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krisek Iraklion - A travel report by Krys
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Iraklion,  Greece - flag Greece -  Irákleion
6373 readers

krisek's travel reports

Crete's capital. Bustling, chaotic, lively.

  9 votes
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Greece’s third largest city is an ugly one. Daylight should never be allowed there, as the city looked its best in the dark. When a dimmed light of lanterns and streetlights did not reveal too much ugliness of the place, it was just fine.


Fishing harbour and the fort
Fishing harbour and the fort
For centuries, Crete was a country on its own and even now the inhabitants think of themselves first as Cretans and then, after a vast gap, as Greeks.

It is a large island and there are a few places worth visiting there. Crete’s landscape is dominated by hills and mountains, best of which can be found in the eastern part of the island. The hills harbour a few historical treasures and picturesque monasteries.

Despite its apparent vast contribution to civilisation, Crete seems to be rather poor. Life looks to be based around basic things like simple farming and unsophisticated fishing. It is a struggle. I would prefer to see a few other islands in the timeframe of this holiday, rather than spending so many days on Crete. However, without your own boat, it is a challenge. Transportation between the Greek islands was very poor. The ferry companies, of which there was a very small number, did not care to synchronise their timetable better.

Furthermore, neither the government nor infrastructure enterprises thought of more than just a handful of routes possibilities. In too many cases, it was simply impossible to move from one island to another without having to spend a few days on each.

Anyway, Crete was not that bad at all. There is much to do there (compared with many other Greek islands) and one could easily spend a month there exploring properly absolutely everything. Me, I wanted more variety, and that is the only reason why I would rather see more islands.

Many of my friends had gone to Crete for holidays and keep returning. So, I thought the time had come for me to travel there, too. Well, I did not go to Crete purely because my friends were going there. I went to see the island as I wanted to see it, and since it has this fascinating history, it should be worthwhile, I thought.

I started with the capital, Iraklio. I spent four days there. Two full days on my own, and then two with a couple of my friends, who joined me on the Crete, Rhodos and Thira holiday.

Favourite spots:
Iraklio's cornish
Iraklio's cornish
My first impression of Iraklio was not great. I thought the island was dirty and underdeveloped to my liking as a European holiday spot for the sun and relaxation. The worst was traffic. No-one adhered to the highway code, and regulations were treated as mere suggestions, at best.

From the benefit of the hindsight, I think it would make much more sense not to start looking at Crete from its capital. Much better places to start exploring Crete would be Chania, Rethymno or even Agios Nicolaos.

The city looked uninviting. It was full of horrible concrete blocks with neglected facades. I was so disappointed! Rubbish lied everywhere and the alleys stank. I walked along the cornish, in the port, in the shopping streets and the market streets, and I failed to begin liking it. The only somewhat remarkable feature of Iraklio was its Venetian fort, Rocca al Mare, at the entry to the old fishing harbour. That, and a few other spots in the city, belonged to the nice category.

What's really great:
Crescent fishing harbour
Crescent fishing harbour
Weather could not be beaten. The sky with little or no cloud let planty of sunshine warming up the air to mid 30s degrees of Celsius. This is always a good plus for a summer holiday. However, Iraklio's main quality was the presence of young people. Mainly Greek. They created a very laid back atmosphere and set the mood in the evening fit for never ending partying. They were friendly, welcoming and knew how to have a jolly good time.

Iraklio was very well geared towards tourism. Many travel agencies had their offices in the centre and could organised almost any type of trip on Crete and other islands. They were particularly helpful in organising transport for independent travellers, be it sailings or air travel.

Sights:
Central church
Central church
Apart from the prominent Venetian fort, Rocca al Mare (aka Koule), at the entry to the old fishing harbour, there were few remarkable sights in Iraklio. There was a nice church of Saint Minas - next to the larger Cathedral of Saint Minas, Saint Titus church (pictured opposite) in the heart of the city, Saint Mark basilica from the 13th century (now an art gallery), a few interesting and old fountains, the Martinengo Bastion, sections of medieval walls, and the medieval Monastery of Saint Catherine. A few mansions and structures from the Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman eras make the architectural landscape an interesting one, but the magnitude of the ugly modern, concrete blocks overshadow the rest.

Accommodations:
Typical sight of Iraklio
Typical sight of Iraklio
There were three cheapish options I had investigated before landing on Crete: Mirabello, Lena, and Rea. I eventually selected Rea. It had the best reviews and it was supposed to be run by a family. It sounded interesting and I thought that for €30 a night it was worth trying it. It was in the centre and the photos on the web looked absolutely fine.

It was a good choice. The hotel was clean and safe. It was located in a small alley of Hortatson Street, away from traffic and quiet. Literally 250 metres north-west of the Platia Venizelou, where the famous Morosini Fountain stands. The hotel was open 24 hours, so it not matter, at what hour one came back from the night out.

Nightlife:
Bembo fountain cafe
Bembo fountain cafe
We tried a few places, best of which were located at the very popular Koraï street. The bars and clubs there were trendy and provided for great people watching. The Flash, Rebels, and Pagopoleion were the best. Actually, this part of town looked decent and civilised even in the daylight. Some of the places were kept in a modern style, which looked like this little street was taken straight from Manhattan, London’s West End or Berlin’s Oranienburger Strasse in the eastern part of the city. And some looked like they were styled in a mix Cretan-Greek folk style with a hint of XX century. All of them served beer from tap and a range of internationally recognised drinks, plus the expected Ouzo-based intoxicants, which were actually based avoided altogether.

Hangouts:
Morosini Fountain
Morosini Fountain
There were few atmospheric places in the city, where one could sit down, relax with a glass of beer, and enjoy the scenery. One was the Plateia Venizelou with the Morosini Fountain, like the Aktarika and Andromeda. The two places were bars along the Koraï and the large Plateia Eleftherias with the large monument and full of people.

I was looking for a nice spot to relax. I heard about this great fountain, Bembo, a must-see attraction of the city. I went to see it. It was hidden under the trees of the long square Plateia Kornarou and it did not work. A cafe whose little wobbly metal tables surrounded it, was also closed and I decided that my trip there was a flop.

Restaurants:
Iraklion travelogue picture
The more flamboyant restaurant, the less predictable it was. The more encouraging waiters hunting for tourists, the more probable it was that the food was going to be poor. The more prominent place and more frequently visited by travellers, the worse the places were getting. Almost a paradox... But there were exceptions. There was one delightful cafe at the El Greco Park and a taverna at the Eleftherias Square, or just off it. Taverna Giovanni at the very popular eating and drinking area between Melathou and Dedhalou streets was good but expensive.

The best seafood restaurant was one at the waterfront along the Venizelou street. There were many of them and I liked the one closest to the fort. It was frightening to watch how the waiters were crossing the busy street between the pavement with tables at the cornish and the kitchen inside the building, balancing with the plates full of food.

Other recommendations:
Knossos royal palace
Knossos royal palace
Knossos, the capital of the Minoan Crete, is the place to visit! The Minoan civilisation was so great that its history sounds like a myth. I will not go down to the very detail of the kingdom. I will only mention a few fast facts of the palace in Knossos.

This large structure, spanning an area of approximately 175 metres by 205 metres, is believed to have been first constructed in 1900 BC. It was destroyed by an earthquake two hundred years later., but then rebuilt to a better and more complex shape. Again two hundred years after that it was partially destroyed. It was repaired but in the year 1400 BC was totally consumed by a fire.

The palace was not just a royal residence. Within its walls, there were quarters of the royal officials, priests, but also ordinary citizens and cemetery for all. This fascinating building housed the royal family living quarters, temples and shrines, treasury, storage rooms, workshops and public access areas for receptions and social affairs.

Published on Sunday December 7th, 2008


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Tue, Jun 01 2010 - 07:46 AM rating by jacko1

I could not agree more with your report, we have visited many Greek islands and this is our least favourite, the people and food are great, as is the climate but we were sadly disappointed by the poor infrastructure and lack of transport, it would take a lot of persuasion for us to revisit, a real shame but 'speak as you find' is our motto and we try to find the best in wherever we go, an excellent report once again Krys.

Mon, Dec 08 2008 - 05:48 PM rating by yuliangpang

Great fun for reading your report, but also quite disappointed not by your excellent report, but by what you found in Crete. Because it is also one of the places that I would like to visit in my life, since I begun to learn the world history, I had known Crete, therefore it would be extremely difficult to persuade myself to accept your findings in Crete.

Sun, Dec 07 2008 - 09:53 PM rating by robynallen

Great to read what this city was like as I only passed thru in the middle of the night on my way to the beaches!

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