On Tuesday I took the bus for an hour to Iraklio, the 5th largest city in Greece and capital of Crete. I had misread the timetable and was at the bus stop 45mins early, which was a pain! I was keen to get the first bus as my first stop for the day was the archaeological site of the palace of Knossos. My lonely planet (and every other guide I read online) said it's best to get there bang on 8am before the tour groups arrive. There isn't much more annoying when sightseeing than getting caught up with a large tour group with a guide shouting so everybody at the back can hear them, makes it impossible to concentrate to read information, or have a moment of peace to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the place. So I always aim to get to popular sites before opening time so that I can get in and make a Headstart before the annoying tour groups. This strategy has worked pretty well during my decade of solo sightseeing around Europe.
Knossos opened at 8 and the earliest bus from Malia was at 6:30. After arriving in Iraklion, you have to take another bus out to the palace. Buses in Greece are invariably around 10 minutes late so I didn't get to Iraklion til 7:40 then the bus to Knossos didn't turn up till 8am - opening time - there goes my plan to get there before opening! This trip has certainly been a lesson in letting go of control. The same thing happened yesterday, I had hoped to get to Spinalonga for around 9am to beat the tour groups but the combination of a late running bus to At Nik then a wait in Ag Nik for the next bus to Elounda then just missing a boat in Elounda meant it was 10:30 before I got there. I think this is what people are referring to when they say that when in Greece, you just have to go with the flow. This is not something that comes easily to me! I like to plan things and do them to the schedule, so this trip has really taken me out of my comfort zone. It's been difficult letting go of that control but both times I have had to accept that there's nothing I can do to change the situation, i just need to go with it & it will probably turn out fine and both times it did. I arrived at Spinalonga just before The first tour group but easily avoided them by setting off in the opposite direction around the island; although I entered Knossos 30min after opening, there were only a couple of other people in there already so for the first hour it was blissfully quiet and I was able to fully enjoy it in the way that I enjoy things best (without too many other humans) before the masses arrived.
Buses in Crete are an experience. They are all (even local short distance buses) coaches; they have a conductor in addition to the driver, who sells and checks tickets, shouts out the name of the stop and tells the driver when people have finished getting on and off via the door halfway along the side of the coach. Mostly they have Greek music playing inside, which is nice, they are so far in my experience, always 10 minutes late. They are quite reasonably priced (€4 for an hour journey / €3.60 for a 40min trip / €1.50-€2 ish for 15-20 mins) They're pretty comfortable although they make even a short journey feel long because of taking it in a coach (which I associate with going long distances). Masks are mandatory, although I guess idiots are not limited to one nationality so you do of course get a few who don't wear them or don't wear them properly. The nose-sticking-out-over-mask thing seems to be quite common here, particularly amongst teens; I'm thinking the meme likening ineffective mask wearing to ineffective pants wearing wasn't widely circulated here. Contrary to expectation, drivers are mostly cautious (although they do take mobile phone calls whilst driving, which is pretty terrifying on a road with hairpin bends). Public buses look identical from the front to tour group coaches and holiday company coaches making airport transfers so it's impossible to tell if an approaching bus is the one that you need so you just have to hail them all till the right one stops. One really good thing is that if there are too many people waiting for a bus, they just put another one on! This has happened twice to me now, they split the passengers by destination & simply call on a waiting driver / conductor combo to take the extra bus - I wonder if they pay drivers to sit around waiting in case of this situation? It's been a good way to see Eastern Crete anyway, by bus, so much of the route is coastal / mountainous with some amazing views.
Knossos was so interesting; apart from being a really significant piece of history much was made of the role of the British archaeologist who reconstructed parts of the palace in putting his own slant and interpretation on things. Many of the ways that he imagined things are now thought not to be entirely accurate but it's too late when the reconstruction has already been done, what can be done after that is to add context. So a lot of the info at Knossos was like "Arthur Evans reconstructed it like this but it's now thought to have been not like that" - was fascinating to read of the role of the archaeologist in creating history, through his work. Although the reconstruction made it feel a bit less authentic than somewhere like Pompeii or Herculaneum, it was great to see a more reconstructed palace that I seen previously, sections are up to 4 floors high and really gave a feel for how things might have been 1600-1400 BC.
After Knossos I got the bus back into Iraklion and spent a few hours wandering the city. Although it doesn't have a huge number of "sights" (and frustratingly the few indoor things I had wanted to do were inexplicably closed) it had a great vibe: from the crumbling buildings, narrow backstreets, scooter riders to the numerous characterful little cafes and restaurants, glittering harbour full of yachts, Venetian fortress and old city walls, to the pounding turquoise sea and misty mountains of Cape Stavros in the distance the other side of Iraklio Bay. I wouldn't want to spend a huge amount of time here because there isn't that much to do but I really liked the feel of the place. By 2pm, I was hot and my feet were hurting, I thought about going into the archaeological museum but changed my mind when I saw the queue; anything indoors with a queue like that is certainly going to be busier than I feel comfortable with. So I got the bus back to Malia (very busy bus, very stressful bc of covid fear) then sat and read my book by the pool for an hour.