Mountain Retreat: Rogdia

Prior to my last day in Greece, I decide to head out to a secluded mountain village called Rogdia. What with the constant flurry of activity that volunteering entails, in addition to my determined daily sightseeing, I’d become a bit fatigued. A getaway up into the mountains for a few hours of phenomenal views and peace is just what I need.

Rogdia is a 10-minute drive up from the Hotel Handakas in Amoudara. I take a taxi up there, which costs me 18 euros on the way up and later, 15 on the way back. The higher cost of the departure rather than the return trip is due to the fact that there’s an additional charge for calling the taxi.

The taxi drops me off at the entrance to the village. I negotiate with the driver to have him return to pick me up and take me back at 6pm. If you decide to embark on a similar trip, make sure to request a driver that speaks some English. There’s no taxi stand in Rogdia and phone service is shaky at best.

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It’s 3pm when I arrive, so I set out for a bit of exploration before I settle into a spot to write. Rogdia is a small, quiet village with a rustic charm to it. The streets are narrow and in some state of disrepair.

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I wander further through the town to its outskirts. There aren’t that many people out at this time, which many happen to allocate to a siesta.

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It’s peaceful. I walk aimlessly, feeling completely relaxed and unhurried. I don’t seem to feel the heat of the Greek sun beating down on me all that much today, I note. Maybe I’m starting to get used to it. Occasionally, I encounter living beings.

Usually of this variety though.

Usually of this variety though.

I turn left at a crossroads and eventually come to a rickety-looking gate.

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I pause for a brief instant, and then push it aside. It nearly tips over. I begin the trek upward, following a path that winds up the side of a cliff. As I get higher, I become extra careful with my steps. Looking down, I notice a car slowing to a stop and the driver craning his neck out of the window, staring at me. It’s times like these that make me mildly curious as to whether I’m doing something stupid. I press onward, eventually reaching a section that has a railing.

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Once I ascend to the top, I find myself facing elegant black gates. And that’s when I realize that someone’s Venetian-style villa is situated up here. I look at it, and then survey my surroundings in awe. From my vantage point, I can see Rogdia, the ocean, and all of Heraklion in the distance. I gotta get me one of these cliffside mansions.

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There’s more hustle-and-bustle later on as I’m sitting in a shaded area overlooking Heraklion, though that’s relative. It’s still quite quiet. Occasionally, I can hear the laughter of children and their parents calling out to them. I become so accustomed to this sound that it takes me a while to realize that there’s movement behind me. And a shadow. I turn around.

I see a young girl dressed in a pink tank top and white shorts, seated on a matching bicycle. Her skin is deeply tanned and her dark eyes are sparkling mischievously. I smile at her, and she smiles back and waves. And then leaves. I think nothing more of it, and continue writing.

About five minutes later, I feel a stare at my back. The girl is back. She stops closer to me this time and gets off of her bike. She approaches me, looking curiously at me and my notebook, and sits beside me. She speaks to me in Greek. I shake my head.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Greek,” I tell her. Her eyes widen. She’s holding two gel pens. She offers me one insistently; it is a bright pink colour, contrasting sharply with the regular blue pen I’m using. I take it.

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She grins when I show her my embellishment with her pen.

And then her friends ride by on bikes. Noticing them, she gets up and runs to them, talking excitedly. Their eyes turn to me. I freeze.

“What is your name?” One of the boys asks.

“How old are you?” The other chimes in. “Where are you from?” They nod to my responses and eagerly chime back with their own. Idly, I wonder how I went from being a lone wanderer to the attraction of the village. Things happen so fast, sometimes. And these children speak so quickly in Greek with occasional smatterings of English.

We all whirl around as we hear a loud voice calling in Greek. An elderly woman stands at a distance from us, shaking her finger at the kids. They look at each other and, with another round of speaking in Greek, run off down the road. To run an errand, perhaps? I’m not certain. The elderly lady smiles at me and then keeps walking.

“19,” I hear an exclamation from the kids.

“Ah, 19,” Another says. I chuckle.

It’s a completely different world up here, I think as I start heading back in the direction of where my taxi will be waiting for me. No suspicion and wariness of me, as a foreigner and adult. Not on the part of the kids, nor the adults. I had half-expected the elderly woman to lambaste me or the children thoroughly for interacting with each other. At the very least, to give me the side eye. But she had smiled.

It’s a mad, mad world, in the best of ways.

~A

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Weekend Getaway: Santorini Tour (Finale)

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t immediately head to the hotel after my donkey debacle. It would have been the best decision, given that I look like I ran into a dust storm and probably smell like a donkey. But I’m hungry.

To his credit, the waiter at the restaurant Fanari doesn’t bat an eye as I stumble in, out-of-breath.

“Oh, you are tired, yes? Come sit down. Please, come this way. Relax,” He tells me, guiding me to a table with a view of the caldera.

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I skip the bread basket and olive oil, placing my order immediately. It arrives in a timely manner; I’d say that I didn’t wait any longer than 10 minutes or so.

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Moussaka and pina colada.

While I’m eating, a couple and their two children enter the restaurant. The same waiter hurries to seat and serve them. He gasps quietly. And then:

“You two look like Jay Z and Beyonce,” He exclaims. “You are Jay Z, you are Beyonce. Sorry, that is the truth. I love Beyonce though. In all my years here, I have never seen a Beyonce.”

I nearly choke on my food. This guy deserves a tip for entertainment value alone.


Sunset is at 8:38pm. It’s 8:31pm and I’m hectically trying to find the sweet spot I had occupied a short while earlier, before my urge for ice cream steered me off on this ridiculous detour. I swear that I only went down a set of stairs and turned left once, but I’m running around up and down, left and right, stuck in this seemingly endless maze. At least I got the chance to taste baklava ice cream.

Rounding a corner, I note a steady stream of people heading up the stairs that I went down earlier. I chase after them, leaping the stairs by twos. Pushing through the throng, I finally emerge on a road that offers a view of the caldera, rather than shops. The sun is low in the sky. It’s 8:36pm, and my mad rush culminates in me being lucky enough to catch the very end of the sunset.

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The rest of my time in Santorini passes by in a blur. I wake up in a leisurely manner on Sunday, sleeping in for the very first time on this trip (I had to get up at 7am on Saturday to meet my driver at the Hotel Castro). I check out of the Hotel Hellas and head into Fira, turning left instead of right at the first major intersection. After a rather American-style breakfast,

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Delicious pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice at a cute breakfast cafe.

I find the hospital in Fira, which is my pick-up location, just to ensure that I don’t have more panic and another mad rush later on. There’s only one hospital in centre; any other medical buildings are private clinics.

I have until 3pm, so I spend the rest of my time in downtown Fira. I stop by one of the museums, aptly known as the Santozeum. It features the ancient wall paintings of Thera, before it was known as Fira.

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There are no additional plaques of information to provide context hanging beside the wall paintings, nor are there any guided tours available, which I find disappointing. The museum admission is 5 euros, so I don’t recommend the Santozeum if you’re hoping to absorb a great deal of information. There is a balcony and chairs outside of the museum though, and there I spent a good deal of time before heading back to the hospital. Two hours, in fact, writing, listening to music, and watching boats sail to the volcano and around the caldera.

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The last stop of the tour bus is Kamari beach, which is rendered unusual by the fact that its “sand” is actually black volcanic ash. The beach is rocky and the footing is anything but soft. The water is quite shockingly cold when I dip my feet into it at first; by the end of the hour, I don’t even notice anymore. There are rows upon rows of lounge chairs and umbrellas (renting those costs 10 euros for an hour. And 10 euros for the whole day as well), filled to the brim with beachgoers. I seek out a quiet spot at the side of the beach to spend the hour that we are given here.

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I’m a little melancholy as the end of the hour approaches. Santorini has been an idyllic oasis, and I’ve yet to experience all that it offers, such as the sunset in Oia. I haven’t even explored the full expanse of the island yet, and it’s a relatively small one.

Oh well. All the more reason to return.

~A

 

 

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Weekend Getaway: Santorini Tour (Donkey Adventures Edition)

After our 90 minutes in Oia are up, we pile back into the bus. Our tour guide runs on a few minutes later, looking flustered and out-of-breath, and counts us multiple times. We set off for our next destination: Fira, the capital of Santorini.

“The five people on the two-day trip, we will be dropping you off at the Hotel Hellas now,” The guide’s voice buzzes over the PA. I look up, startled, and approach the tour guide.

“I thought we would stay with the main group in Fira and Kamari, and be dropped off in the evening?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, you will go to Kamari tomorrow. You have the rest of the day free in Fira,” She explains. I frown. This is not what was written in the tour schedule.

“But what about the tour of the volcano?” I ask. She pauses.

“If you want a tour of the volcano, you will have to go to a travel agency in Fira and book one. Now, here’s your stop. I will see you tomorrow at 3pm in front of the hospital in Fira for pick-up,” She says.

I’m not impressed.


“Madame, wait!” The driver calls after me, opening his window, as I exit the bus. The four other people also on the two-day tour are a family. I look back questioningly. “Are you alone? You’re travelling alone?”

“Yes,” I shout back, mildly annoyed. Is he really holding up traffic for this? He gives me an incredulous look before leaning back inside the bus. The family and  I walk off in the direction of the hotel.

The Hotel Hellas is a family owned business, much like the Hotel Handakas. It is a notch above it, however, in terms of size and the quality of the rooms. The owner’s daughter shows me to my relatively spacious room, which has a comfy double bed and a single bed, in addition to a private bathroom and balcony.

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Not sure what to make of this sign though.

I change and immediately head out. Fira has one long, main road but unlike Oia, it has many side roads branching off of it. These side roads create a maze of tourist shops, cafes, and all sorts of clothing, jewelry, and shoe stores. It’s quite busy at most times of the day, but especially leading up to and after sunset.

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My first goal in Fira is to get down to the Old Port, which used to be the main port of Santorini but was later replaced by Athinios. One of the cashiers in the tourist shops tells me that there are two main ways to get down there: either descending the approximate 100 stairs, or taking the cable car. I resolve to take whichever path I stumble upon first.

There are signs leading to the cable car, though I end up getting distracted by the prospect of authentic Greek frozen yogurt (one of the best decisions I made!). Instead of heading directly to the cable car, I eat my frozen yogurt while walking along a small path that has fantastic views of the caldera.

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Eventually, I come across a small staircase which invites a descent downward. I round the corner and immediately lose all interest in the remains of my frozen yogurt.

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A line of donkeys that continues well down the staircase.

“Madame, donkey?” One of the men sitting on a bench calls to me, whip in hand. I hesitate.

“I can’t ride a donkey. No, thank you,” I mutter, heading down past the donkeys. There is manure and dust everywhere, and a rather pungent smell. Again, I round the corner and this time, look down.

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The Old Port below. Far, far below.

I pause. And then toss out my frozen yogurt in the nearest can and head back to the group of men that evidently operate this business. I take out my wallet.

“How much?” I ask. He grins.


Five euros and an aching back later, I can safely say that this is literally the worst idea that I have ever had. And the best.

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Taken from atop my trusty steed.

Now, I’ve ridden horses before. I’ve done some basic dressage. I know how to guide a horse. But I have no idea whatsoever of what I’m doing on a donkey. And my attempts to steer using the “reins” or to pet him and give encouragement go unnoticed. The donkey forges ahead, declaring its own path and not caring what I, its rider, or pedestrians on the path have to say. Especially when there’s another donkey.

“Sorry, no clue what I’m doing,” I shout as my donkey and I barrel past a couple, just barely missing them. All my steed seems to care about is bypassing the other donkey.

“Madame, it’s ok!” I hear a call from behind me. It’s one of the men that train these donkeys. He shouts in Greek and occasionally cracks his whip. At the sound, my donkey jumps forward and slightly to the side, slamming my right leg into the wall. I wince.

As we’re about halfway down, my donkey slows. The rest of the group passes us, including the trainer. They make their way to the bottom of the steps and the donkeys line up. The trainer helps my fellow riders dismount. But my donkey has decided to grind to a halt at the top of the last set of stairs.

“Please, please move. Join your brethren,” I beg him. A mother and her son passing by me chuckle as I look on helplessly. The trainer glances at me from the bottom.

“Madame, it’s ok!” He calls, and then returns his attention to helping the remaining riders. The wind whips at me, blowing dust in my eyes. It takes me a moment to notice that my donkey is turning around.

“Wait. Wait!” I protest, pulling at the rope supposedly acting as a makeshift rein. I had wanted to get off at the Old Port. My donkey’s ears twitch, but he doesn’t stop. I sigh. There’s no question of who has the stronger willpower between us. The men at the top help me dismount. I look down at myself; my white shirt is almost brown with dust and dirt, as are the back of my shorts. My legs are slightly wobbly. Chuckling, I pet the donkey and walk back up, away from the stairs leading to the port.

Look like I’ll be heading to the cable car anyway.

~A

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Weekend Getaway: Santorini Tour (Part 1)

On the Tuesday of my first week in Greece, I head over to one of the many travel agencies lining the route. The first one I pass by is open, but there is nobody sitting at the agent’s desk. There’s a blonde woman standing outside. I approach her.

“Do you know when the tourist agent will be back?” I ask her. She shrugs. i”She’ll be back by 5pm,” She tells me. It’s barely 4pm at the moment. Sighing, I keep walking. I wind up at the immediate next tourist agency. The lady greets me with a big smile.

“Do you have any weekend excursions?” I ask, and let her give me a rundown of all of the destinations that are available. I have Santorini in my mind from the beginning, but I want to make sure that it’s what I want. And surely enough, nothing sounds quite as tantalizing as the Santorini tours. There are 1-day and 2-day options. I opt for the 2-day option, which entails a tour of Oia, Fira, and Kamari beach the first day, an overnight stay and complimentary breakfast at a three-star hotel in Fira, and then a tour of the volcano on the second day. Altogether, it costs me 165 euros. Not a bad deal.

As I walk back, I pass the first tourist agency. Inside, the same blonde woman that I talked to earlier is sitting at the desk. I stare. Did she refer to herself in third person? Was she messing with me? 

She gives me a wink as I look on, bemused.


In contrast to the large tour bus I was expecting, I am picked up by a small car at the bus stop outside of the Hotel Castro.

“Santorini?” He yells from across the street. When I get in the car, he then asks, “Dutch?”

“No, sir,” I reply, startled. He looks disappointed.

Much of our entourage is Dutch, as I come to find out. The driver picks up several more passengers and takes us to the Hotel Elena, where we are treated to a small buffet breakfast that resembles breakfast at the Hotel Handakas. Afterward, we are taken to the Heraklion port and given our tickets. I glance down at mine and see that my name is misspelled. Naturally, my confidence in this tourist agency rises.

“CTRS. These letters. Go to these letters when you arrive in Athinios port in Santorini,” The man who gave us our tickets instructs, “And come right back here tomorrow, okay? Or after tomorrow, if you are staying two days.” He sends us off.

We walk toward our ferry, the green Highspeed 4 boat. Beside me is a girl that I met in the car on the way here. Her name is Mila and she hails from China, but is currently completing her Master’s degree in Barcelona. She is travelling solo, just like I am. We delve into an amicable chat about everything from our personal lives to international affairs.


There is a mass exodus from the ferry as it docks at the Athinios Port of Santorini, the southernmost of the famed Cyclades islands. Mila and I reunite at our bus, which takes off rumbling up the steep, mountainous road that leads to Oia. I sit in an aisle seat, so I crane my neck and phone in an attempt to get pictures of the stunning view.

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A view of the caldera.

Our tour guide explains to us, alternately in English, Russian, and French (lucky for me, I had the information repeated to me in a language that I can understand thrice!), that we are overlooking the caldera. The caldera of Santorini was formed by the eruption of its volcano, which constitutes the largest eruption in history. The water in the caldera is warm, reaching up to 26 degrees celsius in the summer months.

We head toward Oia, which is a small town renowned for the beauty of its sunsets. I won’t get to see one on this trip, as we will be in Fira at that time, but Oia is gorgeous even in the daytime. We get 90 minutes to tour Oia and, while most of the tour bus stops for lunch with the driver and guide, Mila and I head off on our own.

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The trademark blue-domed churches.

As we learnt from our tour guide, building new churches every year is a tradition in Santorini. The colour blue is used as it is believed to ward away evil spirits. Many of the tourist shops sell blue eye medallions that purportedly perform the same function.

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A bit of an unusual church, as most are constructed with the strict colour scheme of blue and white.

Oia is basically made up of one long, narrow road that winds through the town, with many fantastic views of the caldera.

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A town on a cliffside.

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The wind blows pretty strongly in Santorini.

“What do you think of the economic situation in Greece?” I ask, as we walk back along the road in the direction of our bus. Economics is one of her areas of study.

“Well, that’s one of the reasons that I’m here, actually. I wanted to see it for myself,” She begins. I smile. I can respect that kind of initiative in a person.

As our time in Oia approaches an end, Mila and I grab fresh roasted corn from a sidewalk vendor and cherries.

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We sit on a ledge overlooking the caldera, talking. From our vantage point, we can see other members of our group begin to file back toward the bus. We brush off our hands, red and sticky with cherry juice, and get up. She turns to me.

“You know, if you plan on going to Barcelona in the next year or so, you can stay at my place,” She tells me.

“Sounds good to me,” I respond.

Having friends across the globe? Now, that’s cool.

~A

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An Anglophone in Quebec

So I think it’s about time to recount my impressions as an anglophone in a French-speaking province. I hadn’t explained in the past, but I’m in Quebec as part of a five-week immersion program that promotes bilingualism through learning French. It’s an intensive program, since you’re meant to speak only French during your stay. There are incentives for it, just like there are sanctions for speaking English. In the first week, everyone is placed into different course levels according to their individual knowledge of the language. There’s beginner, intermediate, advanced and superior. We all wear coloured bracelets according to our levels, which makes coordinating communication easier with other people if you know their comprehension level. While here, I’ve been learning a lot about the development of Quebecois society and culture as we know it today. In addition, I take classes in writing and oral expressions.

While I could go into a myriad of details about the above-mentioned facets to my daily schedule, I’d rather touch upon the uniqueness of my situation. I go out to the city very often. And although, admittedly, Quebec City is very touristy, and the people bilingual, I find French language is still predominant. I’m in the superior level in my courses, but that doesn’t mean I’m confident with a language that isn’t my mother-tongue. Nonetheless, I still want to learn the language. Going out to a restaurant, the grocery story, or even asking for directions requires  confidence when approaching someone in a foreign tongue. The first phrase, usually a question or brief statement I form in my head, is grammatically correct, well thought-out, and sometimes fools the people into thinking I’m Quebecois. Their response is what determines how the conversation will go. A waiter at a restaurant might explain what a dish includes in French. But if, let’s say, they speak too quickly for me to follow, I might have to ask them to repeat themselves more slowly. Keep in mind that the majority of locals understand and speak English better than we, as Anglo-Canadians, know French. English is a universal language, and must be studied more rigorously here, from primary school to Cejep years, for them to get around. So it’s nothing for a Quebecois to perceive my accent, or frankly my uncertainty, and switch over to English to simplify my life. Admittedly, I sometimes don’t have the guts to pursue conversation in French either. So my efforts have been wasted. Other times I persist,specify that I’m an immersion student, and would they oblige to speak in French? The people here are extremely gracious and helpful. I remember receiving an entire tour of a small art gallery, historical context for most of the art pieces as well, in French. So you have every opportunity to learn.

But I’m also human. As much as I’d like to say that I speak, think and dream in French, I’d be lying. My motivation isn’t as strong to challenge myself the way I have seen some of my classmates do. I speak French in school, where there are students, teachers and monitors around. But anywhere outside the main university buildings is a free-zone. Just don’t get caught! Nonetheless, it’s impossible to be surrounded by so much French culture and not improve your oral understanding, in the very least. A few months ago I became obsessed with a Quebec-based drama on Netflix. There are English subtitles, of course, but in recent weeks I’ve relied less and less on them to understand the emission. The accent has become familiar, the expressions almost native to me…It’s incredible when you can feel a shift in your senses, new neuron connections being made to make room for more knowledge.

Though I enjoy most of my classes, my favourite has to be Quebec and its Culture. For three weeks, we learned about the settlement of the French colonials in Quebec, the development of cities, and the English Conquest. What was most interesting was learning about how the feeling of belonging has changed among Quebecois over the years. For a long time, it was toward Canada; but after the Catholic Church regained power among the people, their was fear of assimilation and loss of Francophone culture in the country, that led to tensions and a false sense of belonging to France. All this brought about issues of language insecurity, a desire to wipe out any anglo-inspired words or phrases, and a validation of quality for anything French.

Learning this made me realize that, where Americans tend to think that Quebec-based French isn’t really French; or that, because of its history and the evolution of its accent, we shouldn’t learn it in schools like we do standard French, there’s a rich story that is unique to the Quebec province that holds its own in Francophone culture. It has merit, and doesn’t need to have the same phrases, expressions, or even accents as France. Look at Belgium or Switzerland in those respects. The people here are proud of who they are, just as I’m proud to learn French in my native country.

~ I

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Knossos: Evans’ Dollhouse

The archaeological site of the Palace of Knossos is considered one of the must-see destinations of Crete. The Bronze Age archaeological site was initially discovered in 1878 by Minos Kalokairinos, while the extensive period of excavation and partial restoration began in 1900 with Sir Arthur Evans, an English archaeologist. As Europe’s oldest city and the centre of Minoan civilization until its destruction by natural disasters, Knossos boasts a rich history. It is purported to have been occupied by the mythical Cretan king, Minos. It is also associated with the myth of the Labyrinth commissioned by Minos and constructed by the architect Daedalus to entrap the Minotaur. Looking at its map, the association doesn’t seem to be a stretch.

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The complex layout of Knossos.

Knossos is approximately a half-hour bus ride from Amoudara on the No. 2 bus. The fare was five euros, and actually buys you a one-day ticket for all of the buses in and around Heraklion. I end up going with Kimberly, Chet, and Sonny, and we go on a tour of Knossos together with several other tourists. The public tour is 10 euros per person. Private tours are also an option, though notably more expensive (the tour guide offered us 70 euros, though it is usually 80).

The tour was about 90 minutes in length. Our tour guide, Ariadni, does a phenomenal job of weaving a tale of fact and myth. I find that much of the information she gives us complements that which I learned in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, so I would highly recommend a visit there first.

Knossos was the centre of one of the most brilliant civilizations in history, and marks of innovation pervade the premises to this date, including the aged pipes that were part of a complex water collection-management system, architectural design that ensured maximum ventilation, and the ancient scripts, Linear A and Linear B. There are recreated indoor and outdoor murals, and other marks of reconstruction to help the layman visualize the function of each part of the palace.

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Examples of the repainted murals.

All of the original wall paintings can be found on the second floor of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Many of the original artifacts have also been taken from the grounds of Knossos, and a good deal of the archaeological remains that are left standing today are concrete-reinforced. The juxtaposition of ancient, rugged limestone with smooth concrete and the brightly coloured, glossy murals creates a strange effect. Knossos isn’t frozen in time, as most archaeological sites that I have toured.

“What do you think about all of the work Evans has done here?” I ask Ariadni, falling into step beside her. She pauses, then sighs.

“You know, I don’t want to overly criticize Evans. The field of archaeology was very, very different back then. He had a vision of Knossos and of what it meant to Minoan civilization, and he did his best to reconstruct it for all to see. Of course, whether or not his interpretation is entirely correct is another point of contention,” She says, “If you want to know what I think, well, I believe that he overdid it.”

She went on to explain to me that the restorations have made preserving Knossos more difficult. Not only do preservation procedures entail treating the original material, but also the reinforced concrete as it sustains damage. I listen quietly, feeling a bit subdued.

Afterward, we speak no more of it. We work our way through the maze of workrooms, storage rooms, and living spaces, Ariadni painting a picture of a splendorous, advanced, and peaceful people. In Minoan society, which was not warrior-driven, women held positions of greater stature in society. Feminine power is reflected in the fact that the Minoans worshipped an earth goddess as their deity.

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The restored North entrance with the fresco of the charging bull.

“I didn’t know that the Minoans were a peaceful culture. You’d think the opposite, based on all those myths…” One of the tour group members comments.

“Virtually all of those terrifying myths were created by the Mycenaeans, or the Greeks from the mainland,” Ariadni explains. “Propaganda, if you will.”

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The theatre.

She leads us past the theatre area, wherein ceremonies of both secular and religious natures took place, and to a shaded area with a bench and some stones to sit on. From our vantage point, we can see the path to the palace.

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The king’s highway.

“I will now finish our tour with my favourite myth, which involves Minos’ daughter Ariadne,” She says with a gleam in her eye. And she launches into an in-depth telling of the arrival of Theseus to Knossos to slay the Minotaur and save Athens, which was forced to sacrifice seven sons and seven daughters to it each year at the command of King Minos. “Ariadne gave him a sword and a golden thread that he could unwind so that when Theseus killed the Minotaur, he could escape the Labyrinth. Theseus and Ariadne escaped together after he killed the Minotaur. Her father was enraged.”

“Doesn’t Theseus abandon Ariadne?” One of our group members chimes in.

“Yes,” says Ariadni, “As she is sleeping. But she is discovered by Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine, and he marries her. There are other versions, with more tragic endings. But I prefer the happy one.”

We smile and clap, thanking her profusely for the tour. The sun is starting to set, casting a golden gleam over Knossos. Kimberly, Sonny, and Chet head off to peruse the souvenir shops for a bit, while I stay back and walk around the grounds. My eyes glaze over the renovations. They’re still there, and they always will be. And, thankfully, so will the rich history and culture that define this World Heritage site.

~A

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Falling for the City: Heraklion

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.

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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, a sacred symbol within Minoan culture.

The bull, a sacred symbol within Minoan culture.

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 elegant ladies of the court. Formally known as The Ladies in Blue.

The elegant ladies of the court. Formally known as The Ladies in Blue.

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.

The Venetian Loggia, or noblemen's club.

The Venetian Loggia, or noblemen’s club.

I find some respite inside.

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The loggia from the interior.

And encounter one of the problems that plagues Heraklion.

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Graffiti

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.

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Headed to the port. The water is just visible if you squint.


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.

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I got too distracted by the view, evidently.

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.

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Later on, after having been patched up a bit. There were some miscellaneous scrapes on my knee and foot as well.

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.

~A

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