Rethymno Part II, Iraklio and Knossos

Posted on / by Alex Berger


So, you know that crazy phenomenon that occurs when you’re about 1/2 through writing something that’s difficult to save, and as a result, has not been saved? Well, it struck last night as I was writing this blog update. Unfortunately, the insane thunderstorm that was raging outside knocked out the power not once but twice. It was also kind enough to wait until I’d gotten a day or two into the update each time…oh well. It’s not raining at the moment and I’m going to give it another go – wish me luck!

Castle Gateway

Rethymno is beautiful. Of the big 3 – Chania, Rethymno and Iraklio – I would say Rethymno takes the cake, though Chania is definitely a not too distant second. The difference lies in the city’s layout. Chania’s old city sits inside the Venetian walls but lacks a real castle and is much more cramped. Rethymno lacks the city walls, but still has an intact castle which is in impressive shape and crowns the tip of the peninsula. Between the new city and the castle the old city spreads out along the peninsula in a beautiful mixture of small, cramped, vine-covered alleyways and slightly larger cobblestone streets lined by shops, cafes and restaurants. One of the biggest differences between Greece and the states is the cafe culture. Because the whole town shuts down from 2-4 every day, a lot of people head to the cafes…it’s like our Starbucks…but different in that everyone actually hangs out, drinks their coffee and socializes instead of running off to their next appointment bolstered by their caffeine high. The cafes also take the place of bars in some of the mid-sized towns resulting in a much more laid back bar environment… one not especially geared toward socializing or mixing with strangers, but one great for a group out for the evening looking for a place to hangout and relax.

Castle Wall in Crete

After our first night in the crappy hostel, we decided to re-locate to a hotel. The hotel we found cost us each 3 Euro more. For the slight price increase we got a private room with shower, a TV, and we were one street back from the beach. Using that as a base camp we spent our first full day exploring the town, wandering up to the castle ruins and walking along the castle walls. The interior of the castle is mostly an open field, however, the castle walls are in great shape and have been restored. It’s a beautiful sight looking out from the walls, down over the jagged rocks and over the crystal clear water at the empty horizon. From the castle we explored the city in greater depth, wandering aimlessly through the tiny streets and taking in their beauty and spirit. We eventually found a place to stop for dinner and tried sampling some local cuisine which was delicious.

A Small Cafe in Spili, Crete

Our second day in Rethymno we spent exploring the city, before setting out into Crete’s interior. We picked a small city called Spili located in the heart of the mountains and caught a bus around noon. The town ended up being much closer than we expected and after a 30 minute bus ride across the countryside we found ourselves in a quaint little town that sat at the base of a large cloud-cloaked mountain. The town wrapped along the main road and overlooked a large fertile valley dotted with orange trees and olive groves. The weather was cold and we were forced to dodge a few brief drizzles, however the town in general was fun in a quiet simple sort of way. After exploring the town we had about 45 minutes to kill before our bus left from in front of one of the local cafeneons. We found a beautiful little restaurant cloaked in vines with hanging gourds in it’s rafters and ordered an odd beef stew meal to split. As we ate our snack, several kittens showed up and kept us entertained until it was time to leave.

Greek Kittens

We arrived back in Rethymno, explored the city a bit more by night, then turned in.

Spili, Crete Countryside

The next morning we woke up, found some food, and made our way to the bus station. The day was grumpy and rainy. Once at the bus station we had a 45 minute wait until the next bus left, that wait stretched into an hour and a half as the bus was late. A bit irritable (and soggy) we finally got moving and arrived in Iraklio an hour and a half later. By then it was already about 3:30, raining, and getting dark. We walked around a bit, found most of the budget housing closed, and eventually found a hotel with a room for 20 Euro each. From there we set out for food and to explore the city a bit.

Knossos Monument, Crete

Iraklio is a mess. The city might have had a lot to offer 80 years ago, but the war apparently destroyed a lot of it’s historic neighborhoods. What’s left is mostly run down and unimpressive. The city itself is a large port town with a lot of abandoned areas and ugly streets. A few of the main streets are interesting, but even those are just busy commercial zones. After exploring a bit we eventually found a restaurant that showed some promise. Because of the rain and the delayed bus we had not managed to eat much and were starving. The place we found was a fun little local’s hangout with a two page wooden menu written in Greek. Instead of taking orders, the servers left a pad of paper on the table where we could jot down what we wanted. The prices were great and the portions beautifully presented. Instead of ordering just one thing, it was set up so you could order several, then mix and match.

Eager to try something new, between the two of us, we ordered cheese-stuffed peppers, fried cod, snails and Greek olives. When the food arrived we set to it and were delighted by the food’s quality. Each plate had a distinctly different taste and everything was well prepared. The snails were a new thing for both of us (I’d had them once before but they were cooked differently). Full, we set off to find an internet cafe and quickly got rained in at the one (where the power proceeded to go out twice). Frustrated, we decided to brave the rain and head to a local cafe for a drink. Then, tired of trying to wait out the downpour, we made a wet dash back to our hotel where we called it a night.


Today we woke up early and caught a bus to Knossos – the largest and best preserved Minoan Palace. Also the fabled home to the minotaur and it’s labyrinth. The ruins are impressive, if fairly plain. It’s obvious in the cement reconstructions and pathways that they have been tuned to deal with a lot of tourist traffic and as a result have a ‘polished’ feel to them. Despite this, they have a certain spirit…one reinforced by the rebuilt sections of the palace and reproductions of the fresco/mosaics which were excavated from the ruins. We spent a good hour exploring the ruins before catching a bus back to the city and heading to the Archeological Museum. Unfortunately, the museum is under renovation and all they have up is a temporary exhibit. Despite being very limited it still had most of the main paintings and a number of impressive artifacts which left us feeling satiated.


From there we booked our ferry tickets and will leave tonight at 8:30 for an overnight ferry to Athens. Until then we’ll be exploring the city, trying to find a few books to tide us over on the long, uncomfortable ride, and probably locating some food!

Athens bound! Bye for now.