Jen

Feb 262017
 

According to our guide book, Elafonisi makes the Top 10 in three categories: Islands and Boat Trips (that’s a single category), Areas of Natural Beauty, and Beaches.

Elafonisi cave shrine 2

Elafonisi from the cave shrine

If the guide book hadn’t called it an “islet,” I wouldn’t have known. The sandbar connecting it to the mainland was above water the whole way. I guess that’s not always the case.

I loved today! We enjoyed a lovely country-road drive, glimpses into local life, and gorgeous Mediterranean scenery—and all of it mostly to ourselves.

Western Crete Coast - Jen Funk Weber

The oh-so-gorgeous western Crete coast. Look at that water!

Favorites

Barb: Driving rural Cretan roads with views both far and near.

Mike: Little towns with roads running right through them.

Jen: Locals leading livestock on roads: old men with donkeys and young, modern men with sheep.

The Day

We drove SSW, winding through hills, down the west coast of Crete, stopping along the way to enjoy the views, both near and far, and to take pictures. When it comes to traveling, I think this is the tip-top favorite thing to do for all three of us. Guide books are full of specific places to see (museums, archaeological sites, beaches) and things to do (take a boat ride, dine out, get drink, shop), but this—just driving through the countryside and taking in the scenery and local life—is what makes my heart and mind soar.

Local Color

I’m a huge fan of color, as most of you know.

We saw several older women in babushkas carrying canes and collection bags poking around in the greenery beside the road. I thought maybe they were searching for some sort of edible greens, like the fiddleheads that grow on roadsides in AK. I don’t know what they were doing, but several different women in several different places were doing it. Nope, we didn’t get any pictures.

A couple of handsome, 20-something, modern men herded sheep down a curvy mountain road. We, in our car, and another truck scooched around the herd, but not before a small group panicked, broke away, and had to be shepherded back. The guys handled it with good humor. Seems to me they need a couple of herding dogs.

Greek shepherd dudes, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Because there was time to do so, I took a surreptitious photo.

An older man in a classic Greek watch cap led a donkey by rope along the road, and later in the day, an even older man with deep grooves in his face, rode a donkey along the edge of the road against traffic so that he was right beside Mike’s and my windows. The man leaned over, peered into the car, and grinned, as though expecting to have his photo taken. I imagine that happens a good bit in the summertime when tourists flood the roads and beaches. We are much too shy (polite?) to take photos of strangers, but boy did I want to capture that vision. And I did, in my memory. And now here, in words.

Sights and Sounds

These roads are narrow, twisty, and hilly. In some places, they are single lane even though they serve two-way traffic. We are sharing them with local workers only, but in the summer, thousands of tourists make this drive to the beach. The guide books talk about how dangerous the roads are, and that’s easy to understand, what with the lack of enforced road rules.

Which brings me to another common sight: roadside shrines. These mark places where someone has either died or had a close call, narrowly escaping death. There are a ton of them, which confirms the guide books’ claims that these roads are dangerous.

Grand roadside shrine, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

The grandest of roadside shrines

Goats and sheep grazed everywhere. Most of the animals wear bells, so there’s a clanging cacophony in the air even when animals aren’t readily visible.

Sheep on the road, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

See the sheep? Yeah, you gotta watch!

It’s olive-harvesting season, and Crete is jam-packed, coast to coast, with olive trees.

Endless olive trees, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Coast to coast olives on Crete

We’re seeing nets laid out under trees to catch the olives when they are shaken from the branches. Branch-shaking tools look like weed whackers, but instead of plastic strings on the end, they have forks to catch and cradle branches.

We saw pickup trucks heaped with olive-filled burlap sacks, as well as stacks of these sacks piled outside buildings. More than once, we had to slow down, wait, and/or skirt around people folding nets out on the road after harvesting.

Truck loaded with sacks of just-picked olives, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Truck loaded with sacks of just-picked olives

Piles of olives, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Piles of olives

Elafonisi

And then there was the destination: the island of Elafonisi.

This is an only-slightly-developed beach area with a nice, sandy beach; dunes sporting pretty greenery; and gorgeous, turquoise water. It’s obvious why it’s so popular with locals and tourists in summer, but I would hate it then. I’m not a beach person in the way that most people are beach people. Now, however, I think it’s fabulous!

10 Things About Elafonisi Beach

1. Windy. Strong wind made for blowing hair and shivering which I combatted with a tightly bound hood. A babushka would have been so much better, though I suspect the fashion statement is pretty much the same.

Elafonisi beach, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

What do you mean I look like a dork? Why are you looking at me when there’s this gorgeous beach all around?

2. No people until the end of our visit, and then just a few.

3. Lighthouse.

4. Cuttlefish bones. Nail file, anyone?

5. Cave shrine. Apparently, 600 women and children were slaughtered by the Turks here not too long ago. I don’t know what the specific conflict was, but I do know that Greece has been occupied by many people, including the Turks, over the years.

Elafonisi cave shrine, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Actually, according to my own definitions, this qualifies as a chapel.

6. Rock formations. These make for more interesting scenery and photos, and they’re fun to climb on. Combined with the sandy beach, there’s something for most everyone here.

Rock formations and turquoise water at Elafonisi, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Great rocks, great water

7. Turquoise water. Mmmmmmm. Mediterranean blue. This is one of my favorite things about Greece. It amazes me not a little that the water around here is so crazy beautiful despite the presence of people for thousands of years. I would expect more pollution and destruction, yet the water and coast seem to be holding their own.

Turquoise water at Elafonisi, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Turquoise water at Elafonisi Beach. Cheers to Mike for tons of photos to choose from!

Turquoise water at Elafonisi, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Turquoise water at Elafonisi, Crete – Jen Funk Weber

8. Pink sand. There’s not a lot of this—and signs ask visitors to please not take any away—but it really is pink, and it’s beautiful!

Pink sand, Elafonisi Beach, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Pink sand on Elafonisi Beach

9. Shell-sand pockets. Sand that’s made of tiny shells. I could spend hours picking through a few handfuls.

Shell sand, Elafonisi Beach, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Shell sand at Elafonisi Beach

10. Wiper grass. Ha!

Wiper grass, Elafonisi Beach, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Wiper grass on Elafonisi Beach

The Rest

On the way back to our hotel in Kissamos, we stopped at a few sites mentioned in our guide books.

Elos: a Turkish aqueduct that is now incorporated into someone’s house. I hope no one turns on the water!

Turkish aqueduct at Elos, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

See how the Turkish aqueduct (the arched bridge-like structure) connects to the house on the left?

Milia: a “traditional-living” village. Here are a handful of folks who live a subsistence lifestyle off the grid and invite tourists to come unplug, relax, and eat healthfully for a few days.

Milia traditional-living village, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

A pretty building at Milia traditional-living village

Polyrinia: This is the site of an ancient acropolis, aqueduct, and Venetian fortress, but it turned out these things are a hike away from the town, and it had already been a long day, so we canned this idea and walked around the tiny village instead, strolling through narrow walkways that feel like hallways inside people’s homes. Again, we marveled at houses stacked on each other and ancient ruins. And again, residents waved and nodded, thinking nothing of strangers walking through their personal, not-at-all-private spaces.

Walking paths of Polyrinia, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Walking in Polyrinia

Such a wonderful day driving along the western Crete coast!

Crete coast - Jen Funk Weber

Switchbacks along the western Crete coast

Feb 092017
 

We’re visiting more archaeological sites today: Gortys and Phaestos. No, Stepford was not an archaeological site, but we visited it, too. You’ll see.

Gortys

Gortys had its heyday in the 6th century BC, when the Dorians, one of four groups within Greek society, ruled the area. It was probably first settled by Minoans or Mycenaeans, but it didn’t garner a spotlight until later. In the 2nd century BC, Gortys defeated its rival, Phaestos, to become the leading Cretan city.

We got here fairly early and were the only ones in the place. The women in the ticket booth didn’t seem to speak English, and the giant laminated info map was all in Greek, useless to us. We sorted things out as best we could with our guide books.

Basilica of Agios Titos

The first ruins on the circuit were of the Basilica of St. Titus. Titus came with St. Paul the Apostle to Crete in AD 59 and stuck around to become the first bishop of Crete.

Agios, Titos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Agios, Titos, Crete

Agia Titos, Gortys, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Nice artsy picture, Mike! I love this!

Roman Amphitheater

For being a leading city on Crete, this odeion is pretty small, emphasis on “pretty,” though.

Roman Odeion at Gortys, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Roman Odeion at Gortys, Crete

We all loved the intimacy of the place combined with the beautiful, fresh, green, open surroundings. It was easy to imagine plays and speakers here. The guide book mentions gladiatorial events as well, but those didn’t suit my imagination, so I chucked them right out.

The best part for me, though, is hidden at the back of the amphitheater. Come take a look.

Roman Amphitheater, Gortys, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Roman amphitheater, closer

See that big brick building on the left behind the seats? Let’s walk through it.

A Greek Surprise at the Roman Amphitheater

Gortys laws, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Gortys Code of Laws

Gortys Code of Laws, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

See the writing on the wall?

You know how craftsmen re-used materials when constructing new buildings? Well, the builders here used stone slabs inscribed with laws, dating from around 500 BC, making this the oldest and most complete record of ancient Greek laws. How flipping cool is that?!

Now look closer. Note that there is no punctuation, and there are no spaces between words or sentences. Oy. What a struggle to read, no?

Look closer still, especially if you’re at all familiar with Greek letters. Notice how one line of letters reads left to right, as we read today; all the Greek letters appear normal. On the next line down, however, the letters are backward. That’s because they’re read right to left. This text is read back and forth across the page slab.

And now for bonus points, if you know your Greek letters and can sound out words, see if you can find a word you recognize! If you find one, leave a comment. There might be a prize involved. Actually, you should leave a comment whether you find a word or not; I always want to hear what you have to say.

Olive Trees and Where’s the Rest of Gortys?

In addition to the archaeological ruins, Gortys had some wonderful, twisty, old olive trees. The older the olive tree, the wider and more gnarled the trunk. Scientists have verified some olive trees to be at least 2,000 years old. And they stay productive, too, unlike, say, chickens.

Old olive tree at Gortys with silhouette, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

This is an old olive tree

And look: More olive trees all around.

Olive trees on the countryside, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Olive trees and more olive trees. And a rainbow.

And more!

Olive trees on the countryside 2, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Soooooo many olive trees!

Now, according to our guide books, there was plenty more to see at Gortys, but we looked and looked, making two full loops around the site, and we couldn’t find the rest. Where were they hiding them? Were they out on loan? Did Lord Elgin take them back to England?

In hindsight, we think they were keeping the rest across the street, but we saw no signs and didn’t figure that out on our own. Instead, we moved on to Phaestos.

Phaestos

You can think of some other ways to spell this, right? I’ve seen “Phaistos” and even “Faistos.”

While Arthur Evans rebuilt Knossos according to his wishes and imagination, Italian scholar, Frederico Halbherr, meticulously unearthed earlier and later Minoan palaces at Phaestos, the earlier palace being destroyed at the same time the earlier palace at Knossos was destroyed. He made no attempt to reconstruct anything, just recorded what he found and let the site stand on its own crumbling floors and walls.

Our Guides

I think we were the first visitors to arrive at Phaestos, too, and we were greeted and escorted by several kitty-cat guides. Two stuck with us for a long time—until other visitors arrived and we’d proven ourselves to be non-sharers of food.

Phaestos feline guide, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phasetos feline guide 1

“This is the Grand Stairway,” she indicated.

Phaestos feline guide 4, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phaestos feline guide 1

“You’ll find lots of information on these interpretive signs.”

Phaestos feline guide 2, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phaestos feline guide 2, perhaps in training

“Brilliant choice! That’s a lovely shot, Two-legs.”

Phaestos feline guide 3, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phaestos feline guide 2

“Look at this one.”

The Details

Phaestos had features and a layout similar to Knossos.

Grand stairway, Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

A grand stairway

A grand stairway.

Stairs at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ancient stairs

Less grand—but more interesting—stairs.

Circular pit at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Circular pit you can walk into

Giant circular pits. Grain storage, perhaps?

Theater seating and stairs, Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Theater seats on the left; stairs ahead

Theater seats—or stairs that end in a rock wall.

Clay pot at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Large clay pot

And, of course, the ubiquitous clay pots. This is another biggun. With a face! I want to call it “Humpty Dumpty.”

Phaestos central court, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The wide-open central court of Phaestos

All surrounding a central courtyard.

Greek statue at Phaestos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Life-size Greek statue demonstrates how tall these walls are.

But Phaestos also had a Greek statue. Or a Greek-like statue, anyway. Look how tall those walls are. Hide and seek, anyone?

I loved Phaestos! Popular opinion says Knossos is #1, but it takes a back seat to Phaestos as far as I’m concerned.

Stepford

Food! We need food! So off we went in search of a grocery store where we could forage for dinner materials.

A landmark we used to locate our hotel was a Carrefour store, which is a large-ish grocery chain resembling American grocery stores. We decided to go there rather than wander the town streets in search of a small local store. Cut us some slack. It was a long day.

We pulled into a nearly empty parking lot, where two forlorn cars slumped in two lonely spaces. This photo is from another day; the parking lot occupation has doubled in this photo:

Stepford store, Kissamos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The empty parking lot at the Stepford grocery store

Upon entering, the first thing I noticed was a display of Lipton tea boxes on shelves to the right of the door. Lipton Strawberry Cupcake green tea?! Intriguing! The display stood out as both strange and effective: Individual boxes of tea, twenty bags per box, spaced about a foot apart occupied a large section of shelving. The empty space got my attention, to be sure. If that was the marketing goal, it worked, but the “waste of space” seemed extravagant.

Except it wasn’t extravagant.

The entire store was stocked this way, with huge gaps between products. We found no tuna for our proposed tuna-and-white-bean salad. We had a choice of three cereals, two of which were corn flakes. A few geriatric chickens sprawled lethargically in the deli case. Crack me up! Barb wondered if the owners were actually aliens trying to appear normal and missing the mark. Stepford sprang to my mind. Mike feared we might discover the doors were locked as we tried to sneak out.

So in the end, we wandered the streets of Kissamos until we found a tiny shop with narrow aisles and shelves packed with a variety of foods and sundries. We walked and drove past the alien store a few times during our stay, and I said I wanted some photo evidence of the freaky experience, but we didn’t muster our courage to go back into the lifeless Big Box.

Feb 052017
 

We got a crash course on driving in Greece today—not literally—as we hit the highway to Kissamos on the west side of Crete.

10 Things About Driving in Greece

1. Lanes are not rules; they are merely suggestions.

Lines are merely suggestions 1, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Lines are merely suggestions

See that car on the right? It’s driving on the shoulder as though it’s a lane. If you’re driving slowly, you can and maybe should (or not—more on this momentarily) just stick to the edge of the road.

Lines are merely suggestions, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Lines are merely suggestions

That oncoming car? Yep, driving half on the shoulder, half on the road.

It’s all good. To the Greeks, anyway. I’m not sure I’m a fan.

The problem with driving on the shoulder is that sometimes there are parked cars or rocks in the way, like, around corners where you can’t see them in advance.

Rocks on road, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Rocks on the road

2. Surprising number of slow drivers.

A good many people drive on the shoulder. Although faster drivers will pass slow drivers anytime, regardless of solid lines and blind curves, no one seems to get angry with the slow pokes.

3. Twisting, turning, winding, narrow roads.

Curving roads, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Twisting, turning, winding roads

Turns can be extremely tight, and are usually narrow, too.

Tight turn, narrow road - driving in Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Oodles of tight switchbacks

4. Roads in poor condition.

Did you see that photo with the rocks in the road? There are also potholes, crumbling edges, and very rough gravel roads.

5. “Antlion” roads in towns. Roads get narrower and narrower, and you wonder if you’re driving into a trap. Maybe there’s a car-eating insect at the end.

6. Lack of speed-limit signs, and when there are signs, senseless, frequent changes of speed.

7. Gas stations on curbs in towns. Houses and businesses open onto the road—and sometimes spill out onto the road.

Houses on road, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Houses on the road

Houses on road 2, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Houses on the road

Narrow roads, driving in Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Narrow road, cars parked o both sides, and–oh, yes!–a cat.

Olives beside road, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Bags of olives encroaching on the road

8. Willy-nilly-ness. Pedestrians stepping out, willy-nilly; cars pulling out, willy-nilly; cars parked willy-nilly; goats and cats wandering out, willy-nilly.

Willy-nilly activity, Driving in Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Willy-nilly activity

Look at this. We’ve got cars parked in both directions on both sides of the road, with several cars seemingly allergic to the curb. That black car on the right is pulling out in front of us, and the whole road is just a tight squeeze. Pedestrians are wandering all around, too.

In their defense, or something, I did see a sign that said “Welcome to Crete. Park everywhere.” Seriously. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it.

Goats on the road, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Goats on the road

9. Our gutless car (a Suzuki “Swift”) on an island with some very steep roads. We actually failed to get up one and had to back down and find a new way to our destination!

10. Crazy-packed, narrow town roads.

Crowded town street with tractor and truck, driving on Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Crowded town street with tractor and truck

So far, so good, though!

Jan 312017
 

After visiting the Heraklion Archaeology Museum, we donned raincoats again and strolled through sprinkles down a nice pedestrian path between a gazillian shops and eateries to a Roman fountain and then a Venetian fortress on the waterfront. It was on the way to the bus station, or so we thought.

The Venetian Fortress

Venetian Fortress, Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Venetian Fortress, Heraklion, Crete

Between 1523 and 1540, Venetians, then occupying Greece, built an imposing rock fortress to guard the harbor. They called it “Rocca al Mare,” and it held the Turks off for 21 years. Later, during Turkish occupation, the fortress served as a prison. It’s been closed for renovations and only recently opened.

Fortress entrance, Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Venetian fortress entrance, Heraklion, Crete

I loved this place!

The squat, square building felt indestructibly solid, which seems just right for a fortress. It also felt confined, dark, cold, and damp which seems about right for a prison.

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but small openings in the ceiling allow a little light in as well as a little air exchange, not enough of either to really suit me. Tiny shelves high on the walls, accessible only by ladder, seem intended to hold oil lamps or candles. Now, they hold dim LED lights or some such illumination, presumably imitating the amount of light likely in the 16th century, which was a nice touch. Reading would not have been easy.

Numerous passageways and rooms made me feel a little like a rat in a maze, and the tight rock structure made me feel as though we were underground. Horizontal, tunnel-like openings along the sides seem intended for canons, and the quantity of canon balls stacked throughout assured me Crete is ready to defend her harbor still.

A lot of men must have been stationed here to tend all the canons and stand watch. I can imagine it smelled pretty awful with lots of people and so little air exchange.

Wall of Venetian Fortress, Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Wall of Venetian Fortress, Heraklion, Crete

Greek flag at Venetian fortress, Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Greek flag at Venetian fortress, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

Overall, I’ve concluded I’m more elf than dwarf: Long-term cave dwelling doesn’t appeal to me; I’m drawn to the light and green of forest, field, and mountain. But it was a way-cool place to explore. I think it’d be a fun place for a kid’s birthday party. Hide and seek—or, even better, sardines—would be a blast here!

Venetian Arsenal

Heraklion, from the fortress, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Heraklion, from the fortress, Crete

Outside the fortress, looking back at Heraklion, note those high, old rock arcades.

Venetian Arsenal, Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Venetian Arsenal, Heraklion, Crete

The old, wooden Venetian war-galleys were built and mended there. Boats are still pulled in for maintenance and repairs.

Colorful Wooden Fishing Boats

Boats in Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Colorful fishing boats in Heraklion, Crete

Cheery, colorful boats line the jetty. The boats in the harbor at Seward don’t look like this.

Boat lips, Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Boat lips

Crack me up! These boats have lips like some tropical fish! Mike’s skiff at home needs lips like these. Red ones.

A Mural Surprise

Mural, Heraklion, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Mural, Heraklion, Crete

On the way to the bus station, we happened upon this mural of Daedalus and Icarus. Do you know the story?

The Journey Home

Rain picked up when we left the fortress, so we didn’t dawdle en route to the bus station, which turned out to be a dreadful, smoky place. Bus drivers were leaning out their windows, smoking, too lazy, I guess to get out of their busses—which may explain why the bus into the city that morning reeked of smoke—and passengers and employees smoked all around the station entrances. I couldn’t avoid the breath-stealing poison, so I tried not to breathe.

Alas, though we had plenty of busses here to choose from, none would take us home because they were intercity busses, you know, like Greyhounds. We wanted a local-bus bus stop back the way we’d come, near the museum.

Well, it wasn’t drizzly or sprinkling anymore; nope, it was raining. As we re-traced our steps along the pretty pedestrian walkway, it poured. The entirety of cloud plumbing burst. A stream gushed down the center of the walkway. Ducking under an eave, we tried to wait out a downpour, but it hardly mattered. We were dripping by the time we got to the bus stop, and my pants were soaked through to my skin. We had a wet ride and an even wetter walk home, if that was possible. I, at least, had reached saturation point, so “wetter” is not accurate, but new wet kept arriving, displacing old wet.

Warm tea, a warm shower, and a warm dinner made everything right again.

I had two Mystery Skype sessions in the evening. A classroom of second graders and a classroom of fifth graders had to ask yes/no questions and, from my answers, guess where in the world I was. Once they got to Greece, I gave them clues to get them all the way to Crete. The fifth graders also guessed where I live in Alaska. I had a heap of fun!

Jan 292017
 

Heraklion . . . or Iraklio. Ah, yes, two spellings. And there are more: You can add an e between the l and i, if you want.

Heraklion is the zip-zooming, whirling, happening capital of Crete. We flew into Heraklion, but the airport is on the edge of the city, and our apartment is just outside the city. As yet, we haven’t been in the city proper, but that’s where the Archaeology Museum is, so here we go.

Though we had a car, we were not keen to drive in the city (we are sane, after all), so the plan was to take a bus. Mike and Barb learned what they could about the bus system from the Internet (a sketchy prospect, at best), and when the time came, I stepped up and did my part: I fumbled about and asked questions.

The morning was drizzly, and the forecast was for rain. It was a good day to spend in a museum. Not such a good day to walk to the bus stop, however. Too bad, so sad. We opted to leave umbrellas behind, not wanting to tote them around all day, and put our hope, fate, and dry bodies in rain jackets.

Getting There

The bus stop was where it was supposed to be, according to our Internet source. We were off to a good start. A kiosk next to the bus stop sold tickets, and the attendant woman, who was hard at work making a fresh cloud of blue cigarette smoke in the tiny enclosed space, explained in broken English that any bus would take us in, but we needed a certain bus—the #6—to get back. All busses go into the city, but only a few come all the way out here. Makes sense.

Buses cycle through this stop every 30 minutes, and it took that long for the next one to arrive. I got on and started coughing: It was smoky. Because it was rainy and cold, all the windows were up. Sigh. Oh, Greece, for pity and good health’s sake, get a clue.

We took seats in the back. Windows were foggy, so we couldn’t see out, and we could barely hear, let alone understand, the recording announcing stops. Did we have an idea of how many stops there were between where we started and where we needed to get off? Can anyone see a sign at any of the stops? Should we just get off and walk; how many miles is it?

Finally, I screwed up my courage and activated my traveling superpower. I got the attention of an unsmiling, punkish-looking, solo-traveling young man—a kid to the likes of us, but maybe twenty-something—and asked, “Do you speak English?” I’ve found that most young people do. He nodded. “Have we passed the Liberty/Astoria stop?” He smiled ever so slightly then, comforted and/or amused by the clueless, old travelers. “No, I’m getting off there, too.”

Wonderful! We three relaxed. We had a guide off the bus: Follow that kid! He made eye contact and cocked his head as we approached the stop, and then nodded and waved when I said “thank you.” We went our way, and he went his. Somehow, no thanks to me anymore, we managed to find the museum.

The Museum

This museum has artifacts spanning 5,500 years, from the Neolithic period to the Roman period. I didn’t mention it in the Knossos post, but under and around the Knossos site are even earlier remnants from the Neolithic period: homes and communities dating back into the 6th millennium BC. The Minoan artifacts, however, are the most famous. Here’s a tiny selection. We’ll kick off with our favorites—and conclude with the funniest.

Favorites

Barb: Seeing things I’ve only seen in books.

Yes, Barb actively reads about and studies art and history. She studied it in school, too. One of the pieces she was excited to see in person was Mike’s favorite . . .

Mike: The bull’s-head rhyton

Bull's-head Rhyton, front, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Bull’s-head Rhyton, front, Heraklion Museum

Bull's-head Rhyton, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Bull’s-head Rhyton, Heraklion Museum

Remember what rhytons are? They’re libation vessels, a.k.a. wine carafes, or, alas, pitchers.

This one is from the 16th-century BC, found at Knossos. It’s carved from black stone, has gilded horns, a mother-of-pearl snout, and eyes of rock crystal and jasper. It’s an elegant piece of tableware.

Can you imagine that on your table? I can. Of course, on my table, rather than wine it would contain fresh lemonade or ouzo-spiked hot chocolate—both of which can be tied to Greece—but I imagine those would pour out just fine, too.

Jen: The wood model of Knossos.

Wood Knossos Model, Heraklion Museum 01, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Wood Knossos Model, Heraklion Museum

This lacks the playfulness and humor of the Lego Acropolis, but it offers a different kind of fine craftsmanship instead, and it’s a fair trade.

The three circles in front of the palace are the kouloures, or grain-storage pits, and the stairs on the left are where the Royal Road comes into the palace complex. These are the warped and wonky stairs that I especially liked at Knossos.

Wood Knossos Model, Heraklion Museum 02, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Wood Knossos Model, Heraklion Museum

Check out the multiple stories, many rooms, and central court.

Wood Knossos Model detail, horns of consecration, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Wood Knossos Model detail, horns of consecration, Heraklion Museum

See the Horns of Consecration? There are a whole bunch of them on the model.

Other Pieces We Liked, Including the Funniest

A Sarcophagus

Ayia Triada Sarcophagus, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ayia Triada Sarcophagus, Heraklion Museum

Every bit of this sarcophagus is painted with patterns and storytelling scenes in bright colors. It’s grand!

More Bull Dancing

Bull-dancing Rhyton, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Bull-dancing Rhyton, Heraklion Museum

Why, look! Here’s another depiction of bull dancing. This looks like a rhyton to me, but I don’t strictly remember.

Clay Pots

Clay pots, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Clay pots, Heraklion Museum

These pots have a different look to them, textured with bumps rather than just painted with motifs and scenes.

Octopus Motif, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Octopus Motif

Ahhh, pots with painted decorations; that’s more familiar. This groovy octopus motif was popular. I happen to like it very much myself.

A Board Game

Gameboard, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Gameboard, Heraklion Museum

Gameboard details, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Gameboard details

A board game! Do you suppose anyone understands how this game was/is played? And was the board always curved like this, or is that the result of time and perhaps damage? Inquiring minds want to know.

Snakes

Snake Goddess figurine found at Knossos, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Snake Goddess figurine found at Knossos, Heraklion Museum

I haven’t read any cautions about snakes in Greece, but surely they are here. Athena generally has snakes about her, and this is a snake goddess. And then there was Medusa’s snaky hair. I wonder how many snakes Greece has now.

The Fresco Room

Bull-dancing Fresco, original pieces, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Bull-dancing Fresco, original pieces, Heraklion Museum

The original bull-dancing fresco from Knossos. See the lumps like islands on the surface of the piece? Those are the original chunks recovered from excavations. The painting behind those chunks is filled in by an artist. I think the artists have done a great job, and I like being able to see what exists and what has been filled in.

I get it: This isn’t so different from Arthur Evans’s restorations. In fact, these are some of his restorations. I like these, while I didn’t like some of architectural restorations on the site. Go figure.

Ladies in Blue original pieces, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ladies in Blue original pieces, Heraklion Museum

None of the original head pieces, the faces, the ornamented hair, remain from this fresco. Those are made up based on other images from the time.

Fresco Room, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Fresco Room, Heraklion Museum

We haven’t seen a lot of frescoes here in Greece, so it was nice to spend some time with these.

A Great Mystery

Phaestos Disc, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Phaestos Disc, Heraklion Museum

I was surprised this wasn’t Mike’s Favorite from the day because he’s been looking forward to seeing it. We heard a good deal about it in the courses we watched prior to coming. This clay disc was discovered at Phaestos, another Minoan palace, which we’ll visit tomorrow. It contains hieroglyphics stamped into clay in a clockwise spiral, from outside to inside. (I wonder how archaeologists concluded it’s a clockwise spiral rather than a counter-clockwise spiral from the center outward.) But it’s not a script anyone has been able to decipher. They’re not even sure it’s a script. The disc is one of archaeology’s great mysteries, and, by golly, we’ve seen the real McCoy.

Of course, a couple of archaeologists have posited that it’s a hoax, but most archaeologists believe it’s a real deal.

The Funniest Artifact

And I will leave you with this, hands down, the funniest artifact of the day:

Rock wig, Heraklion Museum, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Rock wig, Heraklion Museum

It’s made of rock.

It is a wig, or at least a headpiece that imitates hair. Which is a wig.

The rest of this day will be continued . . . oh, no, it’s not over yet. We’re still dry.

Jan 262017
 

Knossos—or Knosos, what with flexible Greek spelling—is to Crete as Denali is to Alaska: the #1 tourist attraction, the must-see, the favorite, the most talked about and promoted.

Ruins and restorations, Knossos, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Ruins and restorations of the Ancient Palace at Knossos

Minoans and Mycenaeans

Knossos is an ancient Minoan palace site that dates back over 4,000 years. The Minoans are considered the first European civilization, and they ruled the Aegean area for 550 years during the Bronze Age, trading far and wide, and spreading their influence.

In mythology, Knossos was the seat of King Minos. Daedalus built his labyrinth here beneath the palace, and a Minotaur hunted the people who got lost inside. Eventually, Theseus killed the dreaded Minotaur and found his way out with the help of a string.

In history, the “First Palace Period” in Knossos started around 2,000 BC, and some of the ruins at Knossos date all the way back to this time. In the mid-1700s BC, an earthquake destroyed the original palace, but it was rebuilt bigger and better shortly thereafter in what is now called the “Second Palace Period.” Clever names, no?

After 1500 BC, the second palace on the site was partially destroyed, but stayed in use for another 50 years, when it finally burned and crumbled. We always have a little trouble comprehending how rock structures burn, but the ceilings tend to be wood, so in the end, I guess it makes sense.

Gypsum, Knossos, Crete

Weathered gypsum

Here is yet another example of new being built on top of old; although, the “new” in this case is more than 3,700 years old.

The Minoans reigned at Knossos until about 1450 BC when Mycenaeans from the mainland took over. Remember all that Mycenaean gold from the National Museum? Those people. I’m not sure anyone knows exactly what happened to create this change: disease, war, natural disaster, something else.

The Knossos palace included private royal quarters, public meeting rooms, shrines, workshops, and storerooms, all surrounding a large central court.

Excavation at Knossos

Heinrich Schliemann (we talked about him finding the Mask of Agamemnon) was convinced that Knossos held an important ancient Minoan palace, but he died before being able to excavate. Sir Arthur Evans, who had visited Schliemann’s other sites, enthusiastically picked up the Knossos reigns after Schliemann’s death, and shortly after Turkish rule of Crete ended in 1897, he got to work.

Born into a wealthy British family, educated at Oxford, and employed by the prestigious Ashmolean Museum, Evans purchased the farmland above and around Knossos and spent 250,000 pounds of his family’s money to excavate it.

Dear Mom and Dad, will you please buy me an archaeological site and then fund the excavation?

Beginning in 1900, Evans spent 30 years excavating and restoring Knossos.

Yes, restoring. Hmmm.

Some think Arthur Evans over-reached, letting his imagination run riot and then imposing the results on history. Others think his restorations make the site more interesting and accessible to visitors, helping them to imagine what might have been.

I’ll show you some of what we saw, and you can decide what you think.

The Entrance

Knossos entrance, Crete

Knossos entrance, Crete

Entering a site always excites me, the anticipation of discovering something new and making new connections. Memories of Pompeii invariably spring to mind, probably because it’s a favorite for me and is the bar by which all other visits back into history are measured.

Kouloures, grain storage pits, and Signature silhouette, Knossos, Crete

Kouloures, grain storage. Look, Lexi: A hole with steps down into it!

These kouloures (granaries) seem to be outside the palace, and I’m curious as to why. Maybe this was grain for people who lived outside the palace complex. Maybe it was grain for animals that lived in the fields surrounding the palace. Or maybe this is where grain was collected from surrounding farms, perhaps part of a tax system.

Arthur Evans got to contemplate this stuff.

Pottery

The ubiquitous clay pots:

Pithoi, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Clay pithoi or vessels of another name

Giant pithoi, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Giant pithoi

But look at those giant ones. How heavy do you think those are? Can you imagine moving one? Well, that’s what all those handles around the outside are for. They used some sort of pulley or crane system to hoist those puppies. Ancient engineering.

Arthur Evans’s Restorations

Wall with Wood Beams

Arthur Evans imagined what the different parts of the palace complex were, based on the clues present, and he hired craftsmen to restore various parts. This, I think, is just a random wall.

Wall restoration, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Wall restoration. Note the wood beams.

Wood-grain fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Those wood beams are frescoes.

Now, my question is were the original palace walls painted to look like wood beams, or were there real wood beams in the walls? Did Arthur Evans know, or is he making this up? It bugs me that I don’t know what’s real and what’s made up here.

I remember a church in Italy where the interior was a giant fresco of brickwork. Um, if you want the church interior to look like brickwork, why not build with bricks and save yourself heaps of trouble?

The “Throne Room”

Throne room, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The “Throne Room”

We saw and discussed this room in our class, along with other parts of this site. While it does contain a stone seat that looks like a throne, it’s a small room, not easily accessed, and the throne faces a wall. The course instructor and I both think Arthur Evans was wrong about how this space was used.

Stairs

Stairs, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Restored stairs

Ancient people understood that building up was more efficient than building out, and most of these ruins that we see were multi-story complexes. They had to have a lot of stairs. For a reason I don’t fully understand, I find stairs at these sites exciting, perhaps because they suggest more. Whenever possible, I climb the stairs. They’re usually narrow and irregular. Sometimes they’re noticeably worn; those are my favorites. (I’m thinking of worn stairs at Pompeii and the Colosseum.) I always want to know where the steps went, what was at the top or bottom.

Brightly Painted Frescoes and Pillars

South portico, Procession fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Procession fresco, south portico

Charging-bull fresco, North Entrance, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Charging-bull fresco, North entrance

Most ruins are simply the natural color of the stone, the paint washed away by rain or faded by sun, but in the heyday of the palaces, bright colors prevailed. The restored areas remind us of this.

And they’re a little jarring, too, since they don’t blend with the rest of the site.

Horns of Consecration

Horns of Consecration, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Mike, get your hand off the Horns of Consecration!

This U-shaped statue, a limestone replica in this case, was a popular architectural design and motif in both Minoan and Mycenaean culture. Arthur Evans labeled this shape the “Horns of Consecration,” believing they represent bulls’ horns, since bulls also feature prominently in art and symbols of the time. Check out the fresco above—a bull. There’s another below.

It really looks like Mike’s touching the stone, doesn’t it? Good job, Barb! (She took the picture.)

North Entrance and Theater

Theater area, Royal road, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Theater area near the North Entrance

This theater area is my favorite part of the site. Look how warped the surfaces are; that’s one of the things I especially like. Now turn around, and you see this:

Royal road, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The Royal Road to the North entrance

Beautiful! Evans decided this was the “Royal Road.” I like it enough that I can get on board that name. The road was restored to some extent, with new rocks laid, but it’s easy to imagine it as the original. The restored parts don’t call attention to themselves like the brightly painted columns and frescoes here or the bright white marble on the Temple of Athena Nike or the Parthenon.

Central Court from Theater, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Looking toward the central court from the theater

Don’t you love Barb’s blue coat in this picture?

Favorite Restored Frescoes

We had a couple of rain showers today, but the site offers several covered areas that provided excellent shelter. We spent some time in the Fresco Room, and so I made everyone pick a favorite fresco. Well, I made Mike and Barb pick favorites; I did not make the three twenty-something visitors taking a tour do it.

Mike

Bull-dancing fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Bull-dancing fresco

Mike’s favorite fresco. “Bull dancing” was a real thing. Athletes would vault over bulls in daring acts of grace and strength. I’d kind of like to see this, provided the bulls didn’t mind.

Barb

Ladies Under Trees Fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ladies Under Trees fresco

Female-heads fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Close-up of above fresco. Look at all those profiles.

Barb’s favorite fresco. She likes the ladies sitting under the trees. I love all those heads; although, I think it’s a rather strange design overall.

Jen

Ladies in Blue fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ladies in Blue fresco

My favorite. These Greek ladies remind me of characters in Disney’s Hercules movie. The Disney folks do their research, of course. I just think they’re pretty; I love the dark, wavy, bejeweled hair.

Pro- or Anti-Restorations?

As much as I would love to see a site like Knossos in its colorful, multi-storied (literally and figuratively) heyday, I don’t like the restorations. I feel suspicious; skeptical of Evans’s interpretation; unsure of what is original, what is a replica of an original, and what is wholly of Evans’s imagination. Instead of drawing me into the site, it distances me from it.

I would prefer an Evans version next door to the original so that I can interpret and imagine the original myself. By imposing himself on the site, he deprives me of that pleasure.

But what do you think?