Posts Tagged ‘ Crete ’

Crete: Knossos

Generally, this Ancient Minoan site is referred to as the Palace of Knossos and, in researching the trip, I discovered a bit about the site to the point that I wasn’t all that keen on seeing it. Whilst I say that my travel passion is all things Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian it isn’t strictly true. I love all things Ancient so why not lump the Minoan civilisation into the mix?

The bigger problem I had with visiting the site (other than not knowing anything about the Minoans as a people) was what I’d read about Arthur Evans and his archaeological find. From everthying I’d read, he had moved items, rebuilt things and generally made assumptions that have later been proven wrong. I didn’t want to see that. In Athens, I hated the Roman Forum where Ancient pillars had clearly been rebuilt with wrong materials (but then I also hated how some ancient building foundations had a metro system cut it in half).

I appreciate why these rebuilds are done because otherwise its just a bunch of ruins. Except it isn’t with a bit of knowledge and imagination. Some of the places in Greece and Rome might not look as impressive as things in Egypt but that doesn’t mean it should all be faked. I think I also became biased by the travel guides all complaining about Evans’ errors. It doesn’t get you all excited.

But then I got there and a lot of it still looked ruiny to me. Plus the guide on tbe Thomson/First Choice excursion was fantastic and really explained the Minoan way of life. It had never occured to me that it was so different to the Ancient Greek civilisation. The biggest plus with our tour guide was that she really explained why Evans made the errors that he did. It wasn’t fully through lack of knowledge or ignorance of another civilisation’s history. It wasn’t even all because of bare faced assumptions. It was around the turn of the century where eveything was changing. Women were ladies and men were men. Everything was kings and queens where everyone remained in their places. But it would be less than two decades before a new form of war craft would alter the world and everyone’s roles would change. Kings and queens would no longer be what they were, the world would never be the same again and Arthur Evans had found what everyone else wanted him to call a palace with a king’s throne room and a queen’s throne room – because everywhere needed a palace, kings and queens.

This was assumed to be the Queen’s room with the pretty dolphin fresco that was found on the floor. Except why would a Queen’s Megaron be that small and have three doors leading from it?

First of all, I’m used to the ruins on top of a hill being a place of worship, it being the closest place to the heavens and the gods. Not that it’d be a palace for kings. That’s not the Greek way. And so, under the pressure of the changing world and those around him, Evans moved baths to put it closer to his queen’s room. He moved artwork found on the floor and put it on the wall where it clearly belonged. Except it didn’t and his core set of rules by which he was playing, that by which he was judging the Minoans where wrong. We now know that and the place didn’t look all that bad.

There were obvious differences between the newer and older construction but in places it gave for a better feel and atmosphere. The differences with the Minoans and Greek were huge. The Minoans are theorised to have more of a community way of life in that women died younger in those days especially if they have given birth. The children were then raised by other women within the community. It was all really fascinating.

The North entrance would be from the sea and would welcome all visitors to the city/island. They would walk up through and past the fresco of the charging bull.

The bull was sacred to the Minoans and celebrated throughout Knossos where both men and women, due to gender equality, performed bull leaping.

Unfortunately it was all so fascinating that I was too busy listening and looking and ended up not getting many pictures. Especially as the tour guide failed in telling us that there would be no “free time”. What made this worse was that we were then taken into Heraklion (the island’s capital) to have lunch and see the sights. You might remember from my earlier posts on Crete that it was in Heraklion that I wanted to go to the museum. Except it was a Monday and museums aren’t open on a Monday. The fact that Thomson failed to tell me that (or remind me of what day was what on holiday) was pretty disppointing and there was very little to do.

This was erected between 1523 and 1540 and opposite the fortress is the arsenal where ships would be repaired and built.

Across the small harbour from the fortress, the arsenal is where the ships would be built and later repaired.

So we wandered around for three hours – three! – and saw some of the Venetian walls and fort, none of which looked as good as Rethmyno town which we opted to not visit.

The whole holiday wasn’t a complete fail, but it also wasn’t the best holiday and all because of the excursions. Still, I’m already looking into which island to visit next!

~ Persephone M

Check out my Crete: Samaria Gorge post or Crete: Discovering the West post or the overview/hotel blog.
The guide books that get me around everywhere!

The theatre in Knossos where viewers were expected to stand rather than sit and watch what was being performed.

This Royal Road leads from the Theatre and is the oldest road and theatre in … the world I think I was told, but definitely oldest in Europe.


Crete: The Samaria Gorge

I fully admit that I had no real idea quite what this excursion would entail. It wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, I might not have done it if I’d have known the truth but I am so glad I did it and would do something similar again.

It all starts at 4,100 feet, the mountains opposite still snow-capped, and then the descent begins. Our journey down started at about 9 and so the sun was already quite bright. The immediate downward journey on the huge steps, xyloskalo. Is quite bloody scary. Or at least I found it bloody scary. The railings are wooden, wobbly in places and non-existent in other places. At some of the turns on the steps the view is straight down. I’m not scared of heights but I always panic when up high. Usually of dropping things off. This part was possibly the prettiest but I was too busy concentrating.

Nearer the bottom the path becomes vary slightly more stable, although don’t let that fool you – one wrong foot anywhere in the gorge can involve the rock rolling and your foot goes with it! The paths become longer and the rocks you’re walking on become bigger with an element of stability. The path also becomes less path-like and more field of rocks over which you can pick your own path. It becomes more interesting. The views up are still fantastic but I do fear that I missed things in my initial terror.

This was where I had built my confidence and easily started making up for my initial slow pace. I’m not unfit and was pleased that I didn’t to take rests at any of the designated rest sites. It’s not all downhill though, there is a definite uphill section and none of it is purely up, down or flat. In fact I found that uphill felt safer and I had more confidence. Except it was on an uphill part that my husband fell over bruising and grazing himself.

Is it all just rocks? Kinda. You’re in a gorge so there is greenery and flowers but depending on your pace, concentration and fear levels depends on whether you notice everything. I’m sure that I missed a lot. And seeing as we completed it in under five hours perhaps we should have relaxed a bit. The problem is that even four hours is a long time. Even with breaks. It starts to get hot. There’s not much shade some times. The wind gets really strong through the thinnest section of the gorge and sometimes the river is fast and deep where you’re trying to cross it.

The river and small waterfalls are possibly the visually loveliest part of the walk and I lost track of the number of times we crossed it. I do know that all crossings are by stepping stones or planks of wood. I also now know that trainers can easily have their grip worn down during the walk which increases the chances of slipping off stones. Yes it happened to me but I remained on my feet. My slip did make me concerned that I could properly fall in. It made ne wary and cautious again. But for all my fears, caution and jars to my feet and ankles (almost badly sprained my right ankle but forced myself to walk on it) other people were wearing sandals or had young children with them and although there’s a helicopter on stand by no one got injured on the day I was there.

The worst thing, even worse than the pain and dirty feeling, was that there was no way out until half 5 which is also the last time to get out. Miss that ferry and you’re sleeping on the beach. This is the same if you’re on an excursion or doing it yourself. Consider walking up the gorge if you’re experienced. We sat around for three hours waiting for the hour ferry journey and then sat on a coach for 3 hours.

This was probably the worst part of the trip if not the whole holiday – we got up at 5am, finished the gorge at half one and didn’t get back to the hotel until 9pm. The length of the day and full disclosure of the timings of the day weren’t given to us by Thomson/first choice and that was hugely disappointing and did mar the day. Nothing will take away the feeling of accomplishment at managing what I did though. I would consider doing it with public bus or private tour to prevent wasting so much of the day at both ends.

I walked a gorge. Woo!

~ Persephone M

Crete: Discovering the West

Discover the west.

This was an organised excursion through thomson/first choice that I hadn’t really wanted to do beforehand, but after missing out on Phaestos and Gortys, I agreed to this trip. So after a whole day relaxing by the pool we set off on a trip to Hania via Souda Bay and followed by a visit to a small family business where they make olive oil, raki, ouzo and wine.

As the first stop, Souda Bay was possibly my favourite place of the day and I really had not expected that. It’s a simple stop and there is little point in staying there too long. It’s a war cemetery for the allied forces that lost their lives during WW2 on Crete. I believe there’s also a German cemetery further west. The immaculate and uniformed rows of headstones aren’t all labelled but a good portion are and there are lovely poetic red flowers blooming in and around them. At least they were blooming when I was lucky enough to visit.

From Souda Bay we continued west to Hania and,  I have to say, at first I was disappointed. I think the memories of Rhodes were far too prominent in my mind becausr I was expecting Hania’s Venetian fortress to be like the walls of Rhodes old town. Except they’re barely even still there. I was expecting the ‘brilliant’ shopping of Hania to resemble the winding atmospheric traditional lanes of Rhodes old town. Nope. Not that shopping on holiday excites me. It just didn’t look how I’d pictured it. I was picturing Rhodes!

Not wanting to shop or go in the museum (because all the books say Heraklion’s are better) we opted to wander around the harbour and find somewhere to have lunch. It might have been touristy and not 100% traditional but the lunch we shared felt pretty damn Greek to me. We shared a mixed grill and it was meatylicious! Plus we got to watch the world go by until we walked along the harbour front with all the Venetian facade buildings.

We did then spend a little bit too long waiting for the coach as did quite a few others. Which perhaps wasn’t made better by the final stop. I did find the methods for making raki and ouzo fascinating (I must still try raki) but it wasn’t essential and was not on the itinerary along with the twenty odd minutes that we got to spend at lake Kournas – it was a lake!

In the end I enjoyed the trip more than I had expected but in hindsight I might not do it again. The fantastically relaxed meal by the harbour could have been done anywhere and the raki making wasn’t good enough. Souda Bay was definitely worth a visit but could perhaps have been done on public transport. So, this Thomson excursion was a bit of a bust.

~ Persephone M

Greece: Crete

Crete was the second Greek Island I’ve so far been fortunate to get to visit and my third time in Greece all together as I started my obsession with all things Greek in 2009 on my honeymoon to Athens. The first island I was able to tick off of my wish list was Rhodes which I visited last April and the other week I spent a whole seven days in Crete.

I mainly travel to see the ancient sights and then other famous sights by default, so I picked Crete for Knossos and then decided afterwards that I also had to see the Samaria Gorge whilst there. I’d also wanted to visit Phaestos and Gortys (Ancient Roman and Greek sites, with Knossos being earlier still and Minoan), but the holiday company I was with weren’t running trips to either of them and other companies were but on the wrong days. I guess that’s the problem with picking one side of a fairly large island, and only visiting for one week if certain trips are only on one day of the week. There wasn’t much I could do about it other than rewind time, learn to drive and then hire a car out there although the winding mountain roads are bloody scary so it might not have solved anything.

Needless to say the inability to visit these two locations did put a little dampner on my trip and, along with the Knossos and Gorge trips, I also booked a trip to Hania, which I had not been fussed about.

We stayed in a lovely small-ish all inclusive hotel just outside of Rethymno town centre, although we did not make it into Rethymno itself (which in hindisght was probably an error, oh for more than 7 days!) even when we were told that the Olympic flame was passing through on our first day there! I’ve stayed in quite a few all inclusives now and like them for certain types of holidays. Holidays for me are either city breaks (Rome, Paris, Athens) where there’s a good public transport system, English isn’t uncommon and I can wander around on my own – or at least with my husband or friends. Then there are the beach holidays, the relaxation holidays where not every day is jam packed with places to visit and things to see. My husband prefers these, but after a holiday to Domincan Republic where we spent 14 days sitting by a pool, I refused to do a whole holiday of nothing.

This is the smallest pool (freshwater), shaped perfectly for lane swimming, which is what I used it for. Would have loved one of the apartments that opened up onto it!

He “allowed” me three days of trips/excursions on this holiday, as long as the other three full days consisted of him sitting in a pool bar drinking as mauch as he wanted. We both like to be in all inclusives and not have to worry about where to find food at night, or how much money it will all cost. Although, in Greece especialy, I do like to branch out to somewhere else for at least one meal for a more authentic feel. Usually there’s at least one day of the husband sitting in the pool bar from as early as they open until I drag him out as the sun’s setting. In fact, more often than not as soon as breakfast is done, he’s by the pool drinking beer whilst I’m drinking water – oddly I seem to think that water is good for during the day when the sun’s hot!

We opted for the Greek night in the taverna (one night in the taverna free per week for AI), but the food wasn’t all that brilliant and I preferred the main restaurant.

The hotel we stayed in – the Aquila Rethymno – was different to other all inclusives that we’ve been to. Perhaps because it’s also half board, but there are no pool bars (a huge shock to my husband), but a very lovely beach bar, which was far nicer than any other beach bar we’ve been to. I put it down to a certain little bit more class than other AIs, just in that no one could sit in a pool all day long without even getting out to urinate. That being said there weren’t that many toilets outside so perhaps they should have ignored that. In the end I quite liked the slightly classier feel to the alcohol side of things. Yes, on our first evening I was a bit concerned with the guidance that even on AI, certain drinks had to be paid for in the restaurant even when they’re free in the bar. It didn’t include wine and in some respects should you be drinking spirits whilst eating your evening meal?

The sea was really rough, but there were people in it despite how the waves breaking easily kept knocking them to the ground.

The whole ambience of the hotel seemed nicer than most other places we’ve stayed in and I really loved the hotel. It’s one of the first that I’ve said I’d go back to, if I were one to re-visit a holiday destination, which given the things I wanted to see and missed perhaps I will. It wasn’t completely perfect but I’m not sure where is. For example, I found it kind of odd that the bedrooms were carpeted, but with people encouraged to not walk through the reception and hotel wet from swimming, bedroom floors aren’t likely to get wet. And the carpets made a refreshing change from the oft used floor tiles which are always cold on your feet no matter the climate.

The lack of bars during the day (the interior lobby bar doesn’t open until about 4pm) is made up with the fact that there are three outdoor swimming pools (one of which is salt water) and during the week we were there, barely had anyone in. The beach is part of the resort and not across a main road or a few blocks walk away and is private for the Aquila and whilst there is a main-ish road out the front if you’ve got a sea view room it’s barely audible – I had more problems from the noise of the birds waking me up or the bar music keeping me awake. And the noisy bar was my only real complaint and that was only because it was loud one night until 1am and I was up at 5am for the Samaria Gorge walk. Other nights it was just as noisy, but I slept through it or stayed up without caring, the night I needed to get ready for the longest walk of my life, I cared!

This is the view to the right from our balcony with the lobby beneath. Very nice place to relax but could be a bit noisy at night.

The balcony view to the left, the beach!

The food in the main restaurant was more than fine. Every dinner they had the same spaghetti option along with plain rice and then various other varied foods. I can be a bit picky with meat and there was only one evening where I didn’t want to eat anything other than vegetables (and spaghetti, which I could have eat every evening!). Breakfasts were the same every morning and the standard choices of bacon, sauages, eggs (fried, scrambled, boiled), beans, mini pancakes (with syrup) and the usual variety of croissants, cake and bread. It’s also standard because it isn’t “british” bacon or “british” suasages, but as with any AI it has to cater for all tastes and although I could have done with a proper fry up, I was happy to settle for mini chipped potatoes rather than hash browns. Lunch times were the only time I saw chips and both lunch and dinner had a nice variety of puddings – I love baklava! And apple cake! And the cherry cream cake thing they had! There’s also fresh fruit at every meal.

I created this in the main restaurant with the plain and bolognaise sauce, sweetcorn from the salad bar, meatballs and pureed garlic from the side. It was scrummy!

For once I didn’t over indulge completely on food, which might suggest that they didn’t have enough yummy choices for me, but I was actually pleased. Nothing jumped out as being authentically Greek, but AI never have to me so it wasn’t a problem. I got the real taste and flavours of Greece on the excursions I did, more of which later!

~ Persephone M