Published: August 3rd 2010March 28th 2010
Next morning at breakfast, the old mallu lady from Canada told me in Malayalam that her room-mate was sick after eating the previous night’s biryani. I had watched her gobbling the entire plate with much gusto, when I could barely finish half of it! Our ship anchored in the port of Heraklion, which is the capital of the island and has a proximity to the Palace of the Knossos. We walked out pondering what to do and if we should take the bus to the Palace. Met some South Americans by the taxi stand who asked if we wanted to share a taxi with them…why not?
The way they bargained with the Cretan taxi wallas was enough to put the desis to shame…ha! Finally the taxi drivers agreed for half the price - 30 euros per cab. 2 cabs were hired and we shared a cab with a Columbian couple who had a little daughter Natalie. The lady was a lawyer and he was a software engineer and yes, they’ve been to the States -to NY and Florida. They loved NYC..well, who wouldn’t? Natalie was 3 and proudly recited uno, tos, thres and then her mama asked her to recite
the same in English - one, two, three…she said with a heavy accent. She was cute! I missed my own li’l imp.
The taxi driver drove out of Heraklion to the countryside, past tiny little vineyards and up a winding hill and stopped for a scenic view and we took the obligatory pictures of each other’s families with the Cretan scenery as the background. Taxi drivers are the best story tellers. Crete is the largest island of Greece, and because of its size and the fact that it is far away from the mainland, it is quite different from the rest of the country. The people speak a very distinctive dialect, have many customs nowhere else to be found, and often refer to themselves as Cretan, not Greek. In Greece, the Cretan people are known to be the toughest. Family vendettas still occur, and authorities are desperately trying to stop the custom to fire guns at weddings. Crete has everything: beaches, hidden villages, big cities, snow-clad mountains, archaeological sites, medieval fortresses, museums and beautiful surroundings.
The archaeological site of Knossos is one of the most famous ancient sites of Greece. According to Mythology, Crete was the place where
Zeus grew up. He was especially worshipped on the island, and king Minos was considered his son. The first great civilization of Greece - the Minoan, started on Crete, in the era known as Bronze Age, because of natural disasters like earthquakes. Knossos was the palace of the Minoan kings who ruled the seas; the court of King Minos and where the Minotaur was kept in the famous labyrinth. The Minotaur was a terrible monster with the body of a man, and the head of a bull, born from the union of Pasiphae and the bull, offered as a gift to Minos by Poseidon.
Entrance to the Knossos was free on the last Sunday of every month. The Hispanics smiled in glee! And I thought only desis loved free stuff!!! According to Greek mythology, the palace was designed by famed architect Dedalos with such complexity that no one placed in it could ever find its exit. King Minos who commissioned the palace then kept the architect prisoner to ensure that he would not reveal the palace plan to anyone. Dedalos, who was a great inventor, built two sets of wings so he and his son Ikaros could fly off
the island, and so they did. On their way out, Dedalos warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax that held the wings together would melt. In a tragic turn of events, during their escape Ikaros, young and impulsive as he was, flew higher and higher until the sun rays dismantled his wings and the young boy fell to his death in the Aegean Sea.
Walking through its complex multi-storied ruins one can comprehend why the Palace of Knossos was associated with the mythological labyrinth. The Labyrinth was the dwelling of the Minotaur in Greek mythology, and many associate the palace of Knossos with the legend of Theseus killing the Minotaur. According to legend, king Minos ruled Athens and forced the Athenians to deliver seven youths and seven maidens every nine years. They became pray of the Minotaur in the labyrinth, and Athens escaped further suctions (earthquakes) through their obedience. The sacrifices of the Athenians ended only when Theseus, son of Aegean ruler of Attica, traveled to Crete as part of the youths to be sacrificed, but once in the labyrinth he killed the Minotaur and managed to find his way out of
the labyrinth with the aid of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos. Ariadne fell in love with Theseus as soon as he arrived, and gave him a ball of thread which he unraveled behind him as he walked through the labyrinthine corridors. Exiting then became a simple matter of following the thread backwards towards his freedom.
In a tragic turn of events, Theseus sailed back to Athens forgetting in his elation to replace the black sails with white ones as a signal of victory. His father Aegean who was watching for the returning ships saw the black sail, and in despair for what he thought was a failed mission that resulted to the death of his son, ended his life by jumping into the sea. The sea henceforth is named Aegean Sea in his memory. Arthur Evans, the British Archaeologist who excavated the site in 1900 AD restored large parts of the palace in a way that it is possible today to appreciate the grandeur and complexity of a structure that evolved over several millennia. I thought it would make a good Bollywood movie with some duets by Rai & Bachan in the labyrinth of ruins and beautiful frescoes.
The town of Heraklion itself is not exactly pretty. There is an archeological museum and a few squares with fountains, shops, boutiques and restaurants that most cities in Europe have. The taxi driver dropped us off in a square by the museum. We bid goodbye to the Columbian couple who were going to the archaeological museum. We walked over to the Venetian square and sat by the fountain people-watching. The 6 African American girlfriends (6 idiots) from Panos group were sitting outside in one of the cafes eating brunch and drinking coffee. Panos had dropped them off there. We waved to them and Krazy Ken wandered by and sat next to us on the bench and we had a nice chat. It was always fun chatting with him. After he left, we took a walk and passed the town hall and the church of Agios Titus. It looked pretty, and so we entered. The churches in Greece are small but very grand and colorful. Sunday sermon was just over and people were standing around in groups talking. It was Palm Sunday and the 6 girls too wandered in with woven palms in their hands and asked if they could take it with them as souvenirs.
We strolled outside talking to the 6 girls and learnt they were IT professionals, scientists and engineers. They were from wealthy families of Ethiopia and never seen poverty in their country!! We were truly surprised, because in the first impression, you won’t believe they had such backgrounds! Appearances can be deceptive! Couple of them claimed to know the way to the port, paid no heed to Rajesh’s impeccable sense of direction and led us in a route that entailed us to make dangerous crossings of barricades by the sea’s edge and jumping a few fences too while the Cretan fishermen laughed at us. We arrived in the ship with 5 minutes to spare for All Aboard time! Jeez, they made us feel like real idiots for following them!!!