Crete - a myth? Unless you drive in walk mode!

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April 13th 2014
Published: June 26th 2017
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Through the Suez Canal and off to Heraklion, Crete

Temperature: 19C 66F

Distance travelled: 3902 nautical miles

Since we entered the Med there has been a distinct drop in the temperature. It's as if we have passed through a portal from hot to luke warm/tepid. There has been no gradual decline in weather. The clouds seem to hover around the eastern Med but there is some force field or magnetic force that is stopping the clouds from floating over the Suez Canal and in to the Red Sea.

It was the last of the 6 performances by our Classical singers. Nessun Dorma was, of course, the grand finale sung by the Tenor. It got the ovation it deserved and after a curtain call by the singers and musicians, they all lined up and the overture to Nessun Dorma once again sounded. This piece was written for a Tenor as an aria in Turendot by Giacomo Puccini. We presently have on stage the Tenor, a Baritone, a Soprano and a Mezzo-soprano. The others certainly weren't on stage to act as the backing vocals!! I wasn't sure how this was going to work.

'Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, Nella tua fredda stanza…' the Tenor was in full swing. Suddenly the Soprano took over. Before long all four of the classically trained singers were the taking the lead. The final verse and they then started harmonising with each other. The crescendo, one last bellow from the man who started it all: ‘Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vincero! Vincero! Vincero!' Rapturous applause followed. That rendition would have made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up if they hadn't already been burned off through nearly 3 weeks of constant sun!! The musicians consisted of a pianist, a flautist and a violin who was billed as Maestro. They all took a well-deserved bow. Maestro was young and he was probably a musical genius but as I kept telling Roisin, a haircut wouldn't have gone amiss!!

We are due to arrive at Iraklion (Heraklion) in Crete tomorrow morning. Crete is Greece's largest Island and the second largest in the Eastern Med next to Cyprus. Before then it was the seventh and final round of the World Champions Quiz. Everyone waited for the topic to be revealed. The tension was increased by the sound effect of a drum roll. Suddenly the screen revealed: Famous Ships. The good news is that this was leaked after the last round and as I trusted my sources as being accurate and reliable, I had managed to do a little homework! The bad news was that the 12 questions were multi choice being 1 correct answer and 2 ridiculously wrong answers. An example thus: Question – What ship was built in 1869, owned the East India Company and was a clipper for tea? Options: a) Cutty Slack, b) Cutty Sark or c) the Nutty Shark!! The tension was increased as the question master revealed that the winners will not be announced until the day after tomorrow during our last sea day. There will be a prize giving ceremony at 4:30pm here in the Broadway Theatre. Surprisingly we scored 12/12 but so did probably everyone else. Malta who, at the start of this round were 2 points in front were not giving anything away. When the answers were being announced we looked over to gauge their reaction but they had all brought their poker faces to this ultimate round. Our team is resigned to the runner up spot which in itself is not bad out of 21 teams. After all, I keep telling myself ‘It's
Chris on the roof without a fiddle!!Chris on the roof without a fiddle!!Chris on the roof without a fiddle!!

The Throne room of Knossos
only a game'. It made me laugh on day 1 when it was announced that mobile phones, tablets, internet were not allowed. We were in the middle of the Red Sea!! The internet charges would have been about £1.50/min. If someone is that desperate for a ball cap or a key ring it would be cheaper to buy them from the logo shop on board!!!

With the quiz now firmly at the back of our mind, our thoughts turned to Iraklion. Iraklion or Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and the 4th largest city in Greece. Our plan today is to take the local bus to the ancient ruins of Knossos (more about that later). It is only a few kilometres out of town and as we have to be back on this ship by 3:30pm we felt this is all we could do in this time.

Due to the port by-laws, passengers cannot walk in the port perimeter and for this reason a free shuttle bus is available constantly running between the ship and the port building. What a difference a day makes. Last time we were here in October 2011, the day was dull and damp. Cloud cover was very low and visibility was poor. It looked like we had docked in the middle of a container base, miles from civilisation so Roisin and I did not bother to get off the ship. Today however, it is very bright and while the temperature is only mild in the 60's, the distant mountains are well defined and the skyline of the city shows just how close Heraklion centre is to the port.

The bus station is only a few hundred meters from the port gate. On leaving the port building, we followed the sign for the city centre passing several taxis. A half-hearted ‘Taxi?' and a politeNo thank you!' and we were free. We saw the bus station entrance on the left but more importantly Roisin spotted a yellow open top tourist bus. Change of plan. Providing the price is not extortionate because a few cruise ships are in port, we decided that it would be nice to have a tour of the city then perhaps alight at Knossos of continue with our original plan. The price was €15 and a round trip took approximately 1 hour. There were 10 stops on the route and Knossos was number 8 so gave us time to sit back and enjoy the scenery before alighting at our ultimate goal.

Crete was occupied by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire. Four of those I can imagine conquering whole civilisations but the Venetians?? I think of them more of merchants and traders rather than war mongers and invader of lands. I have visions of the Venetians landing in Crete with their abacuses in one hand and rolls of cloth in the other threatening to introduce them to double entry book keeping!!! The Cretans must have been quaking in their boots! The tourist bus drove within a few yards of the dominant Venetian fortress that protects the entrance to the harbour. The Venetians called it ‘Sea Fortress' but today it is known by its Turkish name Koules. The fortress of Koules gazes proudly out across the Sea of Crete. It is haunted by legends that Cretan rebels were horribly tortured in its damp, dark rooms. They were probably made to review their profit and loss accounts and balance sheets for the previous tax year? If anyone has ever completed a tax return, they will know it's torturous at the best of times!!

After passing the Natural history museum with its full size brachiosaurus standing guard outside, the bus headed toward the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis. Inside Greece he is the number one most renowned celebrity. However, outside of Greece he only comes in at number three next to Nana Mouskouri and Demis Roussos!! Kazantzakis was born and bred in Crete. He is most notable for his book Zorba the Greek that was later turned in to a film starring Anthony Quinn. He also wrote the book which Martin Scorsese's film, The Last Temptation of Christ was based upon.

After passing the newest of the city gates known as the Jesus gate for nothing more than being named after a nearby church, we arrived at the ancient ruins of Knossos. Knossos is an ancient city of the Minoans. The legends connected with Knossos are a mix of fact and mythology. Knossos was, without a doubt, ruled by King Minos. However, by all accounts he was a bit of a jack the lad and his wife was getting fed up with his infidelity so she asked one of the Gods to ‘fix it'. Every time the king took on another lover or even thought impure thoughts, the Gods made it so snakes grew out of King Minos's stomach and spiralled down his legs. I'm not certain if that was a punishment for the poor king as I'm sure he could have worked that to his advantage. If it was me, and my lady friend saw activity from within my trousers I would quite calmly say:Don't worry! It's only the ‘ol trouser snake!! When the lady would then start sniggering at my bold remark I could then say: ‘No, it really is a trouser snake!!!'

Anyhow, King Minos was not the only one who was playing away from home. He wife used to dabble with the odd affectionado from time to time so, King Minos had the last laugh. He asked another God to sort her out. The God made King Minos's wife fall in love with a Bull. 9 months later, his wife gave birth to half man, half bull. The Minotaur was born.

King Minos asked Daedalus to build him a labyrinth in which to keep his son the Minotaur. The maze was designed with such complexity that no one placed in it could ever find its exit. King Minos kept the architect, Daedalus, prisoner to ensure that he would not reveal the labyrinth plan to anyone. Daedalus, who was a great inventor, built two sets of wings so he and his son Icarus could fly off the island, and so they did. I'm sure Icarus needs no introduction. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax that held the wings together would melt. Now we all know what happened thereafter…yes, that's right Ryanair was founded!!!

Meanwhile in another part of Knossos, the king's daughter Ariadne fell in love with Theseus. To cut a long story short Theseus didn't get on very well with his future brother-in-law or bull-in-law or whatever you want to call him so before he entered the Labyrinth to fight the Minotaur, Ariadne gave him a ball of thread which he unwound as he went into the Labyrinth so that he could find his way back by following it. Theseus killed the Minotaur, and then he and Ariadne fled from Crete, escaping her angry father.

Knossos was inhabited for several thousand years, beginning with a Neolithic settlement sometime in the seventh millennium BC, and was abandoned after its destruction in 1375 BC which marked the end of Minoan civilization.

Leading up to the site, there are plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants. The site only costs €6 entrance fee and takes about 1 hour to walk around. For an additional €10 a guide was available. The guide wasn't just a book with pages. For €10 you got an old lady who spoke excellent English but you had to give her back at the end of the tour (but you could keep the book.) As we walked past the old Lady shouted: ‘You need a guide otherwise you won't know what things are".

The main buildings of interest are the Palace, the throne room and the Temple. There is part of a villa still standing but most of the other buildings in Knossos are nothing more than foundation stones. Some of the reconstruction plans of the buildings seem a little on the adventurous side. How archaeologists can reconstruct a complete villa from a couple of bricks and a ton of rubble is beyond me!!

Before we left the site we wandered in to the small souvenir shop where I was met with something I have not seen in years. The shop assistant, after looking up from her magazine to give a nonchalant acknowledgement, slowly turned her attention to the open packet of Marlboro' Lights, reaching for one she flicked it up from the packet, popped it in her mouth and lit the cigarette. Obviously, the ‘no smoking in the workplace' laws have not filtered down to this corner of the EU yet. As Roisin pointed out, with Greece's economy in such a bad state, she was surprised shop assistants can afford to smoke!!

We hopped back on the tourist bus and hopped back off at stop 9, the Archaeological museum. We didn't really have time to visit this place and, being Sunday, it would likely be closed anyway. We stayed in a nearby café listening to a number of brass bands blast out tunes such as Rule Britannia and that famous Greek folk song whose name escapes me at the moment!!

That evening after dinner, Roisin and I, Jim and Margaret met the other half of Team Ecuador; Petr, Jo and Sage. They had the excellent idea of hiring a car for the day. This works out cheaper than an organised excursion for 1 person. They have hired cars before, for example, when they visited Katakolon; the port that serves Olympia. However, when hiring a car it is wise that any GPS you use should be set to ‘car' mode and not ‘walk'!! Petr entered the coordinates for the town they wanted to visit about 60km from Heraklion. The route started off pleasant enough until the highway became a single lane, dirt road. This soon turned in to single lane but without ‘road' status!!! At this stage they were crossing the mountain rage that straddles the length of Crete. The single lane then turned in to a pathway. A pathway that was hugging the contour of the mountain. Having realised the faux pas, Petr used all his driving skills to reverse 500m down the path until it gave way to a wider girth when he could safely turn around.

It's been a good day for everyone we spoke to. From the short time we spent here, the people seem very friendly and there is plenty to explore for everyone to suit all tastes from Museums and history to beaches, from bars and tavernas to scenic walks. Crete is certainly one place we would consider returning for a holiday. Although the Geeks have a reputation for erratic driving, the Cretans don't seem to agree with that philosophy and driving in Crete is more leisurely and relaxing (providing you have the GPS on the right setting!!!)

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