Crete Part I: Heraklion's Ancient Past
Will and I had planned to go to Greece for our honeymoon in 2016. We celebrated our wedding in June, and planned a beautiful trip to Athens, Santorini, and Crete in October when things calmed down for both of us at work.
I was so excited. Unlike our planning for this year, I had spreadsheets of accommodation confirmations and lists of places and tastes I wanted to try. However, on the morning we were expecting to leave, we woke to an email that said our connecting flight from Frankfort to Athens was cancelled. Then, I received a subsequent email that our flight from Athens to Santorini also wasn’t taking off. My heart sunk. My meticulous planning felt for naught. And the symbolism of this trip, to celebrate our recent marriage. I felt so deflated. I remember it was raining, as we scrambled to pull together some resemblance of a trip. The following day, we rented a car and drove down to Asheville, North Carolina.
The beer and barbecue wasn’t the wine and fresh seafood I had envisioned, but we had a great time.
That being said, I still dreamed of traveling to Greece with Will. The bright Mediterranean sea, the dreamy villages. It all seemed so idyllic.
When we started plotting our year away shortly after we married, we decided it made more sense to incorporate our very belated honeymoon this year. So while our plans for Europe remained vague, going to Greece was always a definite. By mid-September, we were already concluding our allotted 90 days in the schengen area. We prioritized getting to the Greek islands. So we flew directly from Paris to Heraklion, the capitol of Crete.
It would be our entry point to an unexpected three week stay in Crete. We simply couldn’t bring ourselves to leave this paradise.
We only stayed for three nights in Heraklion, but as the economic center of Crete, it served as a solid foundation for our time in Greece.
Heraklion’s streets had more of an organized chaos than previous European countries we’ve been to this year.
Accordingly, we were advised not to drink the tap water and general prices such as dining were far more affordable. On our first night, only slightly bedraggled from our flight, we were in search of one thing: fresh Greek salads. We found a local grill nearby and the smell was intoxicating. Grilled meat is a long Cretan tradition, so we had to order a few burgers.
To our (re:my) delight, when dining out at a restaurant in Crete, a small complementary dessert is often included. This time was fresh fruit and traditional Greek yogurt in golden syrup. Cretan food is known to be some of the highest quality in Greece. The area has a distinct, rich cultural history and the mountainous terrain yields an unique Cretan olive oil, or liquid gold. Perhaps this first meal is why we never wanted to leave Crete. It completely revived us.
Ready to explore, on our first full day we went to the iconic Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
The museum was constructed in 1933, and is now deemed one of the most historically significant museums in Europe.
The museum spans over 5,500 years of historical artifacts from the island.
The exhibits on the Minoan civilization, and the Minoan antiquities, are celebrated worldwide.
Personally, I was struck by the ancient jewelry, and tended to linger a little longer at those exhibits.
Generally, I was taken aback by how awe-inspired I felt. I simply had never been exposed to such an array of ancient artifacts in such abundance. It was difficult for me to comprehend the mere timeframe.
After, we grabbed a needed pick me up. Greece in general has a strong coffee culture, and this felt heightened in Crete. Seemingly everyone was sipping on freddo cappuccinos at all hours of the day. It’s a peculiar concoction of espresso shots with a couple giant ice cubes topped with a pillow of frothy milk. I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it.
Although Heraklion isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the rest of Crete, it has it’s own charm.
In many ways, it felt like any business district with a historic downtown.
However, there were still outdoor markets to explore.
And a sizable port and pedestrian friendly waterfront.
Though beautiful, the choppy waters weren’t too inviting for swimming.
Often overlooked, the restaurant scene in Heraklion had gained recent notoriety. There’s a mix of high end and more homestyle cooking. We preferred the latter, and on our last evening, found a tree covered patio slightly off the beaten path.
The small, open kitchen was a one-woman show, which I found tremendously impressive.
Once again, the most memorable part of the meal was the fresh Greek salad and homestyle stewed meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.
Heraklion was a wonderful introduction to Crete. A good mix of history and a literal taste of Greece. We’re grateful we stopped, but so looking forward to delving further into the magical island.