Knossos was beckoning. This important site is considered to be the oldest city in Europe, and one of the best remaining examples of a Bronze Age settlement; we could hardly not go and see it. Just south of Heraklion, it was easy to find, not least because of all the traffic heading there. We had set off early, hoping to beat the rush. But the rush had set off early too. We queued to park in the car park, then once we had left the car, realised that we had to walk some way to the entrance. In heat approaching forty degrees, the sight of another long queue to get through the entrance booth was far from welcome. We paid our reasonable ticket price, and headed off into the large complex.
I would like to now tell you of the wonders of Minoan Civilization we saw there. Unfortunately, it all seemed more like a very crowded street market, populated with hordes of tourists from every corner of the planet. More coaches and tour parties arrived, until the place was crammed. Guides gave commentaries in a dozen different languages, all trying to make themselves heard over others doing something similar. What I managed to see was interesting enough, though mostly viewed across a sea of bobbing, hat-wearing heads. After an hour of this, we had both had enough, and agreed that it was not a good day for this trip. It may well be better organised now, but it also might be advisable to go outside of the main season for visitors.
I had looked on the map, and thought that there might be a more interesting route back from Knossos. Away from the main roads, I was sure that we would discover more about the island. I headed south, then east, towards Aghios Nikolaos. The roads soon deteriorated alarmingly, and also began to climb into some hills. Some consisted of little more than a series of sharp hairpin bends, and the tarmac had been replaced with a shingle covering. There was no room to pull of the road in an emergency, as on the left the drop became increasingly sheer. If anything larger than a small car had come the other way, we would have had no room to pass. We failed to discover any interesting sights, or pretty villages. The local people had wisely chosen not to inhabit this area, save for some remote farms, and the occasional religious building on some precarious outcrop. After an hour or more of this, things got quite bad. The road became so narrow, the bends so blind, that my wife actually got out, and walked ahead of the car. She was looking to make sure that the surface was wide enough to proceed; and it was, but only just.
Despite being seemingly lost, I was certain that we were at least heading in the right direction. I confess that I was very nervous, as at times I was driving inches away from the edge of a drop into the valley below. What seemed like an eternity was around ninety minutes, then the track stopped dead, at the junction with a tarmac road. I gave a huge sigh of relief and turned on to the small road, which seemed like a motorway after our recent experience. Ten minutes later, this connected with the main road, and I saw a sign that said right for Aghios Nikaloas, left for Heraklion. I was actually happy to be heading back to the small apartment.
The next morning, we wanted to go out again, but also to avoid the mountain-goat experience of our return journey from Knossos. I looked at the map, and a place that my friend had noted on there, Sitia Bay. This involved a drive through some hillside towns and villages, that we had seen in passing, when we had visited Vai Beach. Exploring these smaller places on the way was a delight. Not far from the main road, we found local villages and small towns (the names of which I cannot recall) where few tourists ventured. We stopped for an early lunch, parking close by a house that had tables and chairs outside, and a small advertising sign for beer. A friendly man emerged with menus. They were only in Greek, and he did not seem to understand any English. We ordered drinks easily enough, and he returned with a young woman, who spoke German. As my wife could speak German well, they managed to take an order for lunch, where we left it to the owner to give us what he recommended. There was a cool breeze up there in the hills, and it even managed to flutter the parasols over the table. What followed was the best meal we ate during our whole stay. A selection of starters was followed by a delicious lamb stew, accompanied by both salad and vegetables. After we had worked our way through this, he arrived with home-made sweet pastries and tiny cakes, accompanied by strong thick coffee. Our early lunch had run to over two hours, and when the bill came, I was sure that he had made a mistake. The young woman was summoned, so we could explain that it was too cheap. The patron laughed when he heard this, as he thought we were complaining that it was too much. The bill was for less than £6. Even back then, that was half of what it should have been, if not one third. We insisted on paying £12 in Drachmas, and they were so pleased, they walked us to our car, shaking hands on the way.
Sitia bay was a nice resort. I believe that it has been developed a great deal since, but we found it very pleasant, with a good beach that was a little stony and narrow, but went on a long way. There was a promenade area around the harbour in Sitia town itself, and we found a fairly isolated cove just outside of town. We spent the afternoon there relaxing, before driving back just as the sun was setting. We didn’t need another meal that night, so just adjourned to the taverna for drinks and a snack.
The next few days before our departure were spent doing little. I got an impressive tan from sitting around various beaches, and lying in the shallows. The mosquitoes continued to bite me, until I had more bites than I could be bothered to count; but the combination of salt water and ammonia pens made them just about bearable. We had to hand in the car the day before leaving for the airport. That left us stuck around the apartment, so we sat outside on the rocks for a while, got our stuff almost packed, and went off to the taverna in the early evening. A long meal followed, accompanied by drinking lots of Ouzo, followed by beers, and topped off with copious amounts of Metaxa brandy. As a result, I slept undisturbed for the first time since arriving.
I admit that I wasn’t sorry to bid farewell to Crete. The plumbing issues, constant insect bites, and relentless summer heat, had all combined to make this holiday a chore, rather than a pleasure. But we had seen a new place, enjoyed some unusual experiences, and eaten a lot of delicious food. I suppose that’s what a summer holiday is all about, when it comes down to it. Would I go back? No thanks.