I had an early flight to Crete from the Island of Santorini in a 50-passenger prop plane. It’s been a while since I have been on one of those. While waiting in the airport I chatted with a couple who turned out to be Marv and Fran Levy. The name didn’t mean anything to me, but Fran told me that Marv was the head football coach for the Buffalo Bills and took them to four Superbowls in a row. He’s also in the Hall of Fame, I was told. Too bad I don’t follow football, so I would have known that name but many of you may.
I got a bus in from the airport and was dropped off at one of the main plazas where there were ‘goings on.’ Somebody was holding forth with a bullhorn—and my flight that morning had been moved up a half-hour because a strike was scheduled at 10:00. Times are tough for the Greeks.
I found the Rea hotel and then a restaurant called I Avli tou Defkaliona, only a block from my hotel that was highly recommended by the LP. I can see why! It was full of locals and I had way too much (good) food. (red roe salad, potato salad and shrimp saginaki) When I had eaten all I could, they brought (gratis) grapes and watermelon, and some little honey puffs! Good grief!
The next day I took a public bus to Knossos. Incidentally, when Greeks get on a public bus, they present their little paper ticket to the driver, holding it firmly with thumb and forefinger. The driver tears off half with his thumb and forefinger, all in one smooth motion. It’s their little efficiency quirk. We dumb tourists hand the ticket to the driver and he has to use both hands to tear it and give back our portion!
Knossos was on the mind of Heinrich Schliemann, who unearthed Troy, much to the chagrin of the professional archeologists, as he surmised there was an ancient city here in Crete. He couldn’t make a deal with the controlling Turks but aroused the interest of Sir Arthur Evans who did make a deal and began digging in 1899. The FIND was amazing to the world as it was dated to the time of the Egyptian civilization. Beautiful buildings, frescos, art objects and pottery were discovered, most of which is in the Archeological Museum in Heraklion. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed as fantasies of Sir Arthur, some critics say, but it does bring the site to life. For example, he has painted many of the (original) columns red and black—not authentic say some scholars. Reproductions of the frescos made the rooms seem ‘kingly’ and ‘queenly;’ dolphins swam in the fresco decorating the queen’s domicile. A blue monkey fresco reminded me of Akrotiri’s blue monkeys. In one place were the most beautiful ‘giant pithoi’ meaning great big jars in which to store olive oil, wine and grain. Over 100 of these were found on the site—I couldn’t get over how beautiful they had made these utilitarian jars. Some of these were over six feet tall.
There were hoards of people from tour buses at the site, which made it a little hard to move around. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the HOT summer with two or three times that many people.
By noon I was back in town and followed up with a visit to the Museum. Well, only a small part of the collection was on view as they are rehabbing the building. I was disappointed but not for long. They said that they had just the most important pieces of Minoan culture on display but there were certainly enough to enjoy. I don’t think I could have appreciated much more than I saw. Each piece was making me ohh and ahh! And on top of all these delights, both the Knossos site and the museum were ‘free admission’ today—I don’t know why! Normally they are 10 euro for both the site and the museum. Somebody opined that it might have something to do with the strike—but the government needs the money! Anyway, it lived up to my expectations, which were high. The setting at Knossos was lovely, too, with pine forested hills all around the site.
In the museum I also saw a temporary exhibition of Roman-influenced statuary from around 100 AD, which all was found on Crete. This was also beautifully displayed and showed some wonderful pieces. Clearly the Minoans were a bell weather civilization throughout their history as far as art was concerned.
Moving on to other museums and landmarks the following day (Heraklion has an inexhaustible supply) I first visited the Venetian Arsenal. The Venetians were here from the 13th to the 17th C. The ‘arsenal’ is the remains of Venetian dry docks where they built/repaired their boats. There were 50 of these huge docks, which were 100′ long, 30′ high and 20′ wide. About five of them still exist—at least parts of them.
As always, I can’t pass a church without going in and so the small Dimitrios Church afforded a peek at a nice little mural. Then a really BIG church appeared, which was not on my map. Clearly they had just finished reconstructing it. It was built in the 1400s by the Venetians but had been destroyed by the Arabs.
This brought me to my major project for that day—The Historical Museum of Crete. It is housed in a beautiful building and presents things from Crete’s more recent past (recent meaning only going back to about the 3rd C. AD). There was an interesting marble of a lion attacking a deer from the 6th C. AD that came out of St. Titus’ Church! And there was a lovely 17th C. Venetian fountain that started up as I was looking at it—it still works!
On the top floor I was treated to scenes from the movie, “Zorba the Greek,” as the author of the book on which it was based, Nikos Kanzantzakis , had donated all his papers and furniture to the museum. I looked for the book in the museum shop but they didn’t stock it—it would be fun to read it.
By now my dogs were barking so I went to the museum terrace for a Greek coffee, and then back to my hotel for a rest. Most of the museums gave me (over 65) a half-price or reduced price ticket—typically about 3 euro.
The next day I was in an earthquake!! Let me hasten to add it was SIMULATED in the Natural History Museum. They showed a movie while you sat on kind of a table that shook and simulated actual earthquakes (one in Taiwan and one in Kobe, Japan) to give you the experience, sort of. I lived in California for over five years, and never felt one little tremor! Other exhibitions that I enjoyed in that museum were live specimens of colorful iguanas, and a reconstructed Deinotherium (an extinct great big elephant with funny tusks) from fossil bones. I had never heard of this animal before.
Oh, and I did manage to find a bookstore that carried “Zorba the Greek” in English, so I shall read that, thinking of Anthony Quinn, of course.
Sunday morning was one of those days that just didn’t go right. First I had breakfast at a good-looking bakery where they microwaved the croissant to HOT, HOT, which spoiled it.
Then I looked again for the Museum of Religious Art (closed yesterday) but it was still closed this morning and looked like it never opens. Too bad, as there were six icons in there by somebody named Mihail Damiskinos, who was El Greco’s mentor. I would like to have seen if they had those long faces and special colors that El Greco’s paintings always have.
I had a dickens of a time finding Nikos Kazantzakis’ grave, which was on top of the Venetian Walls surrounding old Heraklion. I finally did find it, a very plain vanilla grave. And being at the walls, I did see the Hanion Gate.
Moving on I looked for the ‘delightful’ Venetian Bembo Fountain, which turned out to be graffiti-covered, with no water, and not very pretty to begin with. OK, I guess that was enough sight seeing for this day.
I sat for quite awhile at the Morosini Fountain, (the Lions) watching all the activity there.
I’ll be flying to Athens tomorrow to spend a week with my friend, Sally, at her holiday house.