School is out, but now it's time for education of a different sort: swimming lessons. The children are attending lessons at the pool - in the sea - for the second year running, at a shady bay called Agious Apostolous, named after the church in the area, dedicated to the 12 Apostles. There's a big parking area at Agious Apostolous, but it's always crowded and noisy. Drivers carelessly weave their way in amongst the pedestrians. It is their prerogative to stop right outside the snack bars lining the commercially oriented beach to pick up their cold frothy coffee, an ice-cream or a high fat, sugar-crammed cholesterol-filled puff pastry pie, the kind of food that creates pollution (from the packaging) and obesity. We park our car on the other side of the bay - Kalamaki Beach - and walk to the pool.
Only a few minutes from our house (admittedly by car), Kalamaki Beach is located next to a busy road which leads to all the tourist hotels along the western coastline of Hania. I park outside the last private house on this stretch of road west of the town, owned by someone who gained planning permission before the area became a designated tourist zone. The house leads directly onto the beach. Its verandah is probably the most alluring in the area: the patio is a stone's throw away from the sand, and the owner even plants a full summer garden every year.
A hut has been constructed from grass reeds in the neighbouring garden of this house, the perfect place to go and sleep in the summer during a heatwave. It was probably cheaper than renovating the dilapidated dwelling you see in the photo. Believe it or not, someone lives in that dumpster. We can see his back door and garden. He owns half a dozen dogs, and always leaves the doors open. It's hard to imagine that there is a mini-highway right outside the front door of this house, while right next door, there's a two-storey family home in tip-top condition.
We usually sit at the beach in front of this house, close to the little boat moored near the rocks. If it weren't for the house, this area would have had a hotel built on it, and I probably wouldn't be sitting there on a daily basis with my children - and of course, it would be covered with sunbeds. Despite its central location, because it's under-used, the beach attracts alternative lifestylers - picnicking families, joggers, strolling middle-aged couples, and the occasional bare-breasted skinny Scandinavian woman wearing a piece of rope round her waistline (it must be in vogue), carting around her flaccid pale-faced specimen of a boyfriend/husband/partner. They pay no attention to us, just as we do to them.
Even my children have noticed how close the house is to the beach, and often ask me when we're going to live in a house like this. I remind them that we already do:
- we don't need to go on summer holidays because we live so close to the sea (we go on winter vacation instead)
- we don't have to book a hotel because our house is larger and more comfortable than the best rooms for rent
- we eat the same kind of food as what is available in most tavernas, using the freshest produce available from our garden
- the view from our balcony of the whole town right to the port - we can actually see the nightly ferry boat leaving the harbour - is free
- we don't have to put up with other people's rubbish and noise in our neighbourhood
The children exit the car onto the footpath, avoiding all vehicular traffic, and walk down a little sandy path to the beach, whose consistency varies from year to year, depending on whether the local council or the nearby tavernas and cafe bars have decided to clean it. It used to be rented out by a local sports group who filled it with expensive sunbeds and umbrellas, but for the last three years, it's been void of any commercialisation. The large rocks it accumulates during the winter months or in stormy weather make it less profitable, locals preferring to bring their own deck chairs, tourists preferring to search out a less rocky spot, just a few metres away.
Agious Apostolous Beach is just a short walk away from Kalamaki Beach, on the other side of the sandy cove, past the umbrellas, hotels and sunbeds, below the hilly green plateau full of restaurants. The bay gets more and more commercialised as we approach the 'swimming pool', the cordoned-off section in a shallow area of the sea near the beach. The children have their lesson while I read a book, snap photos and go in for a dip myself. When it's over, they're famished, after over an hour of very active water sports. I always try to carry a little picnic - a thermos with cold water, some healthy sandwiches and a green pie, familiar picnic food, complete with blue gingham tablecloth. And there's no cleaning up after they've eaten. We go back to Kalamaki Beach, where there's ample sunbed-free space to enjoy it.
As there's so much zucchini in the garden at the moment, today's picnic consists of: zucchini carrot quiche, zucchini patties in a toasted sandwich and zucchini chocolate cake.
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