For my wife’s birthday, we went to the Greek island of Crete with two friends last week. I had never been to Greece, let alone Crete. First time for everything…
We rented a house in a tiny village slightly inland of the north coast, somewhat between Chania and Rethymno…
And shortly after arriving, I noticed the back of the house resembled a rather awestruck face. There was a good reason for that. After all, look at this view…
The house had no central heating, which is no surprise in the eastern Med. For hot water, it relied on the sun…
I went up on the roof a day or so after we arrived (it was easily accessible up an outside staircase) to have a look. It had two solar panels and a water tank. The semi-detached house next door had the same set up as you see above.
That solar was not uncommon. Driving around, we noticed most every house had something like that on a roof. Clearly there was no gas or other power source in the village or immediately around it, so the main way to get hot water was solar.
And when I say “village,” I am not kidding:
It seemed to step out of a Hollywood-made Greek novel or film.
I grabbed some video, too.
Anyone who mentions Mamma Mia! will be blocked. LOL!
One day trip we made was to the port city of Rethymno, especially its early 1600s Venetian-built fortress:
For a small fee, you get to walk throughout the entire fortified area. It dominated the coast, and, as you can see, you can see well out to sea, so no way anyone was taking it from the sea.
It fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1646… who attacked it from the landside, as its landside walls were not high enough, really, to make it “impregnable.”
Another day, seeking some nature, we drove inland up into the mountains to the island’s remarkable Botanical Park of Crete:
It is not just plants…
…You can be surprised from some of the wildlife that just appears from nowhere.
But plants are obviously important…
…and we were stunned to find the Money tree.
Unfortunately, it was bare. LOL!
On Tuesday, we had to take in something ancient. And it does not get much more ancient in Europe that the Minoan Palace at Knossos:
It is termed by most sources the “Number 1” destination on the island. And it is easy to see why:
What especially stunned us was how empty the site was. It is usually very busy. But there were only a few visitors – and that made the visit even more amazing.
It is a combination of excavated area and rebuilt based on research as to what this or that looked like.
Normally, that sort of thing might bother me. However, here it did not.
The restoration work is well needed and I thought added a great deal to better understanding it all.
That was all about 4,000 years or so ago. More recently…
…you find in the village of Askifou a Second World War military museum founded by a local man, now deceased, just after 1945.
Nazi paratroopers and mountain troops invaded the island in May 1941, surprising the British, Commonwealth, and Greek forces, and after a bitter ten day battle the Nazis won. After the island’s liberation in 1945, the man began collecting war refuse left behind – guns, helmets (including a couple I saw with holes in them, so you can only suppose what happened to the living wearers), and all other sorts of soldiers’ paraphernalia. With all of that, he opened a private museum that his family continues to run…
Seeing it is all also rather unsettling – especially the Nazi flags and other propaganda, as well as photos, plates, uniform bits, and newspapers, etc. – particularly in the context of what happened in these same towns and villages during that war. In their invasion of Crete, for the first time Nazi soldiers also ran into civilians who fought back in an organized manner, which infuriated the Nazi invaders. It is all too much to go into here, but if you search on Crete in World War II, what you will find is truly upsetting and ugly history.
There are also lots of British, Commonwealth, and Greek defenders’ memories at the museum, too.
We had started the day aiming for a walk down the Imbros Gorge (a distance of about 11 kilometers). At the museum, we learned that as defeat on the island was imminent, much like Dunkirk Allied soldiers rushed down that same gorge for the south coast to try to get to British ships that would evacuate them…
…but many did not make it to a British ship.
As the woman (a granddaughter of the museum’s founder) running it told us – we were then the only four visitors – with a shrug and in her weak English, war, including now Putin’s, never ends. Indeed, that is sadly true, of course. There will unfortunately be lots left behind in Ukraine for other museums like this someday, too.
The Imbros Gorge is a slow descent, with steep cliffsides. Those sides probably helped Allied soldiers stay out of the sight of Nazi aircraft as they hurried to British ships at the coast. We used our hiking sticks as we made our way down, and I could only think about how difficult it must have been running down its mostly rocky floor for such a long distance…
In 2023, as you near the end of the hike down, you are thankfully greeted with the likes of this:
Anywhere to sit and find refreshments is certainly welcome after walking about 11 kilometers over mostly stones and rocks.
The walk down took us – taking our time – about 3 hours.
Notice the sign is in only English and German. We did see a few other walkers – English and, yes, Germans. Those taverna owners obviously know it is only crazy visiting tourists who do this walk, not Greeks. LOL!
This is the look back to where it empties out at a road, in a small town, just on the south coast.
Another day, we stayed closer to our rental on the north coast. We visited Chania, a major port and tourist destination:
Chania, like all of the large towns we visited, has an “old” quarter…
You can – again – certainly enjoy somewhere to have a sit after all the meandering you have to do. Having battled some rain briefly, we found a place on the harbor. It will NOT look like this in July, that’s for sure:
We were definitely not the only ones interested in staying dry and having something to eat:
On our last full day, while it was not warm, we headed for the north coast beach nearest our rental:
Again, we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves:
We were often amused at how underdressed – often in shorts (with temperatures of between about 10-15c) – we seemed to be, while the locals were occasionally literally in WINTER coats. I laughed to myself more than once: “If you think this temperature is that cold, you have never lived in upstate New York.” LOL!
We learned from this visit that early-mid March is a great time to visit Crete – as long as you are looking to “tour” and not just sit by a pool or on a beach as it is not “quite” warm enough for such latter activities yet. It is more than warm enough, though, for sightseeing. Also, the towns and historical sites, etc., are largely quiet because most visitors come to the island in the summer, yet many to most places were open.
It was about a 4 hour flight from Bristol, and we flew back here on Saturday…
Taken just before 8am this morning. Traveling is fun, as we know. However, as we all also know, there’s no place like home. 😉
Have a good Monday, wherever you are. 🙂