Crete was undoubtedly the highlight of our Greek trip. It’s the largest of the Greek islands and seems to have a little bit of everything – beaches, mountains, countrysides, archaeological sites, vineyards, cuisine and friendly people. (I should note that my impression that Greeks are super friendly was heavily influenced by our time in Crete). We spent four days in Crete – in Heraklion and nearby areas. We rented a car to get around, which worked out really well.
Old Venetian Harbor
Technically we walked along the harbor and not really the Port, but ‘Harbor’ didn’t really work with the alliteration I was going for. It’s just an easy, enjoyable walk where you can see Koules Fortress and colorful fishing boats bobbing around, and also get beautiful views of the city.
Palace of Knossos
Now this place is old. As in ~2000-1500 BC. It’s called a Palace, but it’s more like a large complex of living spaces, storerooms, courtyards, etc. that was a key center of Minoan life. Part of why this place is so fascinating is it has sort of a controversial excavation history. The archaeologist who excavated it made major restorations of the site in order to recreate parts of it and provide a richer experience for visitors, but the restorations have been criticized for being interpretations of often scant evidence and using modern, foreign materials. So now, he’s just as much a part of the history of this place as the Minoans.
Then this guy came around and we got really obsessed and took way too many photos.
Near the exit of the site is a small juice and snack shop run by 3 men – a young guy in his mid-20s doing the juicing, his father who is the “boss”, and a third man serving as sort of the host/waiter combo. He’s a character – he entertains the clientele, makes jokes about the other two guys, and seems to be fluent in every language. We stopped for some freshly-squeezed pomegranate-orange juice before embarking on a lengthy-ish trip out to find the birthplace of Zeus (which I will detail later). After thoroughly enjoying the juice, I really wanted an actual pomegranate – the fruit, not just juice. It didn’t look like they were offering that, but obviously they had the ingredients. S’s cousins strongly encouraged me to ask, so I tried it:
- I made my way up to the 3rd multi-lingual/host guy and asked if he can just give me some pomegranate seeds.
- He says a bunch of stuff in Greek to the father-son duo, and they start working on a pomegranate-only juice. No, no, not the juice – just the seeds. Clearly not a normal request.
- After that bout of miscommunication, he barks another set of orders to the duo to clarify that I want the seeds. He tells me, “We’ll do this for you, but this isn’t for your friends”
- As the father-son duo are pulling seeds out of my pomegranate, the 3rd guy instigates some back-and-forth ribbing with them instructing them “not to be greedy”, telling me that bosses get stingy when they get older, and that the boss’s father was a priest. I promise there weren’t any transitions here – it was just a LOT of talking with me trying to keep up.
- Then he says (and again, without any transition), “would you like some vodka”? I have a habit of always saying yes when people offer me things so that’s what I did, even though in my head I was thinking that seemed too random. Are you really offering shots of vodka in a juice shop at 2pm in the afternoon?
- From somewhere comes a bottle of Smirnoff. But instead of pouring it in a glass, he douses the pomegranate seeds with it and tells me, “ahh, now this will be really nice”, asks me if I’ve ever had this before (Are vodka-drenched pomegranate seeds a thing?), and hands me a spoon lest any vodka be wasted.
And speaking of free alcohol and entertaining characters. Crete produces raki, a grape-based clear alcohol, and commonly serves this as a complimentary after dinner digestif. At the places we went to, the waiters, who all really engaged with us (and usually selected our dishes for us), wouldn’t just bring raki out for us, they would bring multiple rounds and flavored versions for us to try and would partake of it together with us. They were some of the most fun meals I’ve ever had.