If you catch the No. 1 bus at the stop in Amoudara just outside of the Hotel Castro, you’ll be taken to Heraklion, Greece’s fourth largest city and the capital of Crete. The ride to Eleftheria Square, which marks the city centre, takes about 20 minutes.
As an aside, keep in mind that traffic is a huge issue within Heraklion, so getting from one side of the street to the other can be…problematic. Speaking as one that hails from a country that generally treats its pedestrians very well, it can be a bit shocking to find vehicles refusing to slow for you even upon seeing your intentions.
Anyhow, directly ahead of the stop at which you’re dropped off is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, one of the city’s major attractions. Its reputation extends throughout Europe and across the world for boasting the most impressive and complete collection of Minoan artifacts.
The museum consists of two floors, and provides a thorough history of the multifaceted evolution of Minoan culture. The namesake of the Minoan civilization is the mythological figure of King Minos of Crete, the demigod son of Zeus, who kidnapped and mated with Europa in the guise of a bull.
The bull is central to much of the famous mythology that was constructed around Minoan culture (much of it written by the Mycenaeans, or mainland Greeks, mind you). In another myth, King Minos asks Poseidon for a white bull as proof of his kingship during a sovereignty dispute. However, Minos ends up keeping the bull, which angers Poseidon and causes him to curse Pasiphae, his wife, into being attracted to the bull. They end up mating and producing the infamous half-human, half-bull Minotaur.
The second floor has two hallways that converge at a main room full of ancient cave paintings. Many of these were excavated from the famed Palace of Knossos. Should you go to the archaeological site, you will find that the paintings there are replicas. All of the real material has been transferred to the archaeological museum. I’ll write on Knossos a bit later.
The archaeological museum keeps me occupied for nearly three hours. I didn’t book a tour, but I studied all of the information plaques thoroughly. You can easily wind up spending a whole afternoon here, depending on the extent of your interest and expertise in Minoan civilization. Since I have to be back in time for dinner with Global Volunteers, I have very little time left after I leave the museum. So that marks the end of my first visit to Heraklion.
On my second visit, I take my time with leisurely explorations of the intricate web of roads that branch off of Eleftheria Square. It’s a gruelling hot day, so I ultimately make for the harbour. On my way, I pass by the Venetian Loggia, a famed architectural relic from the era of the same name. It is an elegant square building with multiple arches that served as both a public resting place and a site of economic decision-making for nobles, feudal lords, and rulers.
I find some respite inside.
And encounter one of the problems that plagues Heraklion.
Graffiti abounds. As a Torontonian, I am far from unfamiliar with graffiti. But all of Heraklion’s historical monuments feature a considerable amount of graffiti, from the courthouse to the loggia to the city gates (the St. George Gate and the Jesus Gate). The juxtaposition of the city’s most elegant structures and heritage sites with telltale signs of its rough underbelly can be shocking.
After my break, I continue onward to the harbour. I stop by several tourist shops and pick up a few souvenirs on the way. The streets are bustling and store and restaurant owners are quite active. I get called to come in to restaurants and sample their wine and food menus more than once.
“Why?” One of them asks me upon my refusal, “Why won’t you just come and try? Does it disturb your day so much?”
They can be persistent.
The port is where I experience my major “incident” of the trip. Let me preface by saying that I spent a good deal of time walking along the rocky shoreline, in the direction of the Venetian Koules Fortress. I pass by several vendors, one of whom is painting.
“This is beautiful,” I murmur upon perusal of the paintings. Though his large paintings are stunning, I wistfully keep my focus on the smaller, more portable ones. He has excellent paintings of various Santorini landmarks, and also simpler paintings of various genre scenes. One that particularly strikes my attention is a painting of the ocean. I end up picking two of them.
“Thank you,” He responds as I hand them to him, “If I may know, where are you from?”
“Toronto, Canada,” I supply. Recognition gleams in his eyes and he smiles at me.
“Ah, wonderful. I have family in Toronto,” He explains as he wraps up my two purchases carefully. We bid farewell to each other and I keep walking. Carefully hoisting my bag of purchases and my regular bag over my shoulder, water bottle and cell phone in hand, I leap onto one of the large rocks.
After taking several photos, I put my cell phone away and simply admire the view. On the rock to my left, there is a man sitting and fishing. To my right, a group of boys are leaping amidst the rocks. It’s peaceful.
I make to get up after a while. Gathering up my things, I step toward the edge of the rock to jump off, all the while taking one last look back. Suddenly, I feel unsteadiness under my right foot and then, nothing. I go down, dropping everything that I’m holding. When all motion stills, it takes me a moment to realize that my right leg is buried to the thigh in a hole in the rock. I drag my leg out.
I curse. The fisherman to my left is looking at me, but he hasn’t moved. I rise shakily to my feet, the entirety of my right leg smarting. I wince with each step; I glimpse people staring at it.
“What happened?” The vendor from earlier exclaims as I approach him. “Did you fall?” I nod.
“Do you know where I can find a pharmacy?” I ask. He nods impatiently and drags me along.
“I will tell you. But first, we should clean that out,” He tells me and, grabbing an empty water bottle, runs down over the rocks and fills the bottle with seawater. He does so multiple times until the bleeding has lessened. It stings painfully, but I don’t protest. I’m grateful.
“Thank you so much,” I say after he’s helped me to disinfect and given me precise directions to a pharmacy.
“My pleasure. Heal quickly and enjoy the rest of your trip,” He calls, waving.
By the time I get to the pharmacy, it’s closed. I’ve missed it by about 15 minutes or so. I consider the idea of getting directly on a bus, but my leg is still bleeding. I can just imagine the kinds of looks I’ll get. Will the driver even let me on?
I walk into the nearest mini-market. The lady looks up from her reading with a pleasant smile. Her eyes widen when I come around and show her my leg.
“Do you have anything to disinfect? A band-aid? Please?” I ask, out of breath by this point. She takes charge.
“Sit down. I will get you alcohol. I don’t have any Betadine, unfortunately,” She says, grabbing a bottle of alcohol and some Q-tips. She also places a water bottle in front of me. I let out deep breaths as she helps me apply the alcohol. This burns even worse than the seawater.
“Is there anything that I can do for you?” I ask her as we finish cleaning up and she hands me some band-aids.
“No, no, just feel better,” She tells me. “Here in Greece, we have the saying that roughly translates to, you’ll be better before you’re married. I wish that for you!”
I give her a parting wave and stumble off with a smile, pleasantly overwhelmed by the fact that I had received nothing but the most gracious hospitality for absolutely no compensation after storming into her mini-market dripping blood.
That’s Greek hospitality for you.