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...