Friday, October 14, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes....

"Moreshet Avot" (our Fathers' Heritage) synagogue

inside the synagogue

We've just celebrated  The High Holidays: Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) . 

I have several prayer books that belonged to my late parents. A few years ago I tried to donate the books to the synagogue in our town. My parents were faithful members of that institution ; their names were immortalized on the Remembrance Wall in the building's entrance.

The guy there was reluctant about the donation. A kid about 10-12 years old who was with him (probably his son ) said to me:
'Lady, keep these books; they'll protect you, they'll keep you and your house safe and well'.
I stood speechless. Why didn't I think about that? Such wise words coming from a young boy!

During the Holidays I read at home, out of what used to be my mother's book, and feel good, even proud about that.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Leper Colony of Spinalonga

So close to the shore and civilization, and yet so far from it! A rocky, desolate, uninhabited islet surrounded by beautiful, clear, blue waters . Upon it, a strategic, circular venetian  sea fortress and remains of Europe's last leper colony (1903-1957ׁׁ).

Spinalonga, now tourist attraction

To get there I took the bus from Heraklion  to the town of Agios Nikolaos (over an hour drive, nice scenery though), and then another bus to Elounda village(30-40 minutes) where boats were waiting to take visitors to notorious Spinalonga. The sailing takes 25 minutes from Elounda, and only ten minutes from nearby Plaka village. 

sailing from Elounda to Spinalonga

arriving at the pier

A sense of great sadness fell upon me as I walked on the islet. 

There were two gates to the place and several lookouts. One of the gates -  a small dark tunnel was used for bringing in the lepers deported  from Crete and from other parts of Greece.
The lepers were unaware of what was going to happen to them; they were tricked into entering the tunnel. Once inside they were captured and isolated forever.

the tunnel of  'no return' 

venetian lookout; there are several of them

The fortress is not easily accessible; big rocks, hard climbing, 

venetian fortress; rough terrain

so I focused on the colony buildings (partly restored, mostly ruins) : houses, two churches, hospital, shops/workshops, cemetery.

In spite of it all - the ilness, the difficulties, and the stigma - there was life going on there. The leprosy patients got a small allowance from the government, accomodation, medical attention, food, water, and other supplies. People fell in love, married and had children. They organized their houses  and engaged in small cultivation of the land. Some of them had money sent by their family and lived a somewhat better life than the others. 

archway access
 to little dock where food and supplies were brought in

St. Pantelimon church
(the priest, healthy man,volunteered to live with the lepers)

St. George church- little cross on the roof,  bell on the wall


The gap between the poor and those with some money, stands out at the small cemetery where there's a cruel hierarchy.There are three kinds of graves:  a mass grave for the very poor, graves covered with tiles, and separate graves for those with money. 

graves covered with tiles

graves for people with money

one single headstone, dated 2013

Spinalonga is  a must see. It's moving and interesting, and a visit there is a way to pay tribute to those who suffered and struggled to survive. It is called by some  "a monument to human pain" .

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Heraklion Archeological Museum

The Heraklion museum, one of the finest  in Europe, is rich in exhibits and extremely interesting. It requires more than one visit to absorb all that beauty and knowledge displayed within its walls. I spent about three hours there and had the chance to contemplate, among other things, the original artifacts transferred from Knossos Palace (the topic of my previous post.) 

entrance to museum

visitors looking at the exhibits in the glass cases

 taking photos

The museum, located in the town center, has 27 rooms on two floors. No camera flash allowed inside. In a room passage, dedicated to echoes in the world about the Minoan findings, I noticed on the wall a newspaper photo of Liz Taylor. She was wearing a golden brooch in the form of a bull horn, designed according to the original item found in one of the excavations in Knossos. Beautiful woman ,beautiful brooch.

Liz Taylor 's photo in the Media room.

The exhibits displayed in the museum  were found in various settlements of ancient Crete ( Knossos, Phaistos, Zakros, Malia, Gortyn) - in palaces, storage rooms, caves, sanctuaries, cemeteries, and  graves.

famous bee pendant (found at cemetery outside Malia palace)

These exhibits reflect various aspects of life in Minoan Crete: daily domestic life ( pots, jars, vases, bowls, utensils and tools.) religion (ritual vessels, figurine offerings), sports: boxing, hunting, bull jumping (murals, bull -leaper figurine and bull-leaping frescoe), art (frescoes, painting on pottery,on walls, sculptures, jewelery),  coinage ( evolution of cretan coins),burial customs (sarcophages, coffins, various items buried with the dead), afterlife beliefs (i.e. the dead needs the same items as those needed in his life; that's why they get put in his grave at the time of burial).

I was especially attracted to the stunning  jewelery collections:


There are lots of clay, ivory , bronze - human and animal- figurines on display. The figurines were used by the ancient cretans as house decorations, as religious offerings to the gods, or got buried with the dead as personal possessions, or as protective devices. (The ones in the header picture represent goddesses with arms raised).


The exhibited  coins and seals  tell a lot about social, economical, and artistic life in ancient Crete; they are a "golden mine" to researchers.


The ancient Cretans (Minoans) were considered a peaceful society, and yet many weapons (swords, spears, daggers) were found in houses, sanctuaries, and graves.


At the end of my visit, I felt overwhelmed  by the richness just viewed at the above museum. If someone happens to be in Heraklion, I would highly recommend visiting this wonderful place.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Palace of Knossos

Scorching sun, lots of ruins ,rough surface to walk  on (stones, pebbles, rocks). From the gate it looks compact, but one thing leads to another and even after three hours there , I haven't seen it all. It's huge and complex. The Palace of Knossos. (The name covers  main palace, little palace, royal villa, priest's house with the altar, official entrance Caravanserai serving as baths for the guests, theater area, royal tomb-sanctuary).

father and son checking the site map

tourists listening to guide; 'cup bearers' fresco behind 

Knossos is located some 5 kilometers from the center of Heraklion and it is one of the most significant attractions in Crete, being considered  the craddle of the Minoan civilization of the Bronze Age. 

The Palace, built on a hill, residence of King Minos, and the administrative center  of the entire island of Crete at that time, was set around a central courtyard. 
It  had royal chambers with precious objects, a throne room, banquet halls; storage rooms, irrigation arrangements, workshops, wall paintings.

staircase to the royal chambers

storage magazines

big  storage jars 

Walking among the reconstructed remains one gets a fairly good impression of the complexity and sophistication of the palace. Moreover, one also gets  feelings of exultation about wandering in a piece of the ancient Greek world.

The structures of the royal palace at Knossos have practically been "emptied" of excavated finds (frescoes, coins, figurines, vessels, jewellery etc..); those  were transferred to the Archeological Museum in Heraklion.  The few items left are, I'm afraid, only replicas of the originals.

'ladies in blue'  fresco

 'bull leaping'  fresco

'octopus'  frescoe

 'prince of  the lilies'  fresco

Thus, one has to visit both places (Knossos and the museum in Heraklion) in order to get a complete picture of the structures + the excavation finds.  I did. There's a combined entrance ticket to encourage this double visit. (In both places, by the way, there are good quality cafeterias to provide visitors with food and beverages),

Outside  the site of the Palace, across the street - a row of souvenir shops. I bought some souvenirs as a nice finish to my Knossos 'adventure'.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Regards from Heraklion

I'm back from a visit to Heraklio , the capital of the greek island of Crete, the birthplace of El Greko (the painter) and Nikos Kazantzakis( the writer; remember Zorba the Greek?).

The city has an airport (the second largest in Greece), and an impressive port with a venetian fortress named Koules which is quite an attraction for the whole family.

Fortress of Koules

The heart of the town comprises two major squares: the Lion Fountain Square with the 1866 market street on one side, and  the  25 August street which goes down to the port on the other side, and the Elephteria (Liberty) Square  with the famous archeological museum behind it. The cafes and eateries in the area are full at all hours of the day, both with tourists and locals.

Lion fountain

Lion fountain in the early evening hours

central market (str. 1866)

campaign for helping sick pets in the Liberty Square

Liberty Square monument

I enjoyed  sitting  on a bench in the pedestrian 25 August street for the breeze that came from the sea and caressed my face. but more so for the amazing sight from this street, of the sea with its two distinct colors: deep blue and blue-vert.

deep blue and blue-vert colors of the sea

On my second day in town, I discovered a place called The Chop which sells for only 2.80 euros a souvlaki (greek fast food consisting of meat grilled on a skewer) with a huge portion of hot chips, slices of tomatoe and whatever addition you fancy - all in a warmed soft bread - a real bargain! You can sit there with your meal and a bottle of sparking mineral water, or take away. I did both.

At the cafe, in the  evening , after coming back from my tours, I usually ordered a bougatsa ( greek dessert - phyllo pastry with filling) with a capuccino,  or a crepe (thin pancake) with a scoop of banana ice cream filling.  If I add all this to the feta cheese and croissantes of the breakfast at the hotel, no wonder I gained 3 pounds to my weight.

people  and pets at the cafe

Heraklion was my basis for the excursions to Knossos, (5 Km southeast of Heraklion - considered the oldest city in Europe, the craddle of the Minoan civilization), and to the islet of Spinalonga known for the last leper colony in Europe. 
I'll elaborate on these topics in my next posts.