September 10th, 2023
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica). Crete rests about 160 km (99 mi) south of the Greek mainland. Crete bounds the southern border of the Aegean Sea, with the Sea of Crete to the north and the Libya Sea to the south. Its capital and largest city is Heraklion, on the north shore of the island.
Crete was the centre of Europe’s first advanced civilization, the Minoans, from 2700 to 1420 BC. The Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenaean civilization from mainland Greece. Crete was later ruled by Rome, then successively by the Byzantine Empire, Andalusian Arabs, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. In 1898 Crete, whose people had for some time wanted to join the Greek state, achieved independence from the Ottomans, formally becoming the Cretan State. Crete became part of Greece in December 1913.
Crete has a strong association with ancient Greek gods. According to Greek mythology, the Diktaean Cave at Mount Dikti was the birthplace of the god Zeus. The Paximadia islands were the birthplace of the goddess Artemis and the god Apollo. Their mother, the goddess Leto, was worshipped at Phaistos. The goddess Athena bathed in Lake Voulismeni. Zeus launched a lightning bolt at a giant lizard that was threatening Crete. The lizard immediately turned to stone and became the lizard-shaped island of Dia, which can be seen from Knossos. The islets of Lefkai were the result of a musical contest between the Sirens and the Muses. The Muses were so anguished to have lost that they plucked the feathers from the wings of their rivals; the Sirens turned white and fell into the sea at Aptera (“featherless”), where they formed the islands in the bay that were called Lefkai (the islands of Souda and Leon). Heracles, in one of his labors, took the Cretan bull to the Peloponnese. Europa and Zeus made love at Gortys and conceived the kings of Crete: Rhadamanthys, Sarpedon, and Minos.
The labyrinth of the Palace of Knossos was the setting for the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in which the Minotaur was slain by Theseus. Icarus and Daedalus were captives of King Minos and crafted wings to escape. After his death, King Minos became a judge of the dead in Hades, while Rhadamanthys became the ruler of the Elysian fields.
September 11th, 2023
Fuel: gasoline here is €2.02 a litre which is $8.19 USD a gallon
After an early wake up and more or less on time departure from Athens, 40 minutes later we were in Crete – we are so excited to be visiting the Greek Islands at a warm time of year. If you recall we’ve been to Greece twice already on this European Escape but never in the right season to do the islands so they are warm enough for swimming.
We had booked a rental car online already and walked across the road to get it at AutoUnion. They gave us a little white manual Nissan Micro.
The weather today was somewhat overcast with clearing skies and temps were in the mid 20’s / low 80’s F with a rather strong breeze. By dinner, the skies cleared up pretty good. There is also humidity at around 70% so it feels quite warm as we are still wearing jeans and long sleeves as we do on flights. First order of business was to swap out of our sneakers into sandals and put away our sweater/jacket and Fran grabbed her camera.
We have made no hotel reservations and will just wing it when it feels like time to quit for the day. High season is over and we shouldn’t have any trouble we feel.
There are several places we hope to explore on Crete and most are in the west so we thought we start on the east side of the island. Our first destination was Palm Vai Beach – the location of the largest palm tree forest in Europe. The landscape of Crete is like many islands, is mountainous inland and lots of beaches (some rocky, some pebbly and some sandy) along the coasts. We expect to crisscross the island a few times.
We began by heading eastward along the Northern Creten Highway with a few stops in mind. Our sim card is working again in Europe so we have data and Fran learned just as we turned off the highway that the place is closed on Mondays so we’ll do that another day.
The town of Plaka was next; we wanted to catch a boat to the island of Spinalonga. (Having an early flight time gives us a full day on the island.)
Spinalonga is an island located in the Gulf of Elounda near to the town of Plaka. During Venetian rule, salt was harvested from salt pans around the island. Spinalonga has appeared in novels, television series, and a short film.
According to Venetian documents, the name of the island originated in the Greek Elounda (meaning “to Elounda”). The Venetians could not understand the expression, so they familiarized it using their own language, and called it spina “thorn” longa “long”, an expression that was also maintained by the locals. Because of its position, the island was fortified from its earliest years in order to protect the entranceway of the.
In 1578 the Venetians hired an engineer to plan the island’s fortifications. He created blockhouses at the highest points of the northern and southern side of the island, as well as a fortification ring along the coast that countered any hostile disembarkation. In 1579, a foundation was laid over the ruins of an acropolis. In 1584, the Venetians, realizing that the coastal fortifications were easy to conquer by the enemies attacking from the nearby hills, decided to strengthen their defense by constructing new fortifications at the top of the hill. The new Venetian firepower had longer range, rendering Spinalonga an impregnable sea fortress, one of the most important in the Mediterranean basin.
Spinalonga remained in Venetian hands after the rest of Crete fell to the Ottomans in the Cretan War (1645–1669). In 1715, Spinalonga was taken over by the Ottomans during the last Ottoman–Venetian War. Many Christians found refuge in these fortresses to escape persecution from the Ottoman Turks.
At the end of the Ottoman occupation the island was the refuge of many Ottoman families that feared Christian reprisals. In 1881 the 1,112 Ottomans formed their own community. In 1903, the last Turks left the island after which the island was used as a leper colony until 1957. The last inhabitant, a priest, did not leave the island till 1962, in order to maintain the Greek Orthodox tradition of commemorating a buried person 40 days, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years after their death. There were two entrances to Spinalonga, one being the leper’s entrance, a tunnel known as “Dante’s Gate”. This was so named because the patients did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived.
However, once on the island they received food, water, medical attention and social security payments. Previously, such amenities had been unavailable to Crete’s leprosy patients, as they mostly lived in the area’s caves, away from civilization. After the leper colony was dissolved, Spinalonga sank into oblivion. It was one of the last active leper colonies in Europe.
All patients on the island lived independently and were responsible for running their own lives. They created and organized their own living space, grew crops, got married and had children. Medical care was basic at first and there were women employed to car for them. Each patient got a monthly stipend to buy essential food. In the final decade after some protests by the patients, there existed an actual hospital and more people like a priest, guards, washerwomen, one doctor, and ten nurses worked there.
Today, the uninhabited island is a popular tourist attraction in Crete. In addition to the abandoned leper colony and the fortress, Spinalonga is known for its small pebble beaches and shallow waters. Tourist boats depart from three towns on a daily basis, every 30 minutes. Since there is no accommodation on Spinalonga, the tours last only a few hours.
We arrived in time to catch the 10:30 am boat and stayed on the island about an hour wandering through rooms with information boards and ruins of building.
approaching the island:
Ruins on the island:
There were small rooms with artifacts like game boards:
We also climbed up to the top to get the views around us.
Then we caught a boat back to the town and continued to the east coast of Crete to see the palm tree forest at Vai.
The palm beach of Vai features the largest natural palm forest in Europe made up of Cretan Date Palms. It measures 200m2 and ends at a beautiful beach. It has about 6000 trees but they are not regular palms as they grown quite close together and can live quite long.
According to legends, the trees originated from the stones of dates tossed on the ground by invaders. Some say they were Turkish; others say they were African pirates. However since the fruits of these trees are inedible this is highly unlikely and they have been growing here since Minoa times, long before the Ottoman Empire and pirates visited.
Palm trees were widespread as early as the Minoan period. The Greek god Apollo was born in the shade of a palm tree. The palms here are called “Theophrastus” and are endemic to the Eastern Mediterranean.
We did not want to go to the beach here and in order to park, you have to pay so we stopped along the road, took pictures and video as we drove.
We did not want to go to the beach here and in order to park you have to pay so we stopped along the road, took pictures and video as we drove.
Doug was finding it hard to drive as he was sleepy so we back tracked westward and went to a hotel Fran found on Booking.com (our “go to app” when we travel and are winging it for accommodation) in the city of Sitia. Hotel Itanos was right across from the beach and we had a second floor room with what they called a “side view” of the ocean off our balcony. We paid €74 for this place including breakfast. The better views were up top on the roof where there is a pool and a roof top bar/restaurant. After taking a walk in the touristy end of town along the beach, we decided we needed to cool off. We changed and went up to the rooftop on the 4th floor and enjoyed a quick outdoor shower and a dip in the pool.
It was quite windy so getting out of the water felt a bit cool. After showering again, we went across the roof to the bar and were allowed to sit in our wet bathing suits sheltered from the wind and enjoy a couple of beers admiring the views.
After that we went back to our room for about an hour, and then returned to have dinner in the bar and hoped to see sunset. Being on the east side of the island but facing north, we didn’t get much of a real sunset, a little pink in the sky but we hung out till it got a bit dark to enjoy the views.
Today we passed through three tunnels.
We both slept pretty darn good that night – really needed it too. It was lovely to be showered and rested after that long a$$ flight time back to Europe. The hotel included breakfast so we went down around 8:45 and took part in that – a buffet of some hot and several cold items.
Doug had read about a donkey sanctuary yesterday and called about visiting it. He was told to call back today, which he did and we arranged to get there around 11 to see it. So we drove westward back across the north coast and then dipped inland to just north of Anatoli where Alistair and Suzanne run it.
We found it using coordinates on Google and Alistair came out and met us before Suzanne joined us. It used to be much larger and they at one time had 25 donkeys that they had rescued (it seems when donkeys (and horses) become old or useless, the locals tend to tie them to a tree and let them die!), but today have only 3 as well as 4 horses, seven dogs and a Shetland pony. As they are getting on in years (well into their 70’s), they are winding the place down. They have volunteers who help with work and they get a place to stay. Cost of entry is a donation and we did that to support them.
Anna, Nora and Carmella were the donkeys:
Shetland pony was Soulie:
Next stop was the city of Ierapetra, considered the southernmost city of the continent of Europe. It is NOT the southernmost POINT, just to be clear.
It’s a good sized city on the Libyan Sea with a boardwalk and a couple of minor sites to see:
Napolean’s House (which was closed up):
In the summer of 1798 the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte conducted his campaign against the Mamluks in Egypt to protect the French trade in the region and to block the access of the Brits in India. During his trip to the east it is said to have stayed for a night in a house in Ierapetra.
Nobody noticed that it was him, until the family that hosted him, after his departure, saw a handwritten note that read in French “If you want to know who your stranger was, know that I am Napoleon Bonaparte’.
This story has not been confirmed, but the legend of Napoleon remains vivid in the town of Ierapetra. You will see the name Napoleon even in taverns and cafes. The house has been bought by the municipality of Ierapetra.
a fortress that was under renovation:
and parts of a byzantine wall:
We decided we should partake of a beverage on the beach and sat and had a soft drink at Poppy’s Café on the beach. It’s a large pebbled beach so we didn’t walk on it but there were people swimming there.
The south coast of Crete can be as much as 8 degrees warmer than the north coast due to the mountains in the middle of the island blocking the wind from the north. When we left Sitia this morning it was super windy and here, not so much.
Fran had found an inexpensive but highly rated guesthouse in nearby Myrtos so we ended our day over there. Villa Mare is up from the beach about three blocks and we had a room with a small kitchenette in a separate room. Their rooftop area on the 3rd floor offers views of the ocean. This place cost us €47.
Doug went for a run which he skipped this morning while Fran did yoga and then we went for a walk to the beach down a long set of stairs.
The beach here is part small gravelly pebbles and part sand. It’s quite nice and a good size. We strolled up the beach and back before washing off our feet and sitting at bar on the boardwalk enjoying a Mythos beer (you almost always get salty snacks when you order beer here, like in Italy):
We have dipped our feet in the Libyan Sea – now you know the water is not too cold if Doug is in it!
It’s definitely warmer here but there is still a decent breeze otherwise it would be too hot. It’s about 30C / 87F and if you are not in the shade, it gets too warm.
At around 4 we wandered into town to check it out. It’s very small – population less than 1000. We hit an ATM, got an ice cream treat and something to take back for dinner.
Next day, Wednesday, we drove back inland to check out the Diktaean Cave – according to mythology this is the birth place of Zeus.
Psychro Cave is an ancient Minoan sacred cave in eastern Crete. Psychro is associated with the Diktaean Cave one of the putative sites of the birth of Zeus. Other legends place Zeus’ birthplace as Idaean Cave on Mount Ida. According to Hesiod, Theogony (477-484), Rhea gave birth to Zeus in Lyctus and hid him in a cave of Mount Aegaeon. Since the late nineteenth century the cave above the modern village of Psychro has been identified with Diktaean Cave, although there are other candidates
Dictaean Cave is famous in Greek mythology as the place where Amalthea, nurtured the infant Zeus with her goat’s milk. The archaeology attests to the site’s long use as a place of cult worship. The nurse of Zeus, who was charged by Rhea to raise the infant Zeus in secret here, to protect him from his father Cronus is also called the nymph Adrasteia in some contexts.
You park at the bottom of a hill and walk up a stone path:
to the entrance where you pay your €8 pp to visit the cave.
We thought there was going to be two caves to see but one appeared to be blocked off. The path was not well kept up and all the garbage cans enroute were overfilling; not very impressive.
The cave itself is rather large, has lots of concrete stairs and some lighting (not enough really – many lights were burnt out – welcome to Greece as the locals say!) and you really had to watch the steps as you climbed up or down.
There was only one signboard and no reference points in the cave – no guides. We were lucky that there were few people and it was quiet and not crowded.
The next thing we hoped to see was the Minoan Palace of Phaistos – upon arriving we found a parking spot as someone was leaving and walked over towards the entrance. From there you can see the entire site and it’s ALL in the sun and it’s midday now and about 32C / 90 F. We read up about it on Wikipedia and Fran took a few photos and we opted not to go explore it as we’d seen similar sites in Turkey and there was a more major site on Crete which we plan to see.
You can see from the photo some restoration has taken place but there is mostly short walls and not many structures.
It’s now early afternoon and there were not many options near our location, so as usual, we headed to find a beach town. Agia Galini had a hotel called Iro with balcony views for about $47. We walked down to the beach with our swimsuits although it was pebbly, there were sandy bits but once you entered the water, it was big rocks.
Here we saw the bars had 2 sun chairs and umbrellas for rent for only €5 so we went looking for the largest umbrellas to get the most shade as it’s very hot here.
At the other end of the beach we found free sun chairs with umbrellas as long as you purchased at least drinks. We were sitting next to a British couple older than us who’ve been here like 23 times! We chatted with Richard and Ann for a while and then went for a dip in the Libyan sea. The beach floor is full of large stones and difficult to walk on but it was refreshing. The water is not crystal clear but seemed clean and we could see a Blue Flag on the beach. (more on that later)
(for some reason we didn’t take many photos here…)
We strolled back via the main part of town (very small town) to get some groceries to make dinner before returning back to Villa Mare. We ate our dinner up at the roof top terrace with views of the Libyan Sea – but we couldn’t see Africa!
We investigated what we wanted to see over the next few days and put the kybosh on the idea of hiking a gorge. The Samaria Gorge is most hiked gorge in Crete but you need to stay in one place, take a bus to the entrance and then at the end, you are at the sea and need to take a ferry back to your car. We could not find any accommodation that would allow us to do that and upon researching more and looking at images, we felt we’d seen more amazing gorges in our lives. There was also the Imbros Gorge but it was really out of the way and not as visited. So we decided to skip both.
Thursday, we headed out towards one of the six beaches we’d read were the best on the island; this one was Skinaria. Enroute to it, we drove through Kourtaliotis Gorge which was beautiful.
So it was nice to “do” a gorge on Crete since we’d opted not to the famous one.
Along the roads in Crete you meet many a goat. At one point on this drive we came upon a series of goat heads mounted on a fence!
We arrived at Skinaria beach and parked. Well, we have to say the setting is lovely and the water is crystal clear but it is a pebble beach – not our favourite. As it was still morning, we opted to take photos and move on.
It was back through the same gorge and on to Rethymno which was an ancient Venetian port city on the north side of Crete again. There was a lookout over the city as you come in:
Well there weren’t many “ancient” things left but we did take a lovely stroll through the pedestrian old town with its narrow alleys.
We did come across the arch known as the Guora Gate:
And we did the promenade route around the fortress on a hill:
We saw a church turned mosque turned community haven:
Continuing westward we made a stop in the small village of Vouves to see an ancient olive tree that still produces. As it is not scientifically possible to date the tree for a number of reasons, but the best guess is it’s somewhere between 3000 and 5000 years old!
This tree is called “a monumental olive tree”.
An olive tree must have a trunk of a minimum circumference of one meter to be called monumental. Most of these olive trees were planted between the XVII and XVIII centuries, but some of them are from Roman times, when the city of Egnatia was rich and flourishing.
Fran had found us an apartment in Kissamos for a reasonable price, €146 for two nights and we drove there next and got settled. It’s a three bedroom apartment (one is a loft sort of room) with one bathroom and a large kitchen – no living room.
Kyriakos showed us around and we spent the rest of the afternoon online and chillin’. Fran went to the supermarket and we had pasta for dinner since we had a stove to cook with. Our plan in this town is to visit the famous Balos Beach on the peninsula north of here. The photos were amazing and we just had to see it. At first we thought we’d have to take a boat excursion to see it and an island off the coast with a fortress but Doug learned there is “a really bad” road you can drive to a parking area and hike down to the beach. The road has a small toll and there’s a parking fee to pay.
We took off about 7:30 am from our apartment (we heard it gets crowded fast) and arrived at the “toll gate”. You pay €1 per person and begin the 7 km /4 mi drive to the parking lot. Well the road is really just a dirt road with NO potholes or anything difficult and there are even paved sections on the uphill! Not sure what others call “horrific, terrifying”!! We parked and paid our €3 to do so. There were just a few cars (and some goats) along our drive so we had made it early.
It’s about 2 km / 1.3 mi walk mostly downhill to the beach. The sun had not come up over the mountains so the area was in shade for pictures but Fran took some anyway of course:
Part of the hike is a dirt/stone path and then it’s stone stairs and then you reach the sand.
The apartment we are renting had a sun umbrella and one beach chair so we brought it along as we’d read there were no umbrellas and no shade. Well it turns out, that there are beach sun loungers and umbrellas but has Fran had a sore back from a fall she took a couple of days ago the beach chair was more comfortable. We used our beach blanket from Easter Island to hang off the umbrella and that created even more shade.
The cost of chair/umbrella rental was €30 for the day; a little pricey but look where we are!
The setting here is spectacular when the sun comes up higher in the sky. There are three colours of water, white sand, sand bars and views out to the Mediterranean Sea.
It got busier and busier as the day went on and it also got windier. The water was a little cooler than we’d like but we did go in several times to cool off. Many small boats arrived and departed and one small cruise docked for a while. The wind picked up on the late morning which created a welcome breeze but around 2:30 we had enough of the wind, the heat (low 30’s C / 90’s F) and the crowds of people and made our way back up the hill to the parking lot. While the walk down took about 30 minutes, the walk back up was 50 minutes – Fran felt quite dizzy at times due to the heat and struggled some – we were out of water by this time too so that didn’t help.
We took more photos on the way up as now the water was in all its glory and quite photogenic.
The only sad part of this beach, for us, was the sea grass. It was in patches in the water and along some parts of the shore, it actually accumulated.
The parking lot of course was completely full by the time we got there and the line of cars parked on the side of the road outside the lot, was 1.2 km long!
As it was still on the early side to call it a day, we drove to another one of the beaches we wanted to see for a couple of hours. Falasarna is a much longer brown sandy beach which is another Blue Flag beach. This was a great beach for swimming – not as shallow as Balos so you don’t have to go in too far to submerse yourself and it had waves. It was pretty busy but so much larger it didn’t feel too bad. As we didn’t want to pay for beach chairs, we used our blanket and the apartment’s chair & umbrella (we thought it was weird there was only one chair and not two or more when it’s a three bedroom place).
We took several dips, read for a while and then we’d had enough sun for the day and returned “home”. After showering, we saw the “landlord” and paid him some cash for a third night at a third off what we paid on booking.com and we’re staying another night.
The Blue Flag is a certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that a beach, marina, or sustainable boating tourism operator meets its standards. The Blue Flag is a trademark owned by FEE, which is a not-for-profit non-governmental organization consisting of 65 organizations in 77 member countries.
FEE’s Blue Flag criteria include standards for quality, safety, environmental education and information, the provision of services and general environmental management criteria. The Blue Flag is sought for beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators as an indication of their high environmental and quality standards.
Certificates, which FEE refers to as awards, are issued on an annual basis to beaches and marinas of FEE member countries. The awards are announced yearly on 5 June for Europe, Canada, Morocco, Tunisia, and other countries in a similar geographic location, and on 1 November for the Caribbean, New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries in the southern hemisphere.
In the European Union, the water quality standards are incorporated in the EC Water Framework Directive.
For dinner tonight we strolled down to the Kissamos beach and found a beach restaurant and tried some Greek dishes. Doug had a sort of rabbit stew and Fran had pork souvlaki. The setting was nice and the food and drink was pretty good.
After asking for the cheque, the waiter brought us a treat: two crème brulees and a tiny bottle of the local raki (alcohol) with two shot glasses. Fran convinced Doug we should shoot them back and he regretted it! He’s not big on hard alcohol much these days except maybe Sambuca so Fran had a the last shot herself.
We walked back to the apartment and had a quiet evening but due to all the booze and meat, neither of us slept that well.
Saturday, the 15th, we’d decided we’d do another one of the six beaches and made our way to the southwest corner of Crete to Elafonisi Beach. Enroute we passed through the Topolia Gorge:
where we tried to rent an umbrella and chair with no luck – all were taken as we’d not gotten here nearly as early as we did to Balos yesterday. So we used “our own” and our Easter Island beach blanket and spent about five hours here.
Elafonisis beach is also known as the “pink sand beach” but it’s better to come in the spring to see a lot of pink. We found a few patches of it but nothing like the photos.
The impressive pink color of the sand in Elafonisi originates from the so-called Foraminifera shellfishes, which, when they complete their life cycle, leave behind their reddish shells which are crushed in the white sand and mix with it to produce this unique pink color.
Here are some shots from Google taken in the spring:
Around 2:30 the wind was pretty strong again and Fran saw three umbrellas head into the water so we packed it in and went home.
As we have a small washing machine here, Fran did a load before we left and we decided to do another small one mostly to clean out our salty clothes and the beach blanket when we got back. There are outdoor clotheslines in the sun and it all dried pretty quickly.
Today we passed through one tunnel twice heading out to Elafonisi and back.
We returned to our apartment and had salad, eggs and toast for dinner. Next morning after exercising (Doug did his Sunday long run) we finished the eggs and bread and left Kissamos around 9 am. We decided we really liked not having to stay only one night in a place and Fran found a studio apartment in Heraklion for $116 for two nights and we booked that.
This meant we had a longer driving day but would result in some down time on Monday, our final full day.
Sunday traffic on the highway eastwards towards the city of Chania was heavier than we expected but not slow and we found free parking in the city and went for a walk for not more than an hour checking out Old Town and the Venetian Harbour.
We then went to check out two beaches; Stavros which was recommended by our landlord in Kissamos but we were not that impressed and there was NO shade:
We then drove across the peninsula to Seitan Limania where there is cliff jumping. It’s a super small beach with no facilities in a sort of cove. We did not walk all the way down but spent about ten minutes watching the jumpers.
Here’s a pic of the beach itself as viewed from the parking lot:
Here are a few super short videos of jumpers:
Then it was on to the Monastery at Arkadi – one of Crete’s famous tourist sites.
The Arkadi Monastery is an Eastern Orthodox monastery, situated on a plateau 23 km (14 mi) to the southeast of Rethymno on the island of Crete in Greece.
The current church dates back to the 16th century and is marked by the influence of the Renaissance. This influence is visible in the architecture, which mixes both Roman and baroque elements. As early as the 16th century, the monastery was a place for science and art and had a school and a rich library.
The monastery played an active role in the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule during the Cretan revolt of 1866. 943 Greeks, mostly women and children, sought refuge in the monastery. After three days of battle and under orders from the abbot of the monastery, the Cretans blew up barrels of gunpowder, choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender.
The monastery became a national sanctuary in honor of the Cretan resistance. The 8th of November is a day of commemorative parties in Arkadi and Rethymno. The explosion did not end the Cretan insurrection, but it attracted the attention of the rest of the world.
You pay an €4 euro entrance fee and walk around the monastery; the church referenced above is in the centre. Its façade is quite beautiful.
It’s getting quite warm now and we decided that rather than visit the Minoan palace at Knossos near Heraklion in the heat of he day, we’d just head straight to our booked accommodation and visit in the morning as it’s less than 7km from the city.
The rest of the drive was on the main highway and at times we saw beaches on the north side of the road and lots of villages and mountains on the south side. We arrived at our little studio apartment in the city around 3:30, got settled and as we were hungry decided to take a walk into the old town and wander the pedestrian streets looking for a very late lunch/early dinner.
The streets are very clean, there’s a strong ocean breeze and the sun is shining – it was a nice walk. We found a place to get pizza and beer while sitting outside on the wide walking only alley and then treated ourselves to ice creams cones before walking back.
Our apartment is a ground floor studio with a small terrace, full kitchen, sitting area and bed and bath – pretty much all one room except the bathroom. It has a garage for the car and considering we are in the capital city of Crete, the price is very good.
The hosts left us a little treat in the kitchen: some raki and some sweets:
Today we heard from our friends in Calgary, Dave and Annette, that they are coming to Greece on Tuesday with no set plan so we may meet up on the islands somewhere. Small world!
Monday morning we headed out before 8 am to reach Knossos early before the bus tours and the heat. It was the right idea because when we left an hour later, the line ups were long. Most of the site is in full sun so it was great that it was not hot.
Knossos is a Bronze Age archaeological site in Crete south of Heraklion. The site was a major center of the Minoan civilization and is known for its association with the Greek myth of Theseus and the minotaur. It is located on the outskirts of Heraklion, and remains a popular tourist destination.
Knossos was settled around 7000 BC during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, making it the oldest known settlement in Crete. The initial settlement was a hamlet of 25–50 people who lived in wattle and daub huts, kept animals, grew crops, and, in the event of tragedy, buried their children under the floor. Remains from this period are concentrated in the area which would later become the central court of the palace, suggesting continuity in ritual activity.
Knossos is dominated by the monumental Palace of Minos. Like other Minoan palaces, this building served as a combination religious and administrative center rather than a royal residence. The earliest parts of the palace were built around 1900 BC in an area that had been used for ritual feasting since the Neolithic. The palace was continually renovated and expanded over the next five centuries until its final destruction around 1350 BC.
The site of Knossos was discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos. The excavations in Knossos began in 1900 by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851–1941) and his team, and continued for 35 years. Its size far exceeded his original expectations, as did the discovery of two ancient scripts, which he termed Linear A and Linear B, to distinguish their writing from the pictographs also present. From the layering of the palace Evans developed an archaeological concept of the civilization that used it, which he called Minoan, following the pre-existing custom of labelling all objects from the location Minoan. Arthur Evans unearthed most of the palace as well as many now-famous artifacts including the Bull-Leaping Fresco, the snake goddess figurines, and numerous Linear B tablets. While Evans is often credited for discovering the Minoan Civilization, his work is controversial in particular for his inaccurate and irreversible reconstructions of architectural remains at the site.
There was a minimal amount of signage (they push the tour guides) but we managed. A good portion of it is restored based on an archaeologist’s conception but it’s quite large and impressive.
We stopped for groceries and returned to our studio to chill the rest of the day before leaving early tomorrow morning for our flight to Mykonos. We spent some time reading, online, taking a walk and relaxing. It’s been a great week.
Tuesday, we got up on time, finished packing, drove to the airport, returned the car and went through security quite quickly – we had plenty of time. Flight to Athens was more or less on time and we said goodbye to Crete.
Total mileage in Crete 1353 km / 840 mi and we averaged 44 mpg.
We would highly recommend a vacation here in Crete – especially if you like beaches!