After 3 great nights of beaches and hikes in Loutro , Matt and I set off for a quick stop in Heraklion, Crete’s largest city on the Northern coast.
I didn’t have much of an interest in staying in Heraklion. Aside from access to the ferry docks which would take us to our next destination, Santorini, all I wanted from Heraklion was to see the Minoan palace of Knossos.
So we actually stayed outside of Heraklion in Hotel Arolithos that was made to resemble a traditional Cretan village.
Hotel Arolithos Hotel Arolithos
Aside from the fact that the buses to the bus stop in front of Arolithos were unreliable and that half of our cab drivers were unscrupulous, I was pretty happy with our hotel choice (it would have been much more convenient if we had a car though). Arolithos had a taverna, a stellar pool, and a few artisan shops on site.
Pool at Hotel Arolithos
What made it even more awesome were the views from our balcony of the olive groves scattered about the Cretan countryside, and the cool breezes that were a welcome relief from the heat we were feeling in Southern Crete.
Balcony at Hotel Arolithos
On our one full day in Heraklion we started by heading over to Knossos. After waiting for a bus that never showed, we took the 30 euro cab ride to Knossos. Being first thing in the morning, the place was pretty busy with tour groups but not busy enough to drive me crazy.
If you’re not familiar with the history of ancient Mediterranean civilizations, then Knossos doesn’t mean much to you. It is a palace that was built almost 4000 years ago by the Minoan people who dominated the Greek Islands in the Bronze age. The conquesting Myceneans took over Knossos at some point before it mysteriously was abandoned . . . some say as a result of the effects of the massive volcano that obliterated Santorini.
There’s lots of mythology surrounding the palace which makes it particularly cool. Legend has it that Knossos was the site of the labyrinth where King Minos sent seven men and women to be eaten by his son the Minotaur.
I’ve always wanted to visit Knossos. I knew that a lot of it was reconstructed and a lot of assumptions were made on the part of archaeologist Arthur Evans when the site was excavated but I really didn’t realize the extent to which Evans’ visions differed from the original excavation. I actually started to get annoyed as we wandered through reading the placards throughout the site that basically told us things like:
“This is a bedroom, or so Evans assumed. It really could be anything; we don’t have a clue. Oh, and all those paintings in there have been moved from different parts of the palace. Evans felt like redecorating the place since it didn’t look much like the palaces he was used to seeing from Renaissance Europe.”
So in the end, Knossos bummed me out. I don’t mind archaelogical reconstructions but they have to be done right and based on known facts not assumptions.
We did have fun taking pictures there with the self-timer though.
After Knossos we headed into Heraklion and did a quick walking tour ofthe city. I wasn’t too impressed by the city while we were there– I preferred the charm of Chania – but looking back Heraklion is about a million times nicer than Athens (you’ll find out why in my Athens post . . . eventually). It has a nice waterfront with a beautiful view of the Cretan sea, it is relatively clean, and is alive with people yet not overly busy.
Church in Heraklion Street in Heraklion
We decided to skip the popular Archaeological Museum since it’s undergoing renovations and the collections on display have been reduced. Instead we went to the Natural History Museum of Crete. It’s not a huge museum but we spent a good chunk of time there checking out the dioramas of European flora and fauna and the pretty impressive and informative temproary exhibition of dinosaurs of Patagonia. I actually felt bad for liking this museum more than Knossos.
Dinosaurs of Patagonia
We were a little tired of eating Cretan food by this point so we went to the pan-Asian restaurant Noodle Bar , which is like the Greek version of Spring Rolls , before heading back to Arolithos for some pool time.
The next morning we waited impatiently for a cab to arrive to take us to the port. Our ferry for Santorini was leaving in 10 minutes and our cab was no where to be seen. We started to make contingency plans since we were most definitely going to miss the boat.
Lucky for us, when our cab driver finally arrived he happened to be driving a time machine because he practically turned back the clock and managed to get us to the ferry right before it lifted anchor. Phew! Best cabbie ever.