Our final CYA trip of the semester was this past weekend taking us to the wonderful island of Crete. Our journey began with an overnight ferry ride from the Piraeus port in Athens to the city of Herkalio in Crete. Before departing, we could see many of the refugee campsites from the upperdeck of the boat. Tents lined the streets near the port with those who had recently arrived in Greece. Instead of looking chaotic or in ramshackles, the lines of tents were well organized creating mini “blocks” as children ran around the site. I think witnessing this before we departed made us feel even more fortunate to be taking a trip to one of the most beautiful parts of Greece acknowledging that these refugees will likely never see it as they try to form a new life in Europe. This was my first overnight boat ride and although we had to deal with the unavoidable warm cramped boat cabins, it was pleasant sitting out on the deck as we watched the city lights of Athens slowly disappear behind us.
We arrived early morning with a 6:30 breakfast on the ferry boat before departing by bus to the Knossos archeological site. This site contains the first Minoan palace from 1900 BC making it the first European city. Covering an area 14,000 square meters, this palace is enormous and originally contained many artifacts and frescoes that are now on view in the museum. Much of what one views today are the reconstruction efforts of Arthur Evans who excavated the site beginning in 1900. Frescoe replications cover the “new” walls and demonstrate the thoughts on reconstructing ancient sites at the time of Evans.
Leaving Knossos, we arrived at our hotel in Heraklio to drop off our luggage and have a walking tour of the city we would be spending the next two nights in. The city was significantly more beautiful than I originally had in mind. Neoclassical architecture with Venetian influence lines the larger roads with small streets offering plenty of food and drink options. We walked down one of the main pedestrian roads that led to the water where the Venetian castle is located. At the waterfront I saw a large basket filled with sea sponges that had been collected from earlier that day. After eating lunch at a recommended souvlaki stop, we walked next to the water and sat on the rocks. From this spot we could see both the Cretan Sea and the mountains that form in the central part of the island. Snow is still visible on some of the larger mountains resulting in chilly water temperatures as this snow melts and makes its way down to Crete’s many beaches.
Meeting at a central fountain at 1:30 we then walked over to the Archaeological Museum. We received a brief introduction to the museum by one of the conservators that currently works there who we found out worked on the Propylaea restorations with my professor Tasos Tanoulas back in the 90’s. Inside the museum we saw many objects from the Minoan time period (as early as 2000 BC) before contact was made with other civilizations outside of Crete. My favorites included a wood model of the palace (it looks like a maze!), the Snake Goddesses, and the frescoes. Much controversy surrounds the fresco remains as they have been pieced back together with some “additions” that end up completing a picture that might not have actually been the original image. Nonetheless, these reconstructions have become so representative of this mesmerizing civilization that it can be difficult to suggest other theories as to what these frescoes actually represented.
Finishing our museum tour, we checked into our hotel rooms and asked the front desk for the closest beach. We ended up taking a taxi cab to a public beach about 20 minutes away. The beach and its water was beautiful with families and younger Greeks enjoying their afternoons. I managed to swim around for a few minutes before retreating to the shore so that I could warm back up before the sun went down. After taking a taxi back and showering at the hotel we walked over to a recommended restaurant. Our dinner selection for that evening included Graviara (Cretan cheese), traditional Cretan sausage, fava, and snails cooked in a rosemary sauce. While the snails could almost be compared to mussels, they were a bit more chewy and I ended up liking the sauce more than the snail themselves. We followed dinner up with a walk down to the harbor before going back to the hotel that evening.