Thursday, October 22, 2009

Travel Notes: Crete

I was only here for two nights and one full day. Here's a summary:

1. Arrive in Iraklio (or Heraklion) at night. Get ripped off by cab driver. There goes dinner money. Hostel looks like a dump. Graffiti everywhere. Dark alleys. Sounds like someone is staging a dog fight outside our window. Made me think of the scene from Big when Tom Hanks spends his first night alone in the city.

2. Try to wander around the streets to see the city, but I get scared and want to go home (these days home is wherever my backpack happens to be parked). Pris thinks I'm being a little paranoid.

"There are a lot of women walking around alone. I think it's OK."

"I bet they're hookers."

3. We go home. Handsome receptionist man teaches us to play "portes," one of the three games traditionally played as matches in "tavli," which means in the backgammon board. I win! But just barely.

4. In the morning, we walk about two blocks from Hostel Rea:

"This place is the best! I could totally live here!"

The daylight is like an aphrodisiac, and I quickly fall in love with this city. The bustle of locals reminds me how much I belong living in a city, but there are still quaint streets decorated with welcoming cafes and the beautiful architecture you expect from Greece.

5. Take bus to Palace of Knossos (built between 1700-1400 BC), a true testament to the sophistication and ingenuity of Minoan society. Then hit the Archaeological Museum in Iraklio, where a lot of the artifacts from the Palace and other Cretan goods are stored.

This was one of my favorite cultures I studied in high school art history. I love the contrast of the relaxed fluidity of their more organic forms in comparison to the rigidity of other ancient Greek styles.

The columns are tapered at the ends instead of like the fluted perfection of the Parthenon. The ruins were littered with precious fertility figures with voluptuous women atop "stout buttocks" (quoted from Archaeological Museum label) that would make J. Lo envious, and the frescoes depict slim, limber men partaking in everyday activities like catching fish, wrestling and leaping over bulls.

Wow. That was a lot of arty rambling. Mr. Goodwin would be proud.

Pris and I also spent a lot of time taking silly photos in the Palace's sewer system. They had indoor plumbing! Can you believe it?

Some of the earliest evidence of toilets, much like our modern day johns. Not even the Versaille had working toilets and a drainage system inside the palace, according to the guide of the tour I hijacked.

6. Rest of the afternoon spent shopping. Pris bought a jacket. I bought a sweater for the upcoming cold nights in Italy. The fashion in Iraklio is crazy. I'll post photos soon.

7. Lots of walking. Liberty Square. Fountain of the Four Lions. Church of Ayios Tito. Venetian waterfront port. Trendy bars and quiet cafes.

8. Our last supper together was something very special. Photos to come soon, but here's the menu: boiled greens, fried aubergines, grilled octopus (grilled right outside by the waterfront!), moussaka.

There was this adorable moment when a kitten curled up in the chair next to Pris, and then a dog curled up on the floor beside me to keep us company.

Then the very sweet waitress brought out (on the house, mind you) four shots of Raki, the unofficial official liquor of Crete (I really hope one of my OS buddies reads this to get that joke), which is made from must residue when distilling wine.

PLUS, she brought us a giant plate of hot fried dough WITH vanilla AND chocolate ice cream AND two pieces of halva -- all drenched in chocolate syrup, honey and sesame seeds.

Food coma heaven.

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