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June 8th 2008
Published: June 13th 2008
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Santorini to Crete


We arrived at Heraklion about 8.30 pm and two swish Mercedes took us to the Olympic Hotel in central Heraklion where we booked in and headed off over the reconstructed streets for dinner.

The road in front of the hotel extends through the maze of walkways to the harbour and is the main street in front of the hotel is the day market street. We were directed to a local open-air restaurant, which did not have a printed menu and was like Nicholas’ restaurant in Santorini where they suggest some alternatives; you order and it’s delivered.

The whole areas down to the sea side are full of walkways with an occasional motorbike wandering about but the cars have been locked off. There are lovely squares abutting the walkways with open-air restaurants around the plazas and under the trees. The seems to be a new church at every fifth corner with it’s vaulted nave and transept and with one or two bell towers adjacent to or attached to the chapel. The small one are family chapels and very personal.

The closed restaurant in front of the hotel was originally a mosque and the washing areas are still there but
The classical Minoan ColumnThe classical Minoan ColumnThe classical Minoan Column

Di said the columns were sloped so when you looked up they appeared to be straight – On that basis to get the effect you needed to be one meter tall.
now it dispenses booze and coffee. By contrast, the village Greek churches in Turkey are still keep as sacred places and allowed to slowly decay other than the great Aga Sohpia, which is now maintained as a museum.

In typical Greek style, we ordered what we thought was enough for a late dinner, but it was sufficient to feed a dozen. This was the first time we had tried a mixed grill, which is a fired bar-b-qued plate of lamb chops, pork chops, belly pork, steak, and minced lamb patties. There were the mandatory salad and sweets and we finished with Ouzo, which we were instructed to toss down.

The following morning we went by local bus to Knossos, which was the great palace of king Minos, which, though build on a small hill, is surrounded by larger hills so it appears to have been built not for protection but in the lower part of the surrounding countryside as a centre of power.

This was home of the minotaur, an animal half man half bull the child of the queen Pasiphae and the white bull sent to King Minos by Poseidon for sacrifice. Minos thought the bull
A Sparrow low rise	A Sparrow low rise	A Sparrow low rise

There were sparrows in every construction pipe on the site
was such a beautiful animal that he kept it and Poseidon so cross that he put a spell on the queen so she fell in love with the bull.

The poor Minotaur was keep in the dark maze under the palace and the king demanded an annual blood tribute of seven maidens and seven youths from Athens. Theseus, the dashing Athenian was sent to save the Athenians, wooed or wowed the King’s daughter Adriadne, who slipped him a ball of string just as he was entering the maze to allowed him to find his into and out of the black underground maze, and kill the poor minotaur.

We never knew whether he married the daughter or just hopped on his boat and headed back to his mother in Athens.

Knossos is a very large site that fell under the control of Sir Arthur Evans who was responsible for the excavation from 1900-1931 but who was handicapped because there was no capacity to translate any of the earliest writing from before 1700 BC when the city collapsed. The new city was rebuilt on the ruins. The new language of the new city, referred to as Linear B, was translatable but there was no Rosetta stone to allow a comparison of Linear A with any another known language and no genius of a Jean Champollion to do the translation.

So much of the Evan’s supposition of what each building was, are counted by today’s notes, which refer to the Evan’s comments and findings as hypothetical.

They have however partially re-created about five of the collapsed buildings with the assistance of two architects and other Minoan experts and it gives you a feeling of what the palace was like. In places, the buildings were some six stories high all with flat (concrete?) roofs. The Minoans made an excellent block slurry from lime and pumice.

The Great staircase, which surrounds a large light well, is complex in construction. The first two stories of stairs were still in tack so Evans and the builders just rebuild the remaining two stories of steps from the collapsed stair case - so that was pretty authentic. The paintings in some of the halls were certainly impressive but the damage from earthquakes and weather was far more than at the Akrotiri site where the ash from the eruption preserved the village.

None-the less, it is a most impressive site made more touching when we read the history of this central Greek islands. The poor Greeks seem to have been beaten up, maybe even more than the Poles. Their problems started with the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Iberians, the Venetians, the Ottomans, and the Egyptians then the Ottomans again and it was only after the aftermath of the Balkan war and a tragic civil war that Crete finally joined Greece in 1913.

Couldn't find out too much about the second world war other than the Brits and the Cretan army under the control of General Sir Bernard Freyberg, gave the Germans crack paratroop division a proper threshing - there were 7,000 German casualties and Hitler refused to allow the German paratroops to be used again on an attack front.

The Crete terrain is really rugged with series of 8,000 ft ranges with deep gorges and is inhospitable.

Interestingly, Sir Bernard Freyberg was appointed the Governor General of New Zealand and was well remembered as an excellent and well loved Governor General.

We noted some of the famous Cretans - Pope Alexander V appeared to be the only Cretan to hold the position of pope which he held from 1339 to 1410 some 71 year! They must have appointed younger men in them there days, or they lived to be 140. The only other famous Cretan we’d recognised were El Greco, Mikis Theodorakis of Zorba the Greek music fame and Nana Mouskouri.

In the walkways in the El Greco Square to celebrate their great C16th artist is a marble bust of the thin-faced bearded artist with collar. . a little reminiscent of Don Quixote del la Mancha. We thought he looked rather sad with pigeon poop on his head and that he would have appreciated it, if the sculptor had given him a hat.

Di Win and Helen did a trip by local bus to Hania the old Venetian town and returned via Rethimno.

We walked through the old city, which borders the harbour, and the whole area has an Italian feel. On the hills overlooking the harbour are old Venetian three story houses in various stages of decay and refurbishment. The harbour has a wide road and plaza and very swish horse drawn carriages were pulled by trotting horses taking passengers around the sites.
Twin bell tower churchTwin bell tower churchTwin bell tower church

Each bell tower has four clocks each one was different time


The Venetian castle dominate the headlands and though, in their prime in the beginning of the C16th and looked pretty indomitable were all overtaken by the Arab and Muslim invasions from Iberia and Turkey.

In the Municipal market place, which were closing for an afternoon nap, where a variety of shops- a butcher with the largest Steaks and the T-bone steaks were at least 1 kg per chop.

There were buckets of snails, displays of cheeses and the full spectrum of Greek foods and wares.
We had lunch in the plaza by the harbour and ordered a sea food platter which was predominately calamari, prawns, deep fried crunchy prawns, deep fried semi crunchy sardines and a deep fried fat, green, whole, finger length, succulent, white fleshed fish, which were delicious.

The country roads are lined with oleanders; they are usually pink but frequently white and occasionally deep blood reds or delicate apricot and peach colours. The oleanders do not sprout as they do in Queensland but retain a thick trunk with well-formed branches and a thick canopy of flowers. A few oleanders in parks have been grafted with several coloured blooms and look stunning.

The population of Crete in the top 6 cities totals just 270,000 with Heraklion having 138,000.

Many streets have lopped Mulberry trees with cascading branches with newly formed white and black mulberries - it would be a mess in the fruiting season. Other streets are lined with Australian Eucalypts, silver greens rows of olives trees hug the roadways and in Crete through the mountainous roads, reddish marble cuttings hundreds of feet high border the roads at angles that are almost vertical.

We noted that frequently the top floor of Greek houses on the rural properties, seems to be completed but the lower floors remain uncompleted, especially the ground floor. Many are surrounded by the fine slender pine trees and the front gardens are filled with fruit trees.

It was a long day and we returned at 9.30 and walked the walkways past the day- now the night markets back to the hotel.

Crete's olives are small and a little bitter but are reputed to make the best olive oil and command a premium price of up to 50% above Italian or Spanish olive oil or so Dinah’s man in Crete tells us.

Di has been communicating with a Cretan photographer and he popped in to take us for an evening snack of Cretan delights and a taste of their better wine in a small family restaurant adjacent to the end of the tourist centre but you would have to have known the area to find it.

It was a cosy family place and we had Cretan breads and tomato relish, fried cheeses, dolmades and a white wine (actually golden in colour) that had a strange nose and was slightly sweet on the tongue like a Semillon. Crete has five varieties of grapes that I had not known and they have been growing grapes in some vineyards some the C16th.

I was disappointed that we had effectively one day less in Crete than I had hoped and tomorrow we spend the day traveling to Athens, then Athens to Roma and finally to Dubrovnik.

We will have to wait another day to see Peter’s Penopelese on the mainland and the real western side of Crete, so as this is our last night in Crete and in Greece , here are a couple of closing comments about this fascinating country.

GREEK THINGS THAT WE MAY NOT HAVE COMMENTED ON SO FAR.

Greek bathrooms are all small and never square - and all this from the world’s first greatest engineers and designers who designed with great precision the pantheon and the illusion of tapered columns that fooled the eye - I ask you, how could a Demis Russos ever get into a shower or onto a corner loo pressed against the shower, the paper roll holder, a rubbish bin and a heater and try to wipe his bottom and then comply with the “dispose of thoughtfully” into the rubbish bin.

The towels on our hotels seems to have been washed in marble dust or emery dust or calcium powder in Athens and other hard water areas (Crete had lovely water) to ensure that, when you dry yourself, you are completely exfoliated and retain a glowing skin. No wonder Greek girls have lovely completion!

Country roads are generally two lane roads but constructed on the equivalent width of a three-lane road. Each lane has a half lane on the side on which the slower drivers drive with the vehicles astride the line on the side of the road. This allows any passing car to slip past over the double lines and not be concerned about the on-coming traffic. Generally drivers are very responsive squeezing into the traffic flow: they are not the least aggressive - a bus can stop on a corned hold up the traffic going both ways to let off some people, or someone can back across a road, and everyone waits. It's a little Nepalese in that regard.

Jan awarded a gold medal to a Greek bus driver in multi-tasking driving when we drove, smoked, talked on a hand held mobile, swung his worry beads, could take a bite out of his apricot , joke with his passengers and yet keep the bus on the road!

Greek food is wonderful and Crete especially has some wonderfully grainy breads, which and then covered with seeds and dry out so they are crunchy. Initially I thought they had been deep fried to get that level of crunch but it is the texture of flours and yeasts and the dry air that makes the crunch. They bear no comparison to our breads except maybe the soft

And tomatoes, they are big, and red, and juicy and are served on a variety of salads and for breakfast.

Yogurts are creamy and the honey aromatic. When driving through the countryside there are always units of beehives stacked in the fields by the villages.

In the villages, there are always lots of restaurants, with men sitting and drinking coffee or having a beer and smoking. This is a land of smokers.

The roads are full of motorbikes that weave through the traffic and parking on any available piece of footpath and no one complains about being forced to walk on the road to get around them.

The Crew of the super cat ferries appear to have been trained by Ulysses’ crew anxious to plunder Troy and be off. They rushed the passengers ashore assisting anyone who had difficulty pulling their bags over the bumpy loading ramps then rushing the people on board and before you could find your seats, they were off!

And we chuckled at the Greeks who can’t help themselves - they are professional queue jumpers and the do it so well we think it is a mandatory subject in schools - Like lift queue jumping for New Zealand kids!

We are sorry to be leaving this sun drenched country and pleased that so many of its sons and daughters have come to Australia and taught how to enjoy Greek foods. Tomorrow is a long day of travel to Dubrovnik..


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