Monday, May 19, 2008

Crete in March (Part II)

We were ready for lunch so we drove north through Elounda to the fishing village of Plaka. We looked for boats to take us to the fortress turned leper colony, but there were none as it is still winter.

We did find a wonderful fish tavern for lunch. Of course, we were the only patrons. The proprietor showed us two pans of fish (caught this morning). We selected a flat flounder and a big something or other, which we had with a big salad and a plate of grilled octopus. The view was magnificent--right on the sheltered blue green bay with the island opposite. The "beach" was large, perfectly smooth river stones, and when the waves went out, we could hear a unique sound as they tumbled against each other.

Thus fortified, we drove to the Aretion monastery (closed), stopped and hiked to the scanty remains of ancient Dreros, an important city in the Archaic Period (620-480 BC), where I found a scrap of ancient pottery.

Here we found that everything we had read about the sensual nature of Greece is true. You are surrounded by the sounds of birds singing and the smells of herbs--oregano, thyme and sage. The colors are intense--blue sky and deep blue water; yellow, red and white flowers; pink almond trees.

Home through Kastelli (a different one) with old Venetian mansions and its neighbor, Phourni. It was sprinkling a bit as we stopped to see the "other face of Elounda," the half-submerged city or Olous, destroyed by an earthquake around the 4th century. At the site was also a beautiful mosaic floor, now totally exposed to the elements, from an Early Christian basilica.

Wed., March 11

It was raining when we got up, so we decided to attack Heraklion and the world famous Archaeological Museum. We found a place to park about two inches longer than Jive and just about as wide. Jerry did a great job of parking. (Although the driver's mirror was "folded" back when we returned)

Most of the treasures of Knossos and the other palaces are here, and it was a very interesting visit, especially since we've seen some and will see more of the sites. Again, our guidebook did an excellent job of identifying the contents of each room's cases.

We finished just before 2 and decided to try and reach Tylissos (which closes at 3), where the remains of 3 late Minoan villas are on display. If we hadn't become hopelessly lost in Heraklion we might have made it. As it was, we got there (the books are right--get out of this capital city as quickly as you can) about 2:45, in the pouring rain, and it was locked. However, the parking lot overlooked the site so we were able to get a good idea of its layout.

We had to go back toward the capital so we stopped at a very OBT taverna in Gais. The owner, who looked as if he had spent the morning painting and plastering, spoke no English. So we went into the kitchen, he opened the fridge, and we pointed. Everything was good including a great plate of papouleh salad (I think it must have been some sort of wild green), drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.

We got home about 5:30 and rested.

Th., March 12

This was a long day--we didn't get home till after 7 (and left at 8:30 am) but a very interesting one. The weather was bright and sunny if a bit cool in the mountains, with dramatic black clouds hovering over the mountains.

We took the road south to Ierapetra, the most southerly town in Europe. This is a rich vegetable and fruit-growing region--cucumbers, tomatoes and beans--and is known as the vegetable garden of Greece. Olives and citrus trees were everywhere. The trip was gorgeous, with breathtaking views.

From Ierapetra we turned west and traveled close to the coast to Mirtos, the "hippie beach" where the caves are now locked at night to keep them out. The road went slightly north and then west--very picturesque. Between Sinikismos and Aniras we suddenly came upon a modern monument with a poem in four languages (Greek, English, German and French) inscribed on stones, which honored the 350 people, killed by the Nazis in 1943.

We took one wrong turn but it was only about six miles. I continue to be impressed by this map. We stopped at the town of Aimi at the village market, but it was strictly for the town, not for tourists. There were the usual fruit and vegetable vendors, but also shoes, fabrics, clothes and hardware--nothing we couldn't live without, and no handicrafts.

We drove all the way to Agia Triada for the first of four planned stops. I had a few doubts about whether we would make it up the road, but we did. Speculation is that this site was the summer residence of the rulers from the palace at Festos. Many frescoes and cult objects were found here including the Harvester Vase and the wonderful sarcophagus we saw in Heraklion. One of the interesting things here is the number of apparently original columns, carvings, etc that haven't been moved.

We took a short detour to the town of Vori, where we saw a very interesting folk museum with exhibits categorized into areas of everyday life: food gathering, weaving, agriculture, viniculture, tools, etc.

Festos (Phaistos) was the next stop. After Knossos, this is the most important palace. Like the others it was destroyed and rebuilt on two occasions and was used until 1450 BC (and the catastrophe of Santorini). The famous Festos disc with the world's oldest printed script was found here.

We stopped for lunch in Mires and once again had a very authentic meal. We each started with a bean dish: mine was a kind of vegetable stew, and J's was mashed and heated gray beans drenched with olive oil and onions. Then I had wonderful light fried eggplant slices and J had octopus stew followed by meatballs.

Then to the final site, Gortis, quite a different one. The first building is the impressive ruin of the basilica of St. Titus (6th century), pupil of St. Paul and the first bishop of Crete. More impressive is the Odeon (theatre) at first century Roman rotunda with the famous Code of Gortys, a law code dating from 500-450 BC. Twelve tables of laws have been preserved out of probably an original 20. They are on 42 stone blocks. The Romans didn't understand the dialect and left them alone.

Then we walked across the street and through a working olive grove where columns and tablets lay about or formed part of farmers' walls. What a sense of history! Finally we found a Roman Praetorium, an excavation in process with first and second century carvings. Quite a day!

Fri., March 13

Our vacation is coming to an end. This day was beautiful. We went into AN in the morning. The shop was still closed, so we walked around the town a bit and when we came back it was finally open. The owner, artist Nick Gavril, was working on his copies of ancient Greek art. He told us about the pieces, including a major one, which has been purchased by the Met. We selected a plate with symbols of Aphrodite, Poseidon, and "Harmony."

Then we set off for a scenic tour around the Lasithiou Plateau. We climbed and climbed, almost to the snow covered peaks, then descended into the plain, a basin of about 15 square miles enclosed by the Dikti mountains, and one of the most fertile areas of Crete, growing potatoes, fruits and cereals. One of the caves here (which we didn't visit) was the birthplace of Zeus.

We were hungry and stopped at the only town, which looked as if it might have a taverna, Dzernuado. It had several, but only one was open. The lady in charge, after running across the street when she saw us, led us to the kitchen and offered us bean soup and pork with roasted potatoes. She apologized for not having more, but this was not the season of tourists. It looked fine to us, and we ate heartily.

On the road out of town, we spied a tiny stone shop with beautiful weavings, lace and embroidery. Jerry bargained and we left with 2 rugs.

We stopped at a charming little abandoned monastery, Moni Gouverniotisas, whose only inhabitants were 2 baby goats. In the center was a gorgeous lemon tree, and J speared himself on giant thorns releasing 3 of the yellow globes from bondage.

After one last stop at the supermercado, we made our way back to the villa and began to pack. We went back to Gleeka's for dinner. She was very happy to see us and we had a long conversation. She gave us ouzo again and we ordered dinner: Lamb chops for me and baked gyros with brandy sauce for J. We talked some more and her husband made us a flaming brandy. Jerry forgot to blow his out before tasting. Now his bottom lip is white. We had a drink at the hotel bar and retired.

Sat., March 14

We checked out (owing 17759 drachmas for electricity and water) and headed west about 9:30. We had one last palace to see--Malia--and almost felt as if we knew what we were looking at--we have learned something. Malia was signposted and had paths, probably because of its proximity to the capital. There were also a few other tourists here.

We ate sandwiches by the roadside and made it to the airport without incident. I checked us in while J returned Jive to Hertz. We waited about 45 minutes and boarded our flight. We've noticed that there seems to be little organization in Greek airports. We landed in Athens and got a cab to the Odeon. It seemed to take a long time. There was a demonstration against the devaluation of the drachma and it made the route slow.

We checked in and called Panos. We arranged to meet them at Kolonaki Square, the center of Athens and a very posh neighborhood. We ate dinner at Jackson Hall, an American style sports bar, and then Michael took us for a hair-raising ride up to Lykavithos Hill, the highest in the city. We drove as far as we could, then walked the rest of the way. The views were spectacular. The small whitewashed chapel of Agios Georgios crowns the top of the hill. We had coffee and dessert in the restaurant and then walked back to the car. It was a great way to spend our last evening in Greece.

Sun., March 15

Home on another long flight. Got to LBI about 7:30 PM (2:30 AM body time), went through the mail and prepared to return to reality.

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