It would take quite a lot to better the celebrations which accompanied my ‘coming of age’ in November 2015, so it was with a sense of the underwhelming that I approached my birthday last month! However, I was in for a surprise because Sheila surpassed herself with presents and good wishes and parcels flooded in by every means of communication now known to the human race.
The plan was to spend a few days in Heraklion at a smart new hotel but first we had a Greek lesson to negotiate.
We bought cakes as is customary here in Crete and headed for Koutsounari only to find that Manolis, our teacher had thoughtfully come prepared (oh the wonders of Facebook!) and so a feast was had by all. I even managed to get off lightly during the lesson so it was not quite the trial that lessons tend to be these days, as Manolis puts we ageing heroes though our paces.
So come lunchtime, we were free to set off for Heraklion well stuffed with cream cakes and biscuits and clutching a bottle of bubbly, thoughtfully provided by Shona and Rich. The hotel was certainly new and smart but as we were to find out, not without its idiosyncrasies. However, to start with we sat on the balcony in hazy sunshine overlooking a small tree-lined park which in turn was surrounded on three sides by tavernas and restaurants. The champagne was by now well-chilled and life felt good, even at seventy-one. Golly Moses, am I really that age?
One of the great delights for of a ‘city break’ living as we do in a small and very rural village, is the thought that we might be able to go to the cinema! It was therefore a huge surprise to find that ‘I, Daniel Blake’ was showing in Heraklion and moreover that the cinema was literally only the proverbial stone’s throw away from the hotel.
So, oiled by the bubbly, we put off the slap-up meal to the following night and headed off for a quick burger and chips and thence to the screen on the scene!
Now, I will admit that the choice of film was not ideal for a birthday treat but needs must and although an excellent film, it was hardly a bundle of laughs. Ιn fact, we both emerged from the cinema angry with those who have changed the benefit system allowing it to be manipulated in this way and saddened for those who have to depend upon it.
I urge anyone who has not seen it, to make it a priority.
We had two main items on our sight-seeing agenda and the following morning saw us taking in one of them – the Minoan Palace at Knossos – the home of the fabled Minotaur, which is situated just a few kilometres south of Heraklion. We had been before but it was a cold and wet wintry day and our memories are dominated by the weather. November 22nd 2016 was however warm and sunny and full of enthusiasm, we took the advice of friends and lashed out on the services of a guide.
Now it has to be said that the jury remains out on whether this was entirely, a sound decision! Άρης, for such he was called certainly took us to parts of the palace that we might not otherwise have appreciated the importance thereof and we are now well acquainted with the finer aspects of Minoan air-conditioning, heating and drainage systems.
However, we did not really get much more information on the basic facts relating to the Minoans that we might otherwise have gleaned from a guidebook and indeed, certain ‘facts’ were of dubious provenance.
I should explain that we are well-aware of the tendency of the modern ‘tourist industry; here in Crete to embellish and exaggerate somewhat, our knowledge of the Minoans to the extent that they are credited with being single-handedly responsible for much of subsequent human development. Now it is without doubt true that their’s was a sophisticated civilisation and that they contributed much to the arts and development of science.
However, when the redoubtable Άρης claimed that descendants of the Minoans in Crete were responsible for the Renaissance in Italy, I found it hard to believe him! A later check with our art historian neighbour proved that my doubts were more than justified.
Even so, we had an enjoyable time at Knossos and I would recommend a trip to anyone visiting Crete, although that said, the palace at Phaistos remains my favourite.
Of course a beer was called for after all this activity, so we repaired to the adjoining taverna and and slaked our thirst!.
We then returned to the hotel – me for a rest and Sheila to go out shopping. In the evening, we had our delayed slap-up meal at a favourite haunt and it lived up to expectations. Greek taverna food can be somewhat limited – someone once said that there are only ten or so basic recipes – so it is always good to go to a restaurant where the menu is slightly more adventurous, even if the place was a little pretentious.
The following day we went to the archaeological museum. Again, we had been before but having now visited most of the major sites in Eastern Crete, the exhibits were of added interest as we knew where they had come from. Some of the jewellery is absolutely breathtaking in its design and construction and although museums are not my strong point given the amount of standing around, it was an amazing morning and we both really enjoyed it.
Then we went for a walk along part of the old Venetian city walls – still amazingly intact which was an unexpected treat.
On one of the bastions (fortified strong points for those of you not well-versed in military matters) are to be found the graves of Nikos Kazantzakis and his wife. Kazantzakis is one of Crete’s most famous authors, perhaps best known in the West for ‘Zorba the Greek’.
Our late morning walk was followed by an even later lunch of beer and a Greek salad in the city market.
Then it was more shopping and supper in a fish restaurant near the harbour, where we literally bit off more than we could chew!.
The following day, we bought a new laptop to replace our old one which had just ‘died’ and then, on our way home, we visited the site of a Minoan port just outside the city. This was an Άρης recommendation but we probably needed him there to it justice. However, it was a pleasant setting even though it was hard to imagine that it was ever a thriving port! Oh dear, Minoan hunting can sometimes be disappointing!
And finally, as they say, we got out our bikes for a spot of exercise and found ourselves at the beach on the most beautiful of November afternoons.
The sea was so quiet and the colour of the water, just amazing.
One of life’s little unexpected pleasures here in Paradise!