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Greece

An unexpected turn of events

I guess how you set your expectations has everything to do with the outcome of a situation. Or at least your perception of it. Take the overnight ferry from Athens to Crete, for instance. I was prepared for it to be like most ferries I’ve been on—a huge metal monstrosity with very little comfort and definitely no showers, etc. What I discovered is that it’s really more like a little cruiseliner, with an on-board disco and cabins with showers. My cabin mate (when you book one of these ferries, you can choose to ‘camp’ on deck, book a private cabin, or book a shared cabin—since no private cabins were available, I booked a shared cabin) was a Greek nurse who spoke excellent English, so we chatted for at least an hour before hitting the sack. So, this is a case where my expectations were low and were exceeded.

Then there are those expectations that you create and are completely justified, but totally dashed through events beyond your control. This trip was going far too smoothly for something not to throw it off course, and the one thing that could really do that was the volunteer work—which I had planned to do for 6 weeks while on Crete. So, the unthinkable happened. After getting to the location on the scheduled date, I discover that the volunteer coordinator with whom I arranged my position (and who sent me my official acceptance letter) quit a month before and they decided not to take on any more volunteers until fall. Of course, not surprisingly (this is Greece, after all, and things are just different here) they didn’t think to inform the volunteers who were already scheduled to come over the summer, despite the fact that they had a month to do so. I couldn’t believe it.

So, now it’s time to come up with a ‘Plan B.’ Why didn’t I think to come up with a ‘Plan B’ in the first place? I’m kind of miffed at myself for that.

After an afternoon siesta (the Greeks ‘take a siesta’ too, although I’m sure they call it something different), I felt a bit more refreshed and woke up feeling a little bit less ‘woe is me.’ After all, there are worse things than being stranded on Crete, no? And it isn’t as though I am actually stranded…

I left the hotel and decided to explore Heraklion a bit, which is Crete’s capital. As I wandered around Lion’s Square, I stumbled upon a little tattoo and body piercing studio and thought…hmmmmmm…
After talking to the proprietor at length, I decided to take the plunge: I had my nose pierced. It’s actually something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but never had the guts to carry out for both professional and personal reasons (I’m afraid that gravity will eventually turn the little hole into a coin slot). However, spending time in Morrocco and Greece—where a pierced nose seems fairly common—sort of rekindled my desire afresh. I have to admit, I had a moment where I almost changed my mind when the guy presented what appeared to be an unsterilized needle, but then I thought: what the heck? When in Europe…

Actually, just kidding on that last part. Would anyone actually believe that I would get my nose pierced without being absolutely certain that the place had acceptable sterilization practices? I haven’t gone that crazy.

So, got my nose pierced, then headed to Nikos Kazantzakis’ grave site, which happens to be in Heraklion. Kazantzakis wrote ‘Zorba the Greek’ and ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ He was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox church for the latter, but is still considered a national hero of sorts (a ‘prodigal son,’ maybe?). His grave site is refreshingly simple and sits atop one of the Venetian fortress walls that outline what used to be the old city limits. The headstone is plain and there is a large, wooden cross in front of it. The headstone reads, in Kazantzakis’ own words, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

One thing is for certain: while I’m in Crete, I’m going to do my best not to waste time stressing about ‘Plan B.’ I’ve already gone to the Palace of Knossos, which is a must-see in Crete, and I will be going to Phaestos (another important Minoan site) tomorrow. For those interested in Knossos, here are some facts: it was discovered in the year 1900 by Sir Arthur Evans and was perhaps the most important archaeological find of the 20th century. The original palace dates back to 1900 B.C., but was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in 1700 B.C. I am not quite sure what I expected, but given that it is a Minoan site of great antiquity, I think I expected the palace to be smaller. It isn’t. The ruins are spread out and clearly comprised several levels in some areas. Mythologically speaking (is ‘mythologically’ a word?), this palace is believed to be the site of an underground labyrinth where King Minos imprisoned his half man, half bull ‘son’ the Minotaur—it is also the place where the Minotaur met his death at the hands of Theseus, one of the greatest of all Greek mythological heroes.

Amidst a great deal of controversy, Sir Arthur Evans restored the palace in some places where exposure to a 20th century environment was rapidly degrading the structure. These areas of restoration, though providing an interesting look at what the palace might have looked like in its original form, are incongruous on a structure so ancient. One doesn’t exactly expect to see red pillars and fresco reproductions on a site over 3700 years old! Nevertheless, the palace is wondrous in its complexity and the evidence it provides of advanced construction and drainage systems (there is even evidence to support that the palace had flushing toilets). Amazing. Makes a person wonder how ‘advanced’ we really are…or are we just now catching up?

Incidentally, I’ve had several people ask why I’m not in any of my pictures. There are two main reasons: 1) I’m the one taking them—and I am usually much too focused on what I am looking at (or where I am) to think of having someone else take my picture and 2) I hate having my picture taken. So there you have it. 🙂

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About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.

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