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So it's mid-November.

Another season, another olive harvest to collect. Having avoided the Arctic blizzards just hitting the UK, Marcus and John arrive in Crete, anticipating a bit of decent weather...

Later that day. John would discover the itching powder that Marcus had sprinkled in his workwear
Itr's our first day and we head straight out into the olive grove to check our trees.

John sports an attractive pair of superbly fitted designer overalls.

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<<< After reading the commentary in the green text above, hover your mouse over each photo for second or two to see the 'alternative' caption. (Don't click, or the caption will fade,)

I'm sure I dropped my Kindle here somewhere
Olive-green wellies complete his elegant fashion statement.

Thus begins the essential pruning of sproutings at the base of the trees. The shoots would otherwise get in the way of the olive nets, so this is the first job to be done.

If I find out who put that itching powder in my trousers, I'll saw their legs off at the knees
Later that night, Marcus stumbles upon John's secret: under a full moon, John can magically transform himself into a tiny pixie.

This is not trick photography.

The car had travelled all the way from Chania airport with a minature replica of John's head stuck to the roof.
Back in the real world...

...our ladies arrive at last...

Kirsty: I'm sure I have an emergency hip flask here somewhere
After a long trip from Manchester Kirsty and Tina are gasping for a drink....

...so we thoughtfully offer some 'local' village wine, sourced earlier for this occasion.

However...

...the look of joy on Tina's face suggests we should go and find some Gin & Tonic instead. And be quick about it.

And be quick about it

Kirsty: Did I I turn the gas off before I left for the airport?
Right!

Our eight olive picking guests arrive tomorrow! Let's make a list of Things That Must Be Done.

Where do we start?

Tina and Kirsty demonstrate the art of Synchronised Sewing
Nets!

Kirsty and Tina carefully inspect for holes.

Hmmm...There are more than we thought.

Tina applies her domestic talents. Does she also take in washing?
Thankfully, the girls are a dab hand at Needlpoint.
Marcus wonders if his sausages might be a little overcooked
While the girls complete essential repairs, Marcus The FireMeister gets to work burning those tree shoots.
Agness demonstrates the correct take-off position for her Nimbus 2000
Agness, a core member of our cleaning team, begins getting the villas ready .
Is this the queue for the Soup Kitchen?
Later that evening, some guests appear.

They arrive in different groups at different times and It's too late to all eat out.

Anticipating this, Kirsty and Tina have prepared a welcoming vegetable curry, which people dip into as they arrive.

From left to right: Louise The Second, Tina, Chris , Alison, Pep and Susan The Second.

(We have two sets of guests, each with the same first name. One set or surnames also start with the same letter, so we can't have two Susan Cs, for example. To differentiate, we have given them Queenly Royal Tittles, according to their relative arrival times.)

OK Marcus, where is the REAL photographer?
Next day we see Ann and Louise The First arriving on the scene.

Did someone say there was a fashion shoot in the olive grove?

Take THAT!
Closely followed by Susan The First, jabbing unconvincingly at a random olive tree.
This is my first attempt at tree hugging. Am I doing it right?
Here we have Susan The Second.

Notice the attractive eyegear we supplied? Regular visitors to this website may recall John's painful accident last year when an insurgent olive twig ruthlessly stabbed him in the eyeball. He sustained retinal damage, had to visit the local Greek hospital (ooer!) and was prescribed antibiotics.

So, take note, you future olive pickers ... please wear the protective gear we supply!

I can definately see an olive up there solmewhere Pep takes a first swipe at the top of her tree.
Can I also get a big knife and spoon to go with this?
Here's Red Devil Chris.

Back in the UK, Chris is an enthusiastic farmer. The big grin on his face tells us he's loving it here in Crete.

It's not just the weather. Though with temperatures similar to a hot summers day back home, it helps a lot.

Has anyone remembered the napkins? And the bone china cups?
"Right. we've been working flat out for at least 20 minutes so we insist on a tea break."

Pep! Stop texting your boyfriend and break out that flask of hot chocolate.

Marcus said that we have to count each olive as it goes in the bag.
Three hours later (it seems), and the girls finally get back to work.

Joking apart, the laborious job of bagging up olives takes hardly any time at all with this number of people. (If it were just John and Marcus, they'd still be there now .)

Thanks folks. You DO make a big difference.

Ever prepared, Chris brings out his small bag of lunch
Time for a welcome break.
The ladies find the perfect place to cool off their bunions
At around 5.00 pm the light begins to fade and we stop work.
Sorry, Louise, you'll have to stand up all night as we only have 8 chairs
Later, we all go out for dinner, stopping at Dune's Bar by the sea for an aperitif or seven.

Bottom left, Ann is particularly enjoying the occasion.

Midway though eating a crisp, Tina falls fast asleep
Crumbs, that olive picking lark is sooooo tiring, some of the group are beginning to fade.

(It's only half past nine.)

Two minutes from now, that burning cigarette causes Louise to spontaneously combust
Louise The First is quite happy to collapse here for the night.
This glass was definately half full just a minute ago
Party animal Ann contemplates just one more for the road.
Another day, another vast olive grove to pick
Saturday 20 November, 2010.

A new day dawns over the White Mountains of Crete and our Villa Asteria. This is the southernmost part of Europe and there is not a cloud in the sky.

At 9.00am, the temperature is 20 degrees C and this will later rise to a high of 25 degrees by mid afternoon.

(Meanwhile, 2000 miles away in northern Europe, heavy snow and extreme sub-zero temperatures are forecast.)

I wonder how long I could hide up here and not do any work?
Ann enoys being a Tree Nymph and surveys the rather unsettling scene which is unfolding below...

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Alison begins practising her Comedy Trousers routine
Bizarrely, Alison decides to modify her trousers with helping hands from Tina...
You put your left foot in, your left foot out...
...off come the lower legs...
No Alison, we don't think the M&S Returns Department will take them back
Voila!

Er ... OK Tina, you can disengage now.

 blah ,,, blah ...so my neighbour's son started dating the other neighbour's grandmother and they got married last week on the Jerry Springer Show ... blah
Susan The First discusses the options for World Peace with Susan The Second.

Together, they pioneer a new concept: Carefully Picking Olives One By One From Each Branch.

Semi-naked olive picking could soon rival Beach Volleyball as a popular spectator sport
Meanwhile, Pep and Louise The Second discover the art of Olive Picking In Bikini Tops.

Bemused, and very aware of the spikey disadvantages, Marcus, John and Chris agree that this method is probably a first for Crete.

John, these bedsheets really do need changing. Just LOOK at the colour.
Tina and John get busy adding to the master pile of olives.
I'm afraid green is SO last season. darlings! Don't you have anything in purple?
Excited by the thought of tomorrow night's Big Party in the olive grove, the girls are determined to wear the nets as fashionable ballgowns...
We nearly swooned at her macaroons...
Unexpectedly, Susan The First delivers her fresh bake of the day
That's nothing. You should see the size of my hot meat pies
...all wolfed down in a nanosecond.
Look, if I shake the tree tree really hard, all the olives will fall off into the nets, won't they?
Ann the Tree Nymph returns to earth to inspect a newly laid net...
Careful, that ladder looks a bit wobbly. Mind you don't drop that bowl...
...Louise The First decrees that a little more height is required.
I WILL pick them all up one by one
!!
Yes it looks very appetising. But aren't we missing some olive oil?
Lunchtime at last.

Here we have a typical olive picker's feast: bread, tomato, feta, olives and cucumber.

Scratching his back against the wall, John finally clears the last of that itching powder
There's fruit too.

Everyone tucks in with gusto.

That full glass of wine I just wolfed down without looking ... it was olive oil, wasn't it?
So much gusto, in fact, that it's hard to contemplate going back to work...
If I sit in this position for the next three hours maybe the oil won't reach my stomach until I'm asleep
Pep decides that sleeping is better than picking.
Unaware that the rest of the group have gone back to work, Louise prepares to demonstrate her newly-accquired skills in toe wrestling
Louise agrees.
Occasionally, the girls would confuse olive picking with raffia basket weaving
But, eventually, they do all get back into the swing of things. We have a deadline of tomorrow, guys, to get those olives to the factory on time.
Curious Cretans from the next village would peer through the fence to marvel at the unusual English method of picking olives
So we work our socks off, late into the afternoon to gather up those little green lovelies.
In yet another comedy jape, Marcus sticks his foot out to trip up his unsuspecting pal John
It's Sunday morning and Marcus is up bright and early in his Cretan Farmer's Uniform.

This paramilitary style is the de-facto dress of choice for all males under the age of 70.

Chris gets full marks in his Wheelbarrow Proficiency Test
As advertised earlier, this is Chris's moment to shine. He is really sweating here helping Marcus to load the truck as one of our group has 'done his back in' and is currently still in bed.

Hmmm, can you guess who that might be?

I think this one is full of bricks
With Tina already pre-loaded on the truck, Andreas our trusty driver directs Chris to load the sacks around her.

You will be impressed to learn that each full sack of olives weighs 40kg. Today we are taking 43 of the little blighters to the factory.

It takes two trips.

Too late, Susan begins to wish she had booked the Club Class seats instead
Giddy with excitement, the 'Land Girls' board the lorry and travel with the sacks.

Chris and Alison prefer the relative safety of the hire car.

This isn't very comfortable. I can't get my seat to recline.
Hang on tight, ladies. Did you know that Andreas is a former test driver for McClaren Formula One?
Andreas? Could you please slow down in by the beach so we can do some Shirley Valentine impressions...?
It's not often that Cretans see a lorry load of slightly-anxious women speeding through their countryside...
Does anyone know the Greek for 'Spellcheck'?
Our final destination.

Marcus has already offered his services to the owners as a proof reader for the next big sign they decide to make.

Tina: 'Can I order a Big Mac, Double Cheeseburger, Fillet o' Fish and a Hot Apple Pie? Nikos: 'Lady, I can give you anything you like, so long as it's pork kebab. Do you wanna Go Large with that?'
Excellent news: the olive oil factory has an onsite barbeque, ideal for any random olive pickers who have just arrived on the back of a truck.
In a nice gesture towards customer relations, the facory owners rename their machinery in honour of Marcus
And so, our olives get mashed.

The smell is ... amazing. Fragranttly green, more leafy than grassy. Slightly different to last year, perhaps a little more mellow - but that's the beauty of a single estate oil. Each year will be different, according to the growing conditions.

The past year, 2010, was very hot, and we did have a lot of rain spread over several weeks instead of a deluge as in previous years.

Go on Alison, stick your finger in that big bowl and tell us if you like it....
Alison and Chris inspect the fresh oil as it comes straight out of the press.

They didn't expect it to be quite so bright green!

Mmmm! I'd love to fry Chris's chips in this
...although Alison does approve.
Flll 'er up mate! 500 litres of unleaded if you please. And can you, er, check my oil?
Our cans are filled using a petrol pump!
Quick! Let's hide those spare bottles of ouzo in our pants
After an interesting and eventful day at the olive factory, we all return to Saint Basil Olive Grove and get ready for the Big Night In.
Everyone say 'OLIVE OIL'
The Full Team, minus two.

(Marcus is behind the camera, and Andreas is polishing his lorry.)

No, really, I can't eat any more beans
It's 9.00pm and we're on the terrace of Villa Selene, overlooking the olive grove.

Of course, it's a cloudless moonlit sky and there's a full spread of food. (Too much, we later discover, but Marcus and John made short work of the leftovers the following week.)

Is it Robbie Williams?
Look!

The entertainment has just arrived...

George: 'They sing better when they have had a few beers'
Our good friend George (far left) introduces The Traditional Cretan Band: Kostas on the Lute and Yiannis on the Lyre.
I think we're on for at least four litres of Amstel, two big slugs of ouso and a Mackeson
Kostas: "OK. We gonna play some traditional stuff and then surprise them with that big tune from Mamma Mia."
....Don't go wasting your emotion ... lay all your love on me ...
The ladies enjoy Andy and Mark's impromptu rendition of 'The Flipper Dance'
Shhhhhh! This is serious music now...
Now it is time for a solo.

To a (mostly) hushed audience, Kostas sings three traditional Cretan songs of Love, Death and Glory.

His clear voice echoes over the olive grove. Moments later, the sound bounces back from the walls of the other villas, exactly as if there is another concert party happening 200 meters away.

It is an amazing, haunting experience; a unique performance that all will remember.

'...Just One Cornetto...'
"Back to the old and funny songs that my uncle sang to me"
 It's a 4am start tomorrow.darling. Can you cook me a Full English before I go?
The evening ends with everyone happy...

Sadly we say goodbye to Chris, Alison, Tina and Kirsty who fly back early tomorrow morning.

We can't see any boats. Where are all the sailors?
Next day, the remaining girls enjoy some SHOPPING!
The girls were astonished by the enormous moon rising over the harbour
We're on a day trip to the pretty venetian-style port of Chania.
I've eater Greek cuisine all week. Do you think they'll do me a vegetarian madras and chips Of course, food is a big part of the day.
Pep regrets polishing off that last jam doughnut
Our favourite restaurant has one of the best views in town.
Louise, those red designer boots look perfect for an 11 km hike in the hills
Next day, the girls are entertained by our experienced Guide, Berend, who drives them to the White Mountains for a tour of the Apokoronas area.

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I wouldn't stand there ladies. Who says lightning won't strike twice in the same place?
There's a full day ahead, following ancient donkey tracks, passing through whitewashed villages, churches and even a 2,000 year old olive mill.
Susan takes a photo of Ann who is about to photograph Marcus who is photographing Susan.
We enter a stunningly restored Monastery, which is SO interesting but Marcus's camera ran out of battery power at this point. Please girls, can we borrow some of your photos of the walk?

When we get the photos, you will be able to CLICK HERE to view.

Pass them on quick, ladies!

What happens if I pull this big lever?
The following day, Marcus has recharged his camera.

We're at the glass blowing factory in Kokkino Chorio, and Susan The First is inspecting a rather ancient pressing device.

Behind are a gazillion empty glass bottles just waiting to be turned into amazing works of art.

Who said the Greeks are rubbish at recycling?
Those bottles are made into the most stunningly beautiful lamps and decorative glassware. All for sale if you have deep enough pockets.

Actually this is a really good place to come if you are hunting for unique presents. On a previous visit, Chris and Alison bought a lampshade which they carefully wrapped up and took home in a suitcase. Louise bought a glass gecko and a set of coasters. The shop is packed with handmade items to buy that you cannot find anywhere else.

Is there a helmet law in Crete?
Time for home and the girls try some local transport. It looks a lot more fun than Marcus's hire car.
Hmmm ... I think I would struggle to dangle my bucket in there
On the way home we visit the famous Roman Wells of Gavalochori.
Those Romans must have left their socks in this one
Ann is underwhelmed by the primitive washing facilities.
Louise resists the urge to kick off her shoes and cliimb that tree.
However, the spectacular Plane tree is more impressive.

Tip: We learned from our recent walk that where you find Plane trees (and Eucalyptus, too) you will find water. There are around 20 wells on this site, fed by an underground stream

Are you sure this is an olive tree?
While the others take a nap, a still energentic Ann helps out with pruning our babies.
The attempt to combine olive puning with aerobic dance routines was not a great success
Each fledgling tree needs careful shaping to make it productive, otherwise it grows into a messy bush.

Ann takes out the lower branches and shoots, so all the energy of the tree is diverted to the top half.

It was only a matter of time before Ann realised that offering to jive with someone while holding razor-sharp implements will always end in tears
Ta very much Ann.

We'll look after all the tools now, thank you.

And here's the winner of Almyrida's first Knobbly Knees Competition!.
Hello.

We''ve not seen much of this chap recently as he slipped a disc in his back while lifting the first olive sack last Sunday morning.

Pathetic excuse, just to avoid some hard work.

Yes, I did my back in trying to lift this MASSIVE bag of olives...
John shows us his medical treatment: a frozen pack of peas down the back of his pants.

Tut. Last year he was hospitalised by an olive twig in the eyeball, this year it's a slipped disc. Let's hope these troubles don't come in threes, eh John?

Is there a law against being drunk in charge of a sack of olives?
All the guests have returned home and we spend the rest of the week picking more olives .

Your eyes do not deceive you! Marcus really is bagging up at night while guzzling a glass of wine.

That's man-size multi-tasking.

Ooops. I think it was just there that Marcus left the spare can of petrol...
John sets light to the big bonfire we built earlier...
I'm sure Tina can see this back in Manchester
As John's skin begin to peel, we realise this blaze is getting slightly out of hand.
I'll have another one, but only if you insist...
We have a final meal at Aeraki Restaurant and toast the success of the 2010 Olive Harvest.

Apart from the odd slipped disc, it has all gone according to plan.

After the great success of their olive picking holidays, the boys built yet another villa nearby with a large pool and full air conditioning.
The sun sets once again on the azure waters of Almyrida Bay and we fly back from Crete.

Now, the hard work REALLY begins as we have half a tonne of olive oil to bottle up.

See you next year?

On our return to the UK we received some special messages:

"Dear Marcus and John

Thank you so much for such a wonderful holiday. It was gorgeous and wonderfully relaxing. The sun, olive picking, food and company were great. The villas are lovely ... I am recommending to everyone ... I hope John is getting better every day and that you have found another olive picker! it is just so lovely in Crete. I think you have all achieved such an amazing job with villas and now the olive oil is amazing as well. I don' t want to use anything else now, and I am sure my friends won't either once they have tasted it." Susan Cooper (AKA 'Susan The Second')

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"Dearest Marcus, Kirsty, John and Tina,

Thank you all for such a superb holiday. It was all perfect: the company, the food, the villas, the country and above all your gifts and entertainment and joy of life. I came away full of beans and although it is very cold, i have got loads of work done. Best of love to you all." Louise Charters (AKA 'Louise The First')

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WILL YOU JOIN US NEXT YEAR?

We're already working on the new schedule, with different activities and more walking opportunities so please email us if you are interested in becoming part of:

SAINT BASIL OLIVE PICKING TEAM 2012

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Saint Basil Olive Grove, Almyrida-Gavalochori, Apokoronas, West Crete, Greece

Telephone us in the UK: 0161 929 8787

(+44 161 929 8787 if calling from outside UK)

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