Monday, October 31, 2011

Byzantine Tour 2011 Day Thirteen: Crete

This morning we woke up off the coast of Crete.  Crete is Greece's largest island and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean.  It is another one of this cruise's stops that I have been eager to experience, because Crete is a place that you learned about in school but rarely visitaa.

And for the record, the demonym in English for someone who lives in Crete is Cretan, not Cretin.   Big difference.  A cretin is a stupid idiot, while a Cretan is someone or something from Crete.
Standard shot of the port as we wake.  Note that the ferry that shuffles people and cars from mainland Greece to Crete is Minoan Lines.  Minoan civilization will be the point of interest for the day.
 Breaking the fast.
 Good weather is preferred.  If it is cloudy and chilly, then one hope for beauty in the clouds.

After breakfast we shuffled off to our excursion bus and began our Cretan adventure.  We selected the Knossos Palace & Village of Arolithos excursion.  It looked like the most archeological of the tours, skipping pointless knick-knack shopping and wine tastings.
 Wowza!  On our way to the Palace of Knossos we passed a bowling alley.
See!  A bowling alley on a Greek island in the Mediterranean.  I should have been more tempted to roll some rocks, I know, but my main concern was the history of this island.
First stop, the Palace of Knossos.  Knossos was the capital and cultural center of the Minoan civilization.  Does Minoan ring a bell?  The Minoan civilization flourished for 1200 years, from the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC, when they were toppled by the Mycenaeans who were based near Athens.  But a 12 century reign is not to be sneezed at, and we are about to take a look around the royal palace of this Bronze Age civilization.
This is a rendering of what the Palace of Knossos would have looked like in its prime.   To give a better perspective on this era, the Minoans were building their civilization around the same time the first Egyptian Pharaos rose to create the Old Kingdom, as historians name the first of Egypt's three main kingdoms.  Meanwhile, China was still in the Stone Age and Babylon was a small, growing city.

It is fair to say that the Minoan Civilization gave birth to Europe.  And guess what?  In Greek mythology -- and let me make this clear, the Minoan civilization was older than Greek mythology  -- Zeus and Europa had a hook-up on Crete and conceived the Kings of the Minoan civilization.  Tradition states that Europa was a Phoenician girl from the land of Canaan where modern day Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon sit.  The point is that the mythical figure Europa gave birth to the line of Minoan kings, who gave birth to European civilization, and today all of Europe is named after her.
The Palace of Knossos today.  And today is a loaded word here, because a Cretan discovered this site in 1878 and in 1900 a British archeologist named Sir Arthur Evans purchased the entire site.  He was a very rich man who fancied archeology.  Now...  Evans did not mean to be a complete imbecile.  In fact, there might be people who do not think that he was a complete imbecile.  He thought he was doing the right thing, which was to excavate and restore the site.  And restore means that he poured concrete all over the site to recreate what he was pretty sure the place would have looked like in its prime.

In other words, a visitor today has to look around Knossos and think, "Original, recreation.  Original, recreation."  And every recreation has to be taken with a grain of salt, because it was done in the early part of the 1900's by a wealthy British guy who thought his world was filled with cutting edge technology.
Barbie sitting upon the remains of Knossos.  They call this a palace, because it was a home for the most powerful and influential European monarch of the time, but it was not one huge building.  It was a series of buildings with courtyards and interlocking rooms.  Imagine a stone-built home to a king that was added to for over two thousand years, and that is Knossos.
The stones beneath the concrete is original, the concrete stairs above was brought to us by Evans.
All of the flooring here was made of alabaster, which resembles marble.  This picture shows alabaster that was protected from the elements.

Here is alabaster that has been exposed to the elements.
Barbie presents the Palace of Knossos.  Earthquakes have ravaged this place over the centuries.  Crete sits where the African and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, which means lots of earthquakes.

Walking around these ruins is simply amazing.  If I didn't feel sick and if it was not very cold, I would have loved to spend hours here.  I can honestly say that a visit to Knossos in the summer would be an excellent half-day experience.
Self portrait, theater of Knossos.  The sun was shining directly into my eye and I could barely see the image on the iPhone's screen, but I knew if I got it right this would be a great shot.  And I got it right.
This is the theater behind me in the previous shot.  If you are a smarty-pants and want to know why this more impressive background was not used in the previous picture, the answer is the sun's position would have made me silhouette.

I cannot tell you what a remarkable site Knossos is.  And because stones on the ground are not photogenic, I cannot even really show you how impressive a place this is.  It has to be seen with your own eyes.

After Knossos I was excited for our next stop, which was supposed to be some sort of cultural village.  It turned out to be the standard tourist trap of pointless stores, a restaurant, and a show of local dancing.

We were taken to a lousy buffet that would barely count as a snack.
Buffet quad picture.  If I did not know that a ton of food choices awaited me when I returned to the ship, I would have been unhappy.  Instead I was just sick and hungry, and eager to go back to the ship.

Yes, Barbie and I both still feel terrible.  But when you are sick and traveling, you do not rest.  But every morning Barbie has to decide if this is the day she ditches the excursion and stays in bed or if she soldiers on.   So far she soldiers on every day.
When the local band and dancers came out, the crowd went wild.
How could you not go wild for a few people slowly turning with their hands in the air?  And the bored looks on their faces?  And the clothes that they hate wearing and only put on for the gig and then switch back to normal stuff?

Our tour ended, and we headed back to the ship.
The countryside of Crete.  As a fairly mountainous island, I should also point out that there would be no way the Minoans could have considered building anything like the Egyptian pyramids.  For a project like that you need a vast amount of flat land.
 The good people of Crystal Cruises did not let us forget that today is Halloween.

 Barbie started with Avocado Boat Filled with Marinated Baby Shrimp; Served with Sauce Marie Louise.
 I started with Quiche Lorraine; French caramelized Onion, Bacon and Cheese Tart, Served with Tosed Lettuce.
And then we shared the Sandwich of the Day: The French Dip.  Thickly-Sliced Roast Beef Strip Loin on a Toasted Bun, Accompanied by Natural Dipping Jus, Tossed Mixed Greens and French Fried Potatoes.

For those in the know, sharing a french dip is what we do frequently at Houston's restaurant in Los Angeles.  This lunch made us feel right at home.

After lunch we rested and watched movies on DVD and basically kept up the effort to get healthier.  It has been working, which is key.  We definitely want to be well again for the end of our trip in Istanbul. And, for the record, the crew of the ship have been nothing but courteous about the poisonous perfume bombs of carpet freshener around the ship.  One hopes that our letting them know about it will lead to someone with the authority to do so maybe changing this, so that we can cruise with Crystal again.  At this point, we really cannot.
In the late afternoon we went to the Crystal Afternoon Tea which is located in the ship's Palm Court, wich is at the top front surrounded by glass with a panoramic view.
We ordered our tea while servers brought around delightful little treats.
As you can see, I ordered the Verbena Mint Organic tea.  
Sophistication, no?

After tea time we rested in the room with more work and movies and such.  Soon enough, it was dinner time.  But Barbie is whooped.  She can fight through the sinus infection during the day but at night she just needs to sleep.
I arrived in the dining room to learn that all the Brits are dining elsewhere tonight.  Table for one again.
 I started with the Braised Oxtail Spring Roll, with Peach Chutney and Lamb's Lettuce.
My second course was Tomato Soup, with Ginger and Ricotta-Basil Dumpling.
 For my main I had Traditional American Meatloaf, Oven-Baked with Onion Gravy, Served with Mashed Potatoes, ans Slow-Roasted Vegetables.
I really do not mind dining alone.  It is better that Barbie get her rest.  Plus it is almost amusing how much attention I get from the waiters who again pity me for sitting by myself.
For dessert I added a cooked banana to the Chocolate Ooze Cake.  I think that was a good decision.
After dinner I walked by the string quartet, then headed back to the room.

Until tomorrow...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Byzantine Tour 2011 Day Twelve: Mediterranean Sea



That is the sound of a day at sea.
When it comes to a room with a view, it is hard to do better than the sea.
We are moving from Cyprus to Crete.  From the third largest island in the Mediterranean to the fifth largest.
Of course we could get from A to B faster, but I believe the cruise line knows how much people adore a day at sea to truly unwind.
Today, at the suggestion of a fellow passenger, I took a bold step.  Do you see the breakfast item that is normally not there?
Eggs are normal.  Fruit is normal.  You got it, pancakes!
But not just pancakes.  I asked them to put some banana and chocolate chips in my pancakes.  Yes.  Banana-chocolate-chip Pancakes.
Seriously.  Does it get better than this?
Also note: no noxious carpet cleaner perfume when you sit on your stateroom's verandah.

We attended a lecture about metabolism, at the end of which the ship's personal trainer suggested that we come for a metabolism test.  We scheduled one for after lunch.

Then came time for another Bridge lesson, which again went photograph free.

Then came time for lunch.  The Crystal dining room got a little Asian today.
I started with the Spring Vegetable Roll with Ponzu Sauce.
Barbie started with... cannot find it on the menu but looks like beets and proscuitto?
I had the Spice Thai Chicken and Shrimp Soup, Flavored with Galangal and Lemongrass.
Then I had the Spicy Orange Chicken, Crispy Fried Chicken in a Spicy Orange Sauce, Served with Steamed Broccoli and Sticky White Rice.
Barbie had the Ocean Garden Basket, Crabmeat Salad, Jumbo Prawns and Scallops in a Giant Lettuce basket, Served with Thousand Island Dressing.
For dessert, Barbie had the Refreshing Kiwi Sherbet.
Since we ate in the dining room, I thought I would share a shot that included our window view.

Remember that metabolism test that I mentioned earlier?
It consisted of attaching electrodes to the wrist and feet, and measuring electric current going through our bodies on what looked like a 1970's calculator.  But the results told us both that we were fairly healthy; maybe it was not complete bunk.

But the results did tell us one thing.
In order to correct the pH levels in our blood we need to purchase these expensive supplements!  (We did not.)

Barbie took a nap and worked; I rested and read.  We still feel sick.  We watched the Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle DVD from the library.  Barbie liked it, which lifts my hopes that we will soon see the second and third movies.

Barbie forced her sick body out of bed for dinner at the on-board Japanese restaurant.
Remember how I said the ship is half full?  When we cruised on Crystal last year, it was hard to get into Silk Road.
Not so hard to get in here this cruise.  And thankfully the room did not smell of perfumed carpet freshener.
Miso Soup.  This made our sick bodies feel better.
Eel rolls.
Rock Shrimp, Served on Tossed Lettuce with Spicy Creamy Sauce.
Nobu-Style Black Cod with Miso, Saikyo Miso Marinated and Broiled Black Cod with Mountain Peach and Young Ginger.
Yellowtail Sushi.
Salad.  (Correct.  I have no idea what salad Barbie ordered.)
Nobu Box, A sampler of Nobu's Most Popular Signature Dishes; Gilled Wagyu Beef Rib Eye Steak, Black Cod with Miso, and Rock Shrimp.

After dinner we dragged ourselves back to the room, took a bunch of cold medicine, and slept.

Until tomorrow...