April 29 - Knossos
What a treat to get up, get breakfast, and head to a site that's ten minutes from our hotel! The important thing to note about Crete is that we are heading backwards into history here—the two major sites on Crete, Knossos and Phaestos—date to the Minoan period, 2000-1350 BC, before the Mycenaeans, and the first major bronze-age culture in Greece. The Minoans are particularly interesting because the available evidence indicates they were a very peaceful, artistic, goddess-centered culture (they get top billing in Merlin Stone's "When God Was A Woman," for example, and while that book has some scholarship issues, there is enough archeological evidence to at least support the general thesis).
The mastermind behind the excavation of Knossos was British archeologist Arthur Evans, and he did something very interesting an controversial - he reconstructed parts of the palace to what they would have probably looked like at the height of Minoan civilization. Thus, the resultant site is a combination of ruins and intact ruins. Minoan architecture is famous for two major characteristics - multistory constructions and extensive use of frescoes. Again, my book led us on a really informative tour of the site. Knossos is the fabled location of the labyrinth, supposedly designed by Daedalus to contain the Minotaur, later found and slain by Theseus with the help of Ariadne. Given the clear evidence of a several-storied palace, and the warren of extant remains, it's not too hard to imagine a labyrith there. As a side note, bulls, horns, and the like were prominent in Minoan art, and there are extensive legends as to how the Minotaur came to be.
We had a nice lunch at the site café, we headed into town to go to the Archeological Museum. It turned out that the museum itself had been undergoing a renovation for a seemingly endless period of time, and all they had available was a temporary exhibition of some of the particularly important treasures (the children, somewhat museum-ed out at this point, were ecstatic at this news). What was on display was fascinating-- there were some amazing vases, remnants of the Knossos frescoes, jewelry and more. Between all of us (all really interested in the Minoans), I think we photographed every item in the museum. The one thing that wasn't on display was the Phaistos disk, recovered from our Monday destination and covered in a hieroglyph that has not yet been translated.
We headed back to the hotel early and got some beach and pool time in. Every room had its own assigned beach cabana—I highly recommend splurging on a hotel every now and again (this place actually wasn't all that expensive, about $150 a night, we had found it on Expedia as a package when we booked the flights from Athens to Crete). The water was a little chilly, it still being April, but the kids didn't seem to mind. And we had a cabana.
For dinner we headed a bit east, since we weren't going to get out that way in our daytime explorations, to a town called Agios Nikolai (St. Nicholas). It's a lovely little place. The main feature of the town is a an inner harbor, formerly a lake that was connected to the main harbor by a channel in the 1800s. The lake is pretty small but 214 feet deep and was locally known as "Athena's Bathtub"- must have been a plunge pool or something, it had very steep sides around it that could have had a waterfall coming off. It brought back memories of some of the cool meromictic lakes in upstate New York -- if you can picture Clark Reservation State Park, but surrounded by cafes, you'd have a pretty good idea of the place. Too bad about it being connected to the sea and developed, it probably had a really interesting fauna.
We had a place in mind for dinner that got great reviews, but it turned out to be closed, so we walked around the lake and hit one of the touristy places. It was called DuLac, and since if we were French, we'd be able to claim that as our name (it's actually Croatian), we went with it. We got more dakos (not to be confused with tacos), since it's a Cretan specialty, and delicious, and we're not sure we'll be able to re-create the crunchy bread. And I had a kebab that wasn't bad. And more raki—gotta capitalize on the local specialties.