"Hence we shall not say that Greeks fight like heroes,
When we chose Crete as our vacation this year we had two things in mind. Warm dry weather and a place where we could relax with not too many tourists. Actually Joe was the one who wanted the relaxing part. He has been working so many hours with very little down time. If we go away for a weekend it is usually to visit some place famous and involves sight seeing. It is hard to relax with all these places that we want to see before our stint here is over. So his one request as we planned this trip was to have a lot of down time. I admit that can be a little hard for me as I am always wanting to see more and, as you know, I am not working so I'm not worn out like he is. But we managed to compromise and have a real nice time.
A little history: (If you don't like history, skip to where I wrote "end of history")
It is believed the first inhabitants in Crete lived there around 6,000 BC and came from little Asia or North Africa. Crete is known to have had the first European civilization. These were the Minoans, a people who flourished between 3000 to 1100 BC. During the years they were in power they built several palaces which were the first palaces ever built in Europe. Unfortunately because of earthquakes and/or revolutions the palaces were destroyed and rebuilt over the years. The ruins of these can be seen today.
When the Minoan civilization declined Crete was invaded by its neighbors, all of which wanted to claim the island for their own. In about 1100 BC the Dorians (a Greek tribe) captured the Minoan strongholds and took over the island's occupation. After the Dorian invasion most of the old cities became deserted and the majority of the population moved into inaccessible mountain shelters, cutting off communication with the outside world. Following this takeover Crete fell into obscurity. During the latter years of this time (500 BC) the Phoenecians (an ancient civilization located along the coasts of Lebanon, Syria and northern Israel) had great influence over the island. Crete was becoming a part of the then known world, but without a culture of its own.
By 300 BC different Cretan cities were forming alliances with different powers. Endless skirmishes, raids and wars brought the island into disrepute and Crete became known as a haven for pirates, beggars and liars. Although the population of island is increasing, the fall of Crete was inevitable.
In 67 BC the Romans arrived as mediators but settled as conquerors. After three years of fighting Crete became a Roman province. Crete enjoyed a period of prosperity under the Roman rule. In 330 AD Crete was liberated from the Romans during the first Byzantine period which brought Christianity to the island. This brings us through to 824 AD.
The Arabs invaded and occupied Crete from 828 until 961 AD. Apart from coins no remains have been found from this period. It remained a Muslim state throughout many attempts of a takeover until Nikiforos Fokas finally succeeded in freeing Crete from the Arabs and it went back into the second Byzantine Period which lasted from 961 to 1204 AD.
Noble families from Byzantium Greece, merchants from Europe and Christians from eastern countries settled in Crete. They were determined to destroy all traces of the Arabs and bring back Christianity to all who had become moslems. When Byzantium became the victim of the 4th Crusade, Crete was sold to the Venetians.
The Venetian occupation lasted for 450 years. They tried hard to convert the Cretan population from Orthodox Christianity to Roman Catholicism. The land was taken from the people and given to Venetian knights with former owners becoming slaves. There were many uprisings against the Venetians and their alien way of life. But despite their influence, the Cretan's independent character assured that their traditions continued. Venetian architecture can be seen in cities throughout the island on houses and buildings. They fortified old castles and built new ones, many that have survived to this day.
In 1645 the Turks came along and attacked Chania and Rethymnon, two cities along the northern coast of Crete (we stayed in Rethymnon). It took them a year but they ended up capturing the two cities. Then came the fight for another city, Heraklion (the largest city and capital of Crete). This was a long siege with a heroic defense, (22 years!) the longest defense in history with all of Europe watching intently.
During the mid 1800's Egypt and Turkey began fighting for Crete, while at the same time the Cretans were still revolting and fighting for themselves. Turkey managed to maintain control but one of the most tragic revolts for the Cretans was in 1866. During this revolt 943 Greeks (mostly women and children) took refuge in the Arkadi Monastery, a monastery situated on a plateau and surrounded by thick walls like a fortress. After three days of battling with the Turks the abbot of the monastery came up with a plan for the Cretans to hide in the gunpowder storage room. They then blew up barrels of gunpowder while the Turks climbed on the roof and walls, choosing to sacrifice themselves rather than surrender. This explosion did not end the insurrection, but it did attract attention of the rest of the world.
During these battles the Cretans were hoping that the Great Powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) would help them conquer the Turks. The Greek mainland could see that was not happening so they sent warships and personnel to help the Cretans. The Great Powers were not willing to hand over Crete to the Greeks so they battled against the Greeks and the Cretans. On April 1, 1897 the commander of the joint naval forces was given the orders to bombard the Greek headquarters located at Akrotiri Chania. A terrible fight began. The Greek flag that was flying was hit several times and became shredded. Then a shell hit the flagpole destroying it. A man named Spyros Kayales, rose, with shells exploding around him and hoisted the flag in the air using his body as a pole. The vice admiral sent a signal to all his ships, "Cease firing. I shall not kill a man who uses his body as a shield to protect his flag."
I wrote this particular battle down because we went to the sight of the fight and saw the statue that was erected in honor of Spyros Kayales. See pictures below:
The island began to prosper just as WWII began. For four years (1941-45) the island was occupied by the Germans. But the Cretans, men and women fought hard and inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans. Still there was forced labor, starvation, inhuman cruelty, the burning of entire villages and the execution of thousands of Cretans. But finally the last of the Germans left Crete in July of 1945. In recent years, agriculture, trade, industry, tourism and archaeological research has brought the island to great recovery.
END OF HISTORY!
We were so excited to get started on our trip. Joe goes into what I call his airport mode as soon as the day arrives. He starts out fairly calm but by the time we are in the car and headed for the airport his whole demeanor changes. He starts driving fast, then faster. When we get to the airport we have to rush through checking bags and through security to the gate. It doesn't matter if we are way early, he is never relaxed until we are sitting at the gate. He doesn't care if we sit at the gate for two hours. He is not happy until we are there. We left way early for the airport that day. Our flight was in the afternoon so thankfully we didn't have to get up real early.
Have I ever mentioned how the Brits handle accidents on the motorways? Not well. Whenever there is an accident, and it doesn't matter if it is minor, the authorities shut down the motorway. The don't allow even one lane through. The whole motorway is shut down! Then they go through their accident investigation. This can take hours, and I am not exaggerating. I have to say that there aren't many accidents here. By and large the British are very cautious and polite drivers. They signal when changing lanes. They will pass other cars, but always go back to the slow lane rather than driving in the two right lanes (our fast lanes). Semis are governed and will not go over 56 MPH. That is one thing I will surely miss when we move back to the DC area.
Back to our story. We are sailing along to the airport on a bright sunny day when up ahead we see traffic stopped. This is NOT something you want to see in this country when you are trying to make a flight. It only takes Joe a few minutes to get into a full blown meltdown. For him anyway. He never yells, rarely cusses so if you would have heard him you wouldn't have believed it was him. He started ranting about the stupid British and how they handle accidents. They don't know what they are doing. This is the stupidest thing they do. We are going to miss our flight. That's it we are going to have to go tomorrow and miss one day of our vacation. Then he starts in on the British again. And around and around he goes with his rants. There were quite a few choice words thrown in for effect. I just sit quietly which is about the only time that I am quiet. I was worried too. People were parking their cars and walking around the highway like it was some kind of picnic! Taking kids to the bathroom, taking pets for a walk, rearranging their belongings in their cars, walking around on their cell phones, etc. They were all so calm. No one seemed like they were in a hurry. These Brits are so accommodating. Here the two Americans are sitting in their car with their arms folded and mad looks on our faces.
The good news is that after 45 minutes they opened up the road and we were able to continue on. Since we had left extra early we were just fine in getting to the airport in plenty of time. Joe forgave the British authorities immediately, we got to the airport with no more drama and soon were happily on our way to Crete!
Even though we saw pictures of our hotel when we booked the trip, there is always a little apprehension upon arrival that everything will be as expected. We couldn't have been happier. The outside entrance was very nice with a cobbled circular drive surrounded by landscaping and a beautiful fountain. The entrance to the hotel itself was large and inviting. We both sighed with relief, this was going to be fantastic.
|Rithymna Beach sign in English...|
We heard the fireworks and were able to watch from the balcony of our room. It sure was a celebration with people out in the courtyard. Greeks everywhere! The next day (Easter) was the same. Everyone happy, whole families, children dancing. Monday was a holiday in Greece and they sure were making full use of their long weekend. Someone told us later that the Greeks celebration of Easter is bigger than their celebration of Christmas. This put things in perspective for us. I have to admire them for putting a holiday that didn't include gift giving on a higher level.
Goats, lambs and pigs formed a huge rotisserie line outside for the Easter feast.
We had requested a room with a sea view and were delighted with it. I absolutely LOVE the ocean, the sound, the smell, everything about it. We were able to sleep with our balcony door open and listen to the waves crashing in every night. Such a luxury!
Our room included a breakfast buffet and dinner buffet every day. I have never been treated so well in a dining room in my life! The dining room captain and his crew greeted everyone with huge smiles and kind words for every meal. They were wonderful hosts that made us feel so welcome. The food was delicious! So many kinds of Greek salads and other Greek foods. The food was very fresh and displayed in such an appetizing way. We never got bored as they had all different kinds of dishes at each meal. As we have found in the UK, there was a lot of lamb dishes. I am not a big fan of lamb, but did try some of them. I also had rabbit one night. They had some delicious fish items too. Joe is not adventurous when it comes to food. He is happy for me to try things and tell him how they are. He loves his beef and potatoes.
On our second day there we decided to brave the public bus and go into the closest town, Rethymnon. We wanted to see "Greek life" up close and of course shopping is never out of the question. There is also a huge fortress on the sea there that we wanted to see. Boy was it confusing in the city! We had a map, but we might as well have left it at the hotel. We couldn't make heads or tails of where we were when the bus dropped us off. Finally I just asked someone I heard speaking English where the fortress was.
|Good thing it had a picture on it!!|
|View of Fortress from street level.|
Views from top of Fortress wall.
|Spaces in wall for shooting enemies.|
Only below the floor levels is all that's left from the many fine buildings that were once erected there.
|Formerly a cathedral, but rebuilt under Turkish occupations as|
a mosque for Sultan Ibriham.
|View from inside of dome ceiling in mosque.|
|Pizza deliver, Crete style.|
We spent the next couple of days lounging by the beach and the pool. The weather was perfect, not too hot. The only thing I wished was that the water was a little warmer. I wanted to swim in that beautiful blue sea!
|Look closely and you can see the snow topped mountains in the distance.|
We decided to book one tour during our stay. We signed up for a tour to the city of Chania (pronounced Hania), that included some stops along the way. Chania is steeped with history and is a beautiful city on the water. We had to cross some mountains to get over to Chania. This meant fairly narrow curvy roads. The bus seemed to be awfully big for those roads and there were many times that I didn't think we'd get through tight spots. I spent most of the time looking out the window and not the road ahead. This worked fine for me until Joe pointed out cars that had gone off the road and were resting on the hillsides and at the bottom of the mountain. There were four of them at one particular nasty bend in the road! We don't know if they were left there intentionally to warn other drivers or they just weren't able to haul them up out of their early graves. It was definitely an unsettling sight for me!
One of our stops along the way was Souda Bay. It is home to a U.S. Naval Base but what we went to see was the Souda Bay War Cemetery. It holds the remains of 1527 soldiers (mostly from Britain) but some from other countries too who fought against the Germans that were trying to win the island in WWII. One of the facts that sticks out in my mind was how the Cretan civilians fought the Germans. Men, women, children, priests, monks and even nuns fought. It threw the Germans completely off guard when they landed to see the civilians fighting too. The Germans eventually conquered the island. Although it took them several years and many casualties. They finally left the island in July of 1945 and the Cretans were free at last. Sorry, I'm wandering back into history again. Anyway, we weren't thinking that much about it until we got there and saw how beautiful it was! The grounds were located on the water and immaculate. It is clear that the Greeks treat this graveyard with the utmost respect. We just couldn't get over it, so serene and peaceful. Here are the pictures that I took:
We were able to get great views of Chania from the sight of the battle at Akrotiri (mentioned above where Spyros Kayales held the flag).
The next stop was the city of Chania. Chania is built on the site of an ancient Minoan city and has a mishmash of Greek, Turkish and Venetian cultures. There is a beautiful old harbor there with houses, restaurants, fishing boats and a crescent of tavernas overlooking the water. There was a lot of history of course, but on that day I had shopping on the brain. I did get some interesting pictures though.
|Turkish Mosque on the harbor.|
|You can see some of the Venetian architecture in the buildings in the back.|
|Concentrating on holding the camera instead of smiling.|
(We're new to this self portrait thing.)
|YES, this old man (on left) is making the shoes by hand!|
While chatting with his mates.
Joe talked me into going into this jewelry store, yes I swear he did! I'm not saying that I went kicking and screaming, but it was his idea. We started looking at all kinds of stuff and I turned to leave. Just as I was walking out the door Joe said, "hey, look at this ring". Once I saw it I fell in love. It was nothing real fancy, but it just appealed to me. It was white gold with rubies (my birthstone) around the band. The rubies form the "Greek Key" a symbol that you see everywhere, on signs, in designes on floor tiles, all over the place. The meaning is eternal love, life and friendship. So the owner came up with a price and Joe told me to get it. I was very excited. Once we agreed to buy it the owner was so happy. I thought he was going to kiss Joe. He started bringing us out drinks and everything! They wrapped it up all special and I was one happy woman leaving that store. That is until we were half way down the street and I realized that I got so distracted that I forgot my favorite part of shopping in foreign countries. Haggling on the price!!! I love doing it and I know they expect it. Now for Joe it is another matter. He HATES it and always walks away when I start. But I was so distressed to know that I could have probably got a much better deal on the ring had I had my wits about me. No wonder they were so happy! Joe said he was glad and that it was worth paying too much not to haggle. Can you imagine?? Anyway, the picture below doesn't really do it justice It is a bit blurry but here it is.
|WHY DO THEY LEAVE THE FEET ON|
|AND THE TAIL ON THE... WHATEVER IT IS???|
|I could have gotten a lot more pictures in the market but Joe made |
me leave because he was afraid we were going to miss our bus!
All in all it was a great trip. We enjoyed all the time together which we seem to get so little of while Joe is working. As far as hospitality and friendliness we can't recommend Crete enough.
I will apologize for the tardiness of this blog. But it actually wasn't my fault this time. The blogger site went down for maintenance for a few days. After having it back it went down again except this time there was no warning so for several agonizing days I thought I was frozen out of my own blog! I could go online and read my old ones but as far as writing or creating, it would not let me in. I was really worrying and writing for help when one day it just mysteriously came back on! What a relief. I am not real happy with blogger but have invested so much of this work on their site that I hate to leave them and lose my followers too.
I now have a new foster dog which I will write about next time!