One of my best days ever – we saw the most amazing ancient site, Knossos followed by shear fun at a waterpark and ended up eating snails for dinner. When you’re traveling around Crete, consider this wonderful combination of experiences all in one day!
After a very sound sleep, my family and I woke ready for day two of our Crete explorations by car. Our first adventure included: Sailing around Crete – Agios Nikolaos, Gournia, Mochlos and Vai Beach where the highlights of our trip were seeing the best-preserved Minoan town, enjoying a traditional Cretan dish in a traditional fishing village and then watching our daughter swim unassisted for the very first time on the most amazing beach ever.
Originally, our plans were to sail to Heraklion and moor the boat in the marina so that we could visit the city and Knossos. However, as with most of our plans, we’ve had to change them due to weather. The winds are gusting over 40 knots and they’d be on our nose, so the boat is staying put in Agios Nickolaos for the time being.
Furthermore, a nice lady at the Agios Nikolaos Marina told us to avoid Heraklion marina as it’s not a nice place.
So…once again, we woke up, grabbed our bathing suits, towels, maps, water, and of course, my camera. Our rental car was parked right off the back of our boat, so we didn’t have far to go to get going. My husband, Simon, my daughter, Sienna, and I jumped into the car ready for more explorations.
Our first stop was the ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos.
From what I was told, the archeological site is very busy and very hot so it’s best to arrive as early as possible to avoid crowds and the heat. We entered the town around 10 am and by then it was already heaving and hot. Oh well. At least, I knew what to expect.
We grabbed some cold waters, entered the site, and walked along the palace grounds avoiding the herds of people as much as possible.
Overall, I was seriously impressed with Knossos. Out of all the ruins I’ve seen over the past few months (Olympia, Delos, Delphi), this one was very different from the traditional Greek archeological sites. Knossos has whole structures, vibrant colors, and meatier buildings.
In other words, the site doesn’t look like a pile of rubble with a few columns sticking up.
I probably sound a bit brash about the traditional Greek ruins, but after seeing over 25 ruin sites, they do start to look the same. As my grandfather used to say to me, ‘If you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all.’
I never wanted to be so blasé about something as amazing as archeological sites, but seriously, the smaller, less notable sites do all look similar.
Back, to Knossos…you can see three floors of one building.
There’s a full house on display. There are staircases, alters, and columns with rooftops. The mind didn’t have to stretch too much to envision what the palace looked like during its heyday. And the restoration, although it’s controversial as the architect’s used modern materials, helps you to really envision the colors.
I love the fact that some of the columns have been painted – it gives me a feel for what the place really looked like.
Incidentally, when I was at the museum in Athens I discovered that the whole acropolis was colored. I’ve always pictured the buildings to be white marble and that’s it. Well…even the Parthenon was very colorful. All the buildings were painted.
A few interesting tidbits about Knossos
I’m not a massive history buff. Often dates and important historical figures go in one ear and out the other. Usually, however, there are a few things that I pick out to remember.
Very little was known about the Minoan civilization before excavations on Knossos and another palace called, Phaestos. Everything is known previous to finding the palaces was passed down through Greek tradition and mythology. When the English archaeologist, Arthur Evans, discovered Knossos around 1900 he opened the floodgates of the Minoan past. They found loads of artifacts, texts (which they still haven’t deciphered), and clues as to who the Minoans were and how they lived.
Based on what archeologists have discovered, Crete appears to have been first inhabited around the 6th millennium BC – that’s considered the Neolithic period. The Minoans lived from 2600 – 1100 BC and this is when the palaces were built.
Time for cooling down after Knossos!
After sweating from every pore of our bodies, Simon, Sienna, and I then put our focus on cooling down at a water park. Within an hour, we were in our bathing suits and all fighting for the next water slide to test out.
There are two water parks in Greece, both within a few miles from each other. We decided on Aqua Park simply because we spoke to a local woman with children and her 4-year-old preferred Aqua Park.
We arrived around mid-day, found a parking spot right by the entrance, and discovered ample beach beds to create our base. Sim and I enjoyed a hamburger that didn’t come remotely close to our Greek Burger recipe.
The food was disappointing but we weren’t expecting much.
The slides, however, were brilliant.
Simon did every slide and I did almost all of them. There’s one that drops vertically and then goes up the other side and you slowly make your way down to the exit – it’s a big long ‘U’ shaped slide (see above). I took one look at it, listened to the screams, and decided against it.
As for Sienna…well, she didn’t have a confident day.
Someday she’s open to trying anything and other days she’s quiet and a bit closed down. On this particular day, she did make an effort, but she was put off by water splashing in her face.
I’ll give her credit as she did go down an adult slide once with Simon holding her and once with me holding her. Both times she loved the ride but at the end when you went splash into the water, she became distressed.
That being said, we went to the water park for Sienna’s amusement and I think Simon and I had more fun than we’ve had for ages.
By 5 pm we were ready to peel off our bathing suits, hop back into the car, and head home.
Just before Agios Nikolaos, I noticed a sign for Elounda and quickly said, ‘Turn here Sim.’ On my Facebook page a few people told me to check out Elounda so it made sense to give it a look.
Just 10km from the main road, we entered Elounda, found a parking spot near the fishing harbor, and got out to go for a walk. We found the harbor, main street, and a beautiful row of tavernas along the coast. Being dinner time, we decided to grab some grub.
‘There are snails on the menu!’ I shouted out.
In our tourist book on Crete, it mentions that there’s a local dish of snails but it’s hard to find them at the tourist restaurants. The book instructed us to find a more traditional taverna. Based on my observations, every restaurant in Crete is for tourists, but some are less blatant. Not once have we found a place that doesn’t have 5 sets of menus (English, German, French, Italian, Russian…).
Anyway, we sat down at a lovely taverna looking out at bay containing the island of Spinalonga.
Victoria Hislop wrote a fiction-based-on-fact book about this island. Apparently it was a leper colony up until the 1900s! Again, on my Facebook page, I had over 10 people recommend that I read that book…so if you’re looking for a good read, I suggest giving that book a go.
Back to the snails…
I’ve had escargot several times before and I quite enjoy it. Heck, if you put enough garlic on anything it tastes good. The snails I got in Elounda, however, were different. First of all, when you order escargot you usually get 6 to 12 snails. Second, as mentioned before, it’s loaded with garlic. Third, escargot looks foreign – the snails don’t seem to look like the ones in your back yard.
So what did the snails taste like?
Well, they were cooked in a rosemary-infused olive oil and covered with a 2mm layer of sea salt. They were chewy and when I pulled them out of the shell, there was a bit of a slime spring-back as the snail became unattached to the shell. Overall, they tasted really good but I felt there were too many.
As an appetizer that would have been far too much. Luckily the snails were the only thing I ordered. After 20 of them, the flavor and consistency just got to be a bit too much. I could have eaten more, but I needed something else.
Would I order them again? Yes – as long as I could share them with someone.
My husband was daring and had one. Sienna, said to me, ‘Are you crazy – that’s disgusting!’
My family and I enjoyed our food, enjoyed the scenery, and were very grateful for the full day of adventures we had. After two full days of land-based exploration, we all were ready to take to the seas again. Hopefully, the winds will be in our favor and we’ll be able to leave Agios Nikolaos?
Read All My Articles About Crete
To get a synopsis of all the places we visited in Crete, visit Exploring Crete. Otherwise, here lists all the articles:
- Agios Nikolaos, Gournia, Mochlos and Vai Beach
- Knosos, Aqua Park and Elounda
- Anchored off of Spinalonga Island Crete
- Anchoring off the town of Bali
- A tour of Rethymno
- Agia Galini, Gortys and the Amari Valley
- Agios Nikolaos Marina – Crete: A review
- Rethymno Marina – Crete: A review
Check Out Some Areas Other Areas Too – Greece & The Mediterranean
If you’d like a breakdown of all the places we’ve visited while sailing the Mediterranean please read our destination overview: Sailing The Mediterranean. Otherwise, check out more posts about our time spent in Greece.
- The Greek Ionian Islands
- Corinth Canal
- Poros Greece
- Kos Marina
- Methoni, Greece