Friday, April 3, 2015


Bull mural at Knossos Palace ruins on Greek island of Crete

My sister, Martha, and I went treasure hunting in Knossos.

We went to Knossos on Thursday, and the day was full of ups and downs. The rental car agent who had promised us a car confused the dates and thought we wanted it tomorrow. Since she couldn't get it to us until noon or later, we had to cancel, but there were five other rental car agencies on the very next block. We struck out at the next place we went to, but the third was owned by a Greek-American woman from New York, and she gave us a car for 2 Euros less than the original car would've cost, so we were happy.

Unlike American car rental companies, the price included all insurances except for a $500 deductible - including a million bucks in liability. My credit card covers the deductible, so we were happy with that, as well. I just hope it covers any nicks to the paint on the passenger side mirror that may have resulted from my clipping a motor bike a few blocks up the road. The roads in Chania are both tiny and crowded.

The rest of our two hour ride was pretty much without incident until we got to Knossos itself. We were pretty sure we'd found the parking lot for the palace ruins, we just weren't sure where to go from there. We saw a few cars zipping down a narrow road leading from the big parking lot, and Google Maps was telling us that's where we needed to go.

So, after a bit of discussion, we decided to give it a shot. It was very fortunate that no one approached from the opposite direction as we followed the twisting road, or as we came back. Because Google had led us to what looked like a goat track, and we weren't willing to risk the rental car on it.

So I had to reverse the car for about a block, and then Martha had to get out and help me maneuver a 5 point turnaround. Back at the parking lot, we found everyone was heading in a completely different direction. So we just followed along.

Little did we know that things were going to get a lot more complicated before the day was over. <sigh>

Knossos Palace ruins on Greek island of CreteThe palace ruins are fascinating for the vibrancy of the colors that still remain after constantly being exposed to the elements, and also for some of the design that looks almost contemporary in its stylishness. We've seen some lavish palaces and stately homes already, but I much prefer a less fussy look. I would love to see something like this that has survived, rather than a ruin, but what's left of this place was pretty impressive.

Strangely enough, I didn't know I was going to like it this much. We probably wouldn't have made the trip at all if it weren't for a little private geocaching game we were playing. Unlike the usual way of searching for specific co-ordinates, we'd been given a clue. Our friends Charlie and Maureen had visited Knossos in October, as part of a long trip to Turkey and Greece, and buried a crawfish Mardi Gras beads necklace for us to find.

Well, we did give it our best shot, and walked that place for close to an hour before finding what we believed to be the right spot. That, alone, took a bit of internet searching to help us. But I was pretty sure we were in the right place.

The beads were supposed to be buried in the roots of a big tree, but it had been five months ago, so we weren't sure what we would be disturbing by digging. Fortunately, there were very nicely suited sticks on the ground, so we each got one and started poking through the roots.

After we'd spent another twenty minutes or so on that, it started drizzling, and we became a bit nervous that someone was going to come haul us off for defacing a national treasure. So I sent an SOS to Charlie to at least confirm we were in the right place, and attached a photo of the bull fresco we were supposed to be searching for (the one at the top of this post), plus another of the tree we were digging around in.

Yes, he told us, we had hit the spot exactly - score one for Internet research! But someone must have found it before us. It had, after all, taken us a good couple of months longer to get to Crete than we'd hoped. All that we'd uncovered was a blue pencil and two red AA batteries. <sad face>

By the time we gave up, it was about 3:30 pm, and we hadn't eaten much before we left that morning. So, once again, we found ourselves succumbing to the temptation of an eatery close to a huge tourist attraction. Our only requirement this time was that it take credit cards, because we are very close to being out of Euros. We haven't yet found a free cash ATM over here the way we have in other countries.

Fortunately, the restaurant almost directly across from the parking lot took credit cards, and we had

Moussaka and eggplant stew in Knossos restaurant on Greek island of Crete
I had eggplant/feta stew, Martha had moussaka
the best meal we've eaten in Greece during the entire 10 days we've been in this country, for a very reasonable price.

It seemed to be a family owned place, with our server the son of the woman who ran it. He provided excellent service, and was excited enough by our compliment to relay it immediately to his mother who was in the rear of the room. It was such a pleasant surprise, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Oh, and we shared a huge baklava with ice cream, but it looked so fabulous that we dived right in without taking a photo. It was actually the only time I'd had baklava since we'd gotten here. The desserts in this country are amazing. In every country we've visited, actually. Europe seems to really be at the top of the dessert game, and I was surprised to find that.

The ride home was uneventful, and seemed easier than the ride over there, because I'd gotten used to the Cretan way of driving. The national highway between Chania and Knossos is mostly a two lane highway, one going in each direction. But what adds a little excitement is that they allow three cars to use it at the same time.

The two outside drivers straddle the right line and drive partly on the shoulder of the road, so that anyone coming from behind may overtake them. Now, you may think that it is not necessary to hug the shoulder if no one is behind you, but no. Someone may be coming from the opposite direction, while overtaking a car, and they may need a little bit of your lane to do so. So you must always stay as far right as you safely can.

And as though that weren't all the excitement you could handle on a two hour ride, there was the fact that this road went up and down mountains, often with hairpin turns and sheer drops into the ocean below guarded only by one low rail. Finally, lest I grow complacent with the two hours of experience behind me, the ride home included a light drizzle. Just, you know, to keep things interesting.

You can probably imagine how happy Martha and I were to get to our exit. We actually took the exit after the one we were supposed to, because none of the signs had our town's name on it. What this revealed to us was a fabulous looking little beach town in the opposite direction from the one we usually went in toward Chania.

And though most of those places were still closed like the ones near us, there still seemed to be quite a bit going on - as opposed to our town, which is almost scary in its lifelessness. I'm sorry we didn't get to explore that town, but I'm glad we got to drive through it.

It's exactly my idea of great little beach town, so I may find myself back in Crete in the future, after all. Sorry, no photos, because we were to happy to get home to stop for any reason. What's ironic is that it may actually BE our town...just a part of it that we never saw because we never happened to go in that direction.

And even after all of that excitement, the most intense moment of the day came about 90 seconds before we got home.

Doesn't show full incline, but balcony on left is our apt.
Ever since the day we arrived, they have been working on the road below us. We have walked around the big hole in the middle of the road every time we've gone up or down the mountain. But today was the first time we've approached our place while driving from the opposite direction.

We can see the steep road from our apartment windows, see people coming and going every day. But from one point, right before the road begins a steep descent, it literally looks like you are driving off a cliff.

I hit the brakes and begged Martha not to make me drive down that road. It was exactly like looking down from the top point of a roller coaster, where it kind of pauses, right before it goes straight down. I turned away from that point and drove the car into a parking lot so we could go and look at it on foot.

From that vantage point, the road was clearly recognizable, so my panic subsided. We decided that it shouldn't be too scary if I put the car into Low gear and rode the brakes down, and it wasn't. Martha briefly considered just walking the rest of the way, but I just patted the passenger seat and told her that if I was going over that cliff, she was coming with me.

So now we just have to hope that it will be equally up to the task of going UP that steep hill in the morning. Because we have a plane to catch.

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