The Royal Tour – Phaestos

2nd July 2006

The next morning, I woke up and consulted my trusty guide book trying to finds somewhere to go. I wanted to go to the ancient site of Phaestos, but this was on the other side of the island 80km away. I decided I would give it my best shot as really nothing had beaten me yet, after the day before I felt kind of invincible.

I set off for the bus terminal only to reach it and find out that the bus actually left from the terminal close to the hotel. There were only two buses one at 10:30am and one at 2:30pm, the 2:30pm was too late as I needed to be back by 5pm to catch my flight to Rhodes. I arrived back at the bus terminal near the hotel just in time to see the bus driving off down the road. Disappointed, but still determined to have a good day I went inside the ticket office, which strangely was also a café and looked at the board to see where else I could go from here.

To my surprise, there was another bus to Phaestos at 11:30am, I asked the clerk and he confirmed this, and I bought tickets. I felt very lucky as this bus wasn’t shown on the timetable. I waited around and boarded the bus, which was another nice, air-conditioned coach. It took about 2 hours to get there, and I prayed that it wouldn’t just be another modern town like the effort the day before. We reached the site, and it was ancient Phaestos, high up in the Cretan mountains. I paid to go into the site, which was 5 Euros for a double ticket to the royal residence at Agia Triada, this was somewhere I never thought that in my lifetime I would get to go. Somewhere so obscure, my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook failed to mention it.

Exploring Phaestos – note the strange symbols in the background

I explored the site of Phaestos again getting another photo of me in a Minoan central court. I looked over the edge where half the palace had fallen down in an earthquake. Phaestos was like Malia, totally unrestored, but in better condition. Phaestos was strange it seemed to have all these strange symbols everywhere that I photographed and resolved to do some research on when I got home, wherever I decided that was going to be. Despite its apparent isolation, there seemed to be quite a few more people around than at Malia. I had a brief look in the souvenir shop and bought nothing once more before heading to the front desk to ask the way to Agia Triada. I asked the clerk, and he pointed up a steep hill and just said “3 miles”. Oh no, I thought I wasn’t going to have to do this again today. Of course, I didn’t have to do it, but I did have to do it if you know what I mean.

Today was different, I was on a real time limit, there was one bus at 4pm back to the city and if I missed it, I would miss my flight to Rhodes. I started the long trek up the mountain, I first went past a small church that looked like it had seen better days, then up I went. I had been going a while when I reached one of those brown signs with the archaeological site symbol on it which like the day before said “AGIA TRIADA”3 miles. I just stopped for a minute deciding whether or not to keep going, I looked around, I had a sheer drop on one side of me and a cliff face on the other. There was not another soul around and I had been walking for 45 minutes and not one car had gone past. I decided to keep going, and about 5 minutes later I heard the buzzing of a motor bike coming up behind me. What was more it seemed to be slowing down.

A man with black curly hair pulled up beside me on an old green motorbike. I though geez this must be one of those moments my mother warned me about, I felt a little panicked for a second. The man looked friendly, and he wore a green shirt to match his bike. He looked at me and said, “You go Agia Triada”, “Yes, that’s where I’m going” I said. He patted the back of his bike, motioning for me to get on. Again, my mother voice echoed through my head “Don’t do anything stupid”. What are you going to do Kristina, I thought to myself. This is do or die, you won’t make it to the site and back again on foot in time to catch your plane. I must be mad I thought as I got on and grabbed on to this strange Cretan for dear life. As we took off, I thought to myself, remembering nearly getting run over by a policeman on a motorbike while on the footpath in Thessaloniki, What am I doing I’ve seen the way you guys drive! I was not disappointed. We screamed around all the hairpin bents on the mountain, up and up. There were no road rules and neither of us was wearing a helmet.

Made it to the Royal Residence of Agia Triada

The man asked me where I was from and I said Australia and he said, “Ah Aussie, I love Aussie!” We reached the site and he shook my hand and said “Goodbye Aussie girl” and I thanked him and that was it he took off on his bike. I stood there dazed for a few minutes and then went for a look at the site, which I loved and was very proud of myself for making it. It had a theatre and some very old stone steps; it was completely different in layout to the palaces I had visited. It really didn’t have any paths either. So, I really had to just clamber around the place. I clambered out of it and then realised, oh god I have to get back to the main site.

Now if I thought the trek to Malia had been hard, I was kidding myself. Even though it was downhill this was torture. I was now in South Crete which is much hotter than the north and I had a lot further to go, the motorbike ride had made the journey there so quick. I couldn’t stop either or I would miss my flight. I started off walking quickly, which soon turned into a trudge, which turned into “Come on Kristina, one foot in front of the other, just around this turn, just around this bend.” I had been walking for about an hour and a half and not one car had gone past, and I had not seen one person. I had no water, and my vision was becoming blurred and as I wondered if I would ever make it back to the bus stop, I looked above me. There were buzzards circling above my head waiting for me to drop dead, I guess they thought I’d never make it. I did make it about forty minutes later and ran into the main site a grabbed a drink before running out just in time to jump on the bus.

terminal in Heraklion, feeling a little sick and dizzy. I went to the desk clerk at the hotel and collected my luggage and even after what I had just been through, caught a public bus to the airport, which was only 50-euro cents, far cheaper than a taxi. I arrived at the airport early and lugged my heavy suitcase around for a while before checking in. There had been a problem with another flight and the airport was in chaos. I didn’t actually reach the counter until 20 minutes before the flight was to depart. I met a nice couple doing the same tour as me while I was waiting. Cam and Emily, they were on their honeymoon, and they too had been trapped on Mykonos and forced to pay the cancellation fee on Santorini. I told them I refused, and Emily looked at Cam and said “Maybe we should have done that!”

Flight Crete to Rhodes
The interior of the tiny plane that took me from Crete to Rhodes

The airport on Crete was very different. It seemed very old and there were smoking booths, through which smokers could be seen huddled in a thick fog. I bought myself something to eat and drink and then went to board the plane. A big Olympic Airlines plane was parked on the tarmac and we were being ushered towards it.”Very Nice” I thought to myself. Unfortunately, we were being ushered to the small plane behind it. It was comical. It was the smallest plane I had ever seen and it had propellers, I thought modern aviation techniques had phased those out years ago. I took my seat, which was supposed to be near the window, but this Italian woman had taken it. I gave up trying to explain the situation and sat down.

The plane was small inside, I was sitting right at the front, and I could see the back, it wasn’t even as big as a bus and seated about 20 people. It started to taxi down the runway and to mine and everyone else’s horror, one of the propellers wasn’t spinning. Everyone began telling the stewardess and the Italian bird sitting next to me went crazy, screaming at the pilot in Italian. Emily and I laughed about that later, as if our Greek pilot could speak Italian!

She proved to be quite annoying the whole trip. Even the metal music on my mp3 player didn’t drown her out and she actually wanted me to turn it down. “I’ll turn it down when you shut up” I said, she didn’t understand of course, but all the people who spoke English on the plane did and I got a few laughs. The tiny plane actually decided to fly through a thunderstorm and I watched as everyone on the plane panicked. I was surprisingly calm, letting the turbulence knock me about to the tune of whatever heavy metal song was playing on my headphones. I’m sure the other passengers thought I was quite mad.

I did manage to see the lights of Rhodes as we flew over before we landed, which were very pretty. To my relief we touched down and got our luggage. Cam, Emily and I were met by our transfer and taken to our respective hotels. Mine was the Agla, which looked fantastic. I was shown to my room, there were bed sheets all over the floor in the hallways and the clerk told me they had just had some rain damage recently. I went into my room and did some washing in my usual way, by stomping on it in the shower and called Mum and Dad, who were keen to hear about my travels.

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