There is something about Greece that makes me feel at home. My visits began in my thirties. I crewed on a yacht and sailed around the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. I have been coming back ever since.
My latest trip to Greece was to attend a writing workshop on the island of Crete with a wonderful group of like-minded writing and travel enthusiasts. We are from different states in Australia and met through workshops in Paris, Italy and Greece, writing and absorbing the cultures. We have become friends ever since.
This time we met in Athens for a four-day stopover. It gave us time to adjust to the time change and culture. We all love Athens meandering around the iconic Acropolis, our guiding light when we get lost, and strolling the streets of graffiti-decorated buildings. We were told graffiti is encouraged by the government. I have difficulty accepting historical buildings covered in street drawings, but it seems to be the norm. We also witnessed the Greek Orthodox Easter festivities.
Crete is a fifty-minute flight from Athens to Chania on the northern mid-coast of. There is the option of catching the ferry, but Crete is further from Athens and an overnight stay on the ferry is often required.
There is a long and rich history of Crete playing a primary role in the events of Greek and European history, steeped in mythology and battles. Ongoing excavations have shown how well-organised and developed the inhabitants were, their history fascinating and complicated.
The Minoans helped shape early Greece and from there on ownership changed; the Mycenaeans, Rome Byzantine Empire, Andalusian Arabs, and the Venetian Republic to the Ottoman Empire. In 1898 Crete became a Cretan State and in 1913 became part of Greece.
Then in WWII 1941 The Battle of Crete happened with the German invasion. My brief summary of historical accounts does not do Crete justice but hopefully provides an idea of their struggle for survival.
We spent two weeks in multicultural Chania. Firstly, staying in the old part of the city. We all prefer historical accommodation run by families, the only way to be immersed in local culture and get to know the people. The trade-off, you are not guaranteed a lift, stairs are often your only option. Most places carry your bags up for you but pay to check prior to booking.
Our workshop was located in the newer part of town in a more westernised hotel for those who prefer modern accommodation. The staff were exceptional and all facilities were available for conferences and workshops.
We participated in a walking tour of Chania and another day took an hour and twenty minutes’ bus trip to Skafia on the southern coast followed by a twenty-minute ferry trip to access the heavenly and isolated port of Loutro. The buildings are painted in traditional white with blue trimmings. I did not want to leave.
On completion of our workshop, it was a ten-minute walk to the KTEL bus depot. It took about an hour to reach our next destination east, Rethymno, one of my favourites. Buildings and restaurants curve their way around the Venetian Harbour, small fishing boats tethered along the rocky walkway.
We stayed a few days in the old part of town near the water. I loved my accommodation with its curved carved wooden staircase and my little balcony overlooking Venetian ruins. A few days later we moved uphill to a superb Venetian three-storey house with three separate balconies and views, next door to the Venetian Fortezza fortress.
Worthwhile places to visit in Rethymno: the historical Folk-Art Museum; the traditional making of kataifi/baklava by the original owner in his nineties; witness the carving of the ancient Greek musical instrument, Lira, from Myrtle timber and maybe an impromptu performance by the owner; walk Fortezza Fortress built in the 16th century by the Venetians to protect themselves from Ottoman invasion.
The capital of Minoan Crete, our final stopover and departure airport is a much larger township. The central focus was visiting the spectacular ancient ruins of Knossos Palace, worth taking a guided tour and I recommend following up with the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The Venetian Fortress Koules, the Natural History Museum with its fun earthquake simulator and walking the fortress wall are all a must. Allow two hours for each and good walking shoes for the outdoor ruins.