Friday, December 25, 2015

Krakow Calling

Recently I went to Poland. I had wanted to for a while since my previous experience in Poland was very short and might not count as a trip to Poland for some people.
My last "trip" to Poland was through Slovakia in the High Tatra mountains. I basically walked across the border sat down, rested for a few minutes and walked back to Slovakia. This was on the highest mountain in Poland, Rysy. I'm pretty sure I mentioned it in a blog post about the Tatras.
This trip was also short, only two nights, and I'm sure I will be going again. You would think travel to Poland would be simple, and with a car I imagine it is. If you are going to go by train it's a bit more complicated. As far as I know Polish Railways and Czech Railways are not exactly friends and there are different requirements and regulations for operating trains in Poland and Czech Republic. It could be a matter of purchasing a locomotive that meets both country's requirements is too expensive, but it is actually that such a locomotive did not exist until very recently (just a few months ago). There is a lot to it, there are different kinds of electric lines in Poland and blah blah blah. In short, you can't take one train from anywhere in the Czech Republic to anywhere in Poland. You must transfer somehow. I transferred to a bus.
I didn't check Krakow out as much as I would have liked, it's a very pretty city. At least the historic center is pretty. So a trip back to see Krakow proper is most likely in order. I spent most of my time in Oswiecim which is where the Auschwitz concentration camp is. This of course wasn't the happiest visit of the year and I will have a completely separate blog post about it, just not during Christmas.
As I said the Old Town Square or Rynek Glowny and historic center are beautiful.

Krakow Poland Old Town Square

The central square is also HUGE. This photo maybe shows about half of it. The large building on the left is an old textile marketplace. It bisects the square and now houses tchotchke vendors for the edification of tourists. I walked through it, but nothing really caught my eye. It seems well organized, just a big hall with booths on either side.

Of course there is a clock tower in the square, as you can see, and there is a pump placed on the spot where a man immolated himself in the 1980s. Evidently Mr. Badylak chained himself to this well before setting himself alight. I apologize that the wiki link for Badylak is in Polish, no English version exists so it's off to Google Translate for you. Not every town square has such a place, I think that is probably a good thing. While researching this post I discovered that Jan Palach immolated himself basically on the steps of the national museum. So Prague has some history like this as well.

I want to try and keep this post happy, so I dispense with the self-immolation talk. It's a fun word to use though and one I don't find myself with much use for in normal conversation. I think now it is out of my system for the foreseeable future.

Krakow Poland Old Town Square Wedding Bride

As you can see, most people use the square for happy things like festivals and shopping and, taking wedding photos. Like all European central squares there is also a cathedral, or at the very least a church.

Krakow Poland Old Town Square St. Mary's Basilica

This is St. Mary's Basilica. There were signs posted in front of the church not to enter, which of course every tourist ignored. I hesitantly ignored the signs as well and went inside. Once I saw the reason for the signs I quickly made my exit. They were having confession. Not just any confession but an open-style confession.  There was nothing to separate the penitent from the priest. In what I briefly saw, the priest was holding his hand in front of his eyes to avoid seeing who the penitent man was. As soon as I saw this I left immediately. We'll all have to wait until my next trip to see photos of the inside of the basilica.

Krakow Poland Old Town Square

Behind the basilica there is another tiny square. I think it is in fact called Maly Rynek, at least the street is named that. It means "small market." To me it was a very beautiful place and in the photo above the light was amazing combined with the cobblestones wet with morning dew this quickly became my favorite part of the city center.

I should also note that the Poles are very religious on the whole, a 180 degree shift from the Czechs, and there were nuns everywhere. In the center you couldn't swing a rosary without hitting a nun. It was really nice to see such a devout population. I would see later that not every Polish girl wears particularly modest attire to Mass, which took me back a little, but whatever at least they are going, right.

Krakow Poland Old Town Square Nun

The nun in the photo above was moving so quickly I almost missed her, but with the light and the wet stones I was compelled to photograph her. Had I seen her in time I could have done a better job, but I still really like this frame. So I included it, because it's my blog that's why.

There are, of course, other churches in the city and the historic center consists of many small, romantic little streets and alleys. The thing I found most interesting about the city center is that it is surrounded by a wall. It's like some sort of old fortification. The fact that much of it is still there and there is now a giant park surrounding the center is very cool.

Krakow Poland Church

I honestly don't know the names of these two churches. They were the first ones I saw as I was walking to the center for the first time and I thought they were beautiful and that the light was wonderful. I like the two different styles so close together. This mix of architecture is a bit more classy than how it's done in Sofia.

They also have a castle in Krakow. I didn't really visit it. I just walked up to one of the gates. It was closed, so I decided that I will check it out during my next trip. It is really close to the city center.

Krakow Poland Castle

Krakow also has a river, the mighty Vistula. It's navigable, and happens to be the longest river in the country. I was staying on the other side of the river from the center so I crossed it a few times. The bridge opposite the one I always walked across was lit in a cool way.

Krakow Poland Vistula River

The other tourist attraction I wanted to see in, or rather near, Krakow is the Wielicka Salt Mine. It's in the small town of Wielicka (pronounced Vee Leech Ka) about nine miles south east of Krakow. The easiest way to get there is to take the train. Head into the station, catch the hourly commuter train and pay the conductor something like 5 Zloty for the trip. The train station in Wielicka is about 100 yards from the entrance to the mines.

The village itself is also beautiful. It's mostly a suburb of Krakow as far as I can tell, but I don't think the fine residents of Wielicka would appreciate that assessment.

Wieliczka Poland Church
Miners are religious, many of them are anyway. It's comforting to put your faith in God when your "office" could become your crypt in an instant. This is the big church in town. I don't know the name and Google Maps is quite devoid of information about the village.

So, the mine. I was greatly anticipating this part of the trip and I was not disappointed. I was in fact quite impressed. I only have one complaint about the tour and I should have expected it. It's popular, so they kind of rush groups through the place. It takes about three hours, which is a longish time but I always kind of felt like we were being hurried through. I don't think tours would be like that in the off season though as there are nowhere near as many visitors.

So salt used to be kind of a big deal. That whole part of history where the Romans sowed salt on the fields of Carthage, whether mere legend or not, was akin to destroying your enemy's agricultural abilities with gold. I've disliked some people, but never enough to bludgeon them with gold bars also, I don't have the means.

Back to salt being important. The book Salt will confirm that cultures throughout history in all corners of the world have put great value in salt. I know for a fact that gathering salt is a tremendous part of a Zuni male's coming of age ceremony. Due to the major importance of salt, this particular mine was crucial and it was owned by kings. It was an honor to be a miner here and the men were treated well. It was not some slave labor camp, at least that is what Paul the tour guide told us. The mine was also significant for people to visit. I liked the tour, why wouldn't some ancient celebrity like Copernicus, who evidently did visit the mine.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

They carved a statue of him in the mine. They carved a lot of statues in the mine. From what the guide told us, famous visitors generally get a statue. Most of the statues are carved out of the salt that is in the mine.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

Like this guy for example. He visited the mine and was famous. You all recognize him, right? Really, I think this is a bust of one of the kings who owned the mine at one time or another. You can see that these statues are impressive, but some like this one look like they could be better. The guide told us that all the statues in the mine are, and were, created by the miners. They didn't hire sculptors or artists to make any of the salt sculptures in the colliery. With some of the sculptures I find it a little hard to believe but hey, it's what the man said.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

What surprised me the most is that most of the support structure for the mine, for the longest time, was wood. As you can see in the photo above a lot of wood, but nonetheless -- wood. At some point in the not-too-distant past they got with the program and started using roof bolts, because it's better. All along points of the tour you walk through corridors like the one pictured above only the wood is white. Again the tour guide told us, these white logs had not been painted but are coated with a crystalline layer of salt.  Which, as you can imagine, gets out of hand after a century or so.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

The above photo is a bit more of a rare case. This was an area with a bit more seepage. All mines leak, that's a way of life much like all damns leak. The problem is salt is a little water soluble and this has the potential to cause some structural complications. So, while this is not a mine that is an active profitable mining operation, this is still an active mine from a maintenance perspective. They have to keep working it to keep it safe and there are about 300 miners who do so. They actually make more money ushering tourists through in groups of 50 now than they do from selling the salt. Which you can buy here if you really want.  It's like $3 for 2lbs and is made from the water they remove from the mine.  I bought some rock salt from one of the many road side vendors and it's good stuff.

All along the tour there are displays of the history of how they used mechanical-advantage machines in the mine. There are many, many examples all complete with dummy horses and people. The mannequins for the people appear to have been purchased from a company that only makes Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon dummies for archeology museums, or this is what Poles looked like in the 13th century.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

If you are an engineer, or a miner, or a physicist or just like to tinker with machines you can appreciate how remarkable all this stuff is. It's all just pulleys and ropes and mechanical advantage, no hydraulics here.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

We got to see some of the largest devices of their kind on the tour, and by that I mean something like "the largest Polish-made, peg-wheel mechanical doodad" in the world. It's kind of a specific title. We were also told by our guide that sometimes the machines may have been impressively huge, but were not as efficient as they could have been or were maintenance nightmares. I can imagine that the huge device above was troublesome when those tiny pegs always needed replacing.

In the mine there are some gigantic excavated chambers. I've been underground a few times, okay a bunch, and I have seen some giant chambers both manmade and natural; I can tell you that these Polish miners knew their shit.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

It is very difficult to accurately depict the size of some of these chambers. Some of them are so large that I think it would be possible to fit a building or two inside. I'm sure there were some where you could put a house. 

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

The chamber above is the Chopin Chamber. It's enormity is inspiring. It's mostly hewn out of salt, but there were some natural factors that went into its creation as well. Chopin visited the mine once, evidently they liked him. During the tour we were treated to a light show in this chamber while experiencing its beautiful acoustic properties by listening to a recording of one of Chopin's pieces, I forget which one now.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

See, famous visitor gets a statue. This one is copper and corroded a touch from all the salt in the air. I quite enjoy the way the sculptor was able to incorporate movement into this piece. That will be the end of my art critique.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

Other than the Chopin chamber, with a staircase that is exhausting to look at and fortunately we didn't have to climb, this was one of two other chambers with a pond (they call them "lakes" but come on) in it. I think I remember the guide telling us that the lower levels, which we are unable to access, contain more and larger lakes. By the way, each level of the mine is a little larger in square kilometers, whatever those are, than the village which rests above it; and there are nine levels to the mine. In other words, it's gargantuan, it's much bigger than Paris for example.

Remember when I said the the Poles are a religious people? And then remember again when I said that miners are a religious sort? No? Come on people keep up it's not like there is a mountain of text here. Anyway, when you mix the two you get a few, who at some point over the course of the 700 years that a mine is working, will want to build a chapel.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

Pretty cool, right? It's nice I like it personally. The floor there, it's not tile. That's right, it's salt. They just carved the floor out of the bottom of the chamber. So, this chapel is beautiful, but not quite enough I guess. Someone needed to carve a church into the mine, or many out of the mine. It depends on how you look at it. If you feel the church was always there and the creators just brought it out, then...

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

This really is an extraordinarily monumental achievement. It is very large. Not the largest church I've been in by any means, but this is underground carved out of salt. There is a salt last supper, salt Virgin Marys and the coupe de gras: a salt statue of Pope John Paul II, yes he visited the mine and got a statue too.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

While the tour was excellent, I did say I felt rushed the whole time. There was our guide, at the front, and then there was a docent at the back helping to herd us along. I can understand this because we were right on the tail of a large group of Russians and there was an equally large group of Chinese-speaking people behind us. It's a well-oiled machine, but I think during the winter it's a bit more chill. When the tour is over you will have the option to hop in the mine elevator, you descend via a very long staircase, or continue to the mine museum. The photo below is basically where the tour ends, but around the turn of the century they used to have boat tours from this point.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

You might be thinking right now, "isn't the whole place a big museum?" Yes, it is, but if you take the tour of the specific underground museum you will get to see more things more closely and without the rush through of the larger tour. The museum tour consisted of my guide and two Brazilian guys. That was it.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

If I hadn't seen the museum I would have missed this beauty, a custom mine cart build specifically for the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire so he could take a tour. The Emperor sat up front, note how the opulence diminishes as you get to seats for his advisors and then staff. 

Wieliczka Salt Mine Poland

The museum has an exceptional art collection and the guide told us that the salt in the air preserves mostly everything. He said the air is very clean because of the salt in it and that it's cleaner and healthier than the air outside. There is now even a spa in the mine where people with respiratory issues can take advantage of this clean air. 

So that is about it. I would like to say that my tour guide, I think is name was Paul, is one of the best I've ever had. He conducted the tour professionally with just the right amount of sarcasm. His English was first-rate; so good in fact that for the first 20 minutes of the three-hour tour I thought he was a native speaker, he is not. If you go to Krakow, take this tour it's worth it and it will cheer you up before or after you go to the concentration camp. 

So that is basically the end of this. I want to close with a frame I made for no reason other than I thought it looked nice. I like it. I don't even remember if I took it in Krakow or Wieliczka, but who really cares. 

Krakow Poland

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Heroes of Anthropoid

First Lieutenant Adolf Opálka.
Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík.
Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda.
Sargent Jan Kubiš.
Sargent Josef Bublik.
Jaroslav Svarc.
Josef Valcik.
Jan Hruby.

These are names most people will not know. Having been present for more final roll calls then I care to think about the format seems fitting to begin a discussion about these brave men. It's also veteran's day, which as it turn out isn't just a day for U.S. veterans. You'll notice not everyone has rank here either. That is because some of them were civilian resistance fighters. Some were assigned rank posthumously but I can only find mixed sources about that. These are the names of the heroes of Anthropoid.
These men were participants in Operation Anthropoid which was essentially a suicide mission to kill Reinhard Heydrich the deputy protector of Moravia and Bohemia for the Nazis. As an update, I have heard there is a feature film being made about this event called Anthropoid with some major stars. It was filmed in Prague mostly.
He was also a high-ranking SS general and all-around nasty guy. I believe he was known as "the Butcher of Prague." Hitler liked him a lot.
Read the Wikipedia entry about the assassination, it is quite a fascinating tale. The saddest part of the whole ordeal is that after the assassination the Nazis were very upset, especially when they were not able to bring the perpetrators to justice immediately. The Nazis were so enraged in fact that they destroyed entire villages in attempts to both locate the assassins as well as punish those they thought to be harboring them. The Nazis killed nearly everyone in the village of Lidice and destroyed all the buildings, it literally does not exist anymore. Some estimates say that almost 5,000 people were killed as reprisals for the assassination.
The assassins and a few other accomplices hid in an orthodox cathedral, but were eventually discovered, thanks to a traitor in their midst. It is the Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. There is a Catholic church dedicated to the same two saints, but it is in a completely different part of town.

They hid in the crypt below the cathedral which is now a national memorial to these men. Most of them took cyanide capsules or shot themselves to avoid being captured by the Nazis who laid siege to the cathedral for days but were unable to get into the crypt. The last words of these men were reportedly "Nevzdáme se. Nikdy. Jsme Češi" or "We will not surrender. Never. We are Czech."

I actually have walked passed the cathedral quite a few times, but was not aware of what this simple memorial on the outer wall was all about. This is the only window in the crypt and the Germans hit it with a good amount of MG-42 fire. There are many such memorials in Prague and I don't stop to try and read all of them because, I can't.

As you can see the machine gun fire did a lot of damage to the thick walls around the window. It did not, however kill, or even hurt for that matter, the men taking refuge inside the crypt. Realistically, this damage isn't that bad. It could probably have been repaired easily but I think leaving it was the right choice.

If you know what you are looking for it is not very difficult to find the entrance to the crypt. There are some flags with paratrooper wings and an orthodox cross outside blowing in the wind. It's actually a pretty cool design. The two assassins were paratroopers for the Czechoslovak army in exile you'll find all that information in the Wikipedia entry I hope you read.

Here is a better photo of the entrance to the crypt. It says, "National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror." You can also see the cathedral in this one too. There is even a memorial near the entrance to the cathedral. When you see all the monuments in this one place you really start to get a better idea about how important these guys were. They are without a doubt national heroes, deservedly so.

This is the "traditional" entrance to the crypt. It was blocked by a giant stone and therefore impossible for the German soldiers to move. I believe they had to use dynamite to dislodge it enough to be able to get into the crypt. This entrance isn't used anymore and was not used by the men who died there. They used a small access hole in the ceiling of the crypt (or floor of the church). The slab that was blocking this entrance is in the crypt pretty much intact.
The modern entrance door to the crypt is designed to be like an aircraft wing. It symbolizes the paratroopers and some other things. There is a small museum before you get into the actual crypt with lots of interesting historical information about the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and the events leading up to it.

Inside the crypt there are bronze busts of each of the men. With them there is an explanation of who each man was and what he did, also when he died. These men were buried in a mass grave in Prague, so this is their final resting place. These are their tombstones.

I suppose it is somewhat fitting to have one's final resting place in a crypt. You could joke that they didn't have to go far to find a final resting place, but I really don't think that is appropriate in this case. It's also very clear that people from all over come to pay their respects to these heroes.

This destroyed section of wall contains well, wishes and prayers from dozens of people. The stairs contain all manner of small memorials. Most of them are in Czech, but not all of them are.

As you can see this note is written in English and has been placed in one of the crypt spaces behind the busts of the men. Like I said, people come from all over to pay their respects. It is a simple and unostentatious memorial. You really do have to be looking for it to find it, but once you know what you are looking for it is easy to get to and see.

Of course directly across the street from the cathedral is a pub, Krčma u Parašutistů. Basically "Paratrooper's Pub." If you happen to be a jump-qualified soldier, this might be a good place for you to have a beer. They have food too, but I didn't eat anything. They have a lunch menu, so maybe I'll go there for lunch someday.

Inside it is a fairly typical Czech pub, although with better light and more decor then what is normal for most Czech pubs. As you can see there are some decorations celebrating the Czechoslovak paratroopers and some Czech dudes enjoying a beer. This is about as authentic as it gets while still being something that won't turn tourists off. So, if you go to see the memorial, do yourself a favor and walk across the street for a beer at least. The prices aren't tourist-trap prices so at least you have that going for you.
As a special treat, I have found a youtube video of a recreation of the assassination of Heydrich. It is right here:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Crete is Greece, right?

A little over a year ago I went to Crete. It was wonderful.
I didn't go alone, I was in love. I would take the same trip again in a New York minute.
In that last year I haven't written much and that is my fault. Also, during this trip to Greece I didn't take many photos and didn't mind one bit. We all make sacrifices for love.
I discovered a lot of interesting things on this trip. One of those things is the "all-inclusive holiday" that the British just can't seem to get enough of.
Most people who know me know that I am not particularly a fan of the English, I blame my Scottish heritage and my American revolutionary sensibilities and the fact that they whine about everything. I do have some British friends who I really like though. What the English do on their all-inclusive holidays makes them even more intolerable. These vacations are offered at amazing prices. Everything is included; airfare, hotel, transportation, three meals a day and for a little more an unlimited supply of alcohol. The English want to get their money's worth. This mentality causes them to wake up, eat breakfast and start drinking as soon as possible. They continue to drink well into the night. The only thing worse than an Englishman is a drunken Englishman. That being said, I don't want this to be overly negative because the trip was amazing. I will stop complaining about the English.
We (I will also not pretend for the rest of this entry that I was by myself because that isn't fair) booked one of these all-inclusive holidays and the price was impressive. We didn't spring for unlimited booze though.

Our hotel was basically designed specifically for romantic getaways and if anyone reading this is looking for ideas put the Elounda Blue Bay Hotel high up on your list. They don't allow guests under the age of 16 there so it was a bunch of adults having a great time in a secluded bay on Crete. Seriously, there aren't a lot of better things. For me staying on a sailboat in the bay would have been more perfect, but not everyone likes that kind of thing.

I have also heard that there is a sea urchin problem at Cretan beaches. I did even see a few signs on other parts of the island advertising particular resorts with beaches free of the spiky little bastards. The Elounda bay was completely devoid of these guys.

View of Elounda Bay in Crete Greece

Above is the view from our hotel. A panoramic view of course. As you can see the hotel rooms are a little more like bungalows and some of them even have private  swimming pools. The small island at the mouth of the bay on the left is man-made and at one time had a fort, built by the Ventians I think, to protect the bay from intruders. There are ferries going out to it all day long. Waking up to this view every morning was refreshing.

The hotel is near a town called Elounda. It's a relaxed little town right next to the water. I learned that Greeks, or Cretans, are very relaxed people. The village was hopping well into the night and everyone was out and about enjoying the evening. It didn't seem like people really started to go out and have a good time until 9 p.m.

Church in Elounda, Crete, Greece

We would walk to Elounda almost every night and just walk through the town. It was less than a mile from the hotel and made for a good evening stroll. Like I said people were always up and doing things and everyone seemed to be pretty happy. Also, they have grocery stores and whatnot, so if you require some provisions it's the closest place to go.

Fishermen at night in Elounda, Crete, Greece

Fishing appeared to still be a viable way for people to make a living and there were dozens of these cool-looking little fishing boats. They look much like the ones I saw in Bulgaria, just with a little better upkeep.

Boat in Elounda Bay, Crete, Greece

The water was very clear right up next to the shore and I was always amazed when we passed this little boat that appeared to be flying rather than floating. I looked like this during the day too, but we were always busy during the day, and I only took my camera with us to Elounda once and I had to take this photo even though it is really noisy.

We rented a car from some local place in Elounda and that was an interesting experience. We walked into town and went into a rental agency. It was about 8:30 at night, these places close at 10 p.m. which was strange. After telling the agent, who I think was about 16, we wanted a car and picking out a little economy number, Peugeot 106 I think, we gave the guy a 20 Euro cash deposit in exchange for a hand written receipt and left with the understanding that the car would be delivered to the hotel in two days.

Surprisingly, right on schedule, the car was delivered to the hotel as promised. I filled out a more official-looking form and the kid who rented us the car sped away on his scooter. Scooters are everywhere on Crete and people use them to travel long distances.

We drove to Heraklion and took a quick look around.

Fountain in Heraklion, Crete, Greece

It's pretty much what you would expect except more crowded. Buildings stacked right on top of each other and everyone cramming everything into every space possible. I guess when you live in a place for a few thousand years urban sprawl isn't really a thing.
There were ancient fountains, like you see above, and cafes everywhere. Each cafe had it's own table with two old Greek dudes hanging out and debating life or politics or cheese, I don't know it was all Greek to me.

This particular cafe had debating old guys and rosary old guy, pretty cool right? At least I think it is called a rosary, I'm also not particularly well versed in my Greek Orthodox traditions. So we had some real frappes and relaxed after a stressful drive into down. I'm told frappes are a Greek invention. They are good, but not like what you'll find at Starbucks.

Driving on Crete, and because I like to apply limited experience to an entire country Greece, can best be described as an adventure. The lane-marking lines and dashes are mostly a suggestion. Seriously, I saw people straddling lines for miles. It's perfectly fine to straddle the line and pass between cars next to each other in two lanes, just normal, it's how they roll. Driving on the shoulder, or as my mom always used to call it "the emergency lane" is completely normal, especially if you have an underpowered scooter or car. You might come around a corner and see that someone it 50-75% in your lane speeding and you just have to deal with it. And passing on the right, my second-biggest driving pet peeve, is a very common occurrence.

Boat in Heraklion Harbor, Crete, Greece

Heraklion also has an ancient harbor that is still in use today. You can walk along its walls and it's interesting to see how this old harbor was built and still functions. There are a few locals selling sponges and things for inflated prices. Near one end of the harbor there is also an old fortification of some sort. It's at the end of a jetty built to basically made to form one side of the harbor. The fort is being renovated but might provide and interesting tourist attraction when it's finished. The water in the harbor was not as clear as the water in Elounda, as you can see from the photo above.

From Heraklion we visited the ruins of Knossos. I honestly don't remember that much about it, because it's been over a year, but I really enjoyed seeing it all.

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

The photo above might be the most recognizable feature of the city. It's the north entrance and has, of course, been restored.

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

This is one of the roads that lead into the city. Of all the truly impressive archeological things to see at Knossos, I think I liked the road the best. Look at it, it's immaculate and very beautifully constructed. It might also be restored. Lot's of things at Knossos were. 

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

I think this is some kind of  throne room or something. While it was very hot at Knossos these chambers were very cool and comfortable. For me it was interesting to see how some of the city had been restored and some of it had just been excavated and left alone.

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

This storage silo area was also interesting for me. I don't know why. Maybe I like strange things, which I won't argue against. I just think it's very complicated to lower, and then retrieve those enormous grain pots from a hole in the ground. I understand in the climate it was most likely the only way to preserve the grain. They didn't remove the pots, called "pithoi" when they were full, they would just dip into them.

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete, Greece

Some of the pots were replicas. I don't remember very well, but I think the ones in the photo above are actually very-well preserved original pots. I can't be certain. I do know for a fact that some of the pithoi we saw were infact original.

After a few hours at Knossos we decided it was time to head back to Elounda. We were pretty far away at this point, but didn't foresee it taking too long. In reality it took a long time and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Being in love and cruising through the center of Crete on tiny romantic roads stopping on a whim to look at a monastery or church on a hill is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon that I can think of.

Not too far from Knossos there was an actual, real, unrestored ruin. We saw a tiny sign for it and went to check it out and have a picnic under a tree once we saw the view.

Panoramic view of mountains on Crete, Geece

The ruins were really just over-grown stone walls, much like what you would find in the American Southwest. The view was the most impressive part. There were olive and fruit orchards as far as the eve could see and a gentle hilltop breeze made the shade a comfortable and relaxing place to sit and just look at this view while we ate.

After lunch we continued though the interior of the island and I seriously can not tell you the exact route we took but we went though the Dikti Mountains and the views were also amazing. We also drove tough a funeral in a tiny village. It was a bit of an oops moment. Fortunately, we didn't add another body to the procession. The roads were so small though that I was just waiting to come around a corner and land in the middle of a heard of goats or something.

There were a few other places we wanted to try and see, but once we realized that we were so far off track that we were not going to get to them we just bombed around and enjoyed it.

Crete, Greece

We stopped in this little village for some more frappes. They were good and the cafe had a contingent of men heavily engaged in backgammon. Now of course I haven't been to Italy yet, but I really have to say when it comes to just chilling out the Cretans have some serious skills.

Crete, Greece

I took photos with my phone in all the little places where we stopped so I would have some geotags, but honestly I'm being lazy. From this village we ended up visiting a little church on one of the nearby mountain peaks.

Mountain top church Crete, Greece

Olive fields cover much of the mountains and we were on the island at the beginning of the harvest season. When it wasn't olives it was grapes. It was nice to see the grape boxes stacked at the end of endless rows of vines. I've harvested a few grapes, it's not easy work and I only tried it for like 30 minutes. Realistically, coming around a corner and hitting a sheep shouldn't have been my biggest fear. Meeting a truck full of grapes should have been, but we're still alive so everything worked out fine.

There were orthodox churches everywhere and most of them were in quite excellent shape. They all looked almost new or perfectly maintained. I think I know where all those EU loans are going. The one above was in a little village in a valley and the local population must have been pretty busy harvesting olives or something, because there was nobody out.

A monastery on Crete, Greece

This monastery looks brand new, doesn't it? It was perhaps so new there weren't even any monks yet. I am kidding of course. We didn't see anyone, but this is a very old monastery. I seriously think everyone was working on harvesting grapes, or chilling someplace cool but the temperature was much more comfortable high up in the mountains. At some points it was even a touch chilly. 

Above is the dinner bell for the monastery. It's the only thing there that you can easily see that says "old." That is one old piece of iron.

There you have it. I honestly think I will go back to Crete someday. I will spend a bit more time exploring the mountains and little villages or hamlets or whatever. The island really has everything I like, sea and mountains. I became very envious of a particular sailor who had anchored his boat maybe 150 yards from the shores of Elounda. The sea floor drops off steeply in the bay and you can cosy up to the shores easily even if your boat has a deep draft. I still have this dream in that whoever was on that sloop would wake up in the morning, eat breakfast toss his clothing for the day in a watertight bag and hop over the gunwales and swim into town.