We settled down to read and doze for the 4 hour trip to Crete. Leaving about 7:30, we docked at Heraclion at 11:30 or so. We’d decided to wait for the first wave to cram its way thru the gates before moving down to find out rental car. From the upper decks I was able to use my zoom lens to find the man holding a card with my name on it. When we finally emerged and regrouped about 30’ later, he took us over to the dark parking lot, went thru the paperwork formalities, and gave us instructions to find the hotel “go out that road, and follow it until you see the hotel, it’s not too far”.
Just after midnight, with only a scrap of a map, never having been here before, disoriented on a new island in a rental car, Heraclion seems to consist of narrow two lane roads. No streets seem to have numbers, and few are named very often, so we drove thru Heraclion, then on thru the outlying glitzy suburbs of hotels, nightclubs and auto repair shops, with strip malls for variety. After driving for a half hour, we realized we’d overshot our hotel when we confronted a large power station that loomed for a long distance. Turning around, we realized we were in the wrong lane, and were helped out by flashing lights of a group of policemen on the other side of the street. We quickly convinced them we were just lost tourists and they gave us brief instructions on finding our hotel. It took 2 more stops to question locals and another drive by before we finally found the Hotel Santa Marina, tidily and unobtrusively tucked away behind a large but unpretentious and unlit sign. It was now close to 1 am (so much for the 10' drive the transfer agent promised), and the clerk at the registration desk told us they’d held some cold plates for us – a very welcome courtesy and an unwinding end to a long day.
10 Sep Monday Heraclion, Crete
We barely made it to breakfast before the 9:30 am cutoff time. Our latest rising of the trip thus far. After breakfast we found that Knossos also didn’t open until 12:30. Since we knew the museum had the same late schedule today, we took a brief rest in the rooms until 11:45. Nice hotel, we’re out in bungalow like outer buildings, quiet. Landscaped grounds separating the dining and pool areas from the beach just a short walk away.
Drove out towards Knossos, and with only minimal wanderings, got to the site just after 12:30. Parked in the first ‘free’ area we saw, then walked down the hill past souvenir shops & cafes. 1500 dks for entry, then approached by Pavlos who we hired as a guide for $8 pp. Turned out to be an excellent choice. His knowledge of history and the site gave us an in depth appreciation for the site that we couldn’t have gotten on our own. Currently restored buildings date to about 1700 BC after an earthquake had destroyed an earlier palace. The restorations were neither as extensive nor as obtrusive as I’d read. They do distract a bit, since you constantly need to wonder at the accuracy of Evans’ work, but they give a good base on which to imagine the site. Parts of Persepolis seemed at least as much restored, also to little ill effect. The main distraction was not the colored columns and concrete painted to look like wood, but the imitation frescoes that show where the originals were found.
There were occasional bits of pseudo-science typical of guide talk, but overall it was minimal or innocuous – one egregious bit was that Moses parting the Red Sea was the result of the tsunami from Santorini that also destroyed the Knossos site. Little said about the Minotaur myth, probably because it’s considered a slander created by the Doric Greeks. Re the labyrinth, he attributed that to the labryinthos, the double headed axe. It happened to be a common mason’s mark on the precisely cut building blocks. Masons would put their marks on each block and this would allow payment for their piecework. When archaeologists first found the site, they saw the many marks from a particularly prolific mason, and the name passed to the complex of small, rambling passageways and rooms that formed the palace. (May have some relevance, but that would mean that the word labyrinth wasn’t used in Greek times, or that there was a similar confusion then, when they should have known better) Lots of ‘gray sparkling alabaster’ – aka Gypsum somewhat like the features we saw in Resaca in Syria. In the Hall of Justice, ‘anatomical’ seats shaped for comfort of the administrator that had to sit in them for long hours. The seats are too big to have been comfortable for the average Minoan man, so some recent ‘historians’ have claimed that therefore the administrators must have been female! They also controlled the flow of water by use of flaring pipes to increase pressure.
Had a good lunch at Nostalgia Café (Greek salad and dolmates), then drove back to town around 4:30 to visit the Archaeological Museum – very worthwhile – pieces of major interest include:
Weather not as hot and humid as Santorini was, but still uncomfortably warm (high 80’s or more). Got back to the hotel in time for a shower before supper. Decent buffet meal – good selection of mezes, then an array of dishes for main courses, including an excellent octopus.
11 Sep Tuesday Heraclion, Crete After breakfast, drove south towards Mires. Beautiful, but stark mountains. High ridges of limestone, barren on top, then covered with olive groves, vineyards and other agriculture lower down. Colors muted ochres, browns, greens and grays. Stopped several times for pictures. Would have liked to have stopped more, but road’s narrow and traffic zips by. As before in Athens, the locusts are particularly noisy.
As we neared the southern coast, stopped at Gortys, a Roman site, once the capital of the province that included Crete and parts of North Africa. (800 dks entry). It’s actually spread out over a much larger area, only a small part fenced in (and thus more protected). Large, gnarly olive trees after entering the site, leading to the two major sights – the Odeon, and right behind it, the Law Codes, supposedly the largest Greek inscription, written in the boustrophedon style (ox plough) which alternates left to right/ right to left, like the furrows in a ploughed field. Also, the remains of the Basilica of Agios Titos, the eponymous bishop who converted the island. Others not interested in visiting the other areas of the site, so we moved on down the coast, taking a brief stop at the Monastery of Kaliviani. Brightly colored after the muted tones of the country side – cascading trees of red, purple and white flowers, date palms bending under the weight of new fruit, and a church steeple with vines spiraling up and exploding in color. Beautiful, small church, completely covered inside with fresoes of various ages and competence.
Down a bit further, we pulled into the port of Agia Galini – perhaps once a fishing village but now gentrified, with hotels everywhere on the way down, and the beach fronted by cafes (Café Bozos, Madame Hortense’s). Good lunch at Alikes – Greek salad and excellent grilled octopus.
Drove north from there, thru the Amari valley, past the bare limestone slopes of Mt. Psiloritis, where Zeus may have been born (another mountain on the island also claims him.) The omphalos, navel of the world may be near here, too. Along the roads are strange little shrines – sometimes made from plaster or metal, others of various other materials. Most contain a bottle of water, lighters, candles, other votive materials or printed prayers, and usually a framed picture; most likely these are memorials for people, perhaps at the spot where they were killed in a traffic accident.. One particularly elaborate shrine was about 10 feet tall, with it’s own fence and gate, but no personal effects, so perhaps was a more generalized spiritual comment.
Continued north, thru rugged but spectacular countryside, open valleys, then a narrowing gorge, finally running down to the former Venetian stronghold of Rethimnon. Long beach with brightly colored beach chairs declaring their territorial claims, then around the harbor to park near the Venetian fortress
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