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Exploring CreteSeptember 26, 2011 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
Crete was the center of Minoan civilization from 2700 to 1420 B.C. Today, the largest, most populous island of Greece is a popular port of call on many eastern Mediterranean cruises. Travel Agent was onboard Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey this summer when it called at Rethymno on Crete’s northern coast.
Two separate half-day shore trips were included for passengers on that voyage; one ventured westward to Chania and the other eastward to the Palace of Knossos, near Heraklion.
It’s a picturesque introduction to Crete as passengers enjoy a motorcoach trip along the winding oceanfront road from Rethymno to Chania. Along the way, they’ll pass pristine beaches, rocky ocean coves, small roadside Greek Orthodox churches, a few villages, flowering bushes and mountain peaks.
Arriving in Chania, visitors often step out of their coach near the city’s modern covered market and walk through a maze of streets and plazas toward the harbor area. Along the way, they’ll see small souvenir shops, clothing stores, a leather market section, bookstores, sidewalk cafés and the impressive Church of the Virgin Mary, completed in 1860.
Many tours begin at the city’s Archaeological Museum, housed in the former Catholic Church of St. Francis. It’s an eclectic mix of sculptures, mosaics and artifacts from the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian eras.
A few blocks farther afoot is Chania’s Old Harbor, brimming with small boats and harborside cafés. Cruisers who walk to the end of the harbor pier will be rewarded with views of the old Venetian lighthouse and Ottoman baths. If time permits, visitors may tour the Naval Museum with a rare collection of ancient to modern ship models.
Strolling through the covered market before heading back, passengers can catch a glimpse of locals buying produce; fishmongers shoveling ice over their fresh catches; butchers preparing cuts of meat; and residents and tourists buying wine and graviera, a Cretan cheese. A nice souvenir is the local soap, $1 per bar, made from olive oil and scented in lavender or jasmine.
En route back to Rethymno, many tours stop at the fortress that towers over the city. Built in 1573 by the Turks, it affords panoramic views of the harbor, city and interior countryside.
Minoan Palace at Knossos
At 21,500 square feet, the Minoan Palace at Knossos is Crete’s top tourism attraction. According to a legend, King Minos of Crete constructed the 1,300-room royal edifice around 2000 B.C.
Its corridors are said to have been designed as a labyrinth to confuse the mythical half-bull, half-man Minotaur.
Over the centuries, the palace was damaged by an earthquake, ravaged by fires and rebuilt several times. Still, Knossos is a must-see and highlights include the mosaics, throne room and large clay vases that once held olive oil.
|Minoan Palace at Knossos|