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We enjoyed our meal out in Heraklion so much the other night that we decided to eat in the same restaurant again last night. We got served free doughnut balls with honey and shots of raki again Today was the day we were leaving Crete behind and travelling to our next destination of Rhodes. Before we needed to check out of the apartment at 11, there was just time for one last stroll around Heraklion This little building was opposite the robotic parking where we've been leaving the car, and reminded me a lot of the former mosque we saw in Chania at the start of the week. It was set in a small park, beneath the remains of the town walls. Parts of the town walls and the former gates into the city remain here. You can't walk along a lot of them, but it's possible to climb up and walk along a little bit. There's a good view of Heraklion once you climb up. I could see not only the little church next to our car park... ...but also the main cathedral which we'd been admiring in the city centre. It was starting to look a bit cloudy over the city though, as if the promised storms might materialise. At 11 we checked out, dragged our suitcases to the car park and admired the robotic parking for a final time. Heraklion airport is only a few miles outside the city centre so we didn't have a long journey . Finding out where to hand back our rental car, however, turned out to be difficult! When we picked up the car in Chania on Friday night, we'd been told that there was a proper office for the rental company at Heraklion airport, so we'd assumed that finding the correct place would be straightforward. We managed to find the rental car part of the airport without too much difficulty, but it was complete chaos. We saw signs for dozens of different small car rental companies, but not the one we were looking for. At one point, as we drove around looking for it, a Greek man started shouting at us. We assumed initially that he was telling us off for driving the wrong way around the car park (although, no one else seemed to be adhering to any rules of the road!). Eventually it became clear that it wasn't that; he was trying to explain that we were driving the wrong way for our company and we should be in a different section of the car park. We found the right place in the end, although there was no one there from the rental company. There was a small hut with a flap to post keys through though, so in the end we did that and assumed it would be fine. They hadn't held any deposit on our credit card, so we didn't actually need to speak to anyone. We were at the airport a bit too early to check in for our flight, so went to the airport cafe to get a snack for lunch. We were flying to Rhodes with a Greek airline called Sky Express. When planning the holiday initially, I'd wanted to get a ferry from Crete to Rhodes, but travelling between Greek islands is actually quite difficult. Each island is well-connected to Athens, but generally quite poorly connected to any other island. Theoretically there was a ferry between Crete and Rhodes but it didn't seem to be possible to buy tickets for it in advance and there was some suggestion that the ferry company might go bust. In the end I decided to give up on the idea and just book a flight instead. Despite being at the airport with plenty of time to spare, we almost managed to miss our flight. Heraklion turned out to be quite a cramped airport and we ended up sitting several gates away from where we needed to be. A couple of other flights were announced over the tannoy when they started boarding so we assumed ours would be too. With about 20 minutes to go until it was due to take off, I started to get concerned that it hadn't been called. We could see the Sky Express plane from where we were sitting and at that point we looked at it and realised that people were starting to board. A short jog later and we just managed to make it through before the final call finished! The plane to Rhodes was fairly small, with just two seats on either side of the aisle. Compared to the plane we flew to Alderney on earlier this year it qualified as huge, though. The flight to Rhodes only took an hour and before we knew it we were landing at the island's main airport. We retrieved our bags and went to pick up our new rental car, a blue Citroen C3. Then we had a short drive of around 20 minutes or so to the village of Faliraki where we're staying. Faliraki is a place that used to have a very bad reputation as a party town, but I think it's long since stopped being a "cool" place to go and is trying to reinvent itself. We're staying a bit outside of it anyway, so I don't think we're going to be troubled by any rowdy behaviour. We've got a studio apartment with a kitchen/dining area plus bedroom on the ground floor... ...plus unexpected second bedroom on the floor above. Most excitingly, when we open the back door we've got our own outdoor area, complete with little pool. Once we'd settled in we set off to explore a little bit of Faliraki. There's a sandy beach here and we could just make out some sort of small fortress on the hill behind it. In the other direction was a small harbour. We could just make out what looked like some very large, multi-storey hotels on the other side of the bay. There was a beautiful little church down by the harbour. We found a restaurant by the sea to have dinner. Tim had spaghetti and I went for pasticcio again. It was really good! On the way back to the apartment we got a glimpse of the local church, illuminated at night. So far Rhodes seems nice and we're looking forward to exploring more of it tomorrow!
After I'd finished the blog last night we walked into Heraklion in search of food. We ended up finding a lovely restaurant next to a small church, where we shared a mixed grill. At the end of the meal they brought us complimentary doughnut balls, as well as shots of a spirit called "raki" which seemed pretty similar to Croatian rakija. As we walked back towards the apartment afterwards we had some lovely views of some of the monuments we'd seen yesterday lit up at night. Our plan for today was to visit another archaeological site: Phaistos. First step was to walk to the car park and retrieve the rental car from the robotic parking again. This is what parking the car looked like yesterday... ...and this is what retrieving it looked like today! Fortunately, all worked well again and we were soon on our way, negotiating the chaotic traffic out of Heraklion. Phaistos is located nearer to the southern coast of Crete than the northern one, so our route took us through mountainous countryside. There were potentially more storms forecast for today and we could certainly see low cloud over some of the mountains. We arrived at Phaistos after an hour or so of driving and purchased our entry tickets. It was €8 each to get in. We then began walking up from the car park towards the archaeological site. I was impressed to see large cactuses growing alongside the path. Once we reached the top we had our first view of the ruins. Like Knossos, Phaistos is also a Bronze Age site. It's believed to have been inhabited since 3600 BC. The site was discovered in the late 19th century, although not excavated until the 20th. If we thought information about what we were looking at was poor at Knossos, it was even worse at Phaistos. There wasn't even a map, so we were just wandering around, trying to see what we could find. These seems to be the remains of rooms in the palace. Anything valuable was covered by a roof to protect it from the sun; in this case, remains of original pillars. It looked like maybe there had been some sort of drainage system here. We found more pillars here and some faint remains of colour on the wall behind. Unlike Knossos, Phaistos hasn't been restored and repainted. As we hadn't got here at the crack of dawn, there were a few more tourists around than there had been at Knossos. But still not a lot. This site definitely doesn't seem to be as popular with tourists, although after Knossos I think it was the second most important Minoan palace. It's set in a beautiful location, with views of the mountains on all sides. And some views of cactuses too! Eventually we came around to a large open area, which was the central courtyard of the palace. There were lots more little rooms and pathways off here to explore. I completely missed it initially, but Tim spotted these ancient pots hidden away. They looked really old! From here our route led us to the ancient theatre. We caught sight of some more pots, sheltered by a roof. And then we began to make our way back towards the entrance. The day had brightened up a bit by this point and the mountains weren't so cloudy. It was still really hot! We drove back to Heraklion to cool off, have a late lunch and try out the hot tub again
We had a comparatively early start to the day today, with it still being dark when my alarm went off at 06.30. While I wouldn't normally choose to get up at that time on holiday, it felt like a good decision today because we were planning to visit the archaeological site of Knossos. Knossos is certainly one of the most visited tourist attractions in Crete, if not in the whole of Greece, and I'd read online about people standing for hours in queues to get in in the middle of the day. That sounded like no fun at all to us, so we planned to be there as soon as the site opened at 8am. Knossos is only a few miles from the centre of Heraklion where we are staying, so in theory it ought to have been a straightforward journey. But first of all we had to walk to the robotic parking, with our fingers crossed that our rental car was going to reappear in one piece! This is the turntable which you drive the car onto when you arrive... ...and here is our car happily emerging from a lift after we recalled it by scanning our parking ticket at the machine. Phew! It only cost €5 to park it overnight, which wasn't too bad. All that then remained was to negotiate the rush hour traffic out of Heraklion. It wasn't the most fun in the world, the usual bad driving being exacerbated by the fact that we were clashing with the school run, but we made it to Knossos for shortly after 8am. There were no queues at that time of the morning, but I'd already booked our tickets online in advance to be on the safe side, so we were able to walk straight into the site. Knossos is a Bronze Age archaeological site, often referred to as the oldest city in Europe. A large palace was built here by a civilisation called the Minoans, originally around the year 1900 BC. They lived here for around five centuries, before mysteriously disappearing in circumstances which aren't fully understood. It's thought that Knossos might have been destroyed by an earthquake, which Crete is prone to from time to time. The site was discovered and excavated in the early 20th century by a British archaeologist called Arthur Evans. His work here was controversial, because he reconstructed and restored Knossos based on his vision of what it would have looked like. These frescoes, for example, have obviously been repainted. They were fascinating to see though! We had definitely had the right idea to come early; at this time of the morning we were able to explore the site with almost nobody else around. As we made our way towards the central court, which connects different parts of the palace to one another, there was barely any other tourists visible. From here we were able to peer down into ancient rooms with colourful decorations. This is the grand staircase which leads down to the rooms below. As we peered over we could see that the site is really deep and there were several different storeys. Still not many other people around! Our next stop was the Throne Room. I'd read online that in high season you might have to queue for an hour to be able to get inside. We walked straight in! I was a little underwhelmed by the wooden throne to the side until I realised that was a reconstruction, and the real throne was in the room beyond. There were some beautiful frescoes in this room too. Outside again, we got a glimpse of probably the most photographed part of Knossos: the north entrance. This is where visitors coming to Knossos by sea would have entered the palace, via a road leading up from the harbour. The wall here is decorated with an amazing fresco of a charging bull. A bull is particularly appropriate for Knossos, because according to Greek legend the palace was the home of the labyrinth that held the minotaur. Still can't believe we managed to take all these photos and have the place to ourself (If you do an image search for "crowds at Knossos", you'll see what I mean! One of the slightly frustrating things about the site is that there isn't a lot of information to tell you what you're looking at. There was a map at the point we entered and a few info boards scattered around, but no explanations of the site's history or helpful arrows to tell you which way to go next. I caught sight of these pots just by accident. I suspect the lack of information is in some way deliberate. In order to get into Knossos, you have to walk through a small crowd of guides who want to sell you their services. I think we managed to see a lot, even without having a guide. Even if we weren't always sure exactly what we were looking at! As we began to come back round in a circle towards the entrance, we could see that the tour buses had started to arrive for the day. Sure enough, once we got back to the car park there were six coaches already in place and a seventh about to arrive. I'm so glad I managed to get out of bed and beat them to it With our sightseeing done we headed back towards Heraklion, where I spent some time enjoying the sun-lounger on our terrace. We also tried out the hot tub for the first time. We definitely had the best of the weather in the morning too, as mid-afternoon the promised thunder storms arrived and we had some rain. It seems to have cleared up a bit now, so we're going off into the centre of Heraklion to get some food
It was another lovely sunny day when we woke up this morning, despite the weather forecast threatening rain later this week. We had time for another breakfast on the balcony in Kalyves before we needed to think about checking out. We really loved the place where we were staying, but it was time to move on to our next destination: Heraklion. We couldn't check in to our apartment there until after 3pm, so we weren't in any particular rush to arrive. Heraklion is only about two hours away from Chania by car, on a fast road along Crete's northern coast. So that we didn't arrive too early, I planned for us to stop at Lake Kournas, about half an hour into our journey. Lake Kournas is notable for being the only freshwater lake on the island of Crete. The perimeter of the lake is only about 3.5km, so it's not exactly huge. It is a pretty lake, though; the colour of the water was particularly attractive. There isn't a footpath around the entire lake, but there is a trail around part of it and we followed it as far as it went. There's a sandy beach on this side of the lake and it's quite commercialised, with lots of people renting out pedaloes. We decided to give that a miss and concentrate on enjoying the views. Once we'd walked as far as we could around the lake, we stopped off at a nearby taverna for lunch. We just had a glimpse of the water from where we were sitting. I opted for pastitsio again, while Tim had a spaghetti bolognaise. We also had pudding: I chose a chocolate crepe... ...while Tim was healthier and went for yoghurt with honey and walnuts. After lunch we drove the final hour and a half towards Heraklion. Heraklion is Crete's biggest city - and the fifth biggest city in Greece, in fact - so driving into it was a bit of a challenge. It doesn't compare with driving into Athens, which is definitely one of life's more terrifying experiences, but it was a maze of tiny little streets with crazy driving. Unfortunately, the place we're staying in doesn't come with parking. I thought it did when I booked (because I filtered on "parking" on booking.com), but no sooner had I made a reservation than I received a message giving me a link to a couple of car parks I could try. Bit frustrating! We navigated our way to one of the suggested car parks anyway, which was a bit unusual because it describes itself as "robotic parking". You drive the car onto platform, taking care to position it correctly, and then ultimately the platform gets lifted up and the car is suspended in its storage location! That was only about a 10-minute walk from the place where we're staying, and the good news is that it's a really lovely apartment. We've got a big kitchen area... ...plus a sitting area with bed behind. We've also got a fantastic outdoor area with a double sun-lounger and bean bags to sit on. There even appears to be a hot tub Once we'd settled in we set out to explore a bit of Heraklion. The first impressive building that we came to was the Agios Minas Cathedral. The cathedral is named after St Minas, the patron saint of Heraklion. From there we progressed to the Morosini fountain, which stands in the city's main square. This building doesn't look too impressive, but it's St Mark's Basilica, a Catholic church that was built in Heraklion by the Venetians. The Ottomans later turned it into a mosque and today it's an art gallery. This pretty church is the cathedral of St Titus. This one was built as a mosque and only converted into a church in 1925. Eventually we caught sight of the sea at the end of the road. And once we got to the sea, we could see the Koules Fortress. This is a Venetian fortress, which was built in the 16th century. The walls of the fortress looked really beautiful against the bright blue sky. We could see as we looked in the other direction that it was getting a bit cloudier over the mountains, though. There's some rain forecast later in the week. There were some big ships in the port here, including one that looked like a cruise ship. We'd walked quite a long way out on Heraklion's pier by this point. As we turned around to walk back into the city, we had an amazing view of the sun starting to set over the mountains. It's been another fun day in Crete and we're looking forward to exploring more of this side of the island over the next few days