The ferry from Santorini to Heraklion (or Iraklio, as it's known in Greece) was over an hour late, so by the time we arrived it was dark. We took a taxi to the rather uninteresting Lato (Boutique !) Hotel and called it a day.
Next morning, we went exploring, starting with the port, where our ferry from the previous day was still docked.
The high speed ferry from Santorini in the commercial docks and the adjacent original Venetian port
Heraklion was badly damaged during WWII and most of the buildings are modern and ugly as you can see from the pictures. The most interesting building still standing (and heavily restored) is the fortress which protected the original harbor.
The exterior of the Venetian Fortress built in the 16th Century
The interior of the Fortress, known as Rocca Al Mare
The other major attraction is the Archeological Museum, which is supposed to be second only to the Athens Museum, but we discovered the Museum is closed for renovation and seems to have been closed for at least two years. However, there is a small "highlights" museum, which features some of the most important finds fom Knossos, which is just outside Heraklion.
The Phaetos disc, with symbols which so far cannot be deciphered and a black stone Bull's Head with gold horns
A fresco detail and a small statue of a snake goddess, relics from a shrine in Knossos. Snakes represented immortality for the Minoans
The Bull Leaping Fresco, showing an acrobat somersaulting on the back of a bull.
It's unclear if this was an actual representation of a sporting event
Although Heraklion wasn't our favorite Greek city, it did have some lively and bustling squares, Lion Square being the best known.
Lion Square in the heart of the old town of Heraklion
Next day, on our way to Chania, we stopped at Knossos, the seond most visited site in Greece, after the Parthenon in Athens. This was a Royal Palace which was started in 1900 BC and rebuilt again in 1700 BC. This was the legendary home of the Minotaur and was probably the basis of the myth of the Labyrinth. It was excavated in the late 1800's and early 1900's by Sir Arthur Evans, a british amateur archaeologist. He also partially reconstructed the palace, but his reconstructions (mostly in concrete) are very controversial and probably less than historically accurate.
The outer walls of Knossos
The site at Knossos and some of Sir Arthur Evans rather fanciful reconstructions, usually in concrete
Perhaps we had visited one too many sites during the previous weeks, or perhaps it was just a hot day and we still had a long drive ahead of us, but we couldn't work up a lot of enthusiasm for Knossos, even though it is a legendary location. So after about an hour, we decided we had had enough and headed off to Chania.
Chania (pronounced Hania and sometimes spelt that way) is the second largest city in Crete and unlike Heraklion, was not destroyed during the war. The old town and port retain much of their original Venetian charm. We stayed in an original Venetian home in the old town, now converted into "apartments" - rooms with some catering facilities.
The Madonna Studios and the small courtyard from our balcony
Breakfast on our small balcony every morning and our room at the Madonna Studios
The Old Port of Chania at night
The Venetian Lighthouse and the lights of the Harbor in Chania
Two of the great meals we enjoyed in Chania - no shortage of choice
A quiet street in Chania
Other than exploring Chania, which we did on our first day and then in the evenings, our last three days in Greece were spent enjoying various beaches around the South and West of Crete. Every one was different, some small and private, some large and very public. Some had coarse sand, some had rocks. Some were sheltered, some were not, but all of them had wonderful clear water and great swimming, if you didn't mind being knocked over by waves from time to time.
Getting to the beaches meant driving over some pretty high mountains or through rugged gorges, but at the end of the drive, the beaches were worth the effort.
High mountains to cross
And deep gorges to drive through
But the beaches are really something when you get there. Our first beach was Elafonisi Island on the west coast.
The spectacular beach at Elafonisi Island with wonderful clear water and lots of small private coves.
Next day we drove to another beach at Paleochora, on the south coast of Crete. This was a large, organized beach.
Paleochora Beach, South West Crete
Nudity is not uncommon on Crete beaches, but not everyone approves and not everyone obeys the signs !
(This isn't us, in case you were wondering, but I wish it was !
And on our last full day in Crete, we drove to another beach on the south coast, this time at Plakias. Plakias is a large, well known beach and looked very nice, but we drove to a small beach just a short distance from Plakias which was more private.
Plakias Beach, Southern Crete
Mikro Amoudi Beach, just east of Plakias Beach
So after three days of hitting the beaches, Paul at least developed something of a tan. Kristine stayed deliberately pale !
And so the next day, we left sunny Crete and headed for the Yorkshire Dales, our last stop before returning to the U.S.