Posted by: travelrat | April 14, 2019

The Little Trains of Crete

My post the other day was about the land train in Agadir, which led to some discussion with other bloggers about similar trains elsewhere. So, I thought that I might discuss the matter further, with some account of the first one I rode, the ‘Little Red Train, in Crete in 2005.

I wrote the piece below for ‘English Zone’, a Japanese magazine for English language learners; I’ve only had to update it slightly.

0751 Train at Therissos

 

The train station at Platanias, on the Greek island of Crete is outside a motor-cycle hire shop. This may seem a little bit odd, because, as far as I know, Crete does not have one single foot of railway track.

But, a ‘train’ does not have to run on a railway. The dictionary simply defines it as one or more trucks drawn by a locomotive or tractor. But, having said that, many are made to look like old-fashioned steam railway trains, although almost all have diesel engines.

In other parts of Europe, the land trains usually simply run a short distance along a seaside promenade, but, on Crete, they venture greater distances. Some go quite a long way inland.

Factories in Italy, France, Germany and Austria, all produce land trains. Their great advantage is, if not so many people wish to ride on the train, the unused coaches can be uncoupled and, of course, hitched on again if they are needed. And, on the narrow, winding country roads of inland Crete, the articulated train can negotiate tight corners more easily than a motor coach can.

CT4-The train passing through Pantelari

 

Another advantage is that the coaches are open, getting passengers closer to the country than sitting in an air-conditioned bus would. Since most routes pass through the orange groves, the smell at blossom time must not be missed, as it would in a completely sealed bus. And, of course, if you like taking still or video pictures, your picture is not spoilt by reflections from the windows.

If you want to wait at Platanias for the train, the owner of the motor-cycle shop may invite you to sit inside, in the coolness and shade while you are waiting.

One of the most popular routes of the train is the trip up the Therissos Gorge. This is one of the many gorges to be found in Crete, and one of the most easily traversed. A motorable road runs right up it. At first, the train travels the road along the sea front then, when it is almost at Xania, the main town of the province, it turns inland.

The narrow road then rises steeply, and even steeper are the slopes above, which are coated with scrub. The floor of the gorge, with the rounded boulders in its dried-up river-bed showing how fiercely the water can come down there in the wet season, is covered with deciduous trees. The purple leaves of ‘Dragon’s Tongue’, closely related to our own British cuckoo pint, are everywhere. The occasional goat, grazing among the trees, can also be seen.

The train runs as far as Therissos village, at the head of the gorge, where it stays for a while to allow its passengers to explore, before setting off on its return journey to the coast.

The best views can be had on the way back down, Caves, hollows and side-valleys appear in the red cliffs above, which didn’t seem to be noticed on the way up.

CTd-The train at Galatas

 

Another route is the ‘Galatas Country Tour’. This route crosses an old ‘Bailey Bridge’; this was built by the British Army in World War II as a temporary structure, but is still in position, and still serviceable.

The month of May is the best time to visit, because then, there is a heady small of orange blossom in the air. At Ayia Lake at this time of year, snow on the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) reflected in a beautiful lake makes the visitor think of anywhere but Greece!

Here, the train shows how easily it can get into confined spaces. A bus can only drive down the narrow lane into the car park with difficulty. . On the way out, the train usually stops at a roadside stall, so passengers can buy fresh orange juice or a bag of oranges.

The train also stops at the Allied War Memorial, which commemorates the British, Australian New Zealand and Greek troops, who died defending the island from the invading Germans in World War II.  Then, there is a stop in the village of Galatas to visit the church, and a small museum, and have some coffee and a look around the flower-decked, whitewashed houses.

CTa- The train at the Allied War Memorial 

There is another advantage to the train having no tracks. It can go almost anywhere. So, if your hotel is on, or close to its route, it will pick you up or drop you on the doorstep, if you ask nicely!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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