17 May – Crete (Heraklion), Greece

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May 17th 2016
Published: May 17th 2016
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Part of Knossos Palace
Happy Birthday to Patterson and Melody Brink! They are 6 years old today. Yesterday was Janet’s “pretend birthday” as far as the ship was concerned, but the twin’s really have their birthday today. Happy Birthday!

Today is our first time ever in this country – Greece. So put another star on the map for us. The ship arrived on scheduled this morning and we had beautiful weather all day for a change. It was sunny all day, short sleeve temperatures, and only occasionally windy. So that was good.

We started with breakfast in the dining room because we had time before we had to go to our excursions – plural. Today is the 2nd time that we have split up and gone to different tours. We had originally booked 2 tickets for the “Best of Crete” but after Florence we traded Janet’s ticket in for “Easy Crete”. It turns out this was a good decision.

Crete is located midway between Egypt and Greece. The island itself was formed 55 million years ago when the tectonic plates collided to force up a mountain range – the top of it is the island of Crete. This is the

More of Knossos Palace
2nd largest island in the Mediterranean, second to Cyprus. Crete is 264 miles long and has two mountains that reach 8000 feet. The first villages were traced back to 2600 BC and were the formation of the Minoan civilization. The peak of their development really started around 1600 B.C.

David’s group met in the Princess Theater and Janet’s group met in the Symphony Dining Room. Janet was the first one in and sat alone for a short while until some others showed up for the same tour. We had noticed some people on this cruise with a multi-colored badge and had wondered why. The first other people to show up had this badge and explained that they were part of a church group called the Harvester Church. And a group of them are tracing the steps of St Paul. They had done a tour of Rome before getting on our ship and they are leaving at Athens. Some of them are going onto to Jerusalem.

Soon Janet’s whole group gathered and got on the bus. The first stop was at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. It was a fascinating place divided into several rooms each representing an age of

Still more of Knossos Palace
Crete. There were many displays of pottery and jewelry which had been dug up from that timeframe. A lot of art work was also on display with the missing pieces replaced by archaeologists. The guide was very knowledgeable and interesting. In 1400 BC the Minoans were replaced by the Mycenae civilization. There was a major earthquake about that time, but it’s not understood whether that toppled the Minoans or they simply became absorbed over time into the following culture. There were multiple changes of culture over the years including Greek and Roman. Eventually they were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and remained that way until about 1878. In 1913 they became part of the country of Greece and they remain that way today. However the museum had a large collection of artifacts from those olden days.

After a short visit to the gift shop, Janet and the group got back on the bus and headed up the hills to the village of Thrapsano to a pottery shop. The potter created several pots in front of us and some our group tried to work the wheel with various degrees of success. This has been a family business for generations and

A final look at Knossos Palace
their gift shop had some beautiful pieces. But Janet kept hearing David say in her mind, “It won’t fit in the suitcase” and restrained herself to buying a small piece. Several people bought a lot of stuff and who knows how they will get it home.

After a ride through the country side Janet returned to the ship and had a small lunch and coffee from the International Café before resting while she waited for David to return from his tour.

David was the last person in group 4 of 9 groups going on his tour. He expected to probably be sitting in the center seat on the back of the bus, but actually got a very good seat by himself when we left the ship at 9:30. His tour used “whisperers” and David was able to use his own earpieces to hear well. The tour left the dock and drove about 20 minutes to the Palace of Knossos. This was the centerpiece of Minoan Royalty residences. Much of what Janet saw in the museum ties directly to what David saw in the field.

Around 1900 Sir Arthur Evans stared excavating this site. He was not a

View along part of Aghios Nikolaos waterfront
trained archeologist but instead was a London adventurer who thought it would be nice to big up this old city. In one respect he brought to light one of the oldest centers of European civilization. From another perspective, he did not follow proper techniques and probably destroyed a lot of things which could have been preserved. Also it is believed that a number of artifacts just disappeared while he was in charge. But to his credit, he did try to make the city come back to life and is credited with its rediscovery. That being said, parts of the palace (which covers 22,000 square meters – up to 1300 rooms) are truly intact or were able to be reconstructed to its original form. There are other areas where modern scientists feel he exercised a great deal of fantasy in building things which they are sure is incorrect. There were originally fresco painted on the walls – mostly gone but some have been restored or created anew (incorrectly). About 2/3 of what we saw today was original material and about 1/3 was invented to help frame the original is a meaningful setting. Regardless, it was a terrific tour through what remains

Aghios Nikolaos as seen from above as leaving for Elounda
of the palace and David’s guide was able to bring to life what must have been happening back in those days. As a comment regarding Janet not coming on this tour - it was much too strenuous a climb over irregular blocks and steps, along uneven gravel paths, and up/down steep steps for her to have enjoyed it. We both made the right choice today.

The palace was extremely crowded with our 9 tour groups, several others from the ship from the red group, others from the aqua, and more from green, etc. Thankfully there were no other ships in port. David’s guide said that this was only about half as crowded as it would ordinarily be in July or August. The group finished with a 20 minute wait to go through the “queen’s throre room”. Frankly it was over-hyped and under-delivered, but there were some folks who insisted we visit it instead of leaving on time. So we were a bit late leaving the complex, but still David enjoyed it. There is a lot more that can be said about the palace ground so it is probably best for everyone to look for it on Google and discover as much as interests you. About 12:30, we got back on our bus and headed across the island for our next stop.

We took a scenic ride along the coast to the seaside resort town of Aghios Nikolaos. We got there about 1:35. This is a very picturesque little tourist town on a harbor where there was small cruise ship docked today. The little village reminded David of a small version of Sorrento. We only had about 30 minutes for a quick restroom break and a little shopping. David had a chance to walk around and take a few pictures. There is a lake adjacent to the sea which was believed by the Minoans to be bottomless, even though the waters were crystal clear. Anyway, this might be a fun place to spend a little time but we were off to visit another place. We left about 2:20.

25 minutes later we arrived at Elounda, which is another seaside resort town down the coast. We walked over to a Greek restaurant where they were waiting to serve us lunch – as it was getting close to 3:00 David was getting pretty hungry. The restaurant served us a selection of “Greek delicacies” served on a large lazy-Susan. Frankly there were things that David could not identify, but many of them were good (not all). There was a salad, a couple of breads, some dips, olives, 3 types of sausage, some chicken drumsticks, a pork dish, some kind of ravioli, a couple of fish items, and some other things. There was wine and water. For dessert we got fruit and cakes. It was certainly unusual, but most of the things tasted fairly good.

This village sites across the bay from a fortress on Spinalonga Island. Built by the Venetians in 1579, the island, like the rest of Crete, fell to the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century. Later, the island served as a leper colony until 1957. Our guide explained about the history of the fortress and island, but we were running short of time and did not get to go explore it.

From there we drove back across the island and returned to the ship. Throughout the tour, David’s guide provided an immense amount of information. Crete has a population of about 860 thousand, which is 8% of the total Greek population. Despite this, Crete provides almost 33% of the Greek GDP. He told us a lot more information but that’s enough for now. This really was a good tour. We got back to the ship about 5:10 and “all aboard” was 5:30. Janet was just beginning to worry whether he would get back in time, but all was well.

At 6:00 we went to dinner again. This evening there were only 2 couples in our portion of the dining room – that really got us great personal service. Tonight was the Italian Dinner night. Janet had the veal dinner and David had the chicken. It was another good meal and then we went back to the cabin to be sure to send this blog for the twins. Instead of going to the Princess Theater to watch a comedian, we watched the movie “Galaxy Quest”. We had seen it before, but it was still funny. We have another big day tomorrow with an early start, so we will wrap up for tonight.

Happy Birthday again to the Twins.


18th May 2016

Really enjoying reading your blog. Looks like you're in Greece and will probably go to Santorini next. If there's an excursion that goes to Oia, don't miss it. That's a wonderful place. Have fun!

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