In this journal:
7 kitten pictures;
a Greek grandma smiles;
daily sunset rituals.
note: this is a long journal, so please refresh if you cannot load the pictures.
This is it, the last hurrah before ending this magnificent pilgrimage. It had already been 80 days on the road, yet I felt my journey had just begun. It is just so beautiful, this world, and sometimes, while admiring the view, I just forget that I have already passed my station. I just keep going, and going, and going… The road is a mesmerizing thing, as even one has ended, there is always a new one that is beginning just around the corner. For this leg, I am going to traverse the longest I had ever planned in a long while, from Seoul to Buenos Aires, then to Santiago, onwards to the main show: Crete of Greece, and finally, to Poland. This cannot be more exciting for me, as I had always wanted to go to the Greek Islands, evidenced by the very first Lonely Planet book I purchased when I was barely 12. Now, it is a dream come true, and please, join me for this wild ride, and we start, in Seoul…
Voyager 4 map
I met with a Russian girl in the hostel, Anastasia, and decided to go together for weight gainz. GAINZ FOR DAYS, BOY~! As stated in C.A.T. 17/18 trip, it was not Korean food until you can enjoy it with a buddy. However, it was also an unwritten rule that it is not a visit to Korea unless you have joined a group of kittens napping soundly in the soft light of god. So we promptly went to a cat cafe, because we had to hit the holy grail of a traveler. Christian legends once claimed that on the 0th day of the creation of this world, God said, before “let there be light”, “let there be kittens.” And he extended his hand, and thus, all cats were created, and that is why most of them still sleep with hands extended, being poorly imitated by the famous painting The Creation of Adam.
napping kitties=best kitties
what is this? has to be good
Then we just hit up a whole bunch of food, given that my normal Korean company Agersch was too busy doing, ugh, normal human stuffs, so I quickly abandoned her. Who is into those, uh, “things”? Like, working, studying, and future? What do those big words even mean? But I bet you cannot eat them, so who cares, right? Time to hit up the real words such as “cats”, “food”, and “naps”, am I right? After a solid 3 days of eating and napping, I finally waved Anastasia goodbye, and hit the road again. First short hop: Hong Kong!
Hong Kong & South America Approach
Korean Air quickly passed me over to Hong Kong airport, so I waited a few minutes for a Finnair agent to show up, and I was merrily on my way~! Initially, my plan was to go lounge hopping, as I wanted to check out a few Business Class lounges on offer in Hong Kong, probably the most prominent lounge scene in the world, since I had been OneWorld Emerald for the past few years, and I had only visited First Class lounges. (so tragic!) This year, I only have Sapphire status, so I could only get into Business Class lounges, and it turned out that most I saw online were similar, and completely incomparable to the fantastic The Wing I experienced a few times last year. However, Cathay Pacific just finished a brand new Business Class lounge called 玲瓏堂/The Deck, so why not check it out?
It turned out to be a fantastic little lounge, almost a hybrid between the normal business class spaces and the outstanding first class amenities, meaning The Deck had completely surpassed the rest of the Business Class offerings in HKG airport. Food was as usual, high quality, and the made-to-order noodle bar was excellent as well. There was a cabana service just like The Wing, and the space was well-decorated and airy. The area it was located also proved to be quiet during the evening departure frenzy. I think this is probably as good as a business class lounge can get without drawing insane amount of attention and thus create crowding issues.
good food means good noodles, or is it the other way around?
I boarded my flight to Helsinki, and continued my transit to Madrid, where I began another gruesome leg on LATAM’s 767 to Lima. I particularly enjoyed the Nordic Lights lighting when boarding the flight to Helsinki, and it really adds a different tone to the sterile cabin.
Northern Lights mood lighting
on my way
Another transit in Lima brought me to Buenos Aires, where I had a few days to rest in my friend Leonardo’s home. He had been my greatest help in Argentina during both Qatari Hop 2017 and Voyage South trips, so it was only reasonable for me to annoy him yet again as I passed by to see him in this charming capital. However, I was tired, exhausted, burned out, not just physically, but emotionally as well. I have slowly come to realize that ultra-long haul trips like this come in stages. First, you get hyper-excited as you begin another epic journey, ready to talk to fellow travelers and enjoy the new cultures. That lasts about 2 weeks, and then you enter the skilled traveler phase, where you know exactly what to do and how to execute it with maximum efficiency. You feel at ease because it is where you belong, and that lasts about a month or two. However, after that, you just feel drained, as every day in the past few months, you had been bombarded with new languages, locations, sights and people, every, single, day. You brain simply tune out of anything new, and focus on the only constant like the few people you talk to every day online, or yearning for food that reminds you of familiarity. Needless to say, I was in the last by now, given the turmoil in my heart during Voyager 1.5, the hardship in Voyager 2, and finally missing a flight in Voyager 3. That was it. Something snapped a bit in my head, and I just could not find the courage and willpower to venture out, and see new things any more. In some moments of muddled clarity, I just wanted to go home, even though there is nothing waiting for me back in the so-called “home” in Shanghai. Not a damn thing would have changed, maybe except the bowl I forgot to wash: it probably had already grown mushrooms by now. I belong on the path, but on some days, the path is as hard as it gets, especially when you are by your lonesome.
Leonardo chopping milanesa
Thus I had to thank Leonardo, who provided me a place of respite, and I could only imagine how dreadful the rest of this journey would be if I did not get a chance to take a breath, and enjoy a nice milanesa from Argentina. I simply sat by the window all day, watching the planes landing at the nearby Aeroparque airport. What makes it even better is that Leonardo got a newborn puppy named Imperio. Well, a puppy, unlimited food, great view, and airplanes, I think I am home.
Imperio, come come~!
watching the airplanes from a sofa
It was eventually time for me to go, as I had overstayed Leo’s hospitality for too long, and for too many times. I really think sometimes I rely on other people too much, and do not give back enough. Besides airplane-related things, I really lack abilities and skills to appreciate what everyone in this world has done for me with actions. I hope one day I can become someone strong and capable enough that I will not be a parasite for people around me. Leo dropped me off at the Aeroparque airport right next door, after 3 days of laughing and eating in the house, and I was back on the road, rejuvenated, and grateful. Thank you Leonardo for everything, and hope I can do it the same for you.
view from the house
Santiago & Greece Approach
You are damn right, this is my 4th time back in the capital of Chile during this journey, and this will be the last time. By now, I had already turned into a professional in getting out of the airport and onto the bus downtown. I had pretty much seen everything that one needs to experience in this beautiful city, so I just simply walked around town with Anne (from Voyager 3), and tried to get as much exercise as possible, since I had gained a rather unhealthy amount of weight during the past 100 hours of flying. Luckily, I knew exactly the place to be for such a nice, rewarding locale.
on my way up
Remember Cerro San Cristobal on my very first time in Santiago nearly 2 years ago? Yeah, I decided to climb it all the way up for sunset. It is always a marvelous sight to behold the sun slowly sinking into the urban mist amongst the hills, and this time, I would not take the funicular. The way up was steep, but not unmanageable, so I summitted the hill in a jiffy. To reward myself, I had to get a cup of Mote con Huesillo, since it had become my primary reason to come back to Chile. I slowly gazed towards the west, while churning the cup of sweet nectar, in the slightly chilly winds. It was the beginning of winter, and for the first time I realized how beautiful a sunset here could be.
Santiago preparing for a night out
It was time for me to say goodbye to this beautiful city, for the last time during Voyager series. In fact, this would be my last time passing South America for the trip as well. I boarded the bus and entered the LATAM lounge like a professional flyer as always. Aaaand, LATAM lounge had a water pipe burst, forcing them to direct everyone to American’s AAdvantage Admiral’s Club. There is no need to say, but as I experienced the first time around Chile 2 years ago, this “lounge” is AAbsolutely AAverage. However, they got the situation fixed quite soon, after about 2 hours, and I was back in the great LATAM lounge again, except… the fruit salad I had was full of mold. I showed it to a worker, and she was just like:”oh yeah? so what’ya want me do ’bout it?” Uhhhh… okay, I will go fuck myself then.
Santiago Admiral’s Club
Iberia Lounge, MAD
3 hours to Lima, then the final 767 ride to Madrid, and I found myself snoozing in the well-designed Madrid lounge. It is a very efficient lounge, with warm lighting, good food, and practical seating. For an intra-EU departure lounge, it was perfectly good. No complaints from me! Then an overnight flight to Helsinki later, I was on my way to Chania, Greece. It was too early for the lounge at Helsinki airport, so I begrudgingly sat idle by the empty seats, where quite a few travelers had set up shop for napping. It was a bloody nice day in the north, and let’s hope it is the same for the southern part of Europe!
departing from HEL
Interestingly, for this leisure route, Finnair has no business class whatsoever, leaving me with a full plane of tourists, as well as annoying babies. Yet that is the way leisure flights work, no matter if it is Emirates or Ryanair. 4 hours turned out to be very tolerable, once I get to befriend a local family heading for Crete the 4th year in a row, and played cards with them. To some degree, I even did not want it to end! Finnish people, as I experienced in Voyager 1, are some of the most friendly people ever, once you get to peel away their shy facade. After bidding them farewell, it was time to finally set my paws onto the soil of Greece, a country that I had never been to before.
the pumpkin carriage is here, where is my princess?
After a long wait at the airport for the bus to depart, I finally arrived at downtown Chania, a cluster of 4-story buildings that lazily busked under the sun. And just remember, the “c” in the name is silent, so it is pronounced more like “hania”. I checked into my hostel, and departed for the beautiful Venetian harbor, probably the most important sight to behold in this coastal town.
Sitting on the harbor, mostly used during the period when Crete was a Venice subsidiary, was the beautiful lighthouse, the equivalent for Chania as Eiffel Tower for Paris. It was later modified by the Egyptians and Ottomans, and now looks like a strange blend of Mediterranean cultures. I walked along the Venetian harbor, strolling casually in order to reach the beautiful outskirts of the city. However, I spotted a large thing moving in the water. What is it? A shark? A mermaid? Or more probably, a large pile of trash that had gained consciousness and warning me about pollution problems? Nope, not any of them, but it was a turtle casually wafting by the boats, looking for food in the crystal clear waters. Woah, this place is so clean and pure that sea turtles come to the docks!
Mosque of the Janissaries
As I walked down the seafront, which is called “atki” by locals, a beautiful domed building stood in my way, sitting right on the most touristic bay. Named Küçük Hassan Mosque (or Mosque of the Janissaries), this religious housing was built in 1645 by the victorious conquering Ottomans, but lost its minaret during WWII bombings, and that was why I could not see it as a mosque initially. Now, this old mosque, coincidentally also the oldest Ottoman building on the entire island, housed a few “exhibitions”, but mostly they were artists trying to sell their works to oblivious tourists. And instead of detailing how I moved around, why not let me tell you the strange history Chania, as well as the whole island of Crete went through? Let’s start from the very beginning… Once there was a little infinitesimal dot containing infinite energy that later exploded… Oh wait, that is too far back? Okay, fine. We begin with the paleolithic era.
Chania harbor front at night
People arrived here during the paleolithic times, 120000 years B.C., and later started developing advanced stone tools around 7000 B.C., and the first advanced civilization on European continent was born 3000 B.C. The Minoans as they are called, built the magnificent Palace of Knossos, and wrote in a very strange language of Linear A text, which remains undecipherable today. All your favorite stories and legends such as King Minos, Theseus, and the Minotaur, all came from this era. I would detail this period much more in detail as we reach Palace of Knossos to the east. After the Minoans, Crete would never have an indigenous culture any more. Oh look, here came the Myceneans during 1400s B.C., who invaded from mainland Greece, and they brought Linear B texts that we can actually read, woohoo~! That was the first written evidence of local governance, administration and daily life, providing valuable insights into the lives of the first Greek period on the island.
Linear B text
Archaeological Museum of Chania, housed in a Venetian monastery
However, that did not last too long, as the ensuing so-called Archaic Period gave very little information to the island, and the many city states here just fought each other for shits and giggles, until the Macedonians gained supremacy over the island around the second century B.C. But that did not last too long either, as it was the time for the Romans, and by 69 B.C., Crete became a province of Holy Roman Empire, and after the little family squabble of the empire, it was a part of the East Roman Empire, aka, the Byzantines. Then the island was the target for everyone like me in high school right before prom season, raided by the Arabs, Vandals, Slavs, Eastern Africans, you name it! Finally, Arabs conquered the island in early 9th century, naming it the great “Emirate of Crete”, before the Byzantines took it back in 10th century. However, in 1204, Constantinople was sacked by the fellow Christians during the Fourth Crusade, because that is how religion works for ya, and the title for the island fell onto the hands of the Venetians, whose forces contributed to the majority of the crusaders. And that began a long and arguably prosperous Venetian period on the island.
Old minaret in the old town
a church with both a bell tower and a minaret!?
They formally set up shop in Candia, the now Heraklion, as the capital, and a huge Renaissance wave swept through the colony. Many artistic works were produced, resulting in shining Cretan stars such as Doménikos Theotokópoulos, most widely known as El Greco in Spainish due to his Greek origins. Candia was the shining jewel of the east Mediterranean, fortified by a large wall. And luckily, most of the Venetian creations were preserved now, such as the harbors you have seen and will see in all three cities I visited. Also, the old town here in Chania is mostly Byzantine Christian quarters, as well as some later Venetian buildings, transporting every visitor back to the times of the port-calling days. That is highly dependent on a person’s ability to ignore souvenir shops and overpriced hotels, however.
Chania old town streets
a cat napping
However, every empire must fall, and that is how the cookie crumbles in the dry weather of Crete. In 1669, toot toot! Watch out, here comes the Muslim train! Ottomans took over the island after a long siege in Heraklion, and started Islamization of the island. Quickly, about 1/2 of the Cretans converted to prophet Muhammad, but during the Greek War of Independence most fled to the other Middle-eastern states. However, the Cretans were very disappointed that they did not become part of the new Greek nation in the 1830 London Protocol, and remained as part of the Ottoman Empire. To show their discontentment, the people started rebelling against the ruling Turks, and they were persistent, very persistent.
Streets in Old Town
Enormous rebellions took place in 1841, 1858, 1889, 1895, and 1897, and the Ottomans became so dreadfully tired of Cretan rebellions that they eventually agreed to let the Great Powers, Italy, United Kingdom, Russia and France take over the island, and in 1898 even the great powers could not handle the ferocious locals, and formed the Cretan State, an independent region governed by a mainland Greek. However, that could not stop the strong desire of Crete to be united with Greece either. After thousands of riots and rebellions in the past 200 years, the locals took the opportunity that the governor was on vacation and declared themselves united with Greece in 1908. Finally, enosis, reunification, was completed. The people kicked out the remaining few Muslim minority off the island, and proudly proclaimed the island “Islam free” after almost 1000 years of co-existence. Nowadays, still very very few Muslims live here on the island.
fish stall in municipal agora/market
During WWII, most of the island was defended by the Brits, and the Battle of Crete was the first major loss for the German paratroopers. The defenses on the mountains ran out of ammunition before the troopers even established any dominance over the island, and that was why Hitler forbade any further large scale paratrooping invasion after the huge loss here, significantly slowing down their progress in Europe. However, after they established themselves on the island, Nazis killed over 3000 men as retaliations for the constant rebellions held by the locals, since Crete is kind of a professional at rebellions.
While exploring the beautiful alleys and seasides, I also enjoyed some authentic Greek food, since I was rather limited in my knowledge on this subject, and how can I miss any opportunity to
sample new food and nap expand my knowledge on international culinary arts? So I tried a delicious zucchini flower pie, some roasted rabbit, and sauced beans in a little canteen, shown above, and then enjoyed a beautifully crafted fresh cuttlefish stuffed with cheese and herbs. Now that is what I am talking about!
souvlaki buddies are forever!
I met up with my roommates in the hostel, local Danai and half-local Estella. Danai introduced me to the best thing on a stick one can ever imagine: souvlaki. Originated from the Greek word “σούβλα”, meaning skewer, this ancient food was mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, and still is served today. Basically delicious juicy grilled meats served with pita and tzatziki sauce, and occasionally heavenly fries, this light food was not to be taken lightly. Cheap, accessible, fast and delicious, it took over my diet for my later days in Greece quickly. Now, just thinking about it, makes me want to lick the screen, for my memories with this food was so profound that I can practically smell the charcoal burning in the little grill house by the ocean…
souvlaki served in Rethymno
For one day, I decided to go for the famous hike down Samariá Gorge/Φάραγγας, about 2 hours bus from the city. This breathtaking hike would take a normal casual about 7 hours to complete, stretching over 16 km from the gates on the high plateau over 1200 meters above sea level, all the way down to the coast of shining Libyan Sea at the village of Agia Roumeli. However, I ain’t no filthy casual, so I took the last bus to the park, knowing very well that I could easily finish it in no time. Come on, I am someone who trekked along the ridges of Everest, circled lake shores of Patagonia, and summitted the peak of Africa!
on my way down
The hike began with a beautiful view down to the valley, where a little stream had carved out the deep trenches in the ocean of mountains. I organized my bag, tied up my water, and started the rapid descent down from the high plateau. It was mostly a winding route on a cliff-side, while many protection nets prevented people from getting hurt by the falling rocks. Within 1 hour, I was at the bottom of the valley, walking along the clear stream that would be my companion for the rest of the hike. I passed by dozens of tourists who had no idea what they signed up for, casually talking about the latest update to Snapchat dick-pic sending features, while walking down the steep hills with flip-flops (no joke!). They would probably scream in agony very soon. I arrived in the tiny village of Samariá, which the park was named after, but found it rather abandoned. It was finally given up by the stubborn villagers when the national park had to be established in 1962, and now function as a rest stop and ranger station.
Nearby, I encountered the extremely rare Kri-kri, known as the Cretan goat. They were actually brought here by the Minoans 7000 years ago as a form of domesticated animal for its tender meat, but now they are endangered, and feral. Only in this gorge, and on a few tiny islands off shore, can you see these strange snapshots of ancient human domestication, and they are the reason why this area is under UNESCO protection. From here on, it was an easy trudge along the stream, all the way to the open sea, and on the way I would pass by the beautiful narrow part called Portes, and some refer to it as the Iron Gate.
The narrowest part of the Gorge lies here, barely 3 meters wide, and I had to walk carefully on top of the rocks, since this stream is also a potable water source for the hikers and villagers. I had already run out of water, so I filled my bottles with some sweet stream nectar bequeathed by the mountain gods. It was an especially brilliant hike, as the 300 meter cliffs surrounded me, and I could not believe that flowers and wild life would be teeming in this heavily touristic area. After sitting down by the beautiful fields, I had another souvlaki brought over from the town as lunch, and happily watched eagles fly by the ridges. This is what a hike should be like, and hopefully next time I could do it backwards!
resting my sore legs
After just 3 hours, I finished the 7-hour hike, and I did not even feel a thing since descending was not particularly exhausting for muscles, but rather damaging to my ankles and knees. To save money, I walked the additional 3km to the village by the sea, Agia Roumeli, and sat down by the coast. Most people swam here to relax, but I just wanted to listen to some music while watching the waves flow by. On a hammock by the sea, a hibiscus flower behind my ear, and a glass of chilled orange juice in hand, I could not have asked a better place to relax.
afternoon snoozing time
on the ship back
There was only one ship a day departing from this tiny village, which was inaccessible to the outside world except by ferry. I boarded the outrageously expensive commuter, and sailed towards the transit town of Hora Sfakion, via another tiny inaccessible village of Loutro. This little village used to be a lair for the pirating Saracens until the Venetians drove them out, and now the old fortress could still be seen. Filled to the brink with pristine waters, as well as northern European vacationers, this little village was dozing off to sleep, as dinner was sizzling in the kitchen. This is island life in a nutshell, when nobody wants to do anything, yet everything still gets done nonetheless, just 3 hours after the scheduled time.
leaving Hora Sfakion
Finally, the ferry slowly docked at Hora Sfakion, the town renowned for being rebellious even by Cretan standards, and a bus hauled me up the mountains and back to Chania. I was glad that I did not lose too much speed while jetsetting around the world and gaining weight during the process, and finished a hike in less than half of the normal time. To reward myself, I decided to try a local way of cooking fish, which was as simple as it gets: wrap a freshly caught sea bream with herbs in tinfoil, and proceed to grill it. Coupled with a nice cold glass of beer, it was simply the most succulent fish I had ever experienced, period, and the magnitude of locals around my table seemed to agree.
tastiest fish in the world
breakfast time is identical to lunch time in Greece!
For my last morning in Chania, I simply went out with my two food buddies for lunch/breakfast. The old Venetian harbor was still that evocative, even more so under the perpetually sunny Mediterranean sky. After the insane meal by the sea, we bid farewell to each other: Danai had to go to school, and Estella desperately needed a nap, and I was heading east. An easy 1 hour bus ride later, I was in the heart of my next Cretan city: Rethymno.
Towered over by the impressive Fortezza bastion, Crete’s 3rd biggest city commanded quite a lot of premium, but packed a mean punch made of charm. I walked through the old city gate Porta Guora, and settled down in my hostel deep in the Venetian quarter alleyways. My first stop on my exploration was the classic yet tiny Venetian harbor. The city proudly boasts its status as the most complete Venetian city on the entire island, and the harbor front was lined with low-quality restaurants. I had little interest to dwell, and aimlessly wandered around the lyrical maze of little streets, covered in flowers and vines so green that might as well be Eden’s gateway.
old man watching sunset
a beautiful day deserves a beautiful end
Eventually reaching the rocky coastal shore of the city, I sat down, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset under the little rocky hill supporting the Fortezza fortress. Apparently, from this day on, I got hopelessly hooked onto watching the sunsets alone, given the constant opportunities in the suitable weather as well as the endless waves. After nightfall, I slowly wafted back towards the old town, and found out that the many university students loved to hang out in the large square tucked behind the Neratzes Mosque, just hidden one block away from all the touristic actions. The raucous hollering echoed down the empty park, made especially quiet by a bunch of young people canoodling next to the waves. The moon slowly climbed up the zenith, and even the cats were starting to yawn of dreariness.
Rethymno at night
I met up with a bunch of people next day, and headed for a little lake to the west of the town, called Koruna. Most of the locals were extremely helpful, and that resulted in 2 ladies competing with each other to provide us the best information on how to get there, but sadly due to their dedication to quarreling was magnitudes more than their energy put into providing accurate directions, we ended up walking under the hot sun around the hills for 5km before finding the elusive lake. I tried to paddle around the boat looking for turtles in the lake, and it surely did not disappoint: I found many eels too! The water was clear and cold, perfect for a hot day in southern Europe.
For dusk, I strolled along the beach of Rethymno looking for my rhythm with the waves. Life is not meant for a guy like me, as I always think that, and so far, I cannot disprove that notion. I struggle to find people to talk to, not to mention maintaining a healthy way of conversation. I just ditched the two “friends” after the lakefront adventure because I had already become rather boring to them, so I decided to go solo again before they awkwardly leave me to the sides. I have been stuck in a loop of meet-greet-depart cycle of quick hopping around the world, and it had started to show its symptoms: I am horrible at any normal friendship building skills, and I suck at anything that is not a small talk. After I finish this round of travels, that is really something that I should work on more. The sun was not waiting for me to finish collecting my thoughts, and hurried me to the shores again: sunset, then dinner, every, single, day. I had apparently turned into an 80-year-old fisherman.
a concerned Rethymno citizen
I returned home, to the cozy hostel in Rethymno. Here, most people were very warm and nice, partially given to the fact that anyone who had the heart to stay in this little place probably had seen a lot. Many people congregated around the small kitchen, and I was glad to have been lucky to manage talking with people around the world. I guess that is a great plus that I had consistently been putting off in my journals. I had read all the feedbacks you guys have given me, and the negativity permeating throughout the paragraphs might be the biggest complaint I had ever received about my writing style. However, if I am here to pretend that nothing worries me, and life is all good, won’t I turn into another one of those generic “travel porn” blogger? I can’t do that, because by forcefully leaving out my sadder part, I am actively throwing away my profound thoughts in my words.
I slept soundly after downing incalculable bottles of beer, and woke up almost at lunch time for a little bit of bite. And that was when I encountered a magnificent place, Stella’s Kitchen, right down my alley, literally and figuratively. This kind of family restaurant is apparently very popular here in Crete, and they offer you a full plate of freshly made home meal for less than 8 euros. Yum!
Stella and her children
Not to mention once I stepped inside this little establishment under the shadows of a large hibiscus tree, I was treated like a family. Stella personally showed me around the kitchen, and told me where she got her ingredients this morning. There was no fixed menu, so every one had to decide what he or she wanted to eat. Over 20 kinds of dishes were on display, and I had an incredibly difficult time choosing, so Stella just told me she would try and put everything on a plate for me to try local Cretan flavors. Needless to say, fresh food, large portions, cheap price, local flavors, and most importantly, a caring heart, made this the best meal I had ever had. Thank you Stella, for treating me like a family in this far off land.
view from the Fortezza
For this lazy day, I decided to head for the beautiful Fortezza of Rethymno, a large compound built by the Venetians during their rule in 16th century on top of a little hill called Paleocastro, serving as a major guard post between Chania and Heraklion. It was originally a little fort serving the Byzantines, but was later expanded by popular demand. However, it was captured by the Ottomans just a century later, partially because the original plan was to move the entire city into this fortress’s bounds so it was not properly constructed. The St. Nicolas Cathedral was converted into Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim, seen as the domed building in the photo below. After WWII, most of the buildings were demolished, as old neighborhoods started moving outside the walls.
on top of the fortress hill
Nowadays, the renovated space serves mostly as a tourist attraction, complete with a souvenir shop and a killer view. However, there is also a large amphitheater that constantly had activities for local dancing schools, students and art lovers. The mosque was converted into a place to exhibit arts, and to sell them, mostly due to the fact that all Muslims were kicked out of the island when Crete was a republic.
cold blooded killer, fur hire
cold blooded cutie, fur hire
But before I could explore too much, I found myself surrounded by kittens. KITTY ALERT! KITTY ALERT!!! I just cannot resist newly born kittens, so if someone has to convince me to give them the wallet, the only possible way was probably take out a gun, which has a little kitten meowing on it. I am not afraid of death, and I am not afraid of intimidation, heck, those robbers in Calama did not even get a dime out of me! But, kittens, it might be my cryptonite, and this time, I fell victim to the barrage of cute meows. Mission: explore the castle. Mission status: failed. Dang it! We will get them next time!
awwwwwwwww hey there little fluffball~! ❤
I played with these little cats until they had to go back down to the underground where they spend the night, since the officials of the castle had no idea where they came from, and was putting them up for adoption. I checked my luggage space in my backpack and sadly found out I could not have 3 kittens with me for the next month and onto Poland, so I had to give up this god-given opportunity to take THREE kitties back at once. Now, whenever I am drunk, I sit by a dark corner in my empty, cat-less apartment, and I shed two lines of manly tears for this unforgivable mistake…
a carving of Koran texts
While exploring the prison cells underneath the hill in the fortress, I found a bunch of ancient tablets lying around, scattered in a dark room to the corner. I had to actually use flashlight from my cellphone in order to tread carefully, just in case that I might step onto a precious relic. However, they were definitely not treated as such, since anyone could easily come in and carry one out and over, with the lack of signage and protection. Finally, after exploring around in the pitch black dungeons, I returned to the dimming surface, sat down, and watched the star of our solar system slowly descend below the Mediterranean Sea…
a time to relax
The bloody red west slowly lost its color, like life slowly draining out of a freshly slaughtered gazelle in the mouth of a lioness on the arid African savannah. Oh wait that sounds awfully morbid. I slowly made my way back to my hostel, kicking a pebble down the way. From the water front all the way to my hostel, that pebble was having an adventure of a lifetime. It took me so long that I no longer felt hunger once I arrived back to my room, so I just slept instead. Real island life requires no commitment, except a promise to happiness.
I bakLAVA it!
Of course, lunch was due at grandma’s, uh, I mean, Stella’s kitchen, and I gladly sampled a completely different plate of food, stuffed with spices, happiness and love. For dessert, I opted for a classic baklava, flowing with rich honey and ample with nuts. Why look for a girlfriend when you can get this? That is the kind of honey I want! Though the Greeks and Turks still debate about the origin of this godly food, I was just happy that it exists in this dimension. Needless to say, on my bus to Heraklion, I was still burping out flavors of the sweet nectar of island life…
streets in Heraklion
The bus slowly pulled into the capital of Crete, Heraklion, or as some may refer to, Iraklio. This ancient city is where European civilization began, and where the European mass tourism began as well. That is why I wanted to enjoy some less-crowded Crete before coming here, but it was nice to see a busy street after such a long time as well. I settled down in my hostel, and started wandering the city, where banks and governmental agencies lined up along the old walking streets, standing side by side with historic protected buildings. One of such buildings of great importance is the Church of Saint Titus. Built by the Venetians, it was later converted into a mosque by the Ottomans, and then back into a church during the past century. As you can see, this is a running theme in a lot of religious buildings here on the island, ranging from the church in Chania to the mosque in Rethymno Fortezza, and now here. It is nice that these folks do not simply knock down each other’s buildings and then build on top of them; instead, they just simply change the minarets into bell towers, and then back. Saves a lot of time, energy and materials!
Saint Titus Church
Morosini Lions Fountain
In the Lions Square, a beautiful fountain was preserved throughout the ages, named Morosini Lions Fountain. It has four lions supporting the water basin, and surprisingly, is still very much functional. Nowadays, it is a prime place for expensive cafes for tourists, watching little kids chasing pigeons until they are properly exhausted. Next up is Saint Minas Cathedral, the biggest church on the entire island, serving as the seat of the Archbishop of Crete. Interestingly, it was built relatively recently, compared to the millenia-long history the island proudly boasts. Barely 150 years old, this church is dedicated to Saint Menas, the patron saint of the city. He was a Roman soldier who conducted numerous miracles, and was martyred after refusing to give up his faith.
Saint Minas Cathedral
Venetian port fortress
I then went to the port for my daily ritual of watching sunsets. On the long embankment, I saw the Venetian-era Koùles Fortress, or some may call Rocca al Mare. Fortifications of the city began in Hellenistic periods, and the first Arabs established a fort here with a large moat in 9th century, thus giving the city its old name Candia, coming from Arabic’s “Rabdh el-Chandaq”, meaing “fortress of the moat”. It slowly turned into Chandax during Byzantine times, and then Candia for the Venetians. In 1462, facing increasingly ominous Islamic threat, the Italian rulers began building a new fort here, capable of resisting modern gunpowder and prolonged assaults. Aaaaand it could not survive the next Ottoman attack in 1648. The reason why it began was hilarious: the Knights of Malta (remember from the previous journal of Malta?) attacked a Sultan’s ship from Alexandria, and took some harem of the Sultan on the way back from Mecca, and they landed in the city harbor, making the Islamic leader quite angry, and quickly 60000 men were sent on their way to Crete. By the time they appeared in Heraklion, they had already swiftly conquered Chania upon landfall 3 years earlier, and in 1646 they took Rethymno. So Candia/Heraklion was the last castle to take over for Ottoman Empire to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean trade routes: Crete was the last surviving western Europe colony in the eastern part of the sea.
on top of the fortress
However, things did not go as easily for the Ottomans as the rest of the island, and little did they know that was just the beginning of the 21-year-long Siege of Candia, probably the longest siege for a city in the world. The Ottomans attacked from the south for a year, then southwest for another, with no results, and due to internal problems in the empire, they just camped outside for another 17 years, until a new general arrived in 1666. During the mean time, lots of tunnels were built by the attackers and try to undermine the defenses, only to be counter-acted by reverse underminers, just like what I witnessed in Scotland’s St. Andrew. Finally, the new general Faisal succeeded in breaking from the north side, and walls started breaking left and right. The defensive dikes called “Wall of the Frenchmen” proved of little use, and the city appeared to be doomed. However, the united Christian forces defending this lost city came up with a drastic plan.
over the harbor
The French, along with 58 warships and 1100 canons, would make a run for the coast and start attacking from outside the siege lines. It initially started successfully, until the vice-flagship La Thérèse just exploded out of nowhere. It was one of the best ships the French empire had at the time, and the Frenchmen, as per historical protocols to act befitting the nation, quickly abandoned the city, leaving the leader Morosini, who the lion fountain was named after, with nothing. He quickly surrendered and ended this 21-year-long siege. The terms of surrender was also very favorable, as all Christians were allowed 1 day to pack up every single thing they have and leave the city or the island, and many resettled in other parts of the Venetian lands, such as northern Libya.
sunset from the embankment
After the tour of the remaining parts of the harbor defenses, I walked along the 2km embankment of the harbor, eventually reaching the very end. I sat down, and watched the sun slowly descending through the horizons. Another day on the path, oh the good ol’path. The sun is leaving the field of vision here in Greece, but it was just rising over the harbor in Melbourne; the horsemen were sound asleep in their yurts on the Kazakh plains, while the businessmen were hurrying down the metro in Quito; Johannesburg is raining hard on this chilly evening, yet for Nicaraguans it is just another scorching noon. When a world is this small in one’s eyes, it is suddenly the container of everything.
I found a kitchen similar to Stella’s in the city, run by a bunch of grandmas who simply enjoyed cooking and did not care about profits, offering large plates of food for just 7 euros. I was taken around the kitchen every day, and they showed me how they magically transformed all those fresh ingredients into delicious meals. For my first meal, I had a local specialty, mountain goats in heavy sauce, which was bony and heavenly at the same time. Watching me chowing down food like a maniac, the grandmas smiled, and gave me a free serving of Greek yogurt. Oh how can I forget yogurt while here in Greece!? Needless to say, that was a great dessert, even making me, someone who is not that big of a fan of cinnamon, lick the whole plate squeaky clean.
yogurt, man I wish I had a Greek grandma!
It is interesting how grandmas around the world all treat youngsters like their kids. No matter it is Alina’s German grandma to Leonardo’s Argentinean abuela, they all happened to have the ability to cook up delicious meals and treat me as if I grew up in the household. If there is one universal language that can transcend race, location, time, and language, then it must be “are you hungry?” from a grandma, and in Greece, my theory is proven yet again correct.
seals in Heraklion Archaeological Museum
I dedicated my entire afternoon to Heraklion Archaeological Museum, probably the most important museum for Minoan culture, the very first civilization in Europe. I spent nearly 6 hours exploring every corner of its magnificent collection, and let me introduce you to some of the masterpieces these people managed to create millennia ago.
the Bee Pendant
Above you see one of the best jewelry craftsmanship during the time. The Bee Pendant, created around 18th century BC, incorporated repoussé, granulated and filigree methods together at the same time, showing two bees depositing a drop of honey into a honeycomb. This is definitely one of the most impressive gold metal works I have ever seen, and it is just mind-blowing to imagine this being made 3000 years before industrial revolution.
These are the famous Kamares Ware, well, at least they were famous during the second millennia BC. Widely sought after from Western Mediterranean all the way to Cyclades and Syro-Palestine, this kind of intricately designed pottery was only produced in royal palace workshops in Phaistos and Knossos. And in the picture below, a specialty pot shows how they used to make herb tea. By pouring water through the top layer, the herb on the top gets drenched. This shows the lavish lifestyle of the top society, as well as the details they put into crafting this kind of pottery. However, I think it must be really difficult to wash.
jug with a man
And in the above, you see the absolute epitome of ancient European art: a man, with a crotch cloth. Wow, what a staggering piece of marvelous creation! (ok, ok, I am kidding.) How about this one then? A beautiful large fruit plate that came in pairs, indicating the same artisan workmanship, likely used only for the highest level of banquets, featuring water lily motifs, and is heavy enough to withstand thousands of years of pillaging as well as erosion. Impressive indeed.
Kamares fruit plate
Next up is the blisteringly eye-catching “draughtboard”, some kind of ancient Mediterranean chess. Inlaid with ivory, glass, and coated with gold and silver, this is probably the most expensive game one can play. Oh and do not forget, all four chess pieces are made of solid ivory too!
Phaistos Disc, ???
This, however, is the notoriously intriguing Phaistos Disc. It is a large tablet carved with 241 “characters”. 100 years after its discovery, still nobody can definitively say what the heck this means, or even what language it is, or if this is in a language at all. Many claim that this is an ancient form of writing, but nobody can decipher the words. They appear in 45 symbols, but people debate if it is just syllabary, or logographic (Chinese is the only surviving logographic language nowadays). It remains as one of the mysteries in archaeology, and will probably be so until any new discovery is unearthed to compare the symbols.
the Bull Leaper, 1600BC
As for this statue, the Bull Leaper, it depicts a popular higher class pass time during the period: watching young professionals jumping over an enraged bull, usually dying during the process. This is the very first instance that anyone had attempted capturing this daring somersault in three dimensional art, and the ivory figure was definitely very captivating, as if the boy is right there in the air. There was originally a wooden bull underneath, but of course it rotted away under the unrelenting battering of time.
Harvester Vase, 1450BC
Harvester Vase is another crucial item in the museum collection. The black steatite material gives it a solemn feel, while the 27 carved men in a religious procession also showed great details, including a few of them playing ancient musical instruments, and the leader wearing a religious mantle. This probably is a ceremony for a harvest, or a tribute to the god of bountiful harvest.
Ring of Minos, 1450BC
Here we have another jewelry masterpiece from the Minoan culture. Called Ring of Minos, this artifact depicts a goddess rowing a boat with a seahorse prow through the three states of matter: ground, air and water. Then a man and a woman are carved to the sides while celebrating something, probably the appearance of the goddess. The religious iconography definitely gives us a great insight into what they believed and how they interpreted the world.
bull rhyton, 1600BC
This bull head rhyton, however, might be the most photogenic, because it has been fixed to perfection. The person restoring it did such an amazing job that you can barely notice its entire left side has been reconstructed. The stone statue is likely a libation vessel as well, but I imagine it must be hard to scrub. The snout is lined with sea shells, while the eye is made of red jasper stones. This lively statue demonstrates the Minoans’ powerful carving techniques at their disposal.
the “Snake Goddess” (*snek snek*), 1650 BC
The well-endowed Snake Goddess, or at least what people assumed as a goddess, is a cult figurine found in Knossos. It is widely believed that she is of a chthonic origin, and yes you just see me using a legal English word that starts with “chth”. (For any uncultured passer-by, which I assume is far and few between on my prestigious blog, chthonic means “of the underworld” or “underworld-related”.) The cat on her head also might symbolize her powers over all wildlife and domestic animals, and that is why she was so revered by the people.
Linear B scripts
All those previous items were from the multi-palatial period, when many dynasties around the island competed for dominance. But after 1450BC, the Myceneans took over and only Knossos continued in the so-called mono-palatial period. They used a decipherable Linear B texts to record their lives, and above are a few lines carved into clay tablets about concurrent economy, such as the exchange of livestock, as well as the production of textile.
a person buried in a large pot
boar tusk helmet
In Homer’s Iliad, he described the hero Meriones, who was from Crete, wearing a helmet made of perfectly cut boar tusks, just like this one. It does not have too much defensive properties, so it is likely a symbol of status and power. And down below is the famous Hagia Triada Sarcophagus, an enormous burial limestone coffin found on the island, probably for a ruler. On the side not featured, a large bull is shown strapped down and being sacrificed to the gods. And on the two narrower sides, goddesses ride chariots that may show her taking away the deceased into the heavens.
Hagia Triada Sarcophagus, 1370BC
On this side shown, people are carrying goods to the ruler, who is standing in front of the tomb that will bury him. On the left a pair of priestesses are pouring libations into something, while a pair of birds watch on top of the double axes. The birds are considered the eyes of the deities, so it symbolizes that the gods are watching this procession. This is among the largest sarcophagi ever found in Greece, and the art miraculously survived almost intact.
Hymn of Kourtes
On the second floor, where very few visitors ever venture into, sat the exhibitions up till the Roman times. Above is the Hymn of Kourtes, a poem written to the god of Zeus. The people would dance around this scripture while singing the song aloud for a yearly ceremony, and it is said to bring fertility and abundance. Contents of the poem is something about Zeus’s birth, magnificent feats and their nice wishes. The font of the carving is apparently from 3rd century AD, but the writing style is more of a 4th century BC type.
strange statue, 2nd century AD
This bizarre statue might appear as a normal carving, but it is a clear example of syncretism, different religions trying to merge and reconcile with each other, and finally forming this kind of amalgamation of sorts. The Greek Pluto is merged with Egyptian god Sarapis, and Persephone is combined with Isis. You can see the uraeus in front of her head, which is a unique Egyptian ornament. She also holds a sistrum, an Egyptian musical instrument, and on the other hand she holds a strap to Cerberus. This may be shocking to people who have no idea that the cultures had been merging as long as civilizations started to exist.
Knossos Palace grounds
For the next day, it was finally time to explore the most important site on the island, where all legends started: Knossos. I believe anyone with a kindergarten education knows the legends surrounding Knossos Palace. Zeus mated with Europa (after carrying her as a white bull, just making sure that these folks REALLY like their bulls), and she bore 3 sons, the oldest being Minos. In order to compete with his brothers, Minos got a bull from Poseidon, but his wife Pasiphae just digs that shit. Like, really, really digs the bull, so she asked the engineer Daedalus to build her a bull outfit and she successfully engaged in coitus with the bull, bearing the Minotaur, half-bull and half-man, which was kept in the dungeons of Knossos by the cuckold Minos so it would eat his enemies, oh, and 7 pairs of virgins a year from Athens. (what the fuck did I just write) Also, Minos put Daedalus and his son Icarus in jail because he made the bull-attracting outfit. They broke out with wax-glued wings and that was the Icarus’s story. On the other hand, the prince of Athens, Theseus, got so mad about having to give tribute all the time and came to Knossos to slay the beast. Minos’s daughter Ariadne gave her a ball of thread so he would not be lost in the maze underneath the palace, and Theseus killed the Minotaur, fell in love with Ariadne, and they ran away together. (spoiler: he later left her, because…Greek storytelling?) Minos chased Daedalus all the way to Sicily, where he was murdered in a bath, and his soldiers named the city of Minoa after him. The many artifacts found show that this legend was household even in 300BC, and now it still is.
the east side of the palace
However, in these photos, please keep in mind that what you see might be completely false for the original palace. That is because the first modern excavation was carried out by the Brit Arthur Evans, and he realized the palace was particularly susceptible to erosion, so he deviced a genius plan of conservation: why not rebuild it partially with limited knowledge to cover the vulnerable parts up? What a great idea! He made these irreversible concrete construction base on his own theories, which you see today. So bear in mind that all the concrete slabs you see are the imagination of a guy who loved digging. He gave places names, imagined the places’ decorations, and did the whole fanboy thing, so feel free to think otherwise, and definitely take these assumptions with a large canister of salt.
The palace started around 1900BC, and was the seat of one of the many competing regimes. It was taken over by the Myceneans around 1450s BC, and survived to about 1370 BC, and the exact era and reason why it was abandoned is unknown. From here, I will show you some locations where the most precious fresco are located, and a corresponding original one shown in the Heraklion Archaeology Museum. Note that in the original ones, only the rough parts that have almost completely lost its color are the original fragments, and everything else, such as the perfectly drawn, smooth surface is put there to help you visualize the painting only.
the Throne Room
original Griffin fresco
One of the most iconic room in the palace is the throne room, named by Evans because there is a seat built into the northern wall. However, it is widely debated since a king’s seat should not be built in such a strangely enclosed space and facing south, and there is a water basin on the other side of the wall, meaning it serves as some kind of religious bathing purposes, or simply the chair is there to facilitate fancy orgy camera shots. The griffin couchant featured in this room is a very elegant piece of ancient art.
original with artist rendering
The other famous painting, called Procession Fresco, is the most impressive in my opinion. Originally containing over 500 persons, this painting has 22 figures surviving until today, with various kinds of people holding all kinds of items in a formation walking towards the end of the so-called Procession Corridor. Just imagine the whole painting in its full splendor!
Prince of the Lilies Fresco
original in museum
This is another famous painting, called Prince of the Lilies, but it is hard to tell because the original only covers the left leg, the torso and the crown, so we do not even know if it is depicting a guy or a girl. Furthermore, the background is completely imaginary since the jewelry depicted a lily, so Evans just thought it was a priest-king walking in a garden. Do not ask me why.
The most beautiful fresco in my opinion, the Dolphin Fresco, was located in the Queen’s Megaron as called by Evans. Nobody could be sure that it belongs to the queen, but hey I guess in naming it is first come first serve. Beautiful dolphins on top of the doorways were perfectly preserved, leaving a beautiful symmetrical view from the open.
Bull Leaper Fresco
The Bull Leaper Fresco is considered the best of a series called Taureader Frescos. This is actually a 3-D painting, as it was molded into proper shapes and painted on top, so it is closer to sculpture than painting. The acrobat’s dynamic movement was clear and invigorating, as if at any moment he would be asking for cheers and applause. Fun fact: the bull depicted in these scenes is actually a kind of extinct livestock.
Charging Bull and Olive Tree Relief, in the museum
This is a bull charging through an olive tree towards a rock. I am just speechless. Don’t the Minoans have something better to draw, like, a cat?
In deed, while exploring the complex, it felt like a large maze to me. No wonder that the legends started back in the days about a maze underneath the palace, because it is truly a large compound. Imagine almost 5000 years ago and walk into a proper city like this, how awe-inspiring it would be! I would imagine some crazy monster living in it as well!
the complex, on top you can see a duplicate of the previous fresco hanging there
Knossos was truly a magnificent achievement by early human civilizations. It had insanely complex structure, involving almost 3 floors of housing, as well as intricate irrigation, water, and waste management systems, and a myriad of religious complexes. There is no doubt why people are still telling their children the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur today, because it is where this kind of muse began: when we see truly extraordinary things, we imagine for wilder stories to complement what we see. I took the short bus ride back home, and slept soundly, knowing that now, I had slain the Minotaur as well.
fish with tomato paste, topped with okras
For my very last day, I just walked around the city of Heraklion, and explored the Historical Museum of Crete, where it recorded the relatively recent history, ranging from the early Byzantine time all the way to World War II. Needless to say, I was having significant fatigue over Catholic exhibitions by now, so I bet it is the same for you. However, it was really fun to read about the numerous rebellions the Cretans organized over the years, calling them professional would only be appropriate. This tradition even continued into WWII, as the Nazi had to air-drop thousands of flyers to convince Cretan soldiers to give up their weapons.
coca cola bull leaper
I downed my last local meal made by a smiling grandma, and it was time for me to leave. A heavy bag, a big hug, and a quick ride on the local bus, and I was sitting at the tiny terminal waiting for my boarding call. Crete was an unequivocal treasure bay on Earth, and there is nothing else I can say about it. I am not sorry for giving such a high title to this place, no Apollo-gies. Gorgeous bays all around the island, and even better valleys/mountains, provided unrivaled natural scenery. Ancient towns, as well as interesting fortifications, transported me straight back to the Venetian heyday of Cretan Renaissance. Stunning artifacts, and the thousands of years in history written in clay tablets under the maze of Knossos, all told me stories no place else can. And do not get me started with the brilliant food offerings, oh god I wish I am Greek!
waiting for the bus to take me airbourne
That is why this journal contains the most pictures to date, because it is simply impossible to pick among thousands of perfect photos taken on the island. You have witnessed a perfect combination of natural beauty, historical magnificence, and cultural endearment. This is Crete, an island full of stories, and it is always waiting for your first visit, or your 12th return.
goodbye, the source of European civilization
The tiny Finnair A319 took me back over 30000 feet above, and I was on my way to my final stop: Poland. The summer air seeped through the view, and I was ready to be busked underneath the beautiful northern sun. I had no idea what awaited me on the other side of the path, but I just kept going, and going. In Poland, at least I know I would have a lot of delicious dumplings, traumatizing WWII flashbacks, and genuine medieval towns. Why did I choose to go there? Well, I guess I always wanted to belong to this beautiful Slavic country…