Day 10 – Gortys, Phaestos & Matala

Yassas! Sorry about the gap again, but I had some employment to attend to. Now that’s it’s mostly taken care of, I can continue. So – Tuesday of the second week of vacation on Crete. Today is another day on which we have booked a tour. We get up very early again, just in time to grab the beginning of the breakfast buffet. We wait outside for the bus, only this time it’s more one of those small shuttle-buses, and there’s no guide to greet us. We show the bus driver our tickets, he marks our names off of a list, I’m guessing we’re in the right place. The BF picks out a spot towards the front, on the left, right behind an old man in some sort of safari outfit. This geezer then immediately turns around and starts to randomly talk to us. About this other trip he did, and how he writes down the number of the bus, because otherwise you can’t find it again, because they don’t always stay parked at the same spot, and so on and so forth. The BF and I are stunned and speechless and can’t seem to wag this guy off. And it’s like 7 a.m. and I’ve had but one coffee.

After a while the old man has no choice but to turn back facing the front, because our driver today is a total madman. He’s whipping this vehicle around corners (and there are many on these winding roads) like he’s on a rally. I feel sick again, turn the ac-knob straight on me and take deep breaths. Since we know from the brochure that this is a tour that starts from the capital, Iraklion, I assume we’ll change into a bigger bus there. When I see that I’m right, I am very relieved. Until the serpentine come around. Our route goes up the Ida mountains, through vineyards. If I weren’t so busy keeping in my breakfast, I would very much enjoy the scenery. In the big bus we have a tour guide: a nice little lady, the cliché of a Greek with wonderful facial features and flowy curly dark hair (including some beard stubble). Plus: she’s pregnant. I have no idea how she can do this, in this heat, in this state. She seems kind of new at this, hesitating at times with the information. Sadly, she is also often interrupted by creepy old guy (who brought his own foldable chair!), who either has impertinent questions or just wants to tell his own story (like the wall of china has anything to do with ancient greek ruins, whatever).

Our first stop is Gortys (or Gortina), capital of the ancient roman province, which lies in the biggest and most fertile plain of Crete: Messara. There are some small ruins of an ancient basilica and an amphitheater. The most impressive find however is this one wall – covered entirely in hieroglyphic-like symbols. It’s the longest continuous law text of Europe, which was pretty progressive, considering women’s rights and such. Not far from there, on a table mountain in the Messara plain, is the second largest minoic palace of Crete (and our second stop): Phaestos. By now the sun is really burning and we’re lucky to find any shade to stand under while the guide explains things like why certain parts were built in a certain way, what the ceremonies looked like, that these people only worshiped one god – mother earth – and saw themselves as part of it. It was a matriarchal civilisation, who valued culture and knew no war. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? From this point there is a magnificent view all around, from the Ida mountains to the Lassithi massif.

Our third stop on this tour is my favorite: Matala. It is discribed in our tour guide as a typical fisher village turned hippie pilgrimage, on the banks of the lybian sea. It is now past noon and we know that we won’t necessarily have time to eat and to go swim, so we decide to eat first. Our guide has a recommendation that turns out to be spot on. At the very end of the village, past some labyrinthine bazaar, through other restaurants and up some stairs lies the “Scala”. From here we have a wonderful view of the beach, the village, the sea and the famous caves in the mountain wall, which were used by the Romans as burial grounds and by the hippies as housing. The waiter is very friendly and advises The BF in his choice of (freshly fished!) fish. I have just a taramosalata, which has never tasted better. As a compliment of the house we get a surprise dessert and I swear to God it was like a revelation. Now you must know that I really enjoy good food (I really enjoy bad food, too, but that’s beside the point here), but this was like nothing I have ever tasted before. They were little baked soft dough pockets with some very creamy, hot goat cheese (but not Feta) filling, covered in cretan honey. Mmmmmh!

With this lovin’ in our tummin’ we went to the beach for a little while, but alas – even though there were real waves (almost like in Jersey!) – there was no time. We got back to the bus and I braced myself for another very long ride. We made one little stop (when I thought I wasn’t far from hurling) at a town called Spili, where we could fill up our water bottles at a source fountain. From there they took us straight back to the hotels.

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