Monday, March 20, 2017


I've said before that Greece is a big country, and if you come here, you should put in the effort to see as much of it as possible. If you're a regular person, with a regular budget, and American-standard paid time off, bag every other place I've ever told you about in Greece, and just go to Crete.

Crete is achingly, stunningly beautiful. It's also a great island to visit during the off-season. Almost everything is up and running during the winter, which is a bit of a rarity in Greek islands. There are two main cities with airports: Heraklion, and Chania. We spent most of our limited time in the area around Chania.

The Minoans popped up in Crete around 5,000 years ago. Crete was the center of their civilization, which included some of the other nearby islands. You'll remember that the Minoan civilization eventually collapsed, possibly because of the massive tsunami from the massive volcanic explosion that formed present-day Santorini. In its prime, it was a powerhouse of trade and culture. According to a careful reading of Wikipedia, the Minoans are regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe; which makes Knossos, the main archaeological site we visited in Crete, the oldest European city.

Knossos was excavated by an English man, Sir Arthur Evans, beginning in 1900. Arthur Evans had a talent for deciphering undecipherable artifacts, and reconstructing entire structures based on his findings. That is to say, he invented a lot of crap about the site, but made it sound believable. Some of the most recognizable elements from Knossos may be completely fabricated. Some elements are definitely real, though, and it is completely thrilling to see a city that had working water pipes 4,000 years ago.

There's a real thing for you. Those rocks are the original stairs.

After the decline of the Minoan civilization, Crete changed hands a bunch of times. Sometimes it was under Greek control, sometimes Roman, and sometimes Ottoman. You can see the different influences in Old Town Chania. We stopped by the Archaeological Museum of Chania first,  to check out old stuff.

After the museum, we walked around a bit. We saw an old church, an old synagogue, an old street, an old mosque, an old castle, and a bunch of old people.

We stayed right on the coast, in a rental from Airbnb. Our apartment was in the old tannery district. A lot of the surrounding buildings were vacant, and full of junk. It was cool. Our building was beautiful. And, I mean, it was ON the coast. With a capital "O, N!"

Here's a view from the front door. There's a bedroom to the immediate right, a full kitchen to the right of that purple backpack, and...

...this living room to the left. 

The living room doors opened to this patio. The sea is on the other side of those rocks.

This is the lived-in loft bedroom upstairs. The ceilings are gorgeous and vaulted. 

Here's the balcony off the upstairs bedroom. 

Our view from the rocks in front of the house.

More view. 

It was a stunning property. I hate to even share it with you, because I don't want it to be booked if we try to go back. It's already booked most of the time anyway. Okay, fine. Here:

We were in Crete during Carnival. We were a week early for the big celebrations, but we got a taste of Carnival in Rethymno. 

We spent our last afternoon driving through villages, and the mountains.

During World War II, Greece was part of occupied territory. The people of Greece heavily resisted German occupation. Every road trip we've taken has routed us past a WWII memorial commemorating local resistance. Crete is no different. Several of their villages suffered huge losses. This particular church is located in a village that repelled a group of German troops with a small local force. Germany returned with more soldiers, and executed every man in the village. In the churchyard, there was a monument engraved with the names and ages of the men who were massacred. It was sobering.

I hate to leave you on a mournful note. Why do I do that? Why can't I just let things be beautiful and pleasant? I guess I do it to remind myself that the places I visit aren't just one-dimensional postcards. In Greece, especially, there is a deep, ancient history, punctuated by good times, and terrible times. Understanding the history is an important part of experiencing the country.

On the other hand, sometimes you just have to shut up, and enjoy the view.

Go to Crete. You will never regret or forget it. 

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