Crete – 2019

Flew to Chania ( pronounced “Hania”) on the island of Crete, from Istanbul, on Thursday, June 13th and arrived in the late afternoon. The flight was only 45 minutes and they actually served a snack and drink on the plane. The airport is about 30 minutes from Chania. We arrive at our hotel and get settled in and go for a nice dinner of local food at a nearby restaurant which was recommended by our driver, excellent local food. Our hotel is overlooking the marina and inner harbour.

Crete is the birthplace of the first European civilization, the Minoans, which flourished between 3000 BC and 1200 BC mainly in Central and Eastern Crete. Once again, I find these dates “mind blowing”…that is BC! We will learn more about the history of Crete when we visit Heraklion, the capital, in a few days.

Crete holds a very strategic position in the Mediterranean. It is located between mainland Europe, Africa and Asia. There is still a NATO base located in Crete.

CHANIA

We have arranged for a tour of the old town of Chania and we are met by Olga on Friday, June 14th. We head out nice and early to try to avoid the heat. Supposed to be 30 degrees today. Olga tells us about Chania, the Venice of Greece and it is the second largest city on the island of Crete. It is located on the west side of the island.

When we arrived yesterday we were surprised to see a range of mountains, some still covered with snow. Olga says these are known as the “White Mountains” with the highest peak at 3,453 meters. They are made of limestone, so the quality of water on the island is excellent. By the way, since arriving in Greece, we have been drinking tap water, unlike our time in Turkey where we drank bottled water the whole time.

There are many gorges and caves in the mountains and many people come to Crete to hike, including the famous Samaria gorge which is 16 kms long. The land on Crete is also very fertile and the island is basically self sufficient when it comes to produce. Olga tells us that the locals eat what is in season.

A lot of earthquakes take place in Crete, but mainly in the south. Their energy comes from coal or diesel ; although they do heat their water with solar panels.

A little history first. The Venetians occupied Chania between 1204 and 1645. The boat yards that grace the harbour, were built by the Venetians, along with the breakwater. They controlled the salt trade; which we know from previous travels was used as currency. They also built the beautiful Venetian style palaces along the harbour.

After the Venetians, the Ottomans/Turks arrived and they added wooden closed balconies to the beautiful Venetian style palaces. This would allow women to look out, but still maintain their privacy. They also built a mosque in 1647. It is now an exhibition hall. As we now know, the Turks that still resided here went back to Turkey in the great population exchange of 1913.

The Cretan revolt against the Ottoman empire lasted for three years 1866-1869 and Crete became an independent state in 1898. On December 1st, 1913, Crete officially united with Greece, fulfilling the century-long dream of Cretans. The people that we have talked to here in Crete, have all told us that the people from Crete always wanted to join Greece.

During WW11, Crete was occupied by the Germans and parts of the old town were destroyed.

We walk through the winding streets of the old town and Olga points out that certain streets were traditionally for leather makers, others for knife makers, etc. We visit the Jewish Synagogue. There is no Rabbi here in Crete, but a small Jewish community does exist. There is a very small Synagogue which was in very poor condition due to bombing in WW11 and had been abandoned. In 1995 a wealthy Jewish American was instrumental in getting this building rebuilt. History shows that Jewish, Christians and Islamic people all lived here in peace.

We visit the Greek Orthodox Cathedral which was built in the 1860’s. Only icons are evident, no statues and they do not use any musical instruments. Olga tells us that 97% of the population is Orthodox; although many do not practice on a regular basis. She did say that Easter is very important and at that time of year, everyone attends church, but many have to stay outdoors as too many for the church to accommodate. It is mainly a time to spend with families. She also told us that it was a tradition for the first girl of a family to be named after the grandmother and yes, her grandmother’s name was Olga.

We visit the covered market, which now mainly houses many tourist shops, but still some fish mongers and some vegetable stalls. I mention that the Mediterranean diet is deemed to be one of the best in the world. She tells us that it is really not the Mediterranean diet but the Cretan diet that has proved to be the healthiest. This diet, of course, includes lots of cold pressed virgin olive oil. She tells us that Greeks are the number one in consumption of olive oil; 20 kilos per person per year. They eat lots of cheese and herbs are a very important part of their diet. She even showed us an herb which is used to make a tea called “mountain tea” which most Cretans have every morning. This tea is supposed to help with all types of ailments. Robin and I did try some one night and a very different taste, helps to put honey in it.

Fish also a very important part of their diet. She tells us that they eat the whole fish, including the head and some even eat the eyes. Needless to say, this kind of grossed us out. Crete is also famous for its vegetables. They consume a lot of vegetables, lots of greens and pulses.

After we leave Olga, it is so hot we decide to stop for a snack and cold beer. I cannot believe how much beer I have imbibed on this holiday. Very hot everywhere and the beer certainly goes down easily!

We wander through the lovely lanes of the old town and Faye and I buy some clothes. The owner of one shop is French so I take the opportunity to speak to her. Along come another French couple, so a lively conversation takes place. The French couple tell us that the island of Crete is very popular with the French and that they themselves have visited on numerous occasions.

On our final day in Chania, we go for a few walkabouts. To find good beaches one must go a little out of the town. We did not venture out there. The water here in the town is very clear, but no real place to dip in the sea.

We have had some wonderful meals here. Went to restaurants recommended by locals and that certainly pays off.

A final picture of our time in Chania.

HERAKLION

We have arranged for transport to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, which is about two hours away. We leave early and meet our guide Lina, who takes us to the Archeological Museum.

Lina is certainly passionate about the history of Crete and in all honesty, I can now understand why. The history is so interesting; some based in mythology which I find so interesting.

An exert from Wikipedia follows:

” The history of Crete goes back to the 7th millennium BC, preceding the ancient Minoan civilization by more than four millennia. The Minoan civilization was the first civilization in Europe and the first, in Europe, to build a palace.”

Lina did say that after the Minoans came the Mycenaean in the last phase of the Bronze Age from 1600 to 1100 B.C. They were followed by the Dorians from 1100 to 950 BC. The Dorians were warriors and brought horses to the island. The Minoans used oxen.

The art work of the Minoan people is absolutely beautiful. To think that they existed such a long time ago, their art has intricate patterns and beautiful colours. The pieces of art in the museum were mainly taken from the excavations of the Knossos Palace. In addition to pottery, jewellery and we also see several partial frescoes. There were no weapons found; so it is felt that they were a peaceful society. The archeologists also found two separate writing systems, but they have not been able to decipher them. They also feel that they travelled off the island to trade, as they used gold and tin which were not available of the island.

There are also other palaces which were discovered in addition to Knossos and perhaps we can visit at some future date. They are Phaistos, Malia and Zakros.

We see very large pots and Lina tells us that they would have kept liquids in these large vessels; such as olive oil and wine, and these could have been used for trading.

We see small figurines and ritual vessels that would have been used in religious type ceremonies. Large tablets represent currency and clay tablets depicting their script, which is referred to as Greek Linear B script.

We make our way to the Palace of Knossos, known as “The Labyrinth”. It covers about 14,000 square meters and was surrounded by an ancient city. The site came to prominence in the early 20th century when it was excavated and restored by a team led by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Lina tells us that Arthur Evans was very instrumental in ensuring that all of the artifacts and frescoes were removed from the site and stored to be placed in the museum, which they were. What you see at the site are simply representations of what would have existed at the time. Having said this, you do see, the actual rooms and underground areas.

We walk through the site and Lina explains the various areas such as the throne room, the four entrances, the underground storage areas, how their construction allowed for ventilation and sewer systems and overall sturdy construction.

I simply love all the history and mythology surrounding the history of Crete and Greece. I keep thinking I want to learn more about it and this may very well be my next project when I get home.

Another great day with another great guide. We have been so impressed with our guides throughout this trip.

We are taken to a resort just outside of Heraklion, about 15 minutes from the airport. Nice to finish off our holiday enjoying the sun, the sea and the swimming pool.

It was great that we were able to enjoy this holiday with our good friend Faye and thank her for taking this time with us.

Once again, many thanks to my wonderful travelling partner Robin, who always makes any trip so enjoyable and memorable.

Overnight in Amsterdam and back home to Calgary on Tuesday. This is it, till the next time!

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