Crete - Home to Europe's oldest civilization
Trip Start May 26, 2011
33Trip End Jul 19, 2011
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The Athens airport is designed to be very security minded; in most Americans airports, when connecting, as long as you stay on the concourses you don't have to go back through security. Well, in Athens it is designed where you exit the plane differently than when you board and they make you come out in an unsecured area and go back through security to get to your connecting gate. Rhodes security was the normal routine, but in Athens they were VERY thorough. They insisted I take EVERYTHING out of my bag and put into bins - camera, lenses with covers off, laptop, IPad out of case, adapters, cables, etc. The people behind me in line could NOT have been happy. After everything was X-rayed and I went through the metal detector, they pulled me aside and had me turn on everything, explain what things were, pull batteries out, etc. It was good I had 90 minutes between flights. It was a hassle, but in the end, glad they were checking things.
The flight on Olympic Airlines to Crete, was only 35 minutes long and uneventful. I do have to say though, they must have slack discrimination laws in Greece as every one of their flight attendants could be a model -- big green eyes, all in great shape, none older than 30, big beautiful smiles and certainly not the grumps you often enjoy on American-based flights.
Having never been to Crete I wasn't sure what to expect. I am staying in Heraklion, the major city and commercial capital of Crete. I have to say, after being in some of the more tourist oriented Greek locations, this was different. From the short taxi ride from the airport to my hotel, I could actually see where they were hurting from the economy -- boarded businesses, weeds growing up around abandoned buildings and graffiti everywhere. I has booked myself in town to make getting around easier but quickly was wondering what it was going to be like over the next 4.5 days.
The taxi pulled up in front of my hotel and I was quickly relieved as it was much nicer than I had expected - small, but very modern/boutique style and it sat on a small hill just above the Heraklion port and marina. I checked in and when I got to my room I was amazed by the view. I quickly decided that even if I found it was not safe or interesting to be exploring the city, I'd be happy hanging in my room looking out at the great view with the breeze blowing in from the water.
On Crete, I only planned two excursions. The first being a tour of the ruins (yes, MORE ruins) of the Minoans and their main palace called Knossos --and it definitely started with a twist. The tour included pick up and drop off at the hotel so when I called to confirm and get the details, they told me a taxi would pick me up and take me to the bus where I would go the rest of the way to Knossos. Crete is a large island (the second largest in the Mediterranean after Cyprus) and there are many beach resorts 30+ minutes outside the city that they have to coordinate tours from. The taxi picked me up on time and we only drove for about 10 minutes or so when he suddenly pulled over on the side of the road in this desolate warehouse-like district. He got on his phone and was of course only speaking Greek and then hung up and sat there -- I had no idea what was going on thinking he was lost or confused. There we sat, pulled over in front of a closed down appliance repair shop, and suddenly he says, "okay, you can get out." I looked at him like he was crazy and he then pointed behind us and a large bus was pulling up. For a second I thought he was dumping me out and I was gonna have to figure out how to get the heck out of there. The bus stopped, I got on and away I went.
The site of Knossos has a very long history of human habitation, beginning with the founding of a settlement around 7000 BC. Knossos was the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization and is famous for King Minos and the legend of the labyrinth and Minotaur in mythology. The great palace was built gradually between 1700 and 1400 BC with periodic rebuildings after destruction. Its was very sophisticated for being engineered 3700 year ago as it had ventilation systems and a series of several separate pipe systems to handle rain run off, fresh water and sewer. The palace appears to be a maze of over 1300 workrooms, living spaces and store rooms close to a central courtyard or square. The rooms are connected with corridors of varying sizes and direction. The 6 acres of the palace include a theater, a main entrance on each of its four sides and an extensive set of storerooms (magazines.) In the storerooms, they found clay pots that held oil, grains, dried fish, beans and olives. There were also many advanced architectural techniques; for example, part of it was built up to five stories high.
After a couple of hours at Knossos, we were driven back to the heart of Heraklion (city is named after Hercules) where we were given a walking tour of some of the landmarks left by the occupation by the Venetians for over 400 years starting in 1212 AD -- including a church, a lodge (private club for men) and fountains. We were also taken through Independence Square which was full of tent people protesting the current happenings in Greece. I have seen MORE tent people on this trip -- maybe I should have saved on the hotel and just hung with them for the summer!
Upon completion of the walking tour, we were given 90 minutes to explore on our own before they were going to take us back to the starting point. Luckily for me, where the walking tour ended was only blocks from my hotel so I got a pass on the crazy return bus to taxi setup
During other free time in Crete, I took a very long walk up the coast line, took pictures, ate lunch at a cafe and just enjoyed the cool breeze off the water. I also walked more away from the marina and the further I got from the port, the nicer and more commercial the areas got with lots of shops and more outside places to eat. My first impressions of Crete were all based on the port area and I'm glad I ventured further out to see the nicer sections. I was told later there are two other large cities on Crete that I should have visited as they are much nicer - an excuse to come back!
It wasn't great scheduling on my part, but on my last day in Crete I'm signed up to do a hike through the Samarian Gorge which is the longest gorge in Europe. The hike itself is supposed to take 5-7 hours and it ends at a small fishing village on the south side of crete. With the transportation to and from the starting/ending points it's a 15 hour day - yikes!
Few more pictures below...