Greece Adventure -- Day 4 – Part I – Where is the throne?

Alice in 2009 posing with Prince of Lilies from 1500 BC in Knossos

The island of Crete, as beautiful as it is now, must have been even more gorgeous thousands of years ago. I can see why people have made Crete their homes since 2700 BC. It was the center of the Minoan civilization and culture, and was where the Bronze Age civilization arose.

I read about Knossos Palace being a “must see” site as it is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, so after breakfast in the resort, we drove for about 1.5 hours to Knossos near the capital city of Crete, Heraklion. I was a bit disappointed when we finally arrived. To me, the place was just ancient ruins with a lot of big stones, but to many other visitors, being able to be here could be very meaningful. I knew knowledge and understanding could add depth and meaning to things beyond their superficial presentations. Today was the day I regret not studying hard in my middle school history class. (I firmly believe it was my history teacher’s fault, but we will talk about it at some other time.)

On a completely different side note, a long time ago when people from Taiwan were not allowed to go to China, my cousins who grew up in the US were able to travel to China and visit the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and all the Chinese historical sites. They had the chance to visit these places while they did not know much of their significance. All the students in Taiwan, on the other hand, were forced to memorize all the Chinese history, draw detailed maps of every province, etc, but could only dream about seeing and touching this mainland for real.

The line to enter the Throne Room
In the center of this Knossos Palace was a small room where many people were waiting in line to go in. Albert and I did not want to miss whatever that was in the room, so we went in. After a 20 minute wait, we came to a small and dark room. We were told there was a throne in the room, which made the archeologist believe this was the “Throne Room”.

Seriously, see if you can find the throne in 3 seconds.
Being pushed by the people behind me, I looked around the room but did not see any throne. I was looking for something big, obvious, and powerful, so I kept looking into the area at the left side of this picture. Before I was pushed to leave the room, I asked the security person --- Where is the throne? The security lady was amused and furious at the same time. She pointed at this very dirty piece of stone at the right hand side of the picture and said – "That is the throne! You are looking at it!"

Albert and I left, scratching our heads, thinking that these people were making too big of a deal out of this chair.

After we walked around Knossos Palace, it started to rain. We hid in the souvenir shop and found out that all the good stuff was not here! Just like many ancient sites, in order to preserve the artifacts and to present them in a cohesive fashion, most of the art pieces were on exhibit at the Heraklion Museum. All of the paintings in the palace were replicas, placed where they were originally found, and the Thorne was the only real thing in these ancient ruins. That explained the long line going into the throne room.

The Heraklion Museum turned out to be surprising good. There were a large number of small and large pieces of very interesting ancient art, representing different eras in human civilization.
My favorite one is this Phaistos Disc. Click the link to read more. I am sure you will find it interesting.

Phaistos Disc


This is Albert’s favorite, which reminded him of what the referee does to signify a “touchdown” in American Football.

By the time we left the museum, it was only 5:30 PM. What happened after that deserves a separate blog entry. To be continued…


Greece Adventure -- Day 3 -- I AM A PIECE OF WOOD!

Reading a book about Greece on the resort’s private beach

I used to always tell my foreigner friends to definitely visit Taiwan if they can. Taiwan is a must-see island that has the mountains, the ocean, and the metropolitan life. After seeing Crete today, I will have to admit these Greek islands may be even better from a world traveler’s perspective.

Blue Palace Resort at Elouda is by far the best hotel experience I have ever had. It is also the most pricey one, but let me tell you, it is worth every penny. I can just let the pictures do the talking. And none of these pictures really capture the breathtaking views and moments to be felt in person.

This is what I woke up to in the morning – our balcony on the second floor, overlooking the ocean as the sky wakes up.

We got upgraded to a room with an infinity edgeless private pool on the ground floor.

Visit the resort’s photo gallery for more pictures.

Albert and I woke up super early and hungry, so we took our time to feed ourselves with a quiet breakfast looking into the ocean. It was a gorgeous sunny day, so we decided to make this a “water day”. We drove along the coastal line to find a nice beach to hang out. After 2 tries, we found a nice little white sandy beach at a city whose name starts with a “V” (forgot the full name), with not too many people and very clean and calm water.

We came back to Elouda’s town center to find lunch. A good rule of thumb to follow when choosing restaurants in a foreign place is to follow other diners. Steps away from the parking lot, we saw a Greek restaurant on the deck near all the boats that was completely packed at 2:00 in the afternoon. We happily sat down and ordered with confidence, only to find out afterwards that it was crowded because 2 or 3 tour buses had just unloaded their passengers all into this place. So, the service was super slow, the bathrooms were forever occupied, and the food was just ordinary. There we learned a lesson – crowded restaurants near parking lots might just be good at securing contracts with bus tours.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the resort. The private beach, the Jacuzzi, and the biggest steam room I have ever seen. Later in the afternoon, I had one of the most magical moments of the trip --- Have you ever felt like a piece of wood?

It was the biggest swimming pool I have ever seen. (maybe 3 Olympic sized pools together) Under the blue sky with the soothing waves as background music, I jumped into the warm water and started swimming. Since this was a salt water pool, I was able to float effortlessly when I laid back completely relaxed, just like a piece of wood! I started yelling at Albert “I am a piece of wood! I am a piece of wood!” and he then discovered he can just grab my ankle and “spin this piece of wood”. We had lots of silly laughs that probably attracted some other sunbathing people to come into the initially empty pool. I continued to float, until it got dark and the water started to lose its heat.

We used our remaining energy to take showers, and then we both passed out. Maybe 5 hours later, we woke up before midnight to order room service as a super late dinner. A laid back day spent doing things I can only do when I am on vacation!


Greece Adventure -- Day 2 -- Athens and Crete

Napping Camera-store dog and I, taken with the newly re-charged camera.

After a big breakfast at the hotel, we went to the newly built Acropolis museum. All the entrances to the Acropolis were hidden behind residential buildings, and the streets reminded me of Taiwan 20 years ago. On the way to the ticket booth, we found a camera store that was open (stores are normally closed on Sundays in Greece, but this one was obviously open for tourists.) The old lady who worked at the store spoke very little English, and she took a look at our camera’s battery, and started trying it on a couple of chargers that obviously wouldn’t work. We invited ourselves to rummage through her inventory on the shelves in her very hot and very small store, and we eventually found a charger that worked on our charger battery. We spent the next two hours at the Acropolis museum while the battery was being charged in her store. After the museum, we returned to get the battery and the charger. Everything worked out smoothly and I was so happy that I asked to take a picture with the old lady. She passionately wrapped her arm around me and held my hand for the picture.

Look how we wear matching white tank tops. I like that bright blue mascara and eyeliner she had on!

I don’t know why I find this camera store old lady story more interesting than the museum visit for this blog. It was my first interaction with a Greek local and it is a really cute story. I was not happy with Albert losing our charger, but now I am glad he did.

The New Acropolis Museum was just opened this June. It was highly anticipated in the archeological society for years with the hundreds of thousands of pieces of artifacts dating back over 500 B.C. The museum did a fantastic job showing people like me with limited knowledge about Greek history or Archeology that every stone found in this area could be extremely meaningful thousands of years ago. (for example, that rock can be a goddess’s nose on the sculpture!) Before this museum, many of their ancient pieces were stored or were on exhibit at other museums around the world. This new museum obviously made Greece proud, and now all those masterpieces have a home to proudly be presented, steps away from where they were meant to be in the first place. There is now a Greek National program that flies elementary school students from all over Greece to the museum to learn more about their country’s rich history. What a beautiful project to educate the next generation and to give them a sense of national pride.

The New Acropolis Museum Entrance (from official website)

To catch our 4:15 pm flight to Crete, we did not have time to see the Acropolis for real that day. We only went to the Dionysus Theatre at the South slope of Acropolis.

Click to magnify this picture and see if you can find me!

The rest of the day was spent making our way from Athens to the biggest island in Greece – Crete. After the short 45 minute flight, we rented a car from the airport in the capital of Herkalion and headed toward our hotel in the coastal town of Elounda. It took a bit longer than we expected, due to my inability to read maps and street signs in Greek, and Albert’s inability to operate a very old and underpowered manual shift tiny car up and down the single-lane highways. We left our hotel in Athens at 2:30pm and checked in at the Crete hotel at 9:00pm. We passed out without eating dinner (no lunch that day either) in the most beautiful hotel room I have ever stayed in...


Greece Adventure -- Day 1 -- Athens

The Dead Dog Phenomenon in Athens

There was no agenda to follow, nobody to meet, and no expectations. For the entire trip, we just needed to catch the flight/ferry/hotel check-in, check-out, breakfast serving time, and nothing else. Everything else was completely up to us. As a result of that, we spent our first day in downtown Athens looking for sunscreen (my fault for not bringing any from home), and taking random pictures of napping dogs who looked like they could very possibly be dead. (The dead dog phenomenon was described in the books I read, so I was very excited when I saw them on the streets.)

Archaeological sites are scattered throughout downtown Athens

After a total of 17 hours on the plane and in the layover in Philadelphia, we stored our luggage at the Athens Intercontinental Hotel’s lobby before 10 am and took the shuttle bus into Syntagma Square. The nerdy and stubborn side of me took over the take-it-easy mood immediately when I started reading the hotel’s recommendation on how to spend an afternoon around Syntagma square. So, we followed the instructions and walked to the city’s first pedestrian market, Plaka, and ate our first local Greek meal of classic fried small fish, Greek Salad, and tzaziki. After food, we toured the Flea markets and then Psyrri, under the pounding sunshine and the constant feeling of never really knowing where we were on the map. On the way to the National Library and the University Academy, we found Krinos, a dessert restaurant recommended by the hotel guide and enjoyed a plate of freshly fried doughnuts with hot honey (loukoumades). Delicious!

Freshly fried doughnuts with hot honey at Krinos

At 4PM, we finally got into our room, exhausted, sweaty, and after way too much unprotected UV light exposure to my skin. Due to limited availability, our room was upgraded to a bigger room. When we opened the door, we saw a board room that can host a 8-person meeting, right next to the bedroom. Here, I thought about the non-profit organization that I lead, for which we always struggle to find places to hold monthly meetings. To all our chapter volunteers, this was when I missed you the most. What a waste of this meeting room without you being here!

(see picture below)

In Greece, people eat dinner at around 9:30 PM. We took a long nap and left for the seafront in Piraeus. We had a fancy dinner, with a good mix of tourists and locals, on the deck next to the boats, under a full moon in perfect weather.

Right before bedtime, Albert couldn’t find the camera’s battery charger that he was supposed to bring. So we ended our first night in Athens worrying about the camera, and I had a feeling we would spend much of tomorrow morning looking for the specific charger in downtown Athens where all the roads and signs look the same to me.

Added later: Albert woke up at 3am and couldn’t fall asleep until 5am that night, and so I didn’t sleep well at all either. He shouldn’t have had that cup of (very dense and raw tasting) Greek coffee before midnight. An important lesson learned!

Greece Adventure -- departure

Departure – leaving almost everything behind

I can’t remember my last real vacation. It was always - can’t be away from school, can’t afford to be away from work, or can’t leave the country because of my visa status. When I finally had time to take breaks, it was usually visiting family and friends back in Asia, or attending weddings.

Albert and I realized that we ran out of excuses this time. Our jobs are now both vacation-friendly, our visa statuses are both secured, and our families and friends seem to believe we need a vacation more then they need to see us. So, we made an effort to have a long and real vacation. Now, where to?

Back in high school, I fell in love with Greece the first time I laid my eyes on this photo album called Cats of the Greek Islands by Hans Silvester. How can a place so calm, so relaxing, so charming, and so full of happiness exists in this world? The clear blue skies, white buildings reflecting the sunshine, the ocean views; every one of those pictures were the exact opposite from the place where I grew up.

We chose to travel in early September, because it would not be too hot, not too crowded, and tickets and hotels would be cheaper. We planned to spend 9 days and 8 nights in Greece.

Home --> Athens 1 night --> Crete 3 nights --> Santorini 3 nights --> Athens 1 night --> Home

We did minimal planning before the trip. Outside of hotel bookings and travel arrangements between the islands, nothing else was planned before the departure. I purposely did not even read any travel guides; instead I read two travel journals, one from a Japanese author, and one from a Taiwanese writer. From those stories that happened in Greece, I know what kind of feelings to expect when I get there, but have no idea what I will be doing or seeing in Greece. This will be a real adventure!