Where does one begin to describe an island as beautiful as Crete? Each time I think I have seen the most beautiful views, sights, and churches Greece has to offer, I’m surprised by something equally as stunning just around the corner.
Crete is hardly “just around the corner,” to be fair.
History professor John Karavas described it to us as “the Texas of Greece”. Like Texans, Cretans consider themselves first and foremost a resident of their state, but have also been known to describe themselves as “more Greek than Greeks”. Cretans are known for their hospitality and for their cuisine.
Unfortunately, I was dead tired and feeling slightly sick from the ferry, so I don’t feel as though I fully benefitted from seeing this site first. However, it was incredible to be there alongside our trip leader, Steve Diamant, who is a well-respected archaeologist here in Greece. When we first arrived, it was cool and the site was nearly empty. It very quickly warmed up and dozens of tour groups arrived, making the experience difficult to enjoy. That being said, Knossos was absolutely gorgeous and I’m so glad I got to see it.
Shortly after seeing Knossos, we arrived in Heraklion, which would be our home base for the next two days. Right away, we found a cafe to sit down and enjoy a cappuccino freddo and a crepe and then we set out to explore at a nearby flea market before meeting back at the Archaeological Museum. Before our tour, a preservationist came to speak with us and tell us about his job, which was very exciting for me as I’m considering a career in museums, and then Professor Diamant led us through some of the most important artifacts. The Phaistos Disc–a mysterious untranslated piece of writing. None of these symbols appear anywhere else.
Giant double-headed axes used for ritualistic purposes (?)
That night, I went to dinner with my roommate Emily and our friend Carolyn. Our go-to for cheap, authentic food in Athens is a taverna, so we decided to try the same in Heraklion. We found a place off of the main street in an area that seemed less touristy…
…and we were not disappointed. As usual, we ordered several appetizers and split the bill between us. For around 5 euros each, we piled our plates with bread, feta, calamari, stuffed grape leaves and seasoned pork. At the end of the night, the server brought out a little bottle of raki (which, as it turns out, I am not a fan of–mostly because I can’t stand licorice, but I am developing a tolerance for it) and loukoumades with ice cream on the house (I didn’t take a picture because I was already in a food coma at that point). It turns out that this is a very common experience in Crete–at least at tavernas and traditional restaurants. We experienced wonderful hospitality at each taverna we ate at.
On Thursday and Friday, we visited smaller sites, including Phaistos (which I enjoyed more than Knossos), this burial site and a couple of sites that aren’t open to the public. I really liked the smaller sites because we could climb on the walls and get close up to the features Professor Diamant pointed out. It was an incredible experience to walk on and touch stones where civilizations flourished 5,000 years ago.
The scenery in Crete is absolutely stunning, and while traipsing around taking notes out in the sun my tan evened out a little. I’m slowly but surely approaching a Greekish skin tone.
Again, one of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting a monastery. This time we visited the Arkadi Monastery, where in an act of resistance against the Turks, a group of soldiers and civilians blew themselves up. The Cretans have always shown a great deal of resistance towards foreign occupation, and this story moved me very much.
As I was taking this picture of one of the dozens of cats at the monastery, I was approached by a one-armed, toothless woman wearing a long, black dress. At first I didn’t know how to react, so I smiled and continued taking pictures of the cats. But I had clearly misjudged the situation and the woman continued to approach me and cradled my face in her one hand. I was a little freaked out at this point and she asked in Greek where I was from. I told her America and she started to laugh then asked over and over where my parents were. I tried to tell her I was a student studying abroad but I’m not sure if my Greek is that bad (likely) or if she couldn’t understand why I was there alone (also likely) but it was creepy to stand in a place where hundreds of people had died at once and listen to an old woman saying, “Mama? Baba?” over and over. Luckily, someone else from my program came by and I told the old woman, “Sygnomi,” and walked away. When I got back to the bus my friends joked that I had met a ghost, but all joking aside, I could have believed it in that moment.
On Saturday, we spent our final few hours in Chania, where we had spent the night. I wish I had had more time to see what the city had to offer because I enjoyed seaside strolls, popping in and out of all the little stores and wandering around the back streets and finding quirky corners. But, unfortunately, our ferry left at 8 that evening and we had to say goodbye to Crete. I have no doubt that I will return to this beautiful island again someday.