Crete Travels Archives

Chania, Crete, Greece

Now that my first trip to Europe is over, I get to tell you all about my trip!  I already told you about my scary drive up a mountain to a peak sanctuary and my trip to an ancient refugee settlement.  Now let’s go back to before that and talk about my trip to Greece and the gorgeous city of Chania on Crete, the largest of the Greek islands.

Rays of the sunset through clouds over the United airplane garage at O'Hare Airport.

The clouds over O’Hare Airport in Chicago as I waited for my plane.

I started my travels with a late night flight to Frankfort, Germany.  I had a few hours to get to my next flight so I sat down to a quiet German restaurant and had an “Eistee” with my meal.  I guess the term “ice tea” came from English so that is how it sounds in German.  It took me a few minutes to figure that out but the drink was quite good.  After a leisurely meal I headed to my departure gate.  After getting slightly lost I realized that I still needed to go through passport control.  Um, I had a little over an hour until my plane started boarding and I had to wait in a line as people from every non-EU nation in the airport went through the three police stamping passports and making small talk.  I finally got through with less than half an hour until boarding so I hurried to my gate.  Next time I’m traveling through an international airport, I’ll remember to find my gate before eating if I only have a few hours of a layover.  I found the same set up in the London airport I passed through on the way back to the States.

The flight from Germany took me to Athens for the night.  There I explored the airport since I didn’t get a hotel there.  I found it interesting that most of the shops were behind gates that needed boarding passes. In the States people go through the security check to get to duty-free shops on the way to their gate.  In Athens a boarding pass gets you to duty-free shops and you still need to go through security to get to your gate.  I didn’t learn my lesson in Germany.  I got into Athens as the stores were closing so I quickly got a sandwich to go and found a nice quiet hallway to spend the night in.  I wasn’t sure if I could sleep in the airport so I pulled out my e-book reader and finished the mystery I had been reading.  About 6 am I got up and went hunting for breakfast.  It was about 7am that I started looking for my gate.  That was when I learned that I still had to go through security.  Um…opps!  The line wasn’t long so I got to my gate with time to spare.

A bird's-eye view of Athens, Greece.

Saying goodbye to Athens.

In less than an hour I landed on Crete in the Chania airport.  I stopped at the small airport to use the internet for directions and wound up asking the bus station attendant how to get where I needed to go. She gave me a print out that was a map and told me where to go when I got off the bus.  After the bus ride I made the walk as the map said…and couldn’t find the right street.   I finally stopped and walked in circles to find the street names to see where I was.

A tan fortress wall next to a dry moat and topped with bushes and trees.

The city wall of the Old City in Chania

I was walking beside this wall looking for the street I needed.  It turned out that I needed to be inside the Old City. In other words, I should have been on the other side of that wall.  It took me another twenty minutes to get where I needed to be and then I couldn’t find the people who ran the place so I grabbed a chicken salad lunch and waited for them to get back.  By then I had about 4 hours of sleep in 48 hours and knew I would sleep forever so I relaxed online for an hour or two before heading out to wander Chania looking for food.  A few minutes from the place I was staying was the boardwalk area for souvenirs and fancy restaurants with a great view.

A street with multicolored buildings with shops on one side and water on the other side of the street.

The boardwalk area in Chania, Greece near sundown.

It was my first Greek meal so I let him suggest what I should order.  I should not have been surprised that I got a huge meal.

A bowl of salad, a plate of dip, a plate of rolls wrapped in olive leaves, a plate oof toats, and a plate with fries, salad, and rice under beef in cream sauce made up my meal along with a small bottle of wine.

My huge Greek supper

I’m not sure about the dip.  It was yogurt and spices and tiny cucumber pieces that I never decided if it was good or not but it was odd.  The beef in cream sauce was REALLY good and the veges wrapped in olive leaves were good, although too much for one person.  With the meal done and my eyes not staying open, I decided to head back to my bed and sleep for hours.

A view over water of the Greek town by the long walk to a lighthouse.

The view during supper

I slept well all night and part of the next morning until I had to get up to get on the bus for Pacheia Ammos, where I would stay for a month while I explored East Crete and cataloged pottery sherds all week long.

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Kavousi Vronda and the Parrot Place


Ah, the beach… It seems like I will never get sick of watching the waves roll in…
   But I can’t sit around watching the waves all my life, not with so much exploring to do.  That is a picture of where I met my professor and two friends to go exploring Crete at 10:30 this morning.  After admiring the waves for a few minutes (and because it was morning when all of us would rather have still been relaxing) we crawled into my professor’s rental car and he drove to Kavousi, a larger town just up the peninsula from where we are living, and turned up a winding mountain road to go up the mountain. Eventually we got out and walked through trails that had grown over with shrubs to get to the lesser known archeological site of Kavousi Vronda.  It’s not as impressive as Gournia, the site I’m helping do the paperwork for, but it does have some awesome views.


    According to my professor, who played tour guide for this trip, Egyptian manuscripts speak of attacks from “sea people” which were a lot of different people that had taken to the sea for various reasons.  People think that some of those nomads stopped in Crete and set up villages far from the sea.  Vronda is thought to be one of those villages. looking beyond the little rental car you can see how far from the water Vronda is set.


Beyond the site on the other side from the picture above it (maybe to the side instead of directly behind the site) is the other Bronze Age refugee camp.  At some point thousands of years ago they gave up the stone houses at Vronda for the higher and more inland site at the peak beyond Vronda.  (If you look closely, on the closer peak you can see a late Bronze Age village of Asoria, which is an active dig, on the peak between the two refuge sites which are no longer being studied.)  At some point after Vronda was abandoned, it was used as a cemetery and there are a few tombs on the site, one of them was found inside the abandoned shrine.  Most of the pottery and figurines of the shrine were found in a heap down the hill a bit from the shrine as if the grave diggers had merely thrown the artifacts down the hill to get them out of the way.


    Here is an image of the grave they dug in the shrine.  On the left is the ledge that they had put most of the figurines to the goddess (often called the snake goddess but modern scholars think that the snake was merely a reference to her dominion over the underworld, not her only power) and various memorials to dead family and pets.  The Minoan people seem to have worshiped a great goddess and something about bulls (bull leaping seems to have been their national sport and the “horns of consecration” are found in most of the important buildings) and who ever lived in Vronda seems to have adopted that religion since a lot of goddess figurines were found in the heap from the shrine.


   One thing I find fascinating about Crete is how the mountains are covered in terraces.  Now a days the terraces are used to grow olive trees but in Gournia there are terraces from the dark ages that probably were part of vineyards to fill the wine jugs made at the site.  That means that over three thousand years ago people were carrying bricks or stones from place to place to bend the landscape to their desires.  The abilities people had before cars or modern technology fascinates me.


   Of course, if the refugees didn’t farm then there was plenty of land for sheep and goats to graze around Vronda.
    After about an hour of wondering the site, reading the plaques and listening to my professor talk about what had been found and what it said about the people that lived at Vronda we piled into the car and headed to the nearby city of Ierapreta.  We found a parking space and walked to the archeological museum in that city.  (Here I should pause to mention that there are very few parking lots in Crete.  People just park on the side of the road or big stores may buy extra lots to create convenient parking lots for their customers.) No one is allowed to take pictures there (since many of the finds are yet to be published and therefore it’s rude to put up a picture of an item online before it has been officially studied and published for other archeologists to read about first) but we got to walk through it.  Gournia is an early Minoan city so I get to see a lot of what is called Vassiliki ware and crude decoration on the pottery I see every day so it was very nice to see the fancy decorations that most people think of as Minoan art.  There was also some parts Roman statues and a complete Persephone statue but I was mostly interested in their Minoan pieces and the tubs that the Minoans buried their dead in.
   After we got done in the small museum I was hungry and suggested we eat so we went to the “parrot place” as everyone on site calls it and ordered drinks.


   You can guess by the picture why it is called the parrot place.  It actually has a parrot perched by the side walk.  After we had ordered our drinks (an iced tea, a fresh squeezed orange juice, a decaf coffee with ice cream, and a beer) one of my friends noticed that we were at the wrong parrot place.  Two places on that boardwalk had parrots and they were separated by a single cafe!  The one we stopped at had this blue parrot laying on his pillow in the high winds next to the sidewalk area but the other one, run by a friend of my professor, had a big red parrot that had been moved out of the wind into the cafe so we had walked by it!  I expected we were getting food but after an hour or so of talking and sipping our drinks we got up, paid and got back in the car.  My professor dropped us all off at the beach and we went our separate ways, me to one of the restaurants on the beach, my friend to his place, and my other friend to the beach with her book and a take-out salad.   Ah, the beach…

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Terror Route

“I need a hug!” I thought repeatedly last Sunday afternoon.  I was in a small rental car with coworkers trying to go up a steep, rutted “road” to a Minoan peak sanctuary above Anatoli, Crete, the largest island in Greece.

A man wearing a backpack looks up a short incline at the station wagon on top of the dirt path strewn with rocks and ruts.

Sometimes we had to walk up rocky inclines.

It turns out that the mountain roads here on Crete are not the paved roads I’m used to, but more along the lines of a farm path.  I was lucky that my professor, who was driving, was very comfortable on any road, or path in this case, and never got worried.  As you can see, we did have to get out a few times so the bottom of the car could get over rocks or up hills, but we never had to push it.

A view of Crete: the dead long grass beside the road leads to a steep rocky drop. Over the rocks you can see a green hill criss-cut with light gray roads and speckled with dark green trees and dark gray boulders. The hazy bluish-brown mountains beyond fade into the ocean to the left and light blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. All that is framed by the upper edge of a car window.

The glorious countryside of Crete on a sunny day.

This was taken out my car window as we went and can show you how high up we were (along with one of the amazing views we saw on the way).

A black circle emphazes a barely visible white cross peeking over a rocky hill.

So far away…

We were trying to get to the peak of the mountain where a pilgrimage church now sits.  I circled the cross in this picture which I took about halfway up the mountain.

A picture through a windshield of a SUV driving winding mountain roads taken between the driver and passenger of the car.

Our Guide

We had been going on the gravel path up the mountain for about a hair-raising hour when a pair of locals drove up in a Susuki jeep and asked what we were doing.  I don’t speak Greek so I don’t know what they said, but it was agreed that two of the five of us would ride in their car to the peak to make it easier on our car.  A few minutes later the professor decided the road was impassable for our small car and we would have to walk up the mountain the rest of the way.  He backed down the mountain road (“I’m not looking, I’m not looking” was going through my head as I resolutely faced forward) and he navigated to the side of the road to park and we got out.  By then the locals had noticed we weren’t following and came back to see why.  After another conversation in Greek, we got back in the car and drove down the mountain.  They were going to lead us back to the actual road used for the yearly pilgrimage made to the modern church at the top of the mountain.  About forty minutes later we were off the rutted gravel road and onto a road paved in a white stone.  It wasn’t as smooth as an asphalt road, but it was much less nerve-wracking than the gravel road had been.  I never did get my hug that day, but by the time we got to the peak I was no longer worried and didn’t need one.  The professors along all agreed that next time they would try to get a sturdy Susuki jeep instead of the small European car they had gotten this year.  The jeep was much better for the less used roads that archeologists (which we all are this summer) use to go to less traveled sites.

A small white square building sits on a gray stone wall overlooking the mountains of Crete that fade into a faint ocean and vast blue sky as fluffy white clouds roll in from the right.

The pilgrimage church now on the peak of the mountain

Anyway, the locals drove us up to the church, shook our hands, and drove off to whatever had brought them up the mountain in the first place.  Here is one part of the two-part church that was built on the mountain peak.

The bottom of a huge white cross faces the city on the island far below the mountain it stands on.

Overlooking Ierapetra

Do you remember the tiny cross I circled in the picture above?  This is that cross from the peak looking over Ierapetra, one of the biggest cities on the large island.

A lady in a blue shirt and dark jeans stands at the edge of a rock outcropping overlooking the majestic mountains of Crete in the background and the city far below to the right.

Looking out over the largest island of Greece

Millennia ago ancient people made the walk up that mountain to worship someone in some way.  To be honest, I was more interested in the amazing views of Crete than in learning about the archeological finds that had been discovered at the peak.  What I did hear gave me the impression that the ancients came to worship their thundering sky god. You can see why that site is a great place to worship a sky god, so far above the life-giving fields and sea.  Modern people who fly in airplanes may be used to a view from hundreds of feet above sea level, but the ancients who may have traveled on donkeys only if they were rich would never have seen a view like that in everyday life.

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