Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Island of Crete

Let me first preface this entry by saying, Crete is the largest island in Greece. Way back in Ancient times, the Minoan civilization developed and thrived there. It was a completely different civilization then that which developed on the mainland of Greece. Also, because of its position it was dominate power in the Aegean. Ok, enough with the history lesson. Though it will help you appreciate the pictures of our trip because we spent most of our time exploring Minoan ruins.

We arrived in Crete via overnight ferry. I bunked with 3 other girls who are alphabetically right next to me. That was cool because the 4 of us had never met. Anyway, our first stop once in Crete was the town of Heraklion, which also happens to be the capital and the 3rd largest city in Greece. We took a walking tour of the ancient walls, which was basically to show us the Venetian dominance of the culture. My tour guides; none other then Nigel Thornberry and his wife Stephanie. Sidenote, Nigel read us limericks during our extensive bus travels and wore a safari hat while on site.

Next we visited the Palace of Knossos, the most famous site in terms of Minoan history. It is comprised of more then 150 rooms, multiple courtyards, the oldest road in Crete, etc. This was supposed to be the big horrah of the trip and it turned out to be a downer. There were soooooo many tourists that it made the experience much less enjoyable. Anyway, we had lunch in a cute town of Archanes, which is known for their wine. So obviously I purchased some.

Our next stop of the day was the cemetery of Phourni. What used to be a barb wire fence surrounding the grave site, turned in to a full fledged metal gate since last year when CYA had been there. So, we did some breaking and entering and hoped the fence.

After spending the night in Heraklion, we headed to the town of Eleutherna, where we visited a hellenistic fortress. It sat on top of the town, so we got to overlook the city, which was really cool. We visited the University of Crete's ongoing archaeological site to see actual skeletal remains of the people wiped out during the massive earthquake in 365.

We left Eleutherna for a small town called Margarites, where we had lunch. Known for their hand crafted ceramics, most of CYA spent a good deal of money on a lot of pottery. Our next stop was an old monastery. It resembled the Alamo in style and architecture and was just a gorgeous place to see. I had to put my skirt on over my shorts so as to not be showing too much skin.

We spent the night in a really cool town called Rethymnon, which sits right on the water, has a cape cod esque jetty, and lots of good seafood restaurants. They are known for their homemade thyme honey, which I tired. Delicious. This was probably my favorite town that we visited in all of Crete because of its shopping and size. Athens still seems so big to me.

On day 4 of our exploring Crete we visited a Venetian fortress. It was used by the towns people if the town were ever to be under siege. There was also a mosque on site, which was built originally by St. Nikolas as a church. Next, we visited the town of Aptera and explored its ruins, as well as its heavy Roman influence. There were huge Roman style baths and cisterns, as well as a monestary on site.

With the afternoon free in Chania, we new roommates from trip and I went to the fresh market, where we ate lunch across from the butcher. Lovely. It kind of reminded of Nassau with all the touristy stuff in one main area. After that we headed to the beach, which was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. Had dinner by the beach that that night with my roommates and a few new people.

The last day of the trip was my favorite. All of CYA (160 strong) met at the top of the Agia Irini Gorge and spent the morning hiking down the gorge. It was an 8km hike, which they deemed about 4.8 miles. The weather was perfect. We carried our backpacks because at the end of the gorge we were headed to the small town of Sougia. It took us about 3 hours to complete and we spent of the rest of the afternoon on the beach.

Crete was interesting, not just the ruins or of the daily field trips but the modern culture. We were approached by Gypsy children about 5 times offering to sell us trinkets. I have never seen this in Athens but do remember it from Paris. The landscape is covered with mountains and everything is still green here. So, to say it was picturesque is an understatement. I also liked Crete for the social part of it. CYA did not do a good job introducing us all to each other so I got to meet and spend time with people I had never met before, which was cool. It also made seeing my roommates (during our gorge trek) that much more fun because we all had different experiences to bring to the table. Lastly, I have found my new favorite breakfast ... Greek yogurt and honey. I have been living off of Greek yogurt but tried it with honey on this trip and well I am never going back.

Planning on going to area known as the Peloponnese this weekend to explore one of the old towns, which we have heard is really neat.

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