Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Crete, Greece 2010/2011

courtesy of www.lonelyplanet.com

This month's entry is somewhat different - we're going on a brief tour of the island of Crete.  This is the largest of the Greek islands and the most southerly, sitting between the Aegean and Libyan Seas.  Crete is Greece's most populaces island as well and, as you can see by the map, divided into four regions.  Cities in three of them will be discussed here.

Iraklion (Heraklion)

Iraklion is the largest city on Crete and its administrative capital.  It has a lively port where ferries and cruise ships dock.

What makes this an important centre is its proximity to the ruins of the Palace of Knossos.  These city remains are considered to be from one of the very first civilizations (approx. 2700 BCE). Developed by the Minoans, feats of engineering such as running water are some of their most prominent accomplishments.  The ruins are controversial as their discoverer, Arthur Evans, made attempts to restore parts of the area to show what this civilization may have looked like.  Nonetheless, the developments uncovered here prove that the Romans were not the first masters of engineering and artistry.

Iraklion's public bus was an extremely efficient method of getting to and from the site.  It leaves from the bus station right at the port and drops passengers off virtually at the entrance to the ruins.

Iraklion hosts the Archaeology Museum that houses the brilliant creations of the Minoans that were unearthed at Knossos.  Although the Museum was under massive renovation (this is Greece, nothing happens with any expediency), the most famous pieces were moved to a temporary chamber at the back of the facility for viewing.  The images of dancers jumping over a bull can be found on frescoes and funereal scenes on the sides of sarcophagi.  The meticulously detailed bee pendant is also on display here.  The Minoans' ability to work with such tint elements is a true marvel.

With a number of interesting shops and restaurants, Iraklion is a fascinating place to begin a visit to Crete.

Hania (Chania)

Hania is a charming town where much of its activity involves the marina, full of small fishing vessels and tour boats.  Much of the harbour is protected by a stone wall leading out to a petit nut functional lighthouse.  Numerous outdoor restaurants and shops wind their way along the lengthy harbour area.

On one side of it sits what appears from the outside to be a tall warehouse building.  Once inside, however, a wonderful discovery is made.  This is, on the surface, the Maritime Museum of Crete-Chania.  Ah, but it is so much more.  The high, long room really only focuses on one thing - the re-creation of a Minoan ship.  The seafaring experts of Hania took on this massive project as a presentation for the 2004 Athens Olympics.  The research about how the beams were shaped, how the individual pieces were held together, the waterproofing, the making of a sail, etc., was an enormous undertaking, not to mention the historical accuracy with which it was built.  The completed ship is a phenomenal homage to yet another brilliant Minoan accomplishment.  Unfortunately, the project was deemed to be inauthentic and ship was never rowed into Piraeus Harbour.  It now sits in the Museum, a testament to the devotion and commitment to history.

On our last day in Hania, we took a day tour from the small port of Kissamos on a lovely tour vessel with beach chairs and towels.  Our first stop was at Gramvousa where a Venetian castle sits atop the hill overlooking a serene beach.  The second stop was at the Balos Lagoon.  This exquisite shallow bay was wonderfully warm, heated by the sun and the sand went on for miles; even between the boat and the lagoon there was a deep stretch of sand and stones.  It was a relaxing ride with lunch provided and plenty of sunbathing.

Hania is a beautiful destination with very friendly and welcoming people.  Between the food market in the centre of town and the pedestrian shopping street, there are plenty of activities to keep one entertained.

Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos is one of the most picturesque ports that we've visited.  We were only here for the day but we are determined to return.  The town has a dock that allows small cruise ships to anchor right in the middle of town.  Beautiful trees and gentle hilly streets define this charming place.

Our primary focus of the afternoon was a special lunch recommended by a Greek friend but, upon her additional recommendation, we visited a wonderful gallery and shop - Atelier Ceramica.  What a treasure trove this turned out to be.  Up an unassuming street was a small storefront bursting at the seams with amazing creations.  Artist Nic Gabriel creates artifacts and replicas in the ancient Greek style, according to their history and using time-honoured, colourful techniques.  Each one has an historical period and description on it somewhere.  Gabriel works on pieces from a number of eras - the early Minoan to the Hellenic period; anything from frescoes to pottery to ceramics.  His studio is his gallery and his gallery is his shop.  On any given day, you will find Gabriel there working away.  The most difficult thing was what to choose - I wanted them all!

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