Friday, June 27, 2008

The Travel Project: Greece Day 3

After the museum we were about to embark on our sea voyage to Crete. This involved taking the 'Metro' which is surprisingly nice. Just slip your ticket into a waist height column and follow the signs marked in both Greek and English. The trains are a little long in the tooth but the stops are clearly marked on maps inside and a pre-recorded voice notifies you of the next stop. I got to see some gorgeous landscapes as we made our way down to Piraeus, the ancient and now modern port of Greece. You should have seen how many ships were there. I wish I'd taken a picture. The worst part was we had to cross the entire length of the harbour to get to our ship. I honestly thought my arms were going to fall off.

On the outside, the ship wasn't much to look at but inside it was decked out like a cruise ship. There were mirrors everywhere and stairs (I swear I climbed more stairs in Greece than at any other time in my life) and smartly dressed employees. We found our tiny cabin and headed off for dinner. That's where I put to use the two words of Greek I'd picked up.

We wandered about the ship and found ourselves in this posh lounge where they served expensive drinks. We then made our way out onto deck and watched a full moon over the ocean.

The next day our alarm went off at five am. This was not my idea. After the ship reaches the Cretan port of Herakleion, everyone gets kicked out by six . In order to ensure a speedy departure they sound an alarm. They also barge into your room to escort you out. We were one of the fortunate groups in that we walked off the ship before any of that happened.

By this point I was extremely tired but we couldn't check into our hotel yet. The only answer was breakfast. Our prof brought us to this tiny square with a gorgeous fountain in the middle. The place was empty except for our group and I kept expecting someone like Audrey Hepburn to ride by on a bicycle or maybe Judy Garland to come around the corner. It was that picturesque and again I apologize for the lack of photos. We ordered food at an adorable cafe called "KipKop" and this is the most important part. If you ever reach Herakelieon on Crete and are up before the sun, you must -must- order a bougatsa. It is the most amazing breakfast I've had. It's a pastry that you can order filled with custard, cheese or meat. I ordered mine with cheese and it was so light and tasty, I can't even describe how delicious it was.

One of the great things about Greece is the myriad of local markets you can shop at. I was able to buy food for lunch just down the road from our hotel. After we checked in it was another long bus ride to Knossos.

Knossos buildings

Something you may notice when you arrive at Knossos is the peacocks. They brayed and hollered throughout our profs introduction to the site. There were also a ton of tourists. You want to get there early in the morning to avoid crowds as well as the heat.

Archaeologists at Knossos

These men were working in a closed off area of the site. It's nice to know that more than one hundred years after the site was excavated there are still secrets to unlock. I wanted to know what they were discussing but not speaking Greek I wouldn't have been able to understand them anyway.

Some background now. Knossos was the site of a Minoan palace, a culture that predated the arrival of the Mycenaens and Greeks on Crete. All you need to know is they built several palaces that seem to have been administration centers. In 1900, Arthur Evans, a rich man not an archaeologist! purchased the whole site and began excavations. This was both good and bad. He believed it was the ancient site of King Minos and housed the Minotaur and great labyrinth as the legend goes. The word labyrinth comes from the word 'labrys' which means double axe, a motif found throughout Knossos. Evans decided to call the civilization that lived here, Minoans from King Minos.

Evans is a controversial figure as he restored the throne room and various other areas. He is believed to have over-interpreted what little information remained of the original ruins. As well, his recoding of data and his interpretation of data has come into question.

The Throne Room - Knossos

This was restored by Evans. He believed that the 'throne' was occupied by a women because of how narrow it was. He thought only a woman would be able to occupy it. The griffins on the wall are now famous but only fragments of these frescoes had survived during the original excavation. They're beautiful but may not have been what occupied the walls here.

View from Mt. Juktas

This photo doesn't properly convey the lushness of the countryside but imagine if you will, both sides of Mt. Juktas drop away and across this side of the valley are orchards and vineyards, wild grasses and old farmhouses, ancient villas that have been occupied for generations.

Mt. Juktas Peak Sanctuary - Terraces

Mt. Juktas has a church on one peak and a peak sanctuary on the other. It's quite a drive up there and a perilous one as well. I tried not to look over the edge as we switchbacked up a dirt road that wasn't wide enough for my liking. The church was a small hike up giant rock steps but the peak sanctuary was another story. It's quite a hike up there and we (sort of) stepped over a fence to keep out tourists. This is where I nearly fell and broke my neck. We were on giant monolithic stones and I stumbled after clambering over the fence. I was quietly terrified for a moment until I looked up and saw the view. Here are the remains of terraces at the peak sanctuary. It's interesting that after thousands of years the mountain is still a place of worship, albeit under a different religion.


I don't know what kind of flower it is but I found it growing in the middle of the peak sanctuary.

Mt. Juktas

This is Mt. Juktas from afar, taken on the fortification walls of Herakleion. Do you see the face?


This is a view from the ancient fortification walls around the city. Beautiful isn't it? This is the moment where I fell in love with Crete. From my journal I wrote, "My favourite view is of the ocean. It stretched out into the distance until it and the sky blurred into a hazy line." Even though it was a sea and not an ocean I was looking at, the view reminded me somewhat of home.


teflonjedi said...

Looks and sounds great!

Sorry that you're not feeling well. :(

the duck thief said...

Thanks. I don't get sick very often but when I do, it's a doozy.