Published: August 16th 2009August 16th 2009
Today's blog actually starts last night, with an evening briefing with our hotel owner here in Crete, Vassilis. He is a wizened old Greek man who manages the hotel during season, and spends the offseason in Ft. Lauderdale, so his English is very good. He spread out a map of the island, and gave Rickelle and I a twenty minute lecture about the various places we could reach for day trips, including historical tidbits, point of interest, and the timing of when things occur this week. More importantly, he mentioned that "the best lamb chops in Greece are just two kilometers outside where we are now"
. Now that certainly got my attention! One other thing that made us laugh was his intent stare over his glasses as he said that "in order for something to be 'ancient' around here, it has to be BC. We don't deal with any AD stuff here."
Since we were both starving, we piled in our rented Four-wheeled Box (I say that with the most loving affection) and set out to find the Taverna Dragon's Cave outside of Makrigialos. Following Vassilis's directions, we had no difficulty and soon pulled into the taverna's parking. We had
just made it for the stunning sunset view, but that was really just the prelude to an incredible evening of food and wine! We had the best calamari we've had so far, the best new dish (grape vine leaves wrapped around some rice-spice-meat combo that was melt in your mouth), and yes, the best lamb chops either of us ever tasted. It was a great time, and we laughed about how my brother would appreciate the Taverna's draconic theme.
Sunday, I was on a mission to get our first taste of Minoan ruins and to get out and see more of the island. The good news is that we succeeded! The bad news is that we about killed ourselves doing it! We covered about 500 kilometers today in a big loop of the island, which doesn't seem like all that much, except for the fact that Crete is 60% mountainous terrain.
So what looks like an easy jaunt from point A to point B takes twice as long, or longer if you get unlucky and get stuck behind a Minoan doubledecker tour bus or some annoying tourist in a rental car who doesn't know how to drive mountain Greek-style
(Yes, you do detect a certain 'Stavros Andretti' smugness there about how I have moved up from the tourist level after my trial by fire in the Peloponnese last week).
Our first stop was the capital of the Roman occupation of Crete, located at Gortyn. What's left of this thriving town and commerce center is a solid basilica building, some typical outlines of ruins, and the most interesting part, the atrium buildings containing the 'Law Code of Gortyn', which was carved into the stone blocks that made up the atrium's walls. These were essentially the law of the land for an incredible range of subjects, from listings of public crimes and punishments, to inheritance regulations, to trade policies, to marital dispute settlement (I shuttled Rickelle by that one pretty efficiently, I must say). It represents the oldest codified set of laws in Europe, and is still in fantastic shape - most of the carvings are still legible. Vassilis had mentioned that this model essentially meant that no one could claim ignorance of the laws, because they were right there in plain view for everyone to read. Rickelle's lawyerly thirst for knowledge led to a book purchase detailing the Code,
and it really is fascinating reading.
After a leisurely lunch, we tackled our first Minoan palace, Phaestos. The Minoans had their peak from 2000-1450 BC, and they constructed four large palace complexes on the island of Crete: Knossos, Phaestos, Malia, and Zakros. Phaestos is constructed on a high hill overlooking the valley surrounding it. Like all of the palaces, it has a large Central Court that connected the different functional areas together. These include the food and goods storage areas, the royal chambers, the reception halls, and the artisan work rooms. I was impressed with the amount of thought and planning that had been done for such an early time in human history. Add in the mystery that it's still not really understood how the Minoan civilization declined and came to an end, and it makes for some good pondering.
After a lot of scenic driving across the island, we came to our final stop for the day, the palace of Knossos, near the modern day capital of the island, Heraklion. Knossos has several things that make it the most important of the four palaces: it's easily the largest, it's the most explored, and unlike the others, it
has undergone renovation in the early 1900s. From reading our guidebooks, we were expecting that the place had been rebuilt in all its glory, but we found that what had actually been done was selective restoration of certain parts of the palace, so that visitors could get an idea of what it might have looked like. There are some walls, pillars, and frescoes that are mocked up to what archaeologists think might be representative of the Minoan look, but the overall palace is still essentially the ruins left behind that have weathered the elements and the march of history.
After what seemed an eternity of twisty windy roads that we could have sworn were not there this morning, we made it back to Makrigialos, had supper, and are quickly headed to bed. We knocked out some of the long distance things that I had really wanted to see, so we'll be able to concentrate on shorter day trips on the eastern end of the island where our hotel is over the next few days.
There are more photos below