Mar. 3rd, 2010

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I was surprised, when I started reading up on Crete, to realize that two familiar Greek myths take place here and not in Greece at all: Theseus and the Minotaur, and Icarus and Daedelus. Both of these stories revolve around the mythical King Minos, for whom the Minoan civilization was named. Whoever it was who really ruled the Minoans from Knossos, though, did so a millennium before the Greek pantheon rolled into town. It seems that the Minotaur story may have been invented much later by Greeks who saw the labyrinthine storerooms of Knossos, and its frescoes of sacred bulls, and put the two together.

At any rate, we escaped Knossos's maze of twisty passages all alike, having encountered no wildlife more threatening than a few grey and black crow-like birds.

Then, after a tasty lunch of crepes and gelato (hey, they can't all be spanakopita), we took a 3-hour busride to the pretty Venetian town of Chania (news flash: Venice had an empire??). The coastal highway makes Highway 1 in northern California look downright sane. Because the Mediterranean's tides are so minimal, the road can be shockingly close to the sea. That's true here in Chania, too. I'm writing this from the roof patio of our hotel (the whimsical Pension Teresa, where our room is up a flight of 45 stairs that somehow manages to spiral in both directions), looking down on old town. The entire neighborhood rings around the harbor, only a couple feet above the water level. Yet, judging from the age of these buildings (directly opposite me is an Ottoman mosque) flooding must not be a problem.

Speaking of Ottomans, we just enjoyed an amazingly delicious dinner in a former Turkish bathhouse (hamam), now Turkish restaurant named Tamam. Thought my friends in Doha would appreciate the pun.

Finally, in pregnancy-related news, while I've felt a couple questionable flutters in the last few weeks, I think I experienced my first outright kick today, on the bus to Chania. I like to the little dude was complaining that I was obscuring his view of the truly spectacular coastline.
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Today was our officially archaeology-free day, since Justin reminded me as
I put our itinerary together that I always THINK I want vacations to be an endless string of archaeological sites, but actually I don't. So we bummed around the very pretty Venetian port town of Chania, alternating who got to choose each activity. We started at one of two maritime museums, then moved onto a small archaeological museum (oops, I'm bad at archaeology-free days), then a small zoo with a couple of the local species of mountain goat, then a mosque that got turned into a church, then the Venetian batlements and lighthouse. These were all interspersed with much sitting in cafes and wandering around old parts of the city. Crete has a really interesting history, partially because at some point it's been conquered by pretty much everybody, so there was a lot to absorb.

We're now back on the ferry back to Athens. I explored this one a little more than the last; it has two restaurants, a casino, a disco, and shopping on board. Justin tells me the one in the other direction had a swimming pool and a movie theatre, too. I guess this must be what cruises are like! It's a shame we're only on board till 6 am!
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When I was in Spain this summer, my friend Ryan and I started talking about the stuff you need to know that's never in guidebooks: What's the polite way to summon a waiter? At what time of day do people switch from "Good day" to "Good evening"? What do you do if a restaurant is full? Do you hand storekeepers money directly or put it down on the counter? How do you say no to touts? (My inclination is always "No, thanks" in the local language, but it seems that in some languages "Thanks" implies "Yes.").

Then again, figuring these things out is part of the fun of being in vacation. I always enjoy figuring out little things that remind you of other places you've been (e.g., oh, this is a money-on-the-table culture) and the ones that seem unique to that place (e.g., in Greece your waiter brings your bill at the same time as the food, very efficient. In fact, I'd say this country has the best restaurant service I can think of).

Another unique thing about Greece, by
the way, is that we have yet to see a towel that doesn't have a Greek key design border. It's like the same towel has been following us for days.

Today's our only full day in Athens; we arrived on the ferry at 6 am, checked into our hostel (hooray for the off-season, when hotels let you check in ridiculously early), and took off for the Acropolis. They've got some cool buildings up there, even if it did give me flashbacks to my 6th grade history diorama of the Parthenon. (It's thankfully less toothpick-y in real life.)

Also highly recommended is the newly opened Acropolis Museum, a beautiful modern structure with glass floors so that the archaeological remains found when constructing the museum became part of the museum itself. The top floor is the size and orientation of the Parthenon (which you can see out the window), and the remaining friezes and so on of the Parthenon are displayed around it, between an 8x17 rectangle of minimalist metal pillars that echo the Parthenon's structure without trying to cheesily mimic it. It's beautifully done. They definitely deserve to have the Elgin marbles back.

Now we're enjoying a self-indulgent snooze before dinner and perhaps a wander out to the local planetarium for something else non-archaeological. (Poor long-suffering Justin!)

Parenthetically, I'm really really glad we came to Greece in February/March. The weather's been perfect for sightseeing, clear but not too hot. I can't imagine spending hours wandering around the Knossos or the Acropolis in the summer -- not to mention how many other tourists there'd be. So, knock on wood, this has been pretty perfect timing. I guess that's the benefit of planning your vacation so last-minute you can check the 10-day weather forecast before you book it!

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