ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms
Travel25 Apr 2006

I spent four full days in the city of Herakleion. (Or “Heraklio” or “Iraklio” or “Ηρακλείου”). I spent the first day walking around and exploring the city. It was a little bewildering at first. Traffic is chaotic, the streets are narrow, and there were people everywhere.

I kept expecting people to be speaking French. When I hear French, I can usually follow the general direction of the conversation, or at least pick up a word here and there. In Greece, for pretty much the first time, I found myself completely surrounded by an impenetrable language. Even the signs blended into the background. Fortunately for me, a surprising number of the natives spoke English: especially those positioned to run into tourists, like the people running the open-sided food stalls, cab drivers, hotel clerks, and shop owners.

After eating lunch in the central square I made my way down to the water. There’s a break-water extending a couple kilometers along the coast, forming an artificial harbor, and I decided to walk to the end of it.

At the end nearest the city is the venetian fortress that you see in all the postcards. It’s a fairly recent ruin: at its height, ancient Crete was a terror on on the water and never bothered to fortify much on land.

The walk along the sea-wall is quite pleasant. You get a great view of the city with the mountains behind, and the ships tied up in the harbor. You can watch the airplanes as they take off and land from Heraklion airport. If you climb up to the higher sea-ward side of the wall, you can watch ships pass near the horizon on the so-blue Mediterranean.

I visited the sea wall a couple times during my stay and it always had people on it, but was never crowded. I suspect it could get a little hectic during the height of tourist season, but when I was there it was mostly used by locals out for walks or jogging. Here and there would sit an older greek man with a fishing rod. Occasionally a motor scooter would whizz along, usually carrying a fisherman to or from his chosen perch.

It took me a while to figure out how the motor scooters got on to the sea wall – it’s fenced off and has a turnstile, presumably to keep the traffic out. Eventually I realized they were using the stairs up from the area where the fishing fleet ties up.

Yes, there are scooters everywhere in Heraklion, and their drivers exhibit a “go anywhere” mentality. It’s probably the ideal form of transportation: it only rains in the winter, the streets are narrow and twisty, and parking is a nightmare. With a scooter, you can drive on any available flat surface and park in any nook and cranny. I saw at least two scooters parked indoors.

On the second day my principle activity was visiting the Herkleion Archeological Museum. It’s full of artifacts from the Minoan palace at Knossos, which I’ll tell you about a little later. While browsing the museum I decided that the Minoans had a lot of stuff to store: there were endless jugs and libation vases. I was also stunned by the quality of the representative art. If you follow the above link you can see some of it: the most impressive to me was this bull’s head vase. It’s 3500 years old, and looks absolutely amazing.

On the third day Dad was done with the meetings he had to attend, so we decided to take a day trip down the island. We took the bus (comparable price per km to buses here, more comfortable seats) to Agios Nikolaos (or, as a local called it, “St. Nick”). Once again, I was struck by the laid-back Greek attitude. I didn’t realize the girl taking tickets was actually a bus-line employee and not another passenger until she actually started taking tickets. No one in Greece seems to wear any sort of uniform like they would at home.

Ag. Nikolas is a very hilly town with lots of stone stairways connecting streets at various levels. We walked all along the water and through a lot of the downtown. It’s a very pretty town and has some nice beaches (slightly too cold for swimming, though I did dip my hands in the Mediterranean: how could I not?), but it has more of a “tourist” feel than Heraklion.

Day four was our trip to Knossos. I’ll tell you about that in Part 3.

Feed on comments to this Post

Leave a Reply