April 30- Phaestos
There was one more major site to see (though in truth we could have spent a week just on Crete, since we really only got to explore the middle portion of the island in the time we were there). But given our interest in the Minoans, we had to make a trip down to the other of their grand palaces, Phaestos. This was on the south coast of the island, and a little bit west. We took a detour on the way to a site called Gortyna (we didn't know anything about it, but tour buses were stopped there so we figured it was worth checking out). The remains there are mostly Roman and early Christian, but stone tablets containing the Classical code of law were also found there and on display, making it a unique and worthwhile stop.
Phaestos is another prime example of siting with the landscape in mind. This palace was located on a knoll above the Messara plain, another fertile valley sloping down to the sea. The particularly cool thing about it is that when you stand in the central court, you are perfectly aligned (on north and east facing axes) with the two mountains that are claimed to be the birthplace of Zeus. The nearer one, to the north, is Mt. Ida, and the cave of his alleged birth is visible. Mt. Ida has two peaks, considered in Minoan mythology to be horns of a bull (see entry on Knossos). Mt. Dikta is the other, in the distance to the east. Phaestos also contains remains of a temple to Rhea, the mother of Zeus.
Phaestos didn't have any reconstructions like Knossos, but the ruins were well preserved enough to get a sense of what it was like, and there were signs for everything, including one pointing out where the Phaestos disk was found. I bought a replica at the site's gift shop, so if you ever want to try your hand at cracking the hieroglyphs, come on over—we'll even feed you dakos (not to be confused with tacos) and raki, for your trouble.
We hit one more, smaller site, Hagia Triada, which is just a few miles west (we had bought a combined ticket at Phaestos). It dates from the same era and is too close to have been another political entity, so it is thought to have been a summer palace or religious retreat. Headed into the nearest town, which didn't look too promising at first, but we found a lovely taverna right on the beach, called Red Fish, and got a great meal of mezedes to share.
On the way back to the hotel, we made a side trip to the Stilianou Winery (we had a flyer from the hotel). Family owned and operated, all organic. His wines were quite good; his olive oil and raki were fantastic. We would have gotten wine if he'd been able to ship to the US; limited by what we could fit in our already-bursting luggage, we went with the olive oil and raki.
Home in time to let the kids have one more shot at the pool, and then we went into Iralkeio and found a restaurant that had been recommended in the guide book. We may have been their only customers that evening; they had a limited menu of already prepared items, so we got one of most of them and shared around. Another dinner for six, for less than 70 euros.
May 1-2 - Heading Home
All good things must come to an end; so it was with our trip to Greece. When we made the initial reservations, we had forgotten about Labor Day (May 1), and with the various financial difficulties, we were a little worried about general strikes that day, but were hopeful that the airports would still be fine. We were right, fortunately. And we were even able to make a morning side trip to Cretaquarium, which was a few miles from the hotel and open 365 days a year.
Had no problems on the flight to Athens, and we had booked rooms at the airport hotel so we wouldn't have to worry about transportation, either on Labor Day, or the next morning—we all had early flights out. We considered going back into Athens for the evening, but it turned out the metro was on strike, so we just had overpriced dinner and drinks at the hotel. The trip back was mostly fine too, except for a two-hour delay from Newark to Dulles while they fixed a lavatory door (I wanted to just go with a broken door and have everyone promise they wouldn't have to pee on the 47-minute flight, but no one listens to me). So we ended up with a 25-hour travel day, and I swear it has taken me till about this weekend to fully re-adjust to eastern daylight time.
It was one of the best trips we've ever had—if you are even thinking of Greece as a destination, all I can say is, go! Any fan of history, culture, food, wine, or scenery can't go wrong there. I would actually like to go back and concentrate about two weeks on the Peloponnesian peninsula, I feel like we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see there. And we easily could have done a week on Crete, not to mention visits to all the other islands. I would especially like to see Santorini closer than from a plane.
Thanks for reading this blog; I wrote it both to help remember the details of our trip and also to inform others who may be interested in Greece as a destination about what a truly magical place it is.