Monday evening after classes, we embarked on our journey to the southernmost island of Greece. Also the largest of all Greek islands, Crete proved to be land filled with vibrant culture. The history of the island begins as far back as the Minoan civiliaztion, of which the most recognizable site is Knossos. I was surprised to learn that the island has been under various different influences throughout history including the Venetians and the Ottomans. On Crete we learned about this history (this was an educational field trip after all) and got a taste of present day life on the island.We visited three main cities while in Crete; the first of which was Heraklio. Upon arrival in the city, we visited the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, a well-known Cretan writer. His tomb is on top of the enormous Venetian walls that remain today, centuries after they were built. The size of these walls is incredible both in height, length, and width. We also stopped at the Archaeological Museum and the Historical Museum of Heraklio. Although the archeological museum was closed for renovations, the temporary exhibit that was available contained the most recognizable artifacts from the area. I saw the Minoan bull head, the bull jumping fresco, and the mysterious Phaistos Disk. While our morning was packed with all this history, our afternoon focused more on the present. After some time swimming on the beach, we went with the WWF to clean up the wetlands in Mallia. We picked up trash at the wetlands (aka the beach) and put up some signs on the beach- a much more complicated task than I originally believed it to be. It involved digging holes for the large wooden posts and gluing the informative signs into place. Afterwards we celebrated at a local shop with some raki, olives, cheese, and snacks.
The third morning we spent on a walking tour of Rethymno. We stopped at the Rethymno Folk Museum, which I found to be pretty interesting. The weaving the women did is absolutely beautiful. We also saw the Venetian fortress. We left this city and went on to our final destination of Chania. In this city, we saw the Romaniot Synagogue; the director of it told us about the Jewish presence and Cretan identity. Crete is an island that has been occupied by many different powers and only recently has become part of Greece. The people of Crete seem to think of themselves as Cretan long before they consider themselves Greek. It is interesting how the unstable politics of the island has really shaped how the Cretans think of themselves.
Our final day in Crete was spent in Chania again. Although we were supposed to hike the Samarian Gorge, the weather prevented us from doing so. In Crete I saw the first rain clouds over Greece. While it only rained for five minutes, it was still a strange sight to see so many clouds. Since then, the weather has remained cooler. I don’t think we have had weather in the 90s since that day at Knossos. Fall has definitely begun here in Greece and I can’t say I mind it too much. A break from the 90 degree weather is kind of nice especially when I have to walk around Athens.
Also, the food in Crete was wonderful. My personal favorite was the dakos. Dakos are served as an appetizer and consist of a crispy bread topped with tomatoes and a local cheese called myzithra- so good!