Two weeks in Crete on a last-minute deal: from Chania and Rethymon to Iraklio, Chersonisos and Siteia, we packed it all in those 14 days!

Day 7 : 19 July 2003 : Knossos Palace

Knossos Palace - home of the Minotaur?

Just outside of the centre of Iraklio is another of Crete's most-visited tourist attractions - the remains of Knossos Palace. Luckily, we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn for this visit - a leisurely 9:35 pick-up today! The downside of not setting out ridiculously early, though, is that you get there just as every other tourist does, and so we found ourselves queuing up to get in in the blazing mid-morning heat.

Knossos pillar reconstructed. Knossos pillar reconstructed.

To call Knossos a palace is a bit like calling Stone Henge 'a conference centre with all mod cons'. It was probably an amazing place in its time, but now all that's left of it is the foundations that at least reveal the plan and scale of the building, and some of the very clever sub-floor drainage and fresh water systems. You can blame massive earthquakes and fires for this. However, not all of it is left to the imagination. Back in the 1930s, British archeologist Arthur Evans invested much of his own money and lots of time in excavating the site, but he also did something that would now be considered sacriligious - he re-built some sections of the palace based on existing knowledge of the Minoan civilisation, as the picture below demonstrates:

Reconstruction of the main gate, Knossos Palace.

The pillars were built based on relief paintings, the size of the pillar bases that were still present and in places the walls were also reconstructed. For present-day visitors it makes the site more interesting, but it simply wouldn't happen these days. The strange thing is that Evans' own reconstructions are themselves being refurbished in places. Shoddy builders.

A reconstructed frieze showing dolphins swimming in the Aegean sea.

After Knossos we were dropped at the gypsy market near the harbour, an event that only happens on Saturdays. When you start to walk down the single road lined with stalls, you could be forgiven for thinking that the market only sold fruit and veg - it seemed to go on for an age. Interesting and colourful as this is, it's never all that appropriate for holiday-makers ("Yeah I'll take a pallette-load of green peppers"), so we were pleased to see a change from fruit to clothing. But there was a problem.

I had run out of money and needed to get to a cashpoint, but Manda had some tucked away. Problem was that it was a €100 euro note, and there was very little being sold for over €15, and much of the items were only €5 or €3. We didn't really want to ask for anyone to break the note, and we had walked too far in to the market to simply nip off and visit a cashpoint. Eventually Manda found something that she wanted enough to risk flashing the large note to the stall-holder who in turn called a friend over to check the note out - evidently they don't see too many of these, and they were not taking any chances!

After checking out everything on offer at the market we headed back to the centre of Iraklio and once more ate lunch at a restaurant next to the Morosini Fountain. It was the strangest pizza I had eaten in a long time, and tasted more like slightly burned cheese on toast. I only managed half of it before heading off once more - this time to track down the Church of St Minas.

The Church of St Minas, Iraklio.
The Church of St Minas, Iraklio.

As we wandered around the streets near the church, it struck us both how unlike a Saturday afternoon this was. In most towns or cities, Saturday is the busiest shopping day but here, aside from the market earlier, it felt more like a sleepy Sunday afternoon. I wasn't aware that the Greeks had siestas (I always thought that was a purely Spanish thing), but most of the shops seemed to be shut between 3 and 4pm.

Later that day we felt somewhat worn out by all the sun that we'd had while exploring the wide-open ruins of Knossos Palace, and decided to stay at the bar back at the apartments and order some of their food. Besides, there was no way that we could go mad, as tomorrow we would truly find out what a hard day under the blazing sun is like - Samaria Gorge was up next, and we were more than a little concerned by Eleanora's weather prediction of 45 degrees in Samaria. A walk to the corner shop is tiring in that temperature, but the gorge walk would be considerably longer than that ...