Saturday, May 24, 2008

Forget the minotaurs...who wants to see tourists?

Crete. It is an island that invokes intrigue amongst Greeks and foreigners alike with stories of the Cretan mafia, monstrous facial hair, the mystery of the disk of Phaestos, minotaurs, and Minoan castles. Yet, despite its deep cultural and historical roots, it is also an island ripe for tourism. The latter is the island we visited last week.

The travel agency arranging the conference booked us on two flights with two different airlines to get to Crete, which means that what amounted to about 85 minutes in the air took us about 7 hours, most of that time spent waiting in airports. You’d be surprised how tiring just sitting around an airport is, although my husband was quite delighted at the two hours we got to spend on the observation floor of the Athens airport (as evidenced by this photo, one of ten million he took of planes on this trip). We got to Iraklion around 11pm, and thankfully there was a nice comfy bus waiting to transport us to our hotel, which would take another thirty minutes of travel time. During that time we discovered something new about Crete – about every mile there was a Russian sable fur shop, and most of them were still open that late at night! Now, I try not to make assumptions as to what these shops are really about, but I’m still trying to figure out why someone on Crete would wear fur, considering it never gets that cold on the islands. All I could figure is maybe these are discounted prices aimed at Northern tourists on the island. Anyway, apparently Crete has a Russian population, which was news to us.

Our hotel was the Albatros Spa & Resort Hotel, located within walking distance of the conference center in the Hersonissos beach area. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we had a rather large room with a balcony overlooking the pool area and it was quite lovely. Various views from our balcony:




While my husband attended lectures all day, I either sat near the pool (but in the shade, of course) or on our balcony and read or listened to This American Life podcasts while spying on the activities poolside. Apparently, all the resort hotels in this area (maybe in all of Crete or Greece?) have something called “Animation events”, which is basically a euphemism for annoying activities that piss off old people. The “Animation team” at our hotel consisted of two guys who constantly bothered people by the pool to participate in yoga, darts, quizzes, dances, and other wacky activities while blasting a stereo to eleven with the most annoying music possible. One of the guys was rather interesting to spy on, as he was constantly flirting with the sparce population of single girls by the pool. We actually witnessed him going off with these girls, I’m sure it was easy for him this time of year when the majority of tourists seem to be older couples or people with families.

On Thursday night we went to a small village a few kilometers away to meet up with some of my husband’s colleagues at Taverna Sofas:


My husband and I considered going to the archeological museum and the aquarium in Iraklion (I wanted to see the palace at Knossos, but that was out of the question due to the sun and my disabilities – we weren’t sure if it was handicapped accessible or not), but we decided to just enjoy lunches in the shade by the pool at our hotel and strolling along the beach promenade in the evenings, which was gorgeous and quite relaxing.

View from cafe along the promenade



The promenade

As if we couldn't tell....

It was a never ending stream of people watching – and the tourists seemed to come from everywhere, so it was fun hearing a confluence of languages all around us. The tourists there seemed to prefer to not have a “Greek” experience – when it came to food they wanted steak, and most of the restaurants around the promenade catered to tourist tastes with menus that included steaks, pizza, and general types of foods, with very few Greek dishes. The Greek dishes they did have seemed to be “dumbed down” for the tourists, so when we got back home I was clamoring for dinner at a real Greek taverna. I do have to admit that the pizza I had at the “Il Camino” restaurant was quite good, and there was a café called “Dolce Vita” that had excellent homemade ice cream (mint chocolate chip – I was in heaven!). Basically, if you plan a trip to such a place, don’t expect traditional Greek fare. I’d hunt around for some locals to tell you good places to go for Greek food (Sofas was ok and had a Greek menu, but it still seemed a bit “touristy”).

I don’t think I’ve had such a relaxing vacation in a long time. It was nice not being concerned about museum closing times, where we would get a cab, how long it would take to get there, etc., so in a way I’m glad we didn’t plan to do those touristy things, even though I’d love to see the Phaestos disk in person, and I’m still bummed I didn’t catch sight of the minotaur. Maybe next time.


Lulu said...

Funny how tourists don't want to eat truly local food.

Laurie Constantino said...

That sounds like a very relaxing vacation - although not the most exciting in the world.

We once ended up at one of those hotels you're talking about and the whole thing really freaked me out. We got in about 10 and didn't want to drive anymore so went to eat at the hotel restaurant. There were a lot of elderly German tourists in the restaurants and one of those animation people got them up and was teaching them how to Greek dance. It was grotesque and painful to watch. I wanted to yell at the animation people to just leave the poor tourists alone!

Cheryl said...

It sounds lovely and your pics are great. I love the one from the cafe.
The fur stores are everywhere on Kassanda, Halkidiki. I've never understood why there are so many either. And, I can't say that I've ever noticed anyone in one of thoses stores. Apparently, there's a market. ?
I LOVE watching tourists. Our favorite thing to do on our balcony in Halkidiki is to watch tourists. It's funny how many of them watch us!- On our balcony having a meal it's like we're on display. Also, there are some not so favorable things about having a home seaside...some tourists think that they're invisible and engage in pretty nasty behavior...that you'd rather not see while you're eating, if you catch my drift. I want to make a video "Tourists behaving badly"...I'd make a killing from our location.
I'm glad that you enjoyed yourselves.

Rositta said...

We didn't have enough time in Crete to see many things so we will have to go back again. The problem with Greece generally is that lots of places are not suites to people with disabilities, as I discovered. I was surprised though to discover there is now an elevator to Acropolis...beautiful photos...ciao

Zorba the Greek said...

Crete is nice - and even better during July/August, despite the crowds of tourists who arrive during summer. Pretty pics. Seems that you had a good time there. ;)

The Ripley Porch said...

Pics bring back memories. Spent two weeks there in the late 1990s. Its a great island to just walk around. Never any hint of crime or trouble, except drunk Brits.