Crete! Grecian Holiday Part 2

IMG_0373I’ve been back from vacation for a week. My wisp of a tan has faded. My bug bites are no longer itchy. But the memories of the sunshine, the food, the beautiful ocean are still strong. Crete was so beautiful.

My family and I went to Crete because my mom’s colleague Elias was getting married. We stayed at Bella Vista, a hotel in Stalida (Stalis) Crete owned by Elias’ parents. They were the most generous and hospitable hosts I’ve ever met. The hotel is up on a hill, about a ten minute walk from the beach. There is a pool, a family of semi-stray cats, and a gorgeous view. About thirty wedding guests stayed at the hotel and every night up to the wedding Elias’ parents cooked a giant feast. There was salad, bread, lamb, meatballs and much more. Sorry I didn’t take any pictures of the food.

We spent a lot of time lounging at the pool. We also took the walk over to the beach. Although technically not far, it was hilly and  very hot – which resulted in some amount of whining on the walk. One day at the beach Papa and I rode a banana boat. We had done it years and year ago when I was in middle school and I remember it being so much fun. If you’re not familiar you can see a picture of it here. Basically it’s a floppy raft pulled behind a motor boat and as the boat hits the waves, the banana boat bounces. It was fun – but also super scary. We were riding with two other tourists and I ended up in the very front of the boat. I was bouncing around like crazy and holding on in a crazy white-knuckle grip. When I got off and back to solid ground, my hands hurt and could barely uncurl. My mom said she could see my flying off the seat during the ride. As I said it was fun and scary. I’m glad we did it – but it was like a haunted house tour because it’s almost more fun to remember it after than to actually do it.

One of the days Elias’ parents organized an outing for the guests. We went to Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Knossos is an archaeological site of a palace that is tied to the myths of King Minos and the minotaur. I was so very excited to go there but we had the worst tour guide ever. She was wearing an orange beach sarong as a dress and matching orange jewelry. She spent 40 minutes of our hour tour talking by the entrance, and wouldn’t budge when Elias and his friend asked her to show us the sites. She also spent most of her tour complaining about how European excavators did everything wrong. They may have done it all wrong, but I wanted to learn about the people who lived here and she spoke little about that. It was really annoying and we didn’t see everything I would have liked. She almost convinced us not to go to the throne room too, but what we did see was pretty cool. I enjoyed picturing what the palace would have looked like whole and how gorgeous it would have been covered in frescoes.

After Knossos we went to a nearby restaurant and had an epic feast. There was of course salad, lamb, bread, and olive oil. But there were also snails, tomatoes on crusty bread, squash blossoms stuffed with meat, and beer. The group of about twenty of us sat at a big long table and they kept bringing out course after course. We’d finish a drink and a new one would appear. Since we were celebrating a wedding they brought us a traditional rice dish that is supposed to bring fertility. It mostly tasted like hot rice with chicken broth. It was an amazing meal and afterward we were stuffed. I apologize for my messy pictures but I was half way through gorging myself before I thought to take pictures.

Lunch completed, we went to the Archaeological Museum. Since our first tour guide was awful, Elias’ best man (who is a doctor not a tour guide) led us through the museum. He was awesome! So knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He knew so much about Crete and the history of the island. I took pictures of the giant intact storage pots and the frescoes from Knossos. The originals are at the museum and copies at actual Knossos. Also I took a picture of the snake goddess, which I had learned about in undergrad art history. Apparently early cultures on Crete were a matriarchal society and the bare chested woman holding snakes was a powerful symbol. Cool, right?

The wedding itself was the last Saturday we were there. The ceremony was outside a tiny chapel next to the water. The guests waited outside the chapel and the bride and groom were driven up separately in a beautiful convertible with the horn blaring their arrival. It was fun an exciting. They processed with their families toward the altar in front of the chapel and the guests all gathered around them. It was more casual than any wedding I’d been to before. People in the back of the crowd talked to each other quietly and walked around a little. At one point in the ceremony, the bride and groom are wearing crowns connected together. They walked around the altar and the guests threw rice from small bags at them. The bride had told me earlier that in total they had bought 30 pounds of rice to throw! There was rice everywhere and all night we could see rice in peoples’ hair.

The reception afterward was gorgeous. It was at a resort that was so amazing because the rooms looked like little villas and were on winding streets. The reception was held in a huge hall right along the water. The buffet was enormous. There was one room of mains and one room of desserts. There was so many kinds of meat too – lamb, chicken, beef, rabbit, and fish. There was also more traditional fertility rice, like we had at lunch. In the dessert room there was baklava, six flavors of ice cream, cookies, cakes, and fruit. They had a dj, a band, and traditional Greek dancers. And there were shots. So many shots of raki and ouzo that just kept coming. There was lots of Greek dancing too. I was too shy, but my parents were brave enough to jump in and try it.

It was a great night and we spent the next day relaxing by the pool drinking lemon Fanta. The whole experience – wedding, pool, banana boat, and food – was absolutely incredible.  It was really tough leaving Crete – it’s just so flipping beautiful.

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