Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Day In...


The churchbells chime a melody calling the faithful to prayer in the sultry wee hours of the morning. (Greek Orthodox Easter is on 27 April 2008. We are well and truly into Lent.) In what seems like only minutes the bells chime 8 and this Gnome slowly wakes in hopes of a warm shower...

Days in Rethynmom are leisurely. After a meandering morning routine including coffee with Ivan (the assistant manager of Rethymnon Youth Hostel) and a breakfast of yoghurt with honey while chatting with my fellow travelers about their plans, the Gnome is off (around 10.30). Based in Rethymnon, my daily explorations ranged from chatting with archeologists and conservationists, to driving in the hills of the Amari Valley, to visiting a monestary, or hiking to a freshwater lake. Covered in dust, I'd return to Rethymnon in the early evening to dance around the kitchen making pasta and vegetables to the sounds of 80s/90s/today pop tunes. During dinner, the intrepid band of travelers shared their stories of the good and the great before plotting the next days exploits.

Fortress Rethymnon looking towards the Lefka Ori

After a week or so of doddling around the prefect, I pushed South-Southwest over the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) into the scenic interior of Crete - the Selinos region... a land without internet.

(NB: Each adventure is a fantastic story waiting for photo-editing so stay tuned in May for the updates.)

Monday, April 21, 2008


Greetings from the Selinos region of Crete!

Sorry for the delay (and equally information-less post). When I struck out from Rethymnon, I headed south-southwest where the internet is slow to reach. I'm actually using the managers computer at a bar called the Lotus to post to you - hence the brevity!

Apparently, I'm on the edge of being a hippie based on my holiday destinations... but more on that another evening. I'm catching a ferry shortly and should have a post or two for you tomorrow while I'm doing some rather boring chores.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Winds from the SouthWest

Kali mera! (Or, "Good day" to those speaking Latin based languages.)

As much fun as paying €23 a night to stay in the port city of Iraklion, while freezing under 5 blankets, was I've pushed west into the prefect of Rethymnon. Departing at 2100, the last bus of the day wound its way around the cliff-top curves of the northern shore towards western Crete. Thankfully, a skilled driver was at the helm and it was dark - at one point I could see the sea at the bottom of the cliff and nothing else. Scary!

Rethymnon is the third largest town in Crete, and home to Crete's only university. Overrun with cars, scooters, and motorcycles around the edges, it feels surprisingly provincial with its jumble of Venetian, Turkish, and dilapidated facades painted in cream and pastel hues. This is a place for wandering alleys, browsing specialty shops (each store sells one item - fruit, veg, sweets, breads, herbs, etc.) which close for a siesta and cease to trade on Sundays, or trying to avoid the touristy cafes and tavernas where waiters follow you down the sidewalk with a menu... With only an archeology museum adjacent to its Venetian fort, this is a place for chilling.

Rethymnon harbour, Crete

The wind has arrived from the southwest bringing heat, humidity, and sand from Libya and the Sahara creating a swealtering heat and low canary haze. I reckon this is what the deep South feels like in high summer. Weather for surfing the net in an air conditioned cafe, listening to Greek pop tunes, and reading magazines rather than rambling...

Anyway, after a busy travel week in Athens and Iraklion, I decided to use Rethynmom as a base for exploring the prefect - and so four wheels were hired...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Indiana Jones(-ess)...

... And the Mythical KTEL Buses.

NB: You get two for the price of one today... Don't miss the previous post on Knossos.

Let down by Knossos, I decided to take an adventure south towards Festos Palace the second most important Minoan site. Easy peasy, right?

Dressed in my khakies, boots and expedition hat I walked to the Iraklion bus station and purchased a ticket for the 0900 to Festos. Shortly after 0915, a bus arrived with an announcement in Greek followed up by "Festos, second bus." That announcement must have been specifically for me. After checking my ticket with the driver, he waved me on board leading me to believe the bus went directly to Festos. Greek bus travel is an experience, in luxury. This teal beast, complete with high backed seats and air conditioning, speed south over narrow mountains roads, through olive orchards, towards the coast stopping at Mires for the Matala bus change. I'd certainly be freaked if I saw this monster headed towards me on a cliff-top one way road. After 2 hours, for a journey which should take 90 minutes at most, I asked the driver when we would get to Festos. He said, "That was back about 20 minutes. Get off here, cross the road, and another bus will be along in about 20 minutes."

A bit worried, I got off the bus (because it was clear he wasn't going to take me any further) and waited by the side of the road in literally the middle of nowhere in the mid-day sun. An hour and a half later, the return bus approached only to deliver me back at Mires where I learned I had missed all buses to Festos. I could have used that bull-whip... Forty-five minutes later, a southbound bus arrived, the attendent ran out, said something to the driver, then came and got me. Apparently, she convinced this driver to drop me off at Festos despite it not being on the route. Lucky me! The driver was careful to make sure I understood that the bus back to Iraklion was at 1730 and there was no other means to get back if I missed it... Should I have taken that as a hint?

Festos Palace was discovered and excavated by Federico Halberr (Italian) around the same time as Knossos. Unlike Evans, Halberr opted to excavate and conserve which made a world of difference. Although created on a smaller scale than Knossos, Festos made use of alabaster and gympsum which remains in-situ.

Festos Palace over Messara Plain, Crete

A Canadian and Australian couple tagged along as I wandered around a practically deserted ruin overlooking the Messara Plain. I was the only one with an expedition notebook - a.k.a a well dog-eared copy of the Rough Guide to Crete, 2004. After their impromtu 'guide,' they offered to drive me 3km up the hill to the 'Summer Palace' of Ayia Triadha overlooking the Gulf of Messara. Again, completely deserted this was truly a hidden gem.
Ayia Triadha over the Gulf of Messara, Crete

A 45-minute stroll back down the hill, dropped me at Festos around 1645. The bus ambled up at 1745 and arrived back in Iraklion, happily, 90 minutes later.

Despite taking over 4.5 hours to reach, it was worth the adventure - I felt, and looked, a bit like Indiana Jones(-ess) discovering these beautifully sited ruins for the first time. Given that some of the most significant Minoan artifacts were discovered on these sites it was amazing to see than without the clutter of tour groups and guides.

Having seen what I came to see, I caught the last bus from Iraklion west to Rethymnon... I pick up the hire car in the morning for some off-the-beaten-track adventures. More to come...


Iraklion is the third largest city in Greece, and the largest of Crete, with a population of around 120,000 souls (before the cruise ships dock). I arrived on a cold and wet Saturday and was... well... less than impressed. I've tried to come up with something positive to say about the city, but haven't been able to find anything, sadly. For the first time in all my years of roaming, I actually found myself freezing at a crepery, lost, with no sense of direction and little hope of discovering my location on the map without divine intervention as over 90% of the town in covered in scaffolding. Not the greatest start. After wandering through the Iraklion Archeology museum, which has been reduced to the highlights while the original structure undergoes a major renovation, I was set to track down some Minoan ruins.

Day 2 started crisply with clear skies as I booked it onto a KTEL No.2 towards Knossos. Despite lying 5 km south of the city, I was hard pressed to find the city limits as the bus ambled under the over 40m thick Venetian walls which protected the city in days gone by. Knossos was discovered in the late 1870s, before being excavated by Sir Arthur Evans at the turn of the century, effectively bringing the legends of King Minos, the Minotaur and labyrinth to life.

According to the Evans school of thought, excavation was accompanied by reconstruction rather than conservation... Something, which has created a bit of a farce. Situated on a lovely site, the ruins appear as a jumbled warren chambers, hence the legends. Due to Evans' recreation and predictions, sadly the site comes across a bit 'Disney-fied' for my liking. In my opinion, ruins should either be left as-is or recreated whole-hog, not the middle ground which Knossos represents.

Surprisingly, I had the place almost to myself (unheard of due to its fame) but the caretakers were keen that all tourists were escorted from the premises promptly at 1430 rather than the advertized 1500. (Note to self: Just because the sign says so, doesn't mean it is so.)

Dissatisfied for the second time in under a week (I'll get back to the Acropolis in Athens later in the trip), I decided to adventure further afield...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Greecian Spring?

Live from Iraklion (Crete)... Its Saturaday night!

Having chosen not to travel with technology (save my camera which is expensive enough) I've left the laptop at home. Good thing too... It started making a rather pathetic noise as I turned it off on Tuesday morning and needs to visit the Apple clinic urgently. =( As I am paying for the priviledge of posting to you these next few posts will be short, sweet, and contain only one image each which represents the past few day (besides each image is huge without Photoshop web-optimization). Longer stories will follow upon my return to the grind of modern Western civilization.

After a mad dash to the airport, my flights were delayed and turbulanced all the way to Athens arriving at the slightly delayed hour of 3AM. Not to worry - bed, bath and breakfast were readily available from Athens Backpackers so all is great! Doesn't take much to keep this Gnome happy. Sadly, the weather has been less than fantastic with cool temperatures and drizzle.

Parthenon (Acropolis, Athens) from Filopappau Hill

The majority of Athens can be seen in 2 days, but after 4 days of waiting for the weather to clear I opted to move along. I'll be back at the end of the month anyway. One overnight trip on the Minoan ferry Festos Palace, imagine the QE II crossed with a smokey casino, I arrived in Iraklion, Crete... To cold weather and serious rain. Never one to miss an opportunity, I stocked up on magazines and novels at duty free before I left Edinburgh and have been happily curled up watching the world go-by in this strange industrial cum land-time-tried-to-forget-city.

Regardless, I'm off in search of Minoan settlement tomorrow and Monday in the form of Knossos and Festos, respectively.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Its All Greek To Me

Time seems to have been at a premium these past few days... As some will recall from the fall, my aunt and uncle hit the road and explored some of the 'Big Sky' states in the US. Seems they are off again, this time destined for the deep South. For a bit of Americana, check out: On The Road Again.

Happily, I'm off to practice one of my favorite phrases while pondering huge piles of of rocks (I mean, ruins), wild flowers, and beaches. I hope this map will serve as a taster of my destination(s) over the next few weeks.

View Larger Map

Sadly, Aberdeenshire and London-town piccies will have to wait until I return.

Next stop - Athens.