We were on our own for three days in Heraklion after Bart, Ann, Athena, and Ken went up into the mountains of Crete on their own. Known variously today as Heraklion, Heraclion, and Iraklion (all of which mean “the city of Heracles) it is the capital and largest city of Crete. As if the various names aren’t confusing enough, from the time of the Arab conquest of Crete in the early 9th century it was known as Chandax or Candie or Candia or Candy. All of which made learning the history of the city confusing. For me at least.But history is what you come here for quite nearby is the Palace of Knossos where the legendary King Minos’s Minotaur ate young Greeks. Knossos, originally settled as early as 7,000 BC may well have been Europe’s first city; the historian Will Durant called the Minoans “the first link in the European chain.” Now we didn’t actually go out to Knossos as we’d been there just a couple of years ago and my sense was that it hasn’t changed much in that period. We did, though, go to the Heraklion Archeological Museum and enjoyed these crazy old pieces.
And just by way of background I love the myth of the Minotaur. At some point, you see, King Minos of Knossos had pissed off the Greek god Poseidon by keeping a beautiful bull that he was supposed to have sacrificed. Poseidon got him back by making the wife of Minos fall in love with the bull, the offspring of which coupling was half bull and half man. This Minotaur fed on humans and, after defeating the Athenians in battle Minos required the Athenians to send him seven youths every several years to keep the Minotaur satisfied. The story goes on – Ariadne falls in love with the Athenian Theseus and helps him kill the Minotaur, Theseus then dumps Ariadne and becomes King of Athens. They just don’t make stories like that any more.
At any rate, we really liked Heraklion. The Archeological Museum was very good and another museum of the history of Crete was pretty good. The city has some pretty serious artistic chops: the great author Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek, Last Temptation of Christ) hailed from Heraklion as did the 16th century artist known as El Greco. There was some great food – we had lunch at Peskesi twice, a place that serves authentic Cretan food, and thought it was one of the great restaurants we’ve ever eaten at; so good that we couldn’t get reservations for dinner – and much of the city center is a car-free pedestrian zone with lots of happening bars and restaurants. One day at an OK beach nearby and a couple Martinis one night that were worthy of anything Boston or New York could offer so that’s pretty much all you need in life.
And then after a quick three nights we were moving on again, this time a little further east to Elounda, still on the north coast of Crete, to meet up with Bart and Ann again for a few days.