Crete has always been high on my list of places in the world to see. Mainly because of the book The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart (which was also made into an amusing film by Disney). We landed on the island after dark in the city of Iraklion. Note to everyone (including me): landing in a strange, non-English speaking city with only the name and address of your hotel and wandering around with your luggage is not the best idea. We should have had a map or something but we didn’t so we asked three different people and they managed to direct us to our hotel which was much further from the port than we had originally thought. Our first impression of the city, seen through a haze of we-are-extremely-tired-and-just-got-off-an-eight-hour-ferry-ride was of a bustling city glowing with lights. We realized later that it was actually busier than usual because it was the Saturday night of a long weekend, however this also worked against us because it meant that the shops were closed on Sunday and Monday – the only two full days we were there.
Fortunately the ruins are all open on Sundays and holidays and we kicked off our touring with a visit to Knossos, which is the site of much history and complications. There were people living on the site as early as nine thousand years ago! Apparently several other groups/civilizations lived on the site and there are layers of ruins right up until the Romans. The most confusing part of our visit though was that it was excavated by an English guy for nearly thirty years in the early 20th century and, although he painstakingly uncovered nearly the whole site, he also took it upon himself to do extensive “reconstructions”. I put that in quotes because there is a bit of controversy about the way he did the reconstruction and whether or not the resulting structures and paintings are accurate or if they were heavily influenced by the guy’s imagination and contemporary ideas about art and architecture. That all being said, it was an amazing site and clearly would have been a large and impressive palace in it’s heyday. It’s just that my inner historian was wailing over the inability to discern the different layers of ruins.
We also visited the ruins at Gortyn which were much more interesting. We still didn’t have much information about them but they were fun to visit. We were the only, THE ONLY, people there. Just us wandering around in the ruins. There are also more ruins down the road in the middle of an olive grove that you can also visit although those ones are fenced off and you can’t walk in the ruins – but in this case free to visit and look over the fence (the main ruins are four euro to see). This site is most well known for its stone tablets which are inscribed with early Greek law codes. We missed seeing that and actually only learned much later that the tablets existed. I went back through the pamphlet that they gave us at the gate and it doesn’t specifically mention the law tablets, so I feel a bit better about missing the most famous part of the ruins.
We also stayed in the city of Chania for three nights and rented a car in order to see some of island on our own schedule. Nothing much was open and we visited some beaches which also featured gale force winds that made even wading unpleasant. My sister was really looking forward to visiting the Samaria Gorge and doing some hiking but it is closed in March (and indeed for the whole winter), but we managed to find Irini Gorge that was open for hiking. It was eerie and hazy, all we could hear was the wind blowing throught the trees, and goats kept appearing and disappearing on the path.