Some 400 miles later and all the way down the Ionian Sea, we put in at Heraklion, Crete’s capital and largest city. Heraklion is indeed a large city by island terms, some 100,000 and looks like any European metropolitan area: choking car and bus traffic, nondescript modern buildings, crowded narrow streets and a waterfront of large ferries and small fishing boats in water so blue it makes you cry. And of course, sprinkled throughout all this are a number of museums and historic sites dating back to the ancient Greeks and beyond.
We contributed to the congestion by boarding a HoHo bus at the port entrance after fending off the aggressive offers from taxi drivers who swore they charged the same price and would tour us through town as well as the buses. Apparently, the taxi union is so strong here in Heraklion that the ship’s shuttle buses can travel no father than the physical gates of the port. Once we alighted from the free shuttle, we were fair game for the hordes of taxi drivers.
We remained steadfast against the onslaught of offers and made our way straight to the red HoHo bus for our tour around Heraklion. Our primary objective was the ruins of Knossos, the main attraction of Heraklion and the capital of the ancient Minoan culture. Knossos covers some 20,000 square meters of a combination of ruins and reconstructions. British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans discovered Knossos in 1900 and spent the next 30 years of his life and most of his fortune uncovering and restoring the city of palaces, mazes, streets, storage buildings and courtyards.
The effect is an odd but compelling mixture of ancient ruins and contemporary restoration, as if Disney had taken a hand at the design. Some of the frescoes show off brilliant colors, obviously recreated in modern times and renewed regularly to maintain their appearance. Most of the sprawling area, however, is a complex of ruins that are easy to follow, thanks to a series of helpful signs in both Greek and English.
We arrived at peak tour group time, so we had to wind our way around dozens of tightly packed groups of tourists following faithfully behind their guides holding paddles and umbrellas high for identification. In fact, while waiting for Lynn to visit the loo, I learned that the tour guides are also unionized, a first in my experience.
Since we were on the clock, we showed back up for the HoHo a few minutes in advance of the pick-up time. Of course, this is Greece, so the bus was some 15 minutes late. We waited patiently in line at the front, figuring the driver would check our tickets, while a recently arrived horde of people simply entered from the rear door and occupied all the upstairs seats. So we were forced to take the last two seats in the back on the lower level, which happen to be the seats right over the engine. It was a warm ride back.
Back in town, we launched our daily quest for lunch off the tourist trail and sure enough found a little restaurant a block away that was staffed by an earnest young man who turned out to be both the waiter and the chef. We ordered three dishes tapas style with some local Mythos beer. It took a while to get the food, as our solitary proprietor cooked each dish from scratch. He brought the grilled sausages with fries and the baked eggplant with cheese and bacon first, then delivered our order of calamari and explained it was no good, so he would not serve it to us. No need—the sausage and the eggplant were plenty. Good enough in fact, that we ordered another 50 cl Mythos, frosty, cold and tasty.
After locating and procuring a bottle of Cretan Cabernet Sauvignon, we returned to the Victoria in time for cocktails while viewing the ship departing from Crete. We just can’t see enough of embarkations and disembarkations. Each one is fascinating in its own way, and they never get old.