Anecdotes from Heraklion and Athens 16 and 17 April

After our very predominantly rural experiences of the past two weeks we’ve just spent two consecutive days in large urban centres. Culture shock.

On 15 April we took a bus from near Kato Zakros to Heraklion. Kato Zakros is a tiny hamlet, Heraklion the capital city of Crete. In Heraklion we had a nice room in a small boutique hotel right by the port. We spent our day visiting two museums and madly shopping for gifts and a few trip mementos. The first museum was the world famous archeological museum of Crete in which are marvelous treasures found in the various Minoan palaces of the area. It was particularly enjoyable for us to see the treasures recovered from the Minoan palace ruins of Kato Zakros. This however is not the museum visit I’m going to tell you about.

We also went to the Crete Museum of Natural History. It had a good write up. We expected to see exhibits of Cretan flora and fauna. There was an interesting exhibit about northern lights. There were many exhibits of animals from all over Europe – wolves and bears, hedgehogs and badgers. As far as we know, none of these creatures live on Crete. Crete has a wild goat called a Krikri yet there was not one Krikri to be seen. Nor were there any of Crete’s many vegetations on display. But all was not lost. We went to a seismic exhibit. There were a lot of charts indicating global frequency of earthquakes. There as also a live demonstration. Seriously.

This is how that unfolded. We went into a simulated children’s class room and sat at desks. There was a commentator and visual display. We were told that we’d experience a 5.5 earthquake. The class room started shaking. We went through four scenarios each one a bit more severe than the previous. The worst quake we were subjected to was based on the Kobe Japan quake in 1996. (I think I have the year right) It was pretty significant, our desks moved around, we rattled about, it lasted some time. The demonstration was a perfect learning tool for children. Kathy and I however were chuckling as we carried on exploring past realistic dinosaurs that moved and blinked their eyes as we walked by.

The entire museum left us rather flabbergasted. It was quite odd. It had next to nothing to do with Crete in particular as far as we could tell.

After our overnight ferry trip to Piraeus we took the metro into Athens. We emerged within sight of the Acropolis! Thrilling. We stored our packs and began a day of exploring antiquity. First we climed up to the Acropolis and wandered about in awe of the fabulous Parthenon and various temples that crown that hill. Truly amazing how well these buildings have survived throught the ages.

One bit of information I learned was that during the fairly early days of Christian domination in this part of the world, Christians came and smashed the statues of Athenian gods adorning the Parthenon’s roofline by throwing them down to the ground far below. Too bad some people seem to never learn from past intolerant behaviours. How exactly is smashing each other’s artistic endeavours and icons of belief systems OK? Why is this sort of behaviour still happening? When will humans grow up and act like reasonable adults? Please can somebody explain the logic of wanton destruction.

Another new bit of info learned is that many of those beautiful white statues and buildings we associate with the Acropolis site weren’t always white. Many were painted vivid reds, blues, yellows and greens with natural dyes found in various rock powders. It must have all looked extraordinarily bright and festive. Can you imagine the Parthenon decked out in full colour?

Back to the damaged statues. They have been carefully retrieved after centuries of lying around in bits and pieces and now they are gloriously displayed in one of the best museums I’ve ever seen. The new Acropolis Museum is a masterpiece in itself. It’s upper floor with floor to ceiling windows offers views of the Acropolis above. The artifacts of the Parthenon are displayed in a modernized real life version of the original building.

During the museum’s construction an early Athenian settlement was discovered. Now the museum hovers on stilts above these ancient remains. Glass floors enable people to view the excavations below. Very innovative.

We also visited the older National Archeological museum. Our fourth in two days. Perhaps we were a bit tired of seeing yet more headless statues of half naked women and men, but the place seemed a bit tired. The outside is certainly very run down and unattractive. We did enjoy the gold death masks – you are probably familiar with the famous mask of Agamemnon. There are several similar masks on display as well as a great deal of other gold funeral finery.

After a quick spin through the museum we were off to catch another ferry. It left on time. We did not sample any food.

And now we are on the small laid back island of Kea. A whole new adventure. Back to hiking. I’ll blogg about some of our lastest exploits in a day or two.

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