Karie on Feb 7th 2008 08:56 pm
It was another early day heading from Santorini to Heraklion, Crete. In the summer it would be nice to take a ferry, but they are unreliable (or nonexistent) at this time of year, so we took a short flight. We only had one day in Heraklion before heading across the island it Chania, so we hit the ground running… straight to the gyro stand, through the open air market, around several churches, to the end of the harbor and back.
The main attraction of the area is the Palace of Knossos, or what’s left of it. The palace belonged to the Minoans who once inhabited the island, but were wiped out by earthquakes caused by the eruption of the volcano on Santorini. We weren’t able to visit the site of the palace, as it’s a bit too far away considering our time limitations; however, we did visit the archaeological museum which houses some of the artifacts recovered from the ruins.
Today’s Heraklion, as Scott put it, seems to be struggling to find its identity. It’s a large city, so there’s a mix of old, new, charming, and ugly. It’s the capitol of the best known island in Greece, yet it lacks that island charm that exists in the most of the other villages. However, I do have to give them credit for the fact that they put fries in their gyros, and for their fabulous cafés.
The Greek’s seem to think that Nescafé is coffee. In fact they advertise on menus like they expect the foreigners to be excited about it. Luckily, the cafés in Heraklion aren’t really as much about coffee as they are about sitting in plush chairs lining the sidewalks, basking in the sunshine, chatting with friends, or people watching… all of which happen to be among my favorite activities.
The next morning we took a 3-hour bus trip across the island to Chania. Chania was ruled by the Venetians for quite some time, and you can feel their influence throughout the old town area, particularly at the harbor. Ok, so the fact that it’s called “Venetian harbor” is a clue, but it gives itself away even without knowing the name.
In the summertime I imagine every restaurant along the harbor is packed with tourists, but in February, it’s mostly the locals enjoying a long lunch or a cup of their fake coffee. We also discovered a new favorite – “Greek toast.” It’s basically just a grilled sandwich with various options for fillings, but when you cover that Cretian bread in butter and grill it, it doesn’t even matter what’s inside.
In Chania we found the allure of Crete. We spent a few days wandering around the narrow streets, hiking through the hills in an attempt to find the very best view (which I think is impossible to judge), and a bit of geocaching.
While visiting Greece in the early Spring or Fall would be ideal (especially if you like hiking, as the best trails are closed for winter), I do think that we went at a great time. We were blessed with beautiful weather (just missing the storms that came before and after our trip), and I think the locals enjoy the tourists a bit more at this time of year. I’m sure tourists can be both a blessing and a curse, but we found everyone to be so warm & friendly, and we really got the feeling that they appreciated us being there. So, if you want time to chat with the locals and indulge in some freebies from generous shop & restaurant owners, the off-season is the time to go and make friends!