This text has previously appeared in our newsletter. But we think that it merits a more lasting presence within Peter Sommer Travels' output, so here it is. It's especially pertinent because if it weren't for the current pandemic, today would be Day 4 of our first Exploring Crete tour this year... The text is by Paul, but Heinrich has made a few minor additions.
The new tours for 2021 are starting to roll out. Let’s have a look at what we can tempt you with…
It would be very easy to pull one of those glib "Crete: Land of Contrasts" things in the current circumstances. So let’s do that.
It's pleasant to wander back in the memory, anyway. And to look forward to seeing it all again, and to bringing it to you so that you can remember it in turn. Who knew this would turn into a confusing time travel narrative? Let’s get back to letting the mind fly to Crete. What might we see there? What hits me most when I remember?
The first time at Knossos seeing everything you’ve been storing up to see there since childhood, how it’s all expected and unexpected at the same time. The goosebumps as you see the Throne Room, the central element of the palace in its latest, Mycenaean phase, Evans’ reconstructions, and also the bits the books and photographs don’t prepare you for: the setting! The view to Mount Iouktas, the key open-air sanctuary when the palace was thriving!
The end-of-the-world drop-off into space at the end of the Great Court of Minoan Phaistos, from a solid, safe mass of rooms, bureaucracy and opulence to unexpected nothingness over the beautiful green Mesara, that sea of olive trees.
The thrill of the entrance to the great tomb at Armenoi, the descending stairs to the steep runway, all russet-red cut from the rock, dappled by the trees in the cool, quiet oak wood. A dark doorway far below. Allow yourself a little Indiana Jones moment as you step down…
Standing on the battlements of the huge Venetian Fortezza at Rethymno, with, away in the distance Mount Ida, a vast, broad-winged white seabird, stark against the deep blue sky, lower slopes invisible as it hovers, and with dragon-teeth crags of the White Mountains and the Akrotiri Peninsula in the opposite direction.
Waves crashing on the beach at Zakros, near the Minoan palace and town. A tough landing for the Minoan sailors who would have used it; now filled with excited chatter and the smell of good food. What a view to be had while you’re eating: the stark, unforgiving cliffs and chasms of Crete’s brutally entrancing wild east.
Standing by the walls of the Ottoman fort at Aptera, the Roman city behind you. Gazing over the thick blue of the bay with its postcard-perfect Venetian castle below. Few places could be prettier, few filled with so much catastrophic drama, from medieval times to the last war. Crete has an unfair share of history….
The sheer size of the Greek inscribed law code at Gortyn, sweeping along for ever, letters black in shadow against the terracotta-coloured stone, still defining boundaries over two-and-a-half millennia for a long-gone citizenry, or are they still here, tending their fields and groves unfazed by the shadow of millennia?
And to close a day, a late afternoon on the heights at Thalori. Relaxing in the beautiful village after visiting the little Byzantine church; the evening meal’s ready and there’s the prospect of raki [these are Paul's own italics] if you fancy. Golden shadows lengthen over the hills, shaping their slopes. In the distance, there’s the deep cleft in the rock down to the Libyan Sea, and the remarkable pinnacle of rock which makes this place unforgettable, a pinnacle that was a major place of worship during the Bronze Age, visible as far away as Phaistos and further. The goats are out as the sun westers and there’s the clonk and tinkle of bells, but otherwise, silence.
Certainly makes me want to be there. You?
Well, we can't speak for you, but all our experts, Greek and foreign, long for these experiences very much these days, for seeing these places again, for being there, and for sharing what we know - and also what we don't know, the element of mystery being such an important part of our Cretan stories - with our guests. The Cretans themselves have gone through many hardships over the millennia, and they look forward to when they can make you welcome. That time will come, and we hope to see you on Exploring Crete before long.