It is no secret that winters in England are long and dreary. Last year seemed particularly long so we decided to try to break this winter up with a sunny holiday over the New Year. Our travel friends, the Ashton’s, had the same thought so we narrowed down some possibilities of warm destinations and settled on Crete, a small island of Greece.
As the trip came closer, the weather reports weren’t very promising, but we kept our fingers crossed. It was no use; our “sunny” holiday was destined to be a ‘wash-out’, but you can’t win ‘em all so we made the best of it.
We decided to plan our days according to the weather, so site-seeing was saved for those days that looked less menacing. Looking at the sites in the surrounding area, we decided we really needed three days out.
Outing 1: Knossos
Knossos, which was over an hour and a half drive from the villa, is considered the oldest European city. It was the capital of Minoan Crete. According to Greek mythology, the palace at Knossos was commissioned by King Minos and designed by the architect Dedalos. Both these men have their own stories in Greek mythology.
Cami Braving the Rain
After Dedalos designed the labyrinth palace, King Minos imprisoned him so he wouldn’t give away the palace’s secrets. But, Dedalos was a great inventor so he built two sets of wings for he and his son (Ikaros) to fly off the island. Dedalos warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wax on the wings would melt. Dedalos didn’t listen and fell to his death in the sea.
Caleb & Dallin
The Palace of Knossos is also associated with the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to legend, King Minos required 7 young men and 7 young women to be delivered to him every 9 years. They became the sacrifices of the people to the Minotaur who lived in the Labyrinth. This continued until Theseus killed the Minotaur and made his way back out of the Labyrinth, using a ball of yarn one of the young women had given him.
Theseus was so excited to sail back home to his father, Aegean, that he forgot to change the color of the sails (which was the pre-arranged signal of whether Theseus had survived or died). When Aegean saw the black sails, instead of the white, he assumed Theseus had died, so threw himself into the sea. This is why the sea is named the Aegean Sea.
However many of the legends are true to this area, the ruins and restorations still being done, are awe-inspiring.
HUGE Clay Storage Pots
“Upside Down” Columns
Arthur Evans, a British Archaeologist, is the one who bought the site and began excavating it in 1900 before beginning the restoration.
Sir Arthur Evans
The on-and-off again rain didn’t damper the kids’ spirits. Even though the younger kids weren’t too enthralled with the ruins and other artifacts, they were quite interested in the roaming peacocks, the big rain puddles, and finding ‘crystal rocks.’
We also couldn’t leave Knossos without adding another picture to Caleb’s “Handstands Around the World” book.
Caleb’s Cretan Handstand
We began to discover on this first outing just how difficult it would be to find places to eat in the non-tourist season. Many restaurants close down during the winter and you can’t depend on TripAdvisor to lead you to a good one. Chances are, by the time you get there, you will discover it’s closed.
We did find a great review in the nearby city and called ahead to make sure they were open and could take our party of 11. We had an interesting time trying to weave our cars through narrow streets and then find parking, but we finally arrived at the waterfront, just in time for some blue skies
We did enjoy the restaurant and the personal experience we had. The Greeks love their food and the experience. We were also pleasantly surprised to be given free dessert of fruit and then native baklava.
The Best Restaurants are “Holes in the Wall”
Outing 2: Chania
Chania was touted as a quaint town with a lighthouse so we thought it sounded like a great outing. Surely, it would have lived up to its ‘quaint’ description in drier and warmer weather. We began finding ourselves consistently say, “This would be really neat in the summer.”
What did we do before SmartPhones?
We arrived in town as soon as the rain hit. We wandered around some cute alleyways, trying to navigate to the town centre.
The alleyway walks were fun, as we tried to keep the younger kids from jumping in puddles or getting too wet. In the end, we realized there was no hope for it, so we did a few ‘puddle jumping’ shots in front of Chania’s most recognizable landmark, the Church of the Trimartyri.
Puddle Jumping in Chania’s Square
Wet and cold, we wandered around to find a place for lunch. As many restaurants, the Green Eye, had primarily outdoor seating. The food and menu were amazing, but we will probably remember our experience of sitting under the heat lamps and trying to avoid the torrential downpour, more than the food.
Sadly, the weather didn’t improve any after lunch. We decided to try to go out to tour the lighthouse on our way to the car, but walking along the harbour, we quickly realized that was not going to happen.
Storm in the Harbour
Our tour of the lighthouse and the fort opposite were definitely ones to be done from afar.
Braving the Elements
Outing 3: Arkadi Monastery/Driving Tour
The owner of the villa we were staying in, had told us about a great driving tour around parts of the island, but with all the rain, we knew the roads wouldn’t be the best for that drive. So, on our last outing, we did a shortened part of the driving tour, starting with the Arkadi Monastery.
Holy Monastery of Arkadi
The Arkadi Monastery is considered a national symbol in Greek history. In 1866, there was a Cretan Revolt as the Greeks tried to fight off the Turks. During that time, 943 Greeks (mostly women and children), sought refuge in the monastery. As the Turks attacked the monastery, those hiding inside the magazine room were instructed to light a fire. This caused an explosion that killed all the Greeks inside, as well as those Turks who were invading. It is claimed to be a self-sacrificing act that caught the attention of the world. A bullet from this 1866 revolt is still visible in one of the trees inside the fortress.
Winter Months at the Monastery
Trying to Stay Warm
The highlight of the monastery for the kids was the many cats they befriended. They named each of them and could tell you about their temperament. It will be funny if the cats are what sticks out the most for the kids about this trip.
Monastery Cats with Hannah
The shortened drive we took after the monastery wasn’t as windy as the full drive would have been, but we still had some kids feel a little ill. As we drove over the mountain, there was a different feel to it – we actually saw a little bit of blue skies!
The “Other” Side of the Mountain
We had hoped to use the other side of the mountain as our lunch stop, but, true to the rest of the island, it was really hard to find anything open. This side must be more of the touristy side, as it literally was a ghost town. The kids wanted to get out of the car for awhile and try to skip stones even though it was super windy and cold.
Even though the weather was less than ideal, we were really grateful to be with friends. We had a great week, playing things by ear, and just hanging out.
The kids were not deterred from enjoying all the amenities of the villa. Any moment of sun or letting up of the rain, and they wanted to be in the villa’s pool. The water was heated to an extent, so they were constantly checking it to see if it was suitable.
Pool in the Villa
At other times, as we hung out in the villa, we had plenty of games, a puzzle we whipped out in 1 day (!), and plenty of movies to entertain us.
1,000 Piece Puzzle + 11 People = 1 Day to Complete
One evening, the adults even went out into the little village to get a sense of where we were staying. We were able to see the bells that woke us up our first morning there (as it was Sunday) and rang in the New Year as well. Being right next door, it felt like they were just above our bedroom windows.
Village Church Bells
We continued to follow the path up the village slopes, and came to a pedestrian gate.
We had a great view of the little village set into the hill, with the sea just beyond. It was amazing to see how little one village can be to house 300 people.
This definitely wasn’t the holiday that we had planned, but we still got to see Crete and spend some down-time with friends. Sometimes you just need something out of the ‘norm’ to be a success.