travel tips


The words ‘Greek Literature’ tend to conjure up very specific images: Marble busts of Homer and Herodotus that sit in dusty shelves of a library sandwiching well-read copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey with bent spines and dog-eared pages. For some, the first thing that comes to mind is a beaten up school copy of Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology annotated with notes from a 9th grade English teacher. Still others think only of the great works of the first philosophers; these are the people who tend to store quotes by Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and Diogenes in their heads that are then pulled out every so often to spice up a paper or impress friends at parties. Have you guessed what all these people have in common? ‘Greek literature,’ for them, begins and ends in Antiquity.

The misconception about where Greek literature begins and ends begins, for many Americans, in school. The countries you focus on shift in the chronological order of who’s empire collapsed first: Greek, Roman, British, American. Once in higher academia, students have the option of finally venturing into the cloudy world of ‘World Literature.’ This is a catchall term for any countries that aren’t America or England, and serves to lightly, (and I do mean lightly), gloss over literature from countries such as India, Kenya, West Africa, France, Columbia, or Japan. These classes, usually coupled into Levels 1 and 2, are meant to pique interest in the literature from these countries, rather than act as comprehensive lenses into their world. Years and years can be devoted to American literature from the 20th Century alone, whereas one elective class groups Gabriel García Márquez with Salman Rushdie and pats itself on the back. Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, in the average American bookstore, what gets sold is once again a reflection of the almighty cultural timeline: the American and British greats are well-stocked, from Ernest Hemingway to the latest pulp novel. French authors are more often than not relegated to those published between 1600 and 1800, with a brief burst from the 1920s. Russian literature is often not found except for books from the late 19th and 20th centuries. If you happen to be looking for any authors from any South American country, your local big-chain-bookseller will gladly point you in the direction of 100 Years of Solitude, which you have already read at least three times over. And Greek literature? Well, says the big-book-chain, the latest translation of The Odyssey is right here. Or perhaps, if you’re daring, you’d like to try some Aristophanes.

Anthony Quinn Beach, Rhodes

All of this is to say that I was left with the distinct impression that the world left Greece behind in the cultural literary zeitgeist. This is patently untrue, of course, but it is what most Americans are left believing. How insulting it must be to think that the country that created theater would simply stop creating. The Greek people, and the many facets of their regional identities, did not stop the act of creation just because a continent across the ocean stopped taking notice of them. Greek literature has evolved over the centuries into many beautiful forms, still speaking to the human condition with as much truth and potency as they did 2,000 years ago.

This brings me to the Athens airport circa the summer of 2023. Due to several connecting flights I had not slept in over 24 hours, unable to catch more than five minutes of a blissful computer-like shutdown of my brain while curling up on a bench by my gate. When it became too much for my aching, nearly 30 year old back, I made the executive decision to surrender my seat in favor of window-shopping. On my side of the airport, most of the shops were decidedly out of my price range, luxury brands that were nice to look at but not to touch. What was left to me was a nail salon, food, and the airport bookstore, and as I had another two hours before I was supposed to board my flight to Crete, I figured a little once-over couldn’t hurt. In that moment I both celebrated the mass variety before me and cursed my inability to read Greek. There were swaths of books from every era, especially the postmodern movement, from Greek writers I had never heard of. Poetry books, folklore, dramas, and more were suddenly open and available to me, and I felt myself overwhelmed by the possibility of entering a new world of literature I had never entered. Still, I carefully picked out ones that stood out to me immediately, carefully laying them out in my carry-on bag so I could begin my reading on the plane. In that instant I fell down a rabbit hole, beginning a journey I’d like to share with you now as I take you on a sort of beginner’s course of the importance of Greek literature.

I first learned about the existence of The Erotokritos while sitting on a tour bus in Heraklion, days after my experience in the airport bookstore. Growing up I had a great fondness for ‘The Classics,’ and in my youthful ignorance I assumed I knew all of the important ones, as well as which were ‘worth my time.’ Reading Renaissance literature was a delight for me in college, and though I was in time able to combat most of the erroneous beliefs from my youth, I was still under the assumption that I had a pretty good knowledge of even the more obscure texts. So imagine my surprise when I learned that Crete had contributed the best example of Renaissance poetry that you’ve never heard of.  

Stavros Beach, Crete

Written by the Cretan-Venetian noble Vinsentzos Kornaros between the years 1590 and 1610, The Erotokritos tells the story of the love the titular Erotokritos has for the Athenian princess Aretousa. Like the more widely recognized Cyrano de Bergerac, Erotokritos woos the princess by singing beneath her window in the dead of night so he may preserve his identity, and she, of course, falls for him. The king of Athens disapproves of a mysterious stranger wooing his daughter by night, having no knowledge that the man in question is a favored member of his own court. Like many grand love stories of the era, our couple is separated by a murder plot, a time skip, mortal peril, and concludes with our hero testing Aretousa’s love for him with a well-placed disguise and a sincere yet dramatic declaration of love. And to top it all off, this epic poem has a happy ending. Though modeled after the French poem Paris et Vienne, the uniqueness of The Erotokritos cannot be denied by readers. It takes on not just a decidedly Greek interpretation on the value of true love and courage, but is also unmistakably Cretan. The dialect in which the poem is written comes from that island, and even more specifically, from Sitia. If I were a proper linguist, I would delve into the magic that is Eastern Cretan idiom, and how the author’s own Cretan-Venetian heritage influenced which words he used that were derived from Italy’s influence on Crete. This poem went on to inspire the poet Dionysios Solomos, the poet whose work Hymn to Liberty became the Greek and Cypriot national anthem. It inspired countless other poets and Cretan musicians, and was first translated into English by doctor and naturalist Theodore Stephanides, the mentor of Gerald Durrell. This is, by any right, a text that anyone could classify as ‘Important’ with a capital ‘I,’ and yet I’d never heard of it until I decided to take a bus tour on a sweltering summer afternoon.

This period of time is an interesting time for literature. During the same 20 year period it is estimated that The Erotokritos was written, Christopher Marlowe published both parts of Tamburlaine, followed by his adaptation of Doctor Faustus two years later. Edmund Spenser published books 1-3 of The Fairy Queen. Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered to critical acclaim. Miguel de Cervantes published both parts of his epic Don Quixote, with a ten year gap in between each part. This small slice of the Renaissance produced immortal works that now permanently live on the periphery of our cultural knowledge. Even if you’ve never read these stories, you know enough about them to understand their importance, you know enough about them to understand the in-jokes. Why, then, is this seminal work of Greek (and, especially, Cretan) literature left out of the commonly taught canon of Renaissance literature? Why keep alive the Greek myths and stories from antiquity, but not this? Is it somehow less accessible or relatable than Don Quixote? Is it less emotional than Hamlet? Perhaps if a Disney executive or a Broadway producer had read it and slapped some show tunes onto it, more of the West would widely recognize this work. But it’s for the best, I think, that The Erotokritos remains a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by new readers, preserving its own deeply entrenched musical tradition as it continues to inspire poets, writers and musicians alike just the way it is.

Nikos Kazantzakis is perhaps the only name I’m going to reference that you might recognize. His two most famous novels, Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, have been adapted into critically acclaimed films that most American audiences would have a tertiary knowledge of. The film starred Anthony Quinn as the titular Zorba, and his interpretation left such a lasting impression that there is now a beautiful beach in Rhodes that bears his name. Cinephiles, at the very least, would probably recognize iconic dance scene in Zorba where, at the very end of the film, the titular Zorba teaches Greco-British Basil to dance in a final expression of mad exuberance. Out of context, this scene has been referenced and parodied to death, but within the film the dance expresses a bittersweet testament to the fickleness of life. I’ve been to the beach where they filmed portions of this movie. I swam in the water and looked up at the cliffside, I ate at a taverna just down the street from where Anthony Quinn stayed during the shoot. And yet, before this trip, I had not read a single thing by Kazantzakis. The novel is just as powerful, if not more so, as Kazantzakis’ prose elevates the story to a higher level. I found myself charmed and infuriated by the boisterous Alexis Zorba as much as Basil was, and the ending of the book was more emotionally potent than the movie had been, leaving me with an almost empty feeling I sat with for quite a while.

The Last Temptation of Christ was one of many of Nikos Kazantzakis’ explorations into faith, who Christ was, and what it all meant to be ‘Christ-like.’ The story goes into what it means to actively choose to assume the role of Messiah, what a normal life for Jesus could have been, and what surrendering to God’s will and ultimately rejecting the ‘last temptation’ meant. It is considered to be the most controversial work Kazantzakis wrote, as well as his most deeply spiritual, and for it he was excommunicated from the Orthodox faith. Audiences today still seem to miss the point of the work, with every facet of Christianity protesting not only the book itself but the film adaptation directed by Martin Scorsese. Like Kazantzakis before him, Scorsese was met with death threats, and the film is still banned in certain countries around the world.

Kazantzakis wrote 6 travel books, 15 novels, 8 plays, 2 poems, and 14 essay collections and memoirs. I have named 2 books. Two, out of his entire bibliography. I had no idea, before traveling to Greece, they even existed. I knew of Zorba and Last Temptation from an early age, and the copies of the books I own were easy enough to find. But I recognize that I am not the standard: many of my friends didn’t even know Zorba was a film, let alone a book. They assumed it was simply the name of a song. Kazantzakis’ work has been very important to me, and when I found the rest of his bibliography in a small bookstore in the port of Chania, it took everything I had not to walk out with every single thing he had ever written, at least those translated into English. Christ Recrucified, the story of a small town attempting to put on their annual Passion Play, is a powerful story about what a religious ritual means to a place under occupation. At the Palace of Knossos is a retelling of the myth of the Minotaur, but it examines it as metaphor for failing empires and colonialization. After all, the island of Crete was once its own mighty empire that, after natural disasters and apocalyptic events, became Greek. I have yet to work my way through all of the books I purchased, but each one connects with me in new and unexpected ways. There is something profound about his prose and the questions he dares to ask that are so quintessentially Greek, so quintessentially Cretan, that I cannot help but feel an attachment to him.

I visited his grave at the top of a hill that overlooks the city of Heraklion. I had never been before, in all the visits I had paid to the island, but something about this trip made me feel that it was finally time. It isn’t in a place you’d expect there to be a grave, and the walk up the hill is at time a little strange as you pass through well-paved but heavily graffitied stairs. The site is not hallowed ground, but as I stood in the quiet, staring at the large stone slab marking the place where he was buried, I could not help but feel that the place had a kind of serenity to it. Nikos Kazantzakis’ gravestone reads “Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λέφτερος.” Translated, it means “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” Though scholars have stated (and I am sure they’re right), that Kazantzakis meant his epitaph to be a larger reflection of his cynicism, I could not help but view it in an almost Buddhist lens: I have no expectation, and so I am free of it. I am at peace. I stood on the top of that hill, silently watching as the wind blew through the trees, coming as close to meditation as I ever have, and as close to a communion as I could have in several years. I don’t know if he would have approved of me treating his resting place as something sacred, but I couldn’t help but feel as if, despite the lack of a blessed resting place, there were clear traces of a kind of divinity.  

I came across Antonis SamarakisThe Flaw in that airport bookstore, hooked by the title that both intrigued me and made me wonder, ‘the flaw in what?’ The answer to that question is a sucker-punch to the gut, and one that made me seriously consider what it means to live freely. Set during a time of an unnamed fascist regime, The Flaw follows three characters set on a collision course that results in an over-the-top plan to cause one of them to confess to belonging to the opposition. We never learn what ideals the regime holds up. We never learn what exactly the opposition is working for, except of course to be in opposition to the regime. What see are glimpses into the humanity of the characters as they desperately try (and ultimately fail) to remain nothing but cogs in their respective machines. The Flaw is not an easy read: from jumping timelines to constantly shifting viewpoints, it is a book that one must pay their full attention to. The payoff, however, was one of the most satisfying things I’ve read in years, and left me with the bittersweet revelation that all totalitarian regimes like this are doomed to fail, so long as humanity endures. It was a powerful piece of literature that was a haunting prediction of the real-life Metaxas regime that took over Greece in 1936. Perhaps Samarakis saw the writing on the wall where he saw his country headed. Perhaps it was a general warning to the world to be wary of the rise of totalitarianism. Either way, the novel serves as a timeless testament to the power of a human bond, and how as long as we are able to recognize each other’s inherent humanity, there will always be a flaw in the regime.

After I finished reading this book, I turned it over to give the cover another glance. The edition I grabbed was the fiftieth anniversary edition, its minimalist design of the cover adorned with a snippet of praise by author Graham Greene. ‘Graham Greene?’ I thought. ‘Leading voice of the 20th Century Graham Greene? Author of Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, and The Third Man Graham Greene?’ I opened the front cover to find further glowing reviews from other authors I knew: Arthur Miller of The Crucible fame. Agatha Christie, Queen of the Detective Novel. I looked briefly at my new copy of Kazantzakis’ Christ Recrucified to see praise from Thomas Mann, author of the well-known Death in Venice. All these authors I grew up studying, respecting, admiring even, were paying their respects to Greek authors who I either knew the bare minimum or nothing. Where was the justice in that? Why were these stories widely circulated enough in these authors’ times, but not mine? I still don’t have an answer that satisfies me. Yes, at the end of the day, books are a commodity: books that make money continue to be printed. Books that do not are retired to the dusty shelves of a used bookstore that may or may not carry what you seek. I understand this is the way of things. But perhaps, if this mindset of what we value in literature could change, then maybe these important novels have a chance of staying relevant longer than the latest fantasy romance novel that has TikTok in a chokehold.

If you’ve stuck with me up to now, you may be asking yourself: what on earth does this have to do with travel? That’s a fair question, and most people who read this blog would generally prefer I’d stick to talking about beaches and historical points of interest, (which, in my defense, I mentioned one or two). But think about this: every time you’ve gone somewhere new, you’ve researched the language. ‘Where is the bathroom?’ ‘Can I get the check?’ ‘Where is the library?’ You do it as a courtesy to the people whose land you are visiting. You do it to serve as an outstretched hand, to show you are willing to go a step further to bond with a fellow human being, to prove that we have more in common than we have differences. Literature, especially literature created by and for the people of a place you plan to visit, adds a very important layer to travel. It adds an insight into the cultural mindset of a place, what art they find important enough to treasure and what values they uphold. Art is not and should not only serve as inspiration to travel. Art is why we travel.

So the next time you click ‘book’ on your travel website, take a moment to look up the writers, the poets, and the playwrights. Pick a short story or a poem. Read it carefully until it digests into your bloodstream, until you can hear the soul of the place calling out to you from within yourself. Take it with you when you go.

Rinse and repeat.

By Katarina Kapetanakis

I spent most of my childhood in the little-known, secluded seaside town of Miami, Florida, and as such I am no stranger to aquariums. An appreciation of marine science was ingrained in me at a young age, and though it never went farther than that, (note how my career has focused almost exclusively on the written word), visiting aquariums remained a favorite pastime. I tend to seek out aquariums every time I travel to a new place, and usually spend at least one happy afternoon whiling away the hours with the sea creatures on display before I continue on with the more traditional vacation spots.

But this time, I was in Crete, Greece. Crete! Land steeped in history, mythology, culture, and scenic backdrops to make your Instagram followers quake with FOMO envy. I had more than enough to occupy my time, between the gorgeous ruins and crystal clear ocean waters. I was busy with museums, new towns, pink-sand beaches, and mountain hikes. Did I really need to seek out another local aquarium?

Of course I did. How could I not want to see it, after seeing signs plastered all over town? Since I was traveling with my sister, I posed the question to her: did she want to see the CretAquarium? She immediately assented, especially after she found out it was located right next to a dinosaur theme park. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The CretAquarium is located in the town of Gournes, just 15km outside of Heraklion. From where my sister and I were staying in Wine Dark Sea Villas’ Villa Bella Mare, it was about a 20 minute drive down the leisurely A90 highway until the Old National Road, and from there it was a simple matter of trusting the maps app implicitly.  The CretAquarium is located in what is best described as an ‘educational compound,’ where two other science-based attractions, a planetarium and the aforementioned dinosaur park, greet you before your final destination. I followed the signs along the winding road to the aquarium and found, to my surprise, a lovely beach. While I suppose the possibility of a beach should have been something I was prepared to take advantage of, considering Crete is in fact an island, the idea of making my trip an aquarium/beach day combination had not crossed my mind. My advice is, on your next trip to Crete, always keep a bikini in your back pocket in case of emergencies like this.

The CretAquarium is a large, rounded building, adorned with a picturesque mosaic of an undersea scene. In a shallow fountain, a model submarine used for undersea exploration sits as you make your way to the entrance. A giant, plaster octopus that sits above the door, beckoning in visitors who have since found themselves distracted by the numerous and overly affectionate stray cats that wait for visitors to share their café snacks. Still, the promise of air-conditioned relief is often enough to pull people away, and was in fact just what I and my sister needed to prompt us to enter the building before another cat begged for our attention.

My ears were instantly bombarded by the sounds of excitable children who were eager to move through the line and into the tunnel leading to where all the fish lay, which was perfectly understandable. But I chuckled at the sheer number of couples, all either in their late teens or early twenties, who were eager to use the low lighting and shimmering lights as the way to set the mood for a romantic interlude. My sister and I, for our part, wasted no time in indulging in the whimsy of it, posing for pictures in the low blue lighting of the entrance. Speaking of color, the CretAquarium is actually the first aquarium in the world, not just the country, to be accessible for the colorblind. Upon entering the museum, should you need it, there are QR codes posted for a free app called ColorADD that the aquarium has made an effort to integrate into their exhibits.

Inside the aquarium proper I was initially taken aback at the dulcet tones of Enya playing softly over the speakers. I had never considered how aptly her music is suited for watching large, colorful fish drift beyond a pane of glass as artificial light filters through the waves. It was an interesting and, dare I say, oddly beautiful experience. I felt that this might be the closest I could come to experiencing what a day in the life of an undersea creature must feel like, minus the constant struggle for survival. I’m sure the music was accurate to what they would experience. It was incredibly appropriate, and my sister remarked as such. The informational plaques, written in both Greek and English, were incredibly informative. I had no idea of the richness of biodiversity in Greece’s waters. I knew that there was a variety of fish, to be sure. Cretan seafood is one of my favorite things about the island. But learning that Crete’s waters were also home to such a variety of life was a wonderful truth to discover.

In between the ethereally lit fish tanks, their bluish silver water casting ripples of light on visitors and the surrounding alike, hung suspended skeletons of sea creatures from another age. Whether they were casts or originals, I could not say, but I stared in wonder at what was supposed to be the skeletons of ancient turtles and bottle-nosed dolphins. I admired the great rock faces of what could have been incredible undersea reefs, ruined temples sunk beneath the waves, and a shipwrecked wooden ship that housed a dummy dressed in an old diver’s suit hunting for sponges. The sculptors of the interior structures in this aquarium truly outdid themselves, as the fish had temple ruins, pots, and grand rock faces to swim around.

Besides its incredibly calming atmosphere powered in no uncertain terms the melodies of Enya, was that it inspired a desire to swim, to immerse myself in the very seas I had just glimpsed into. I kicked myself as we left the building, and my sister stared wistfully at the waves as the summer heat descended upon us once again. The sounds of children playing in the waves carried over to us as we walked to the car, and my sister groaned as the wave of heat hit us in the face as the hot air from my grandfather’s ancient Honda roared to life.

It was then that she recommended we try to visit one of the other places in the educational compound, since we had nothing else planned for the day. I shrugged and checked google for the hours. We had exactly one hour and forty-five minutes left to explore the place, so I nodded and made our way up the meandering road back to Dinosauria.

As I pulled up to the entrance, I had to laugh at the homage to the gates of Jurassic Park. The large Tyrannosaurus Rex head sat frozen in a triumphant roar over the entrance, and as we made our way inside the building we decided to refrain from paying for the extra experiences like the interactive science exhibits, seeing as we only had a short time to explore before we closed the place.

We passed under the legs of a large t-rex and into a dimly lit room with casts of enormous fossils. The bronze head of a triceratops was almost gold against the burgundy carpeted room, and the large stegosaurus skeleton cast a mighty shadow on the wall. To leave the room, we had to pass through a rotating tunnel of stars and comets, disorienting us as we traveled ‘back in time’ to the room portraying the annihilation of the dinosaurs. The room was a stage of chaos as the great comet plummeted to earth, destruction and chaos everywhere we looked. The children we passed along the way ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the tumultuous scene, concerned for creatures frozen in their swan song. My sister ducked under a wicker nest, giving a small start as she noticed the ‘dying’ plesiosaurus hidden among the reeds, but we cut our horsing around short as we heard the excitable sounds of what promised to be more children coming through the tunnel. In our most dignified manner, we followed the path to another tunnel leading to the outdoor area, and stood face to face with ‘life-sized’ animatronics.

Giant moving figures of rubber, metal and paint roared to life as we stepped onto hidden triggers in the pavement. We were greeted by sounds of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods all at once, as if a mad Greek John Hammond had sprung up and made these creatures real again. Well, perhaps not too real. I’ve seen animatronics of more fluidity, or paleontologically accurate paint jobs. However, the size and scope of these creatures was massive. Wandering the paths took us past an enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex that swung down its mighty head as we slowly walked around it. I marveled at the giant apatosaurus, the feisty liopleurodon frozen in the man-made lake, and of course at the fun sculpted rocks and waterfalls that lined the pathway. Though the heat was unforgiving, I had to admit that being out in the sun was more bearable when surrounded by giant, moving, and sometimes roaring dinosaurs.

Perhaps you think I’m teasing when I say this, but I had the time of my life here. I enjoyed the whimsy of it, not to mention how genuinely well researched and educational this experience was. Though I could not understand the children asking questions of their parents or their parents’ explanations, I heard how in awe they were of the giant beasts. And I have to admit, I was impressed by the scale of the attraction, and how well maintained their dinosaurs were. It was certainly a place I would go to again, especially if I had rambunctious children who wanted a break from all the culture that the adults were more likely to enjoy.

After a brief respite from the heat at the outdoor (but covered) café, where we shared a giant liter of water, my sister and I spent a few minutes contemplating buying enormous dinosaur plushies in the gift shop before ultimately deciding it was time to leave. Though the evening ahead of us was spent at our villa’s pool, relaxing as the heat finally subsided, we left the place with a sense that our day had been well spent. Perhaps the next day we would visit another archaeological site, or a highbrow museum. But today we had indulged in whimsy, and I believe every vacation needs just a touch of that along the way. 

By Katarina Kapetanakis

Considering the vast number of their species, I never spared much thought for the humble snail.

I’ve eaten plenty of escargot in my life without giving them a second thought. I have indulged myself on Cretan snails on several occasions, enjoying each savory bite. Still, for all my chomping and chewing, I did not spare much thought for the origins of the tiny creature mashed between my teeth. It’s not that I harbored any ill-will for them. I simply was not in the habit of thinking about snails at all.

That was to change in the summer of 2023. My sister and I were exploring the small beach town of Ammoudara, on the outskirts of Heraklion, when we first noticed the signs. They were delightful, hand-painted signs advertising Snail Farm and Fun, in the region of Tylissos. I had heard of the concept of a snail farm before, during a television special on a French snail farm, but had not thought about the concept in years. I didn’t realize that Greece, Crete especially, would finally give me the chance to investigate this curiosity. I made plans with my sister to visit the farm the very next day.

From Villa Bella Mare, where my sister and I were staying, it was a leisurely twenty minute drive up into the mountains into Tylissos. While the drive to Snail Farm and Fun was on paved roads for 98% of the drive, the final stretch was a very brief, well-maintained farm road that my grandfather’s 30-year old Honda was thankfully able to manage without issue. It was well marked with more of the signs, reassuring us that we were indeed headed in the right direction.

We met Vaso and her husband Stavros, the dynamic duo who own and operate the farm, as we pulled in. Vaso directed us where to park, and greeted us warmly. My sister and I glanced around the peaceful little farm, quiet except for the constant buzzing of the cicadas, and realized that we were the only visitors. I nervously asked if they were open to the public that day, as Google Maps had lied to me before when it came to operating hours. We had seen the sign, I told her, and we wanted to learn more about the snails. Vaso gave us a very enthusiastic ‘Of course we are open,’ and without any fuss led us into the shaded building where the snails were kept.

The snail enclosure was a long shed, with irrigation pipes designed for misting all above us in a grid. Under the green filtered light through the plastic siding, I saw rows and rows of V-shaped structures made of what I guessed was bamboo, the rungs spaced out an inch or so apart on each structure. There were about six long planters, with each planter containing about seven wooden structures, nestled amongst dirt and vegetation. Vaso led my sister and I down the gravel path in the snail enclosure until we came to the center, where she told us that, unfortunately, we wouldn’t see much snail activity that day. I asked her why that was, and realized that I had not actually seen any snails since I entered.

It was then that Vaso bent over and plucked what I thought was a stone from within the floor of one of the planters, and held her hand out to me. Sure enough, what I had assumed to be a rock was in reality a snail shell.

“They shed their shells, like hermit crabs?” I asked.

“No. This is their hibernation period. Look,” Vaso said, and flipped the shell over. Where I had expected a tiny, gelatinous body, was a hard, firm membrane covering the hole of the shell. “Snails actually hibernate from May to September, and as they sleep they add layers to the membrane. It protects them as they rest. You can tell how long they’ve been sleeping by how thick the membrane is.” To demonstrate this, Vaso pushed on the membrane of the snail in her hand until it came away, and held it up to show us the thickness of it. She pocketed the snail to cook it later, as it would not be able to reseal itself.

The Cretan people have a rich history of using snails as food dating back to the ruling Minoans. Though many consider snails a delicacy, the Cretans were kept alive by snails during periods of political turmoil and famine. When the Minoans starved after their civilization collapsed, they were not only able to survive on fish, but the snail. During World War 2, when Crete was occupied by the German army, the people of Crete staved off starvation by eating wild snails. They are a staple of Cretan cuisine, and many snails used by restaurants are still sourced from the wild. Farmed snails are often exported to restaurants on the mainland, where Cretans who have since migrated still crave the flavor of home. The spiral of the snail shell became prominent in Cretan art and jewelry, becoming a symbol of life, eternity, and synonymous with the famed Labyrinth of mythology.

You can imagine the awe with which I stared at the little thing sitting squarely in Vaso’s palm as she told me all of this. I had never put much thought into the creature’s existence before that day, but I realized that, ironically, this little invertebrate was the backbone of a people.

Vaso pointed to the clusters of snails that lay on the ground around the poles and clung to the underside of the V-shaped structures. She told us that snails tend to group together when they hibernate for protection, and in the wild hibernated together on the barks of trees where they will be camouflaged. The enclosed green snail house acted in a similar fashion to protect the snails from threats of birds or slugs that could take advantage of them at their most vulnerable.

“Slugs eat snails?” I asked, shocked that a creature I assumed was related to snails would so brutally turn on its brethren.

Vaso emphatically insisted that they do, and that they were not, as I had ignorantly assumed, brethren at all. Slugs are often a worse predator for snails than even larger animals, gooey terrors that they are. Vaso then pointed out the tiny white circles I had mistaken for gravel and showed me that they were, in fact, snail eggs. Snails are hermaphrodites, and after mating both parents lay a clutch of anywhere between 60-100 eggs. It takes a snail 30+ hours to lay a clutch, during which the snail is vulnerable to attack, (and I was beginning to question when they weren’t vulnerable, for all the good their shells do them). The infant snail grows exponentially, growing from the size of a pinhead to a pinkie nail in less than a year. Their shells, which they are born with, act like a tree stump, in that you can tell the age of a snail by how large their shells grow.

My sister then asked about the diet of the snails, and Vaso explained that they eat mostly vegetation, but are extremely picky. For one, snails will refuse to eat food that is red. If they eat apples, or even eggplants, they must be cut open, and even then the snails only eat the white fruit inside. They will not touch the skin at all. Her snails have a distaste for spinach, and most herbs, but make an exception for parsley. And she’s noticed, through years of trial and error, that their favorite food is zucchini.

The love Vaso has for her snails is apparent when she gives you this tour. She and her husband have been farming snails for 13 years, and they constantly experiment with finding the best ways to help enrich the lives of their ‘livestock.’ For the past three years, in fact, Vaso has taken to moving her snails to an outdoor enclosure just next to the building where they hibernate, so that they may spend their waking hours in an environment as close to nature as possible. There they can explore rocks and vegetation, eat, exercise, and even mate. Vaso says that, like cows, the act of going to a kind of pasture is enriching, and though they don’t possess enough neurons to truly ‘feel,’ it makes the snails seem happier. And happier snails lead to a better crop.

Vaso’s farm exports anywhere between 2 and 2.5 tons of snails a season, (as snails do, in fact, have a season). In order to keep farming, she must keep at least 200 kilos of snails in order have enough of a population to make more snails. Vaso explained that you have to wait a couple of years before the snails are ready to eat, as they must be big enough to be sustainable. Though the previous two seasons had not been as good as they’d hoped, Vaso and Stavros still loved their snails, their farm, and had hope that this season would be better.

After the tour, we spent a brief period enjoying the shade and the cicadas with our hosts, who offered us a refreshing glass of water to take the edge off of the oppressive heat. We chatted about life and mundane things for a while, until two additional families arrived, eager and excited to see the snails. My sister and I stayed briefly to finish our conversation with Vaso and Stavros, but though we were welcomed to stay and relax while Vaso gave her next tour, we declined and let her get back to work. Before I left I confessed to Vaso that I was a writer, and I asked permission to write about her farm. She consented, and we laughed together about how I had been acting as a ‘spy’ all afternoon. As I drove away, I felt contentment coupled with a deeper appreciation not just for the Cretan snail, but for the warmness and kindness of the Cretan people.

Snail Farm and Fun was one of the most incredible experiences I had during the 2023 summer, and it wasn’t just because I learned about the fascinating life of a snail. It was more so that I had gained a deeper appreciation for the little things that exist on this earth, thanks in large part to the hospitality I experienced at this snail farm. I realized that this farm exemplified what was special about Crete: A wonderful conversation between strangers at a snail farm, a moment in the shade, a smile… and yes, the snails.
Importance, in truth, is stored in the little things.

By Katarina Kapetanakis

Those who know me best know that I am unable to resist a kitschy tourist trap when I see one. I can’t help it: the minute I know it’s there, all of my mature appreciation of art and culture flies right out the window, and all of my thoughts are consumed by an almost primal desire to do something dumb for the sake of the doing it. I can’t even claim that it’s done ironically: I genuinely enjoy exploring tourist traps. I love finding joy in roadside attractions, in things that may be more expensive than they’re worth but are nevertheless enjoyable, in things that, while on the surface a dedicated traveler may consider a waste of time, I consider an experience. I’m reclaiming my joie de vivre one wacky, weird thing at a time.

Which is how I came to be a patron of the Doctor Fish spa.

How could something so…relatively…cute be so flesh-hungry?

It is, as the name suggests, a fish spa. I had never heard of such a thing before, and had never even seen one in America, (although some people have informed me that they do indeed exist). The premise is this: the unsuspecting tourist, lured into the spa by the employees looking for anyone who’ll bite, is asked to first rinse their feet off in a sort of shower. Once they’ve rolled up their pants and handed over their sneakers, the tourist awkwardly climbs up onto a padded bench and unceremoniously dips their legs into tank containing twenty or so relatively small fish. For the next fifteen minutes, your legs are suspended in water, as these fish nibble the dead skin away. After your time is up, you awkwardly waddle back to the shower, wash your feet, and go about your day. The end result is supposed to be that, now all the dead skin on your calves and feet has been eaten, your skin has been exfoliated and is silky smooth. Bizarre? Yes. Hygienic? Possibly. The jury is still out. Just weird enough for me to want to try it? Of course.

To some, a nightmare. To me, an adventure. But also a bit of a nightmare.

For months, I had seen the store, as I had to walk past the place in order to get to Heraklion’s pier. I would walk down the main thoroughfare, glancing at it wistfully. Every time I asked my family if they’d like to try it out, they looked at me as if I had asked if they had wanted to try some sweet bread. It wasn’t easy, as I walked up and down this street often, buying souvenirs for friends. Each time I passed by the fish spa, the employees working the crowd would lock eyes with me. They knew. They could see it in my eyes that I wanted to enter, and they used that to their advantage. But alas, I couldn’t cave to my desire to stick my feet in a bucket of fish. I had places to go, people to see. The fish spa…would wait.

And then the end of my Summer arrived, and I found myself full of the usual bout of end-of-vacation blues. I didn’t want to leave the crystal-clear Cretan waters, the sunshine, and the like. I didn’t want to give up gyros and freshly cooked lamb. I was in a slump, and only one thing could lift my spirits: a final high note, one last ride, one final experience that would be the cherry on top to my Summer. The fish spa’s hour had come. That afternoon, my family and I headed to the fish spa, not quite sure what we were in for, but aware enough that we were going to have…a time.

Let me start by saying, don’t wear a dress to the fish spa. Climbing awkwardly up a bench that’s just a little too high for you, only for you to need to scoot down the bench to your allotted tank, makes a dress a hindrance. Secondly, definitely go with other people. Bring friends, family, distant cousins, acquaintances you made on your cruise, your yiayia, what have you. It is so much more fun going with people than by yourself. Not only does it distract you a little from the agonizing tickling sensation around your feet, it is the highest form of entertainment. I have three or four videos stored forever in my phone, which I watch sometimes when I’m feeling down, of my mother on the verge of screaming as the fish tickle her relentlessly. My brother mocks her mercilessly, bragging about how the fish’s tickling hasn’t troubled him in the slightest, while my sister and I have cast aside decorum and burst into uproarious laughter. Two random strangers in the video stare at us like we have grown three heads. It’s one of my favorites.

Pictured: my friends and family suffering at the behest of my whimsy

I was aware the feeling would not be…comfortable, but I wasn’t prepared for how strange it would feel. The farther up your leg the fish latch onto, the easier it is. They’re tolerable, those fish, the chill dudes of the tank. I liked them. They didn’t activate my fight or flight response. The fish that latched on to the top or sides of my actual feet were on thin ice. There was definitely a strong sense of discomfort produced by their presence, but those weren’t the ones that sent me into peels of tickle-induced laughter. That honor went to the little bastards who targeted my toes. If you’ve ever wanted to know just how strong your stoic endurance can last, buy yourself a fifteen-minute session at a fish spa, and see how long you can keep a straight face. Extra points if you can keep yourself from squirming. I think the hardest part of the whole thing was forcing my legs to stay still, instead of kicking them about like instinct demanded. But I survived, as did my poor mother, who vowed to never visit a fish spa again.

I’m suffering, but I’m also living my best life

I didn’t stick around for a manicure, which was one of the many other spa services Doctor Fish offered, but the next Summer I visited Crete, I went back to the spa twice. What can I say? There’s a satisfying kind of schadenfreude that comes from bringing your friends to a torturous fifteen minutes at the fish spa.

Oh, and my skin? Perfectly exfoliated. Beauty isn’t pain…it’s a swarm of tickling fish.


By Katarina Kapetanakis 

I am not a person who usually craves bananas. Maybe I just tend to contain the recommended daily dose of potassium naturally, and have never needed to seek it out from an outside source. Or maybe I just don’t crave bananas. That’s not that weird. I enjoy a good banana milkshake every now and then, and those little fruit-shaped candies that come from vending machines that are shaped (but most certainly do not taste) like bananas are fine, and banana bread is great! But I don’t seek out bananas like I do other fruits, and I’m perfectly okay with that. This is just how my life is, I assumed. Some people are banana people, and some just aren’t. I fell into that latter category for no other reason than it just happened to be how life was.

My cousin said it was because I’d never had a decent banana.

“You have never tried bananas like the ones near Vai.”

“The beach?”

“Yes. There is a man who has a fruit stand, right before the turn to go to the beach. He sells the most delicious bananas in the world.”

“Those must be some bananas.”

“You have to taste it to believe it,” he said. “He always sells out early.”

“So, you’re saying that there’s always money in the banana stand?”

My cousin didn’t get the pop culture reference, but that was alright with me.  I wasn’t exactly foaming at the mouth for those curvy yellow fruits, but I didn’t mind taking fresh fruit to the beach. I was also very excited to visit Vai, which I had heard was an incredible beach, but is, alas, a story for another time. If you think I can’t tell an entire story about a banana stand and how the banana man thwarted me, you’d be wrong. So wrong.

The drive to Vai was about an hour and a half from where I was staying on the island of Crete, enough time for me to observe the beauty of the natural landscape of the place, and take some blurry photos on my phone. I slumped back into my seat after about fifteen minutes of failed photography, (though I guess, with the right filter, it could have been hipster-Instagram worthy), and closed my eyes. Car rides longer than 20 minutes will put me right to sleep, and the lull of the van as we rose and fell and curved with the land was the perfect sedative. I felt blissfully at peace, with the sunlight floating through the crack of the open window; if I had been a cat, I couldn’t have been happier.

The car eventually slowed, causing me to stir and look out the window, expecting to see palm trees and a wine-dark sea…and instead, saw a dirt road, and to the left of me, a shack. Or maybe a stand, but a stand that was larger than usual, of questionable structural integrity. It looked as if it had been painted at some point, but had definitely seen better days. Two or three different families were standing around, picking up fruit and asking an elderly man (who was sitting behind the stand) questions. My cousin, seeing I had arisen from my slumber, handed me some euros and told me to buy some of the bananas.

“Wait…why me? I don’t speak any Greek.”

“That’s okay, lots of tourists stop here. You’ll be fine.”

I looked around at the shabby stand and found myself doubting very highly that tourists frequented this place.

“But how many bananas should I get?”

“I don’t know. Try to get a kilo.”

“That sounds like…a lot of bananas…”

“It’s not really that much.”

“I think I should—”

“Just go get the bananas,” said my sister, who up until now had been quietly sitting in the back seat, minding her own business. She was in the part of the car that didn’t have quite as good air circulation as the rest of us, and was eager to get the bananas and get into the water. I felt like telling her to get out of the car and buy the bananas if she wanted them so quickly, but I sighed, put on my brave face, and approached.

The “conversation,” if you could call it that, was as awkward as I had expected it to be. I didn’t really know how to ask for a kilo of bananas with any fluency, as the Greek vocabulary in my arsenal consisted of “γεια σας”, “Καλημέρα”, and “κοτόπουλο” (due to me temporarily owning a pet chicken while on Crete, but that is a tale for another day). But the man running the stand knew enough to get my money, and I successfully made off with maybe 6 or 7 bananas, noticeably less than how many bananas made up a kilo in my mind. It was of no consequence: the fruit was purchased, the bananas were gained, and finally we could continue on to our beach day.

The beach was a wonderful time, with soft white sand, clear water, and sunshine galore, with a gorgeous palm forest stretched out behind me and to the left of me. I felt like I was becoming one with the beach as I let myself cook in the hot rays, and I wondered how feasible life would be as a tent-dwelling beach bum, when my musings were interrupted by my cousin handing me a banana. I was still skeptical of these bananas tasting anything other than how bananas normally taste, but I obliged him, and realized without question that I had tasted forbidden fruit. My cousin may have had a point when he told me I’d never had a decent one. These were sweeter than the bananas back home, so much so I’d almost classify them as being rich, and yet I felt refreshed after I ate them. They were the perfect complement to a day at the beach. They simply tasted like Summer.

I had to have more.

When we were packing up the car with our damp towels and beach covers, I asked my cousin if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to stop once more at the stand.

“I don’t know if he’ll have any left, it’s late in the day.”

I had not considered this, but by then my thoughts were consumed with the primal, caveman-like desire of “obtain more bananas.” I had to try, damn it. I had to try. My cousin shrugged, and two minutes later he once again pulled into the makeshift ‘parking lot’ of the fruit stand. I got out of the car with the desperation of someone trying to hurry up and abscond with the last bits of fruit in a shop’s possession while poorly disguising said desperation by trying and failing to check their speed. I glanced at the place where the bunches had been hanging before: success! There were two bunches left! I sped-walked over to the Banana Man, and asked him if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to buy his remaining stock.

“No, I can’t.”

I wondered if they had been sold, but the answer was…much more perplexing to me.

“I cannot sell them to other people if you buy. I lose money.”

In my mind came a flurry of thoughts that I had neither the ability or knowledge to convey. But if you sell all your bananas to me, you make the same amount of money that you were going to make if you sold them to other people. I just…I want to buy your bananas.

“Okay…can I have half of them?”


“Ah damn—can I take just these?” I said, gesturing to one bunch.

“No, I’m sorry. I need to sell to other people, or I make no money.”

But—but I’m still giving you the same—please just let me buy your bananas.

“Can I have three more bananas?”

He shook his head.

“Two more?”

He shook his head again, and I heard the desperation creep into my voice.

“One banana?”

You can probably guess how that ended. I looked around at the stretch of empty road, and at the only other people at the stand, a Dutch family that were examining some dragon fruit that quite frankly also looked just as good. But I couldn’t leave now. I couldn’t be thwarted by the Banana Man. How can you get a customer hooked on your product and then deny them another purchase? The gears in my head turned and clanked about as I tried desperately to string “γεια σας”, “Καλημέρα”, and “κοτόπουλο” into a sentence that would convey how badly I wanted, nay, needed, those bananas. But while I struggled and tried to make the pieces of this grammatical conundrum fit, the Dutch family glanced at, admired, and purchased the lovely bananas right out from under me, Banana Man smiling the entire time.

My eyes narrowed, my mouth opened just a tad, and in my mind, I could not help but wonder if it had indeed been personal. None of it mattered though. I was left banana-less, and, bereft, I turned back to the van, where my cousin looked at me, confused.

“I thought you were going to buy more?”

“I tried.”

“What do you mean?”

“He wouldn’t sell them to me. He said he would lose money if I bought them all because he couldn’t sell them to any other beach-goers.”

“Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.”

I couldn’t do anything but gape at him, so I did for a brief time, wondering just whose side my cousin was on here. We could be eating bananas right now. Beautiful, sweet, magical bananas. The best damn bananas in the world. And yet…here we were…empty-handed. And empty in soul. Had I made some sort of pact with an otherworldly banana salesman who operated on rules based in a supernatural plane and not our own? Was I now paying for my pride, my belief that bananas were nothing special, until some Greek trickster banana god thought I should be punished for my folly? Maybe. Probably. I like to think so.

So, if you’re planning on taking a trip to Vai, and you come across a lonely looking fruit stand of questionable integrity, with maybe three other people clustered around some bananas…make a stop. Buy some bananas. Enjoy them. And don’t, whatever you do, take them for granted.


By Katarina Kapetanakis

When my cousin told me, out of the blue, that he had found the best sushi I would ever taste, I did something many of you would consider to be…rude.

I laughed in his face.

After all, when I say the Greek islands, does Asian cuisine come to mind? No, it doesn’t! The kind of fish you’d find in the town of Heraklion is not the same style as that you’d find in Tokyo. Frankly I figured I wouldn’t taste anything but lamb, chicken, and gyros for several more weeks. I had planned to hit my favorite sushi restaurant the very day my plane would touch American soil again, where I would treat myself to salmon sashimi, a tuna tartar, maybe some tamago, and the like. I loved the Cretan palate, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t dream of the occasional volcano roll. So how could I expect the Greeks to enjoy the taste of raw fish, since every other restaurant I’d been to (though their fish was delicious), cooked theirs? I wasn’t under any impression that there was a market for sushi on Crete.

“Trust me. You’ve never had sushi like this.”

“I’ll believe it when I taste it,” I said.

My cousin didn’t seem to understand my skepticism. My siblings, who were just as Americanized as I, couldn’t understand how our cousin thought that he had found sushi on the island. My brother rolled his eyes and was ready to write off all my cousin’s protestations. My sister wanted to take the risk, but my brother and I figured this was due to a desperation for food that wasn’t lamb. Finally, our curiosity overcame our trepidation we had over trying whatever the Greeks thought sushi was, and we decided to call up our cousin and have ourselves a culinary escapade.

We drove about 45 minutes to the seaside town of Chersonissos (or Hersonissos, depending on who you ask), a place that, for me at least, reminded me a little of Hollywood beach in South Florida. For those that haven’t had the pleasure, picture a cozy but commercial seaside town, where the nightlife is more like a comfortable party than an all-out bacchanalia, where the restaurants all have gorgeous views of the sea, and people on motorcycles riding on paths that probably shouldn’t allow motorcycles, but do anyways. It’s a place that gives off a calm and pleasant atmosphere, one that satisfies anyone looking for a party while at the same time giving those who just want a nice dinner their space. Never had I seen the personification of a happy medium in a physical place. It was quite nice, and, as I was to learn, a greatly appropriate place for a sushi restaurant on a Greek island.

The restaurant is named Kymata Sushi, owned and run by a wonderful visionary named Christos, who was inspired while on business in Japan to bring the wonder of sushi to his home. His other profession, that of high-end jewelry store owner, has influenced his passion. The sushi he has helped to bring to this country is, quite simply, a work of art, as seen on the screens on the walls above the restaurant that show his beautiful jewelry morphing slowly into intricately rolled pieces of sushi. It was a little entrancing, and I couldn’t help but allow my mouth to water just a little.

“Wait until we order,” my brother said. “Just…wait.”

My brother takes his sushi very seriously. He can down four to five rolls of sushi (with some pieces of sashimi here and there) in the same time it takes a normal person to eat one roll with maybe an appetizer. It really is an impressive thing to witness, almost like a free Vegas magic show: watch this pound of tuna disappear before your eyes in 3…2…you get the point. His litmus test was a tad more precise than mine, and so we agreed to order a wide variety, to my cousin’s distress.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to eat all of that?” he asked, wondering just what we were feeding my brother in America, who was tall and thin and didn’t look as if he was physically capable of eating an entire kitchen. My brother’s face was stone. He wasn’t there to play games…he was there to eat sushi.

Our waiter took our order, and after some pleasant conversation with some of the staff and the owner, and some complimentary hors d’oeuvres, our sushi came. We think, in retrospect, that the waiters stuck around because they simply couldn’t believe my brother would be capable of eating, though a more realistic explanation is that they were the most attentive staff I’d seen in a while. I don’t think my water glass was emptied once that night.

But the sushi was a marvel. It was beautifully presented, as if Poseidon himself had wrapped up his treasures and presented them to us on a plate. Our eyes wide, we couldn’t help but drool at the colorful array before us, filling the table, and making us just a little unsure of how much, in our hubris, we had ordered. The taste test, however, was still before us. We gazed at my brother, who had assumed the position of authority, and waited with bated breath as he lifted the first piece of sushi to his lips. The air went out of the restaurant. You could have heard a fish bone drop.

Our cousin, as you probably guessed, was right: the sushi was the most delicious we had ever tasted. My brother’s eyes rolled back into his head, enraptured, and my sister, usually a proponent of sharing from other people’s plates, decided to start hoarding her own. I had to confess to my cousin that we ugly Americans were eating our hats. This was, in fact, the best sushi I’d ever had, and my brother concurred. He devoured 30 pieces of sushi, 12 pieces of sashimi, and an entire bowl of salmon tartar. He thanked our cousin for showing us the restaurant, and then walked off into the night, his thirst for sushi officially quenched. What a hero.

So if you are searching for a break in between the traditional Cretan fare, look no further than the small, lively town of Chersonissos. Look for a clean, well-lit place, known as Kymata, and enjoy some of the best sushi you’ll ever have in your life.

Say hello to Christos for me.

By Katarina Kapetanakis 

None of what happened that day would have occurred if my sister was not an artist.

My family was spending the summer on the island of Crete, and it was one of the few days we weren’t attempting to do something together. Something about the very concept of the Family Vacation necessitates that every second of every day while out and about must be spent with the group as a whole. This is all well and good, for the most part, up until the point where you’ve found it may be better to take a day to be individuals instead of a cohesive family unit, for the sake of the continued family’s cohesion. You could consider it a vacation from the vacation, if you so choose. My sister, the aforementioned artist, wanted to spend her day drawing and painting some of the landscape, a noble endeavor that required art supplies that she, alas, did not have on her. Not to worry, however: a cousin of ours who lived in Heraklion knew exactly where to go. Since this was the day we’d mutually agreed to split up and explore, the rest of our family did not tag along. But I was curious, and figured a walk around the city would do me good. I happen to believe one cannot be bored in a city, and right when one believes there is nothing new left to experience, you stumble across a happy accident.

“It’s just down this street, until you hit the traffic lights. Then turn left. You cannot miss it, it’s, maybe, two blocks? Yes, two blocks away,” our cousin told us, and abruptly drove off, leaving us to our own devices. It seemed simple enough; go forward until you spot the traffic light. How hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, it was very hard. There wasn’t a traffic light to be seen.

This was a pretty interesting corner, though.

I wanted to take a couple exploratory turns, every so often, but my sister, (a stickler for directions), wanted to keep going in the general direction of ‘straight,’ much to our misfortune. You see, for those who don’t know how the roads that are next to the city center work, they tend to ‘fan’ out, leading perambulators in a diagonal direction away from the center of town. We didn’t find out until we hit the coast, but the part of the coast that has large, Venetian walls showing the line of demarcation between the city and the rest of Crete. A happy accident in its own right, considering I had never seen the walls up close before, (unless you count quickly driving past them). You’d think that this would be the point where we’d want to turn back, and just retrace our steps? Well…

“Well, we’ve hit the coast. The road just loops around to the harbor. We can grab coffee there. Want to just do that?”

“Yeah, okay.”


And so, in silence, we began to follow the road, more or less, with no conception of how far we were walking. We lost the road several times, (please don’t ask us how, because we still aren’t exactly sure ourselves), following the paths that the stray dogs take to navigate the back-ways. It did make for interesting photography, I thought to myself, but I hadn’t expected the hike and so had neglected to bring my camera. It’s just as well. I have a feeling that if I’d lingered in some of those back alleys for too long, the mangy dogs would have been the least of my worries. But we plugged on, thinking north, always north, keep north, (although we were probably going east), when suddenly we’d found the sidewalk once more, and could see the faint outline of the harbor in the distance.

“Oh hey—isn’t this that museum we keep seeing as we drive in?” my sister asked, pointing up to the yellow building that we’d found ourselves in front of.

“It is,” I said. I didn’t bother asking if she wanted to go inside. It was the middle of summer, we’d brought no water with us, and we’d been walking for about an hour. Inside meant air conditioning, water, possibly somewhere to sit. We were going in. Almost immediately, however, we decided to forego the plan to hit the café first, as we quickly became distracted by the wealth of treasures in the museum.

Image by the Historical Museum of Crete via their website. Sadly I neglected to take a photo of the building myself.

For those who’ve never been to the Historical Museum of Crete, (not to be confused by the more well-known Archaeological Museum closer to the town’s center), you owe it to yourselves to pay it a visit. Museums have always held a special place in my heart, a place that both quiets and excites my mind. This museum was a fabulous treat for me; it began as a general history of the island, which has been host to various cultural influences and conquerors, as some of you probably know. It is a fascinating history, filled with political intrigue and real-life folk heroes. From the Minoan empire, to the conquering Greeks, to the invasion of the Venetians, Ottomans, the reclamation of the Cretan people, this museum takes you on a journey through it all. There is even a section of the museum dedicated to the resistance of the Cretans against the Nazis, and it filled me with joy and pride to see how brave these men and women were in their struggle to liberate their island. (On a personal note, I was especially prideful to find two of my ancestors listed as members of this resistance. My sister and I were able to share a moment that, I expect, is rare to museum goers: seeing personal history and global history collide).

One of the beautiful exhibits in this museum!

If history isn’t really your favorite subject, you shouldn’t worry. It also plays host to a large amount of art, including some of the most beautiful Byzantine iconography I’ve seen in a single collection. And if post-Byzantine is more your style, you should make a pilgrimage to this place for the sole reason that it is the only play to see the two works by the master El Greco on display on the entire island of Crete: The View of Mt. Sinai and The Monastery of St. Catherine (1570), and the Baptism of Christ (1567). Though he eventually settled in Spain, Domenicos Theotocopoulous (a.k.a. El Greco) was born in Heraklion, and to see him honored in this museum is something truly special. The museum also features a large collection of the works of Nikos Kazantzakis, perhaps one of the best-known Greek writers, (and a Cretan native). For those of you who are bibliophiles, make it a point to visit this part of the exhibit. Books I had never even heard of adorned the walls, correspondence between Kazantzakis and his wife or his friends lie still under a glass pane, and I couldn’t help but admire the covers of the various international editions that all had such beauty to them. It’s a special place for those who love literature and exploring new cultures and voices you may not know to seek out.

A bright road ahead


We soon received a phone call from our family, who were all now well-rested enough to regroup and take on the rest of the summer as a family unit. They asked us to meet them at Lion Square, not knowing of our small odyssey that had led us through the side ways and byways of the city. We got lucky, though; the museum was only about 500 feet away from the center. Upon spotting us, our family waved us over to them, where they were enjoying a lovely bougatsa at our favorite café.

“Did you find your art supplies?” our father asked.

My sister and I looked at each other before remembering our journey had an initial purpose that, in the excitement, we’d forgotten.

“No,” she told him, and smiled as she reached for a forkful of pastry. “But that’s alright. There’s always the next trip.”

By Katarina Kapetanakis 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a tourist possessing many vacation days must be in want of an ice cream. Think about the last time you went absolutely anywhere on holiday: do you happen to remember a time when you didn’t see a massive line of hungry tourists waiting to get some ice cream? In many places, you can’t fault them for it. Ice cream is delicious, after all, and it’s a relief on a hot summer day. Its also familiar; you know ice cream is a safe bet, a delicious safe bet, when a sweet tooth hits you on your travels. So I won’t fault those tourists who spend their time in line waiting for ice cream when many of them simply don’t know that more interesting (and arguably better) alternative deserts exist.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to bougatsa.

The best sweet treat in all of Crete?

Bougatsa is a marvelous treat that is believed to come from the city of Serres, in Macedonia, and just so happens to be very popular in the Cretan cities of Chania and Heraklion. Bougatsa is a pastry made of thin, flaky layers of phyllo dough wrapped around either delicious mizithra cheese, or a sweet “cream” custard, both versions topped off with cinnamon sugar. It’s a warm and buttery wonder that hits all the right spots you didn’t even know existed. If you’ve never tasted it, you can’t imagine the warmth that spreads in you, that happy feeling that grows with every bite. The perfectly flaky, buttery phyllo is such a wonderful compliment to the slight tang of the cheese, while the cream version sits on the tongue like a dream,  the perfect balance of savory and sweet. When I was first introduced to bougatsa, it was like my third eye had opened. As a great lover of cheese, I had fallen head-over-heels in love. Truly, nobody does cheesy pastry like the Greeks. I honestly wonder if they were the first people to discover that cheese pairs so perfectly with pastry, and that it’s the perfect thing not only for an afternoon snack, but for those looking for a sweet and savory start to their day: that’s right, bougatsa is actually a breakfast food! Although nobody would blame you if you got it for lunch….and dinner…and dessert.

Isn’t she looooovely

My favorite place to get bougatsa is a small café called Phyllo Sophies, (which automatically wins extra points for that world class pun). Here you can find bougatsa at its most authentic, complete with an attentive staff and some pretty lovely surroundings, such as the fountain in the heart of Lion’s Square, and the universal joy that comes from people-watching. In fact, every so often talented street musicians will set up shop near the fountain, providing the perfect soundtrack to your afternoon cheesy (or creamy) treat. Stopping for a bougatsa in Lion’s Square is like stepping off the ride that is life for a short while. The world keeps spinning without you at a lightning pace, while you get to sit and enjoy a warm slice of comfort. That’s really what bougatsa is to me; a chance to collect yourself, to feel refreshed and be made whole again with just a touch of extra sweetness. It reminds me that life is short, taking stock of time, your surroundings, and your life is important, and most importantly, it reminds me that  sometimes the perfect way to make life a little better is to add a touch of sweetness. Perhaps that’s a little corny of me. But would you really begrudge me a little armchair phyllo sophy?

By Katarina Kapetanakis

I don’t know if you know what it’s like to be raised on a myth, but I’ll try to explain it to you.

Imagine growing up on stories like they were your bread and butter. I suppose that isn’t so unusual, plenty of children grow up in this fashion. Their parents spin them yarns for a tapestry so vast and old that no one can quite pinpoint where the first thread started. They’re a vast web of tales and folklore that, when woven together, make up the fabric of a reality. Not actual reality mind you, but a kind of reality. The whole world takes on a sort of shine, because when you’re raised on tales you end up believing in magic, and when that happens you’re never sure how much is real and how much is make-believe. Kernels of truth exist in myth, after all. And all that makes you wonder if your place in this world fits perfectly in between the truth and the story.

This was all a rather longwinded way to say that the cave Zeus was born in is a real place you can actually visit. You know Zeus; king of the Greek gods, lover of thunderbolts, and the man who set the philandering bar at its high, (or low, depending on your views on philandering). His birthplace, the cave at Lassithi, is a real place that thousands of tourists flock to every year. It was the place his mother Rhea fled to, to hide the existence of her youngest son so he would not be devoured alive by his father, Cronos.

A view of the plateau

Zeus’s cave is an hour or so drive into the center of the island of Crete. It’s a good drive, a grand way to appreciate the island in all its splendor. There’s nothing quite like turning a corner on a winding mountain road, or seeing a patch of sun drift across the valley in the center of the Lassithi plateau. It’s picturesque, like something out of a storybook. Perhaps a little on the nose, considering I’m selling you on visiting a place rooted in mythology, but it really is quite something to see in person. The last turn you take is a short uphill drive to the parking lot, where little tavernas welcome you with nourishment and a gorgeous overlook. The path to the cave lies across from them, where under an olive grove a small group of donkeys stand around, somehow managing to look both adorable and more than a little treacherous at the same time, as donkeys often do. Music from the tavernas drifts through the trees and dances on the wind as you turn to start the climb.

That’s right. The climb.

“But isn’t this a trip to a cave?” You might be saying. “Isn’t this supposed to be a little hole in the wall? You—you tricked me into hiking!”

Yes, that’s right: I tricked you into hiking. I tricked you into climbing a mountain on your summer vacation. I tricked you into exercising. I would be lying if I didn’t take a sort of perverse pleasure in it. I too was fooled by picture books depicting Zeus’ mother Rhea nursing her child in a cave that was ground level. However, in misleading you I have broken that sacred trust between blogger and reader of said travel blog, and I am sorry. Let me rebuild that trust.

Here’s an adorable donkey to help soften the blow

I’ll be honest with you, this climb takes a lot out of you, especially if you’re out of shape like I am. There are two paths to take, the paved ‘easier’ path and an unpaved, wild, untamed path that, if you’re craving an authentic hiking experience to mirror what it was like to climb this mountain a thousand years ago, is perfect for you. If you’re like me, a casual walker at best who just owns a decent pair of sneakers, a water bottle, and some plucky optimism, go with the paved pathway.

The path is steep but not unbearably so. Every so often you find yourself turning around to look back over your shoulder to see just how far you’ve come, which is reassuring as the view really is spectacular. If you can plan your daytrip around a partly cloudy day, do it; the way the sunlight filters through in patches across the valley is so beautiful, it can fill even the most inexperienced hiker with optimism and wonder. Hold that feeling. Carry it in your heart and treasure it as your calf muscles start to seize on you. Try and make it sustain you as you come to realize what those donkeys at the bottom were for, as the little kids riding them up the mountain point their stubby fingers at you in mockery. But don’t glare at them for too long: those donkeys are loaded, shall we say, and they do leave ‘gifts’ along the path. Try and avoid them.

A view from the top

It’s an incredible feeling to reach the top of this path, however. You’re rewarded with a sense of pride, something those brats on the donkeys know nothing about. You worked for this view, you earned it. Bask in your sense of superiority. It’s good to reflect on our accomplishments. In fact, the top of the mountain is the perfect place to celebrate them; someone had the absolutely brilliant idea of building a small taverna at the top, which serves fresh juice and water to the poor dehydrated visitors.

“So now, I’ve reached the top. A quick peak into the tiny cave and I walk casually back down the mountain. Right? …Right?”

I’ve misled you again. I keep doing that. I really do need to work on our trust exercises, I’m aware.

After paying a small entrance fee, (hope you brought some cash to get past this point Dad, or else you’re trekking back down that mountain to the car and up again all by yourself), you turn a small corner and see a hint of the cave entrance. The hole may not seem that large at first, but as you approach it widens, like the mouth of a monster opening to receive the offering of tourists. It is a gaping maw, a black abyss into the side of the mountain, with steps that descend into the very bowels of the earth. This is why they call it the ‘mouth’ of the cave, you think, as you commit yourself as one of thousands who step willingly onto the tongue. It may seem slightly dangerous, and I’d be lying if this part of the trip didn’t require a bit of caution. It does. The stairs are metal, and the farther you descend into the cave, the more saturated with moisture they become. Hold tight to the (albeit slippery) railing, follow the signs for which set of stairs to keep to, and you’ll be just fine. It’s pretty surreal to see, hordes and hordes of people filing down into the earth, and you have to wonder if the scene before you mirrors a descent into Hades rather than the place a baby once lived in. The cave screams “underworld” more than “nursery,” but I suppose you can’t be too picky when avoiding your father who wants to eat you.

The mouth of the cave

The hot and humid summer air has no influence here, in fact it makes you wonder why you didn’t think to pack a sweater. Lights illuminate the rock formations on the ceilings and the walls, and small pools of water glisten in the darkness, and you know for sure that though they look quite shallow, they’re probably fathoms deep. Look closer at the walls around you. Are those faces, ghosts of legends imprisoned in the cave wall? Or just your eyes playing tricks on you? Echoes bounce around, and you wonder if that faint cry is the ghost of a memory of the infant Zeus, as the shushing of an anxious mother quiets it out of fear and love. The air is somehow thinner here. Maybe you’ve slipped between the cracks, between times, and maybe you’ll turn the corner to find them sitting there in the darkness, perched on a rock. It’s exciting and unsettling all at once.

Only a small orb of light makes it down from the entrance, but it’s a light you’re drawn to as you circle around and make your way. Gripping the railing tightly, you follow the procession of visitors who make the slow climb back into the day. If you’re like me, you’ll probably blink a little in confusion, turn around, and stare again at the mouth of the cave. Were you ever down there at all, in that inky blackness? Did you transition from reality to myth and back again? You check your phone for the photos of the rock formations. They’re there. Boy, are they going to make some killer Instagram pics later…perhaps you were down there after all. But now it’s time for another fruit juice. Banish these thoughts from you, of blurred lines and jumbled myths: sip something cold, gaze at the view, take a deep breath, and get the group together. It’s time to go.

If you get the chance, when you’ve returned to your villa, gaze out over the pool. There’s a mountain range there that looks almost like the profile of a grizzled man, cut from the stone, his eyes closed. That’s Zeus, come to rest on the island of his birth, taking refuge in death at the same place he found safety in birth. I’m not yanking your chain, he’s there, sleeping and covered in grass and trees and goats and Cretans, and of course, you. They let him sleep though, the Cretans…his dreams keep the island the magical place that it is, a blend of myth and reality, a place where the lines between the two are blurred. And you know firsthand the power of that blur now.

By Katarina Kapetanakis