Wednesday, June 4, 2014

our last days on Crete

I'm writing this post back in New York City, three days after getting home, so it's a ramble catch-up of the last few days we were in Crete. We were staying at a lovely little hotel comprising a series of cottages on the slopes of a mountain, a B&B kind of deal, in a pretty small village. Every morning we started with breakfast at the hotel, then we went on our driving mission for the day, and returned to the village for dinner. Zaros is centrally located -- both east/west and north/south -- so we were able to head north towards Heraklion to see the Palace at Knossos, and southwest toward the beaches and Phaestos to see King Minos's summer palace.

our little cottage -- Eleonas Cottages

the area around the 'hotel'

I like a mountain view

the hotel had a pool, but we never swam

really beautiful area

each fireplace had this kind of weathervane

boy do I miss the view. BOO. Miss it so much.
One of my favorite things about our vacations is breakfast. It's my favorite meal to eat out, anywhere any time, and since we usually stay in small little specialty hotels/B&Bs, their breakfasts are usually local and sumptuous. From the moment we thought about this trip, I'd been looking forward to daily breakfasts similar to the ones we had in Turkey, which featured Greek yogurt and honey, various olives and tomatoes and cucumbers, spears of feta sprinkled with herbs and pepper or marinated, and small pastries. I imagined I would gorge on Greek yogurt every single morning, mounds and mounds of it, without shame. Who cares, I won't see those people ever again and if they point and laugh at the giant scarfing bowl after bowl of yogurt, it won't bother me. What happened, though, was the opposite! Unlike all our other vacations, breakfast was not served by our hotels . . . or if it was, it was incredibly crappy. Sweaty thin slices of beady ham and blobby (and surely tasteless) cheese, plain sticks of feta, a basket of horrible looking croissants. In Paris we found a little cafe that served a beautiful brunch, of course, but the rest of our time in Greece I was out of breakfast luck. Until Chania and Zaros. At Chania, the two women running the B&B prepared these giant feasts that were a full day's eating, and only on the second day was yogurt even available (but I'm not complaining, those were magnificent breakfasts). In Zaros the possibilities were similar to those we got in Turkey, except the feta was just plain. Each morning I spooned an enormous mound of yogurt on a plate and draped it in honey, and picked a selection of small Greek pastries. Not a fan of dairy, Marc chose tomatoes and cucumbers and pastries. Cups of coffee and glasses of fresh orange juice. A gorgeous terrace surrounded by fuchsia boughs of bougainvillea and wild herb-scented air, filtered sunlight, just wonderful.

One day our trip was to Knossos, to see the remains of the famous Palace. I'd been dazzled by this place since I was a young girl, like so many reading kids. The minotaur in the labyrinth, Ariadne and her ball of yarn, Theseus . . . and then the frescoes uncovered by Sir Arthur Evans, dazzling images of beautiful dancing people, huge-chested bulls and men flipping over them, ooh la la. Since my book club had just read the story of the decoding of the Linear B script discovered on the tablets at Knossos, I felt perfectly ready to visit the site. I worried about Famous Ruins Overload (FRO), coming on the heels of our visit to the Acropolis in Athens and the ruins at Akrotiri, but it was fine. The site itself wasn't nearly as dazzling as I wondered about, and I don't think that's just due to FRO. The Acropolis is magnificent in scale and position, on the heights overlooking Athens. Akrotiri was interesting because it was enclosed by a really lovely building. Knossos was a site of partly restored ruins without the images of the frescoes that had been removed, and if I hadn't had such a full imagination and store of knowledge about it, I might not have been so impressed. (In other words, if I'd been Marc, who was a very good sport about it anyway.)

the paint colors are based on the frescoes, but who knows if those columns were really red!

Very fancy -- a NEOLITHIC palace, don't forget.
That's the palace behind me (or is it the King's quarters, can't remember). Anyway. Happy happy to be there.

isn't that just so happy-making and delightful?

OK, so THAT is the King's quarters. Without a doubt.

that's a dancing bull, a recreation of one of the frescoes that were removed to Athens for safekeeping

the throne room in the palace. LOVE the murals

giant jars -- pithoi is the word for them

goodhearted Marc taking lots of pictures for me

another recreation of the frescoes they discovered. what magnificent rooms!

stylized horns; they did love the bull. Strangely, Marc and I didn't see a single bull anywhere,
nor a cow of any kind. I guess there used to be lots of bulls and cows on Crete....

more pithoi, really beautiful

fresco recreation, so organic and beautiful
ladies with dark hair and streaks of color (pearls in their case, dye in mine!)

Another day we drove to Matala, one of Crete's well-known beaches that saw its heyday pass in the late 1960s. It was far too windy and cold even to consider walking in the surf, but oh my it was gorgeous. The water looked like perfect stripes of different blues. Overlooking the beach was a cliff filled with caves that had originally been used as a Roman cemetery. Apparently in the 1960s, the caves were overtaken by hippies who lived in them until they were all banished. Now, for a fee, you can climb stairs to the caves. We stood on the windy ground and shot photographs from a distance.

it is gorgeous, like a postcard!

caves / burial grounds / hippie headquarter

we stopped at the weekly market in Mires just to see what was what -- Manolis described it as a great market

a bit of fresh fish, even though Mires is far inland

your one-stop rabbit headquarters! live ones in front, dead/skinned/ready to cook in the case on the left!

I'd been wondering where all the old black-robed ladies got their black clothing. Here! The Black Outfit Booth!
On the way back, we stopped in Phaestos to see those ruins, but decided to stand on the overlook and just take some photos from there. I think we were both kind of on FRO. I know I was, and I'm into that kind of thing!

a nice place for a summer palace, if you ask me

silos or wells to the right -- some kind of circular structure. storage, maybe.

click to enlarge, to read about the site at Phaestos

On the way there, a huge flock of sheep suddenly came around the bend. I stopped the car and we gaped,
grinning. A young man and a young boy were walking with them, and they seemed amused
by our wonder. Just another day with the sheep for them.

These guys bringing up the rear were hopping and bounding. I love this picture, no feet are touching the ground!
Near our hotel, walking distance, was a beautiful little lake filled with trout, at the foot of a gorge. We went to the little lake very early one evening, after dinner, just when the sun was starting to hit the tops of trees. It was utterly beautiful. We returned the next night to eat at the restaurant on the lake and were the only customers. Manolis, the owner of our sweet little hotel, talked to Marc about the dreadful Greek economy and how he is not going to be able to keep his hotel open during the winter because he can't afford it, given the smaller number of tourists, so the empty restaurant felt like a sad omen. We were the only guests and since someone was painting all the tables and chairs, it didn't seem like they were expecting the tables to be used the rest of the evening.


empty tables, lakeside

oh -- this is the ROAD driving out of our hotel. I always had a moment of
wondering if I'd somehow gotten off track or something.

the really beautiful trout-filled lake

When it was time to leave, Sunday morning, I anticipated a difficult day for a whole bunch of reasons but I had no real idea of what would come. We got our breakfast, one last Greek yogurt mound for the road, and made our way to Heraklion. We'd had such trouble getting the car and anticipated that we might have similar trouble returning it, but that part was a piece of cake. Once we got inside the airport, though, OH. MY. GOD. I've been in every kind of airport you can imagine, in lots and lots of big and small, industrialized and not countries. The Heraklion airport is the worst I've ever tried to navigate. When we walked through the doors the entire space was packed with people and it wasn't at all clear where we had to go. I stayed with the luggage and Marc went to scout it out and we had to drag our suitcases through that densely crowded room (with absolutely no empty space, each step was a fight) into another densely crowded room and conflicting information from everyone about where to go next. We finally got checked in and received our boarding passes and found the gate, which was another terrible zoo. Packed room, few chairs, standing crowds, lots and lots of German being spoken all around us -- made sense, we were flying on Air Berlin -- and little to no information. That whole scene was a nightmare for me. It was like we'd been sitting in a beautiful room, at a table filled with pleasure, and when the last dish was served it was a little bowl of shit, but we had to eat it to leave the table. UGH.

But we got home, obviously, through Dusseldorf and JFK and customs/immigration and parking and finding a parking spot, lots of hours there to here. I'll say more and wind it up in the final post on this blog, trying to draw some conclusions. Boy do I miss Greece.

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