary island of light. Our thanks to both Phil and Georgios for sharing their excitement and knowledge about Crete.

Phil Cousineau:  Hello, again, Georgios. Although we are several months away from our Crete 2019 tour, which is scheduled for next April, I find myself already looking forward to working together again and revisiting your homeland, which happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. I hope you are looking forward to our journey as well. Since we worked together on our magical mystery tour of an itinerary, I believe this will be one of the most authentic tours I’ve ever had the pleasure to lead or co-lead. What about you, my friend, what is unusual or unique about our tour?

Crete, Minoan, ancient, civilization, sunrise
A beautiful sunset at the Cretan coastline

Georgios Spiradakis:  Hello again, Phil! To describe what I feel will be unique and authentic about our tour I think I should start at the very beginning. I was born on Crete, and consider myself very lucky to be Cretan! Crete is way different from the rest of Greece. What we will do is come into actual contact with some real Cretans, from potters to cooks, and we will experience many of the ancient traditions of this beautiful island that would be very difficult to find without a native guide. Our history traditions are at least 4000 years old, dating back to the Minoans, and we try to keep them alive and vital with love and integrity. That is what I want to share with our group next spring!

Phil:  What is it about Crete, what is so special about your island?

Georgios:  This island has been occupied non-stop by different people of the world for millennia. For thousands of years, we Cretans have had to keep fighting to hold on to our unique way of life, never expecting help from anyone else, even other Greeks! Many great Cretans have fought for their freedom to the point of not caring about their own individual lives, just the freedom of all Cretans! Nikos Kazantzakis, the most famous writer in Greece, was born and lived most of his life here. One of his most powerful books is called Freedom and Death!  Not Freedom or death as it is wrongly translated by the Greeks and others. Freedom and Death is the real title because it shows the unchanging depth of our character. When I lead groups around our island I try to share stories from the myths and literature and political history that reveals that character.

remains, ancient, ruins, crete, palace of knossos, explore, adventure
A dolphin Fresco adorning the walls of the 4,000-year-old Palace of Knossus.

Phil:  Of course, I am looking forward to re-visiting the always mysterious ruins of the Knossus Palace, but I’m also eager to visit the newly restored and expanded Archaeology Museum in Heraklion, which I recently learned was named one of the Top Ten Museums in the World. You must be very proud of that distinction! I am also glad that you were able to arrange something few visitors are able to witness, which is the firing of a replica of an ancient Minoan kiln. And then beyond the famous and infamous sites, there are the long nights at the colorful tavernas all around the island that you have helped us select, where we will eat, drink and be merry while discussing your history. What are you looking forward to?

Georgios:  Yes, all that is true and it’s true because of our magnificent Minoan history!  I am proud to say that Crete gave birth to the Minoan civilization, which is regarded as the oldest in Europe. The Minoans have taught us how to respect the Earth Goddess, how to keep her happy to produce and to help us stay alive! We will talk a lot about her, as she is still worshiped in towns and villages and at her shrines, such as the Kofinas Temple, in the Asterousian Mountains. As for the unique Minoan kiln, we are the only group that will be received by our world-famous potter, Vassilis Politakis. In the spirit of Cretan hospitality, he has agreed to teach us some of the ancient skills of Minoan potters, and so we will work hard, as our ancestors did, using olive wood as they did 40 centuries ago! No electricity, no gas fuel, just a kiln that Vassilis and his father built by hand and our own local olive wood. I encourage everyone in our group to have some old clothes available the day we work at the old kiln because we’re going to get dirty! Vassilis believes that by teaching the tricks of the ancient trade together we can help the Minoan kiln to survive. For centuries we have believed here on Crete how important it is to keep the Earth happy by treating her with respect and reverence. And if we do, she will pay us back a thousand-fold with good health and happiness!

Pottery, vassilis politakis, minoan kiln, crete
Join us on our 2019 journey to Crete to work with world-famous potter Vassilis Politakis, and learn the ancient art of Minoan potters.

Phil: How is Crete distinct or different from mainland Greece?  You mention hospitality. I am struck by the irony of how we in the West have inherited half of the Greek notion of xenia, the noble code of hospitality. Unfortunately, for many modern people, the word xenia only reminds them of xenophobia, which is the distrust of strangers. Thank you – Efharisto — for reminding us of the original meaning of xenophilia (or filoxenia), which refers to the respect and kindness meant to be bestowed upon strangers.

Georgios: There is an old story behind this! Crete is the Land that gave birth to Zeus, who happens to be the God of Hospitality!  The Filoxenia that you point out is indeed our top duty. You will meet many people around the island who will tell you: “Let’s have a raki together first, and then we can talk.” That is why it is important not to refuse offers to share a ceremonial drink with the people of Crete. It is an honest gesture or an offer of hospitality!  It is important not to refuse that custom! When the mainland Greeks come to Crete for their vacation, even they realize the difference and they too love it! But its not just that xenia, or hospitality, it’s a lot more than that. It’s the food, the music, the dance, the countryside, the myths. If people sign up for our tour, they will be able to see and experience it for themselves.

Phil:  How would you recommend people prepare for their journey to Crete? Are their books by Cretan writers you recommend? Or movies or music?

Georgios: Yes, many books, many films, much music. I again mention Nikos Kazantzakis books, especially the Freedom and Death, or the Report to Greco, which is his personal autobiography, a very difficult book, but it gives great insight into the soul of Crete. As for movies, watch Zorba the Greek, starring Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates, or Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, both based on Nikos’ books. The second movie was considered scandalous and not allowed to be shown in several countries, forbidden by their religious authorities. As for the music, it’s a whole history! The Cretan music is quite different than the Greek music. It’s based on 2 stringed-instruments, lyre and lute, plus the mandolin and the davul, the special Cretan drum! The words are all symbolic, allude to many different cultural and political issues, such as pride, respect, bravery, death, love, regeneration and many more. The words are called mantinades, which is often based on poetry hundreds of years old.

Lute, Drum, Lyre, Cretan music, mandolin, davul, crete,
Relax and unwind to the special Cretan music on the tour. Here a man plays the Lute.

Phil:  The history and legacy of Crete are as complex and labyrinthine as the corridors and passages of your Palace of Knossus. What makes you most proud to be Cretan?

Georgios: I am very, very proud to be Cretan. I am proud of how my people have fought for thousands of years against all kinds of enemies, from the Mycenaean Greeks to the Venetians, Ottomans and Nazis. Men, women, and children above the traditional fighting age of 15 all fought side by side. Throughout all our conflicts, we Cretans are proud in having never asked for help from outsiders. So, I am proud of our values, which include respect for our elders, honesty, hospitality, and paying attention to the beautiful Earth we live on and take care of every day. Those who sign up on our tour will be able to experience this for themselves when we visit our fruit and olive groves, when we speak with fishermen in the harbours and we shop in the markets.

Phil:  Any famous last words about why people will love our journey to Crete?

Georgios: Phil, I am not so good at writing about Crete, but I sure like talking about Crete!  So, I would like to dedicate to you and the people coming with us on our fantastic tour, the Cretan poem below:

“The tradition of Crete, I support with respect,
and wherever I go, a Crete I project!”

Church of Panagia Kera, fresco, ancient, 12th century, 13th century, kera kritsta, photo, photography
12th Century Fresco at the ancient Church of Panagia Kera. Photographing of these Frescos has finally been allowed for the first time.



Join us for this amazing trip now

Travel with best-selling author and filmmaker Phil Cousineau and his good friend Georgios Spiradakis, a native Cretan, official Greek tour guide, and organic olive farmer, on their tour “Mythic Crete with Phil Cousineau and Georgios Spiradakis“. This ten-day tour to the Legendary Island of Light will run from April 9 – 18, 2019. They will entice your mind and senses and show you the traditions of the ancient Minoan Civilization of the island of Crete. See how the traditions remain alive and in the hearts of the native Cretans today. Visit artisan studios, explore ancient ruins and artifacts at the Heraklion Museum, follow in the footsteps of the goddess to her mysterious shrines, and discuss ancient stories with Phil and Georgios in cozy taverns. Each day will be a unique, exciting and beautiful experience.