Turkish Delight and Greekin' Out Part 8: Mino-tour-ing Crete

Turkish Delight and Greekin' Out Part 8: Mino-tour-ing Crete
House of the Double Axe

If you’ve ever seen Role Models with Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott, then you probably read the title of this post in the same voice their energy drink truck does:  MINOTAUR! TASTE THE BEAST!  If you haven’t seen the movie, then it’s a must-do on your holiday vacation plan list.  It’s seriously underrated, and you’ll start referring to your best friends as your P.I.C.  Trust me; you’ll thank your whispering eye that you did.

The next stop on our trip was the fabled island of Crete, home of the infamous Minotaur (hence my random intro).  As an Ancient Civilizations major, I’m well-versed with the story of Theseus fighting King Minos’ stepson (stepbeast?), the Minotaur, and how the ancients believed that the location of the famous labyrinth was at the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete.  For those of you who didn’t shell out $20K a year to know this shit, here’s a brief rundown of the myth:

King Minos angered the gods by being a hubristic ass, so Zeus hypnotized Minos’s wife, Pasiphae, and made her fall in love with a bull that he had sent to her.  The Minoans viewed the bulls as sacred, so it wasn’t too hard for her to see red around one.  She had sex with the taurus and later gave birth to a half-man/half-bull creature, known as the Minotaur (Minos + taurus (bull) = Minotaur).  Minos was embarrassed by his wife’s indiscretion, so he built an elaborate maze on his palace grounds and hid the horrible beast  inside it.  Time goes by, Minos gets mad at Athens for a reason I don’t remember (Sorry for wasting that tuition money, mom and dad), and then required that Athens pay him a tribute of seven virgin men and women every few years during the Panathenaic Games.  The youth were forced into the labyrinth and ultimately got eaten by the Minotaur.  The maze was designed to be so confusing that no one could find their way out once inside.  This happens for awhile until a Greek hero named Theseus, with the aid of Minos’s daughter Ariadne, cunningly kills the Minotaur and finds his way out of the maze.  Athens is saved! Huzzah!

I had been looking forward to seeing the famed palace of Minos (known as the Palace of Knossos) since studying it in school.  I was also particularly interested because it was a hotbed of controversy in the archaeology community.  It was partially restored, and professionals were divided over whether or not that should have happened.  The original frescoes and antiquities are in the Museum of Heraklion on Crete, and there are many purists who believe that the conservationists shouldn’t have put copies in the originals’ places.  What’s done is done though, and I couldn’t wait to see an ancient restored palace while visiting.

We had to get an early start that morning, as we had to meet our tour guide, Vasilis, outside of the pier as soon as we had anchored.  The palace was over two and a half hours away, so the only logical thing to do to see the palace was to book a tour with the cruise line.  Since it was a 7:30am meet for the bus, we reclined our seats to take a snooze once we got settled in for our 2.5 hour tour.  Vasilis had a different agenda, however, and proceeded to chat over the course of the bus ride.  Although we were slightly annoyed by the disturbance in our slumber, he did provide some really interesting tidbits of information.  For example, we learned that “Kalimeras” means good morning in Greek while “Kaliseras” means goodnight.  We also learned that tour guides in Greece need to attend a tourism school for two and a half years before they are issued a license.  The Greeks take their tourism very seriously, and they know that to keep the drachma flowing they need some seriously kick-ass guides.  Vasilis talked a whole bunch about olive oil facts about which neither of us cared, but our ears did perk up when he pointed out a mountain by Heraklion that has the face of Zeus.  This was the mountain where the king of the gods was born and hidden from his child-eating father, Kronos, and he left his mark on the mountain where he was saved.  Our tour guide also kept repeating, “We are at the slope of a hill” throughout our trip to Knossos, whatever the hell that means.

We arrived at the archaeological site’s parking lot, already crowded with other tour buses, and walked down a paved street to the entrance of the site.  While Vasilis got our tickets, I got in already long ass line for the bathroom.  The women in front of us started panicking as we got closer to the entrance because there was a sign that said 50 euro cents.  I started getting pissed (not literally) that a museum was charging for the bathroom but then quickly surmised that it was just the bathroom cleaning lady posing as an “attendant” and charging the 50 cents for herself.  The only service that she provided was handing us paper towels that were already next to the sink.  Kind of a dick move, lady, to make it seem like people had to pay the 50 cents to use the loo.

The palace site was by far the most crowded that we’d encountered on our cruise, and there was a multitude of tour groups that were already in line to tour the site.  There were a ton of people representing different nationalities, but the most interesting couple was one that included a jacked guy wearing a mesh tank top and a girl wearing a sports bra, belly chain, and sun tattoo around her belly button.  I know that when I think “touring ancient cities”, I think belly chains and mesh tanks.  Style fo’ life.

Soooo many people

Soooo many people

Imposter!

Imposter!

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the site itself was very underwhelming.  It was basically a series of stone walkways with a few small rooms that were scattered throughout the complex.  The replica frescoes were very vivid in color, and it was pretty cool to see them in their rightful homes, even if they were just copies.  The majority of frescoes depicted bulls, the most famous of which being the bull jumping fresco.  It was believed that the Minoans, as part of their religious ceremonies and celebrations, would do somersaults over the backs of live bulls.  Given how my experience with a bull took a turn down shit alley, I’m even more impressed with the agility and cajones of the Minoan people.

There was no separate maze, but the complex itself was like a labyrinth.  Vasilis also shared with us that the word labyrinth is a form of the Greek word for “double axe”.  The Minoans, particularly those that lived in this part of Crete, in addition to their penchant for bull artifacts, used this special form of an axe.  In fact, hundreds of them have been excavated from this site.  Given the twists and turns of the palace complex, it isn’t surprising that the word labyrinth got associated with a maze.

The real deal

The real deal

After hearing some more stories about the excavations of the site, and about 75 minutes after we arrived, we boarded the bus to head to the capital city of Heraklion for an hour of free time.  While we drove there, Vasilis played “authentic Cretan music” which was pretty entertaining but then killed the vibe by following it up with this brutal elevator music with the lyrics “…found love around the bend in the gardens of Sampson and Beasley”.  Believe it or not, I found the name of the band; it’s by a band called Pink Martini, and you can sweeten your eardrums here.

Heraklion was only about an hour away from the Palace of Knossos, and we unloaded the bus in the center of the city.  We were told to meet by the statue of this famous Cretan politician at 1:00.  Since we only had an hour to see the Museum of Heraklion and eat lunch, we had to practically sprint off the bus to make the most of our time.  We had to power walk through the museum at lightning speed and barely had any time to appreciate the impressive museum setup and artifacts that were excavated from the island.  While there, we got to see the original frescoes from Knossos, the famous bull head statue, the snake goddess statues, and a reconstructed model of the palace that really impressed Elliot.  We both commented how cool it would have been if the complex was actually set up like the model; it definitely would have made our visit a lot more exciting.  Honestly, it’s pretty tough to not impress me in an ancient city; it’s not like I’m just shitting on the site because “there was nothing to do”.  I appreciate a good empty site, so it’s probably telling that I wasn’t wholly impressed by the palace.

Cover yourself, snake goddess

Cover yourself, snake goddess

He's so bull-headed

He’s so bull-headed

I got PTSD in this room...

I got PTSD in this room…

Phaistos Disk of Minoan civilization

Phaistos Disk of Minoan civilization

The model of the Palace of Knossos

The model of the Palace of Knossos

After zipping through the museum, we passed by a strip of cafes that each had a host trying to entice tourists to eat in his place.  We had only twenty minutes before needing to be back on the bus, so we asked one of them if we would have our food very quickly because we were in a rush.  The guy guaranteed that we’d be in and out in no time, so we sat down and had a glass of water while we waited for our food.  Fifteen minutes had passed, and we still hadn’t gotten our food, so we started nagging the host to get it to us ASAP.  When five additional minutes had passed, and there still was no food, we demanded our food to go because we didn’t want to be the ones holding people up.  Once we got our pitas and chips, we sprinted to our bus only to find out that we couldn’t bring food on it.  Vasilis told us not to worry, and to eat our food outside, because we were still waiting for people to show up.  We scarfed down only about half of our lunch before boarding…only to sit there for an additional fifteen minutes while we waited for one last couple.  I guess it was a Spanish couple who didn’t understand the hard deadline of one hour, and they strolled up not caring that they had inconvenienced everyone else on the tour.  They even shrugged and laughed when reminded by Vasilis that we only had an hour.  Ugh.  Mediterranean Europeans aren’t exactly the most punctual.

When we got back to the ship, we worked out before deciding to have a pig out night at the Windjammer.  We had been so good about not gaining weight on this trip, but we needed to just have one night where all bets were off and all waistlines were expanding.  I had a big salad from the salad bar, some rolls, beef mongolian barbecue, and two desserts before waving my white surrender flag to the chefs.  We still had a bar crawl to make room for after all.

We had some time to kill before the bar crawl “officially” started at 8:00, so we went down to the R Bar a little early to grab a pre-game drink.  Elliot had a Knob Creek on the rocks, and I had some froo-froo drink called “Let’s Get Fizzical”.  We listened to violinists play thess interesting tunes that I could best describe as “Romanian peasant music”.  The kind of thing you’d find at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant.  Before long, we were joined by Marja-Liisa, Hannah, Kat, Gabriel, Shannon, and a couple from Liverpool that they had befriended and convinced to come on our crazy little crawl.  Isabel and Conal are in their early twenties and hilarious, so we gladly welcomed them to the group.

The R Bar wasn’t the most ideal space for socializing, so we went to the Shall We Dance Lounge (actual name) and started playing Higher/Lower and King’s Cup.  We recruited another drinker, a fun Australian named Ben, and everyone was practically in tears laughing throughout the games.  Marja-Liisa was particularly memorable with her straightforward way of “giving” drinks during King’s Cup; she would look at the person she was gifting and just said, “You will drink.”  Yes, ma’am!  A performance was about to start in the lounge, so we had to move to the connecting Schooner Bar.  We were just in time for the Piano Man who kept singing louder and louder to drown out our laughter (not at him).  This guy’s voice was incredibly warbly, and his concentrated efforts to sound soulful kept distracting us from our game of King’s Cup.  Can’t Billy Joel see that there’s a bar crawl ongoing? Sheesh…

Sensing that our welcome was wearing out, we decided to check out the ship’s Island Party on the pool deck.  A calypso band was in full force, and people were dancing and already three sheets in by the time we arrived.  We beelined to the bar and recruited another great couple, Roland and Veronica from Boston, to join us.  We initiated the honeymooners with a shot of vanilla vodka and danced to the band’s classically cheesy version of island jams.  The group decided to take this crawl to the next level and conga-lined (not really, but when in Rome) to the Viking Crown Lounge for late night drinks.  Within minutes, the place was packed with people, and we saw some familiar faces from the people we had stalked throughout the trip.  Oona, our graceful Eastern European flower, was out with her entourage (Let’s be honest; I totally would’ve been in her posse), as well as this woman who looked like Laura Dern and danced like a cage dancer.  It was impressive how well she stayed within a three square foot space.   We also saw the Colombian women who sat by us at the wine tasting earlier in the trip.  Ben’s parents joined us, and together we all danced and drank in the increasingly more crowded Viking Crown Lounge.  We were apparently the only ones who didn’t buy a beverage package, but we didn’t go wanting as Conal and Isabel graciously fed us drinks off their unlimited option.  Everyone danced, drank, and laughed before El and I headed back to get room service at 2:45 in the morning and fall asleep.  We started the day with bulls, and it was only fitting that we end it with steak sandwiches.  Sorry, Minotaur…

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