Just like so many other young people, looking at the uncertain future a few years ago, while completing my post-graduate studies, I had been thinking very seriously to emigrate for a «better life» in an economically prosperous country. It seemed the perfect idea that time, and considering that I love to travel, I had almost decided that I would move to another country. However one summer dawn, I arrived with the boat to Heraklion early in the morning and I drove to the south of Crete, crossing mountains and valleys while the sun was rising. I stopped in a mountainous spot halfway and took a deep breath of the morning Cretan air, admiring the scenery and my soul got fulfilled with this deeply spiritual sense that I am Home. And I hope you already know that when one finds Home, leaving it is not an option.
Fortunately I never regretted! Luck and hard work did their miracle so by now I can say for sure that I enjoy a happy life and although I live for several years now in Athens, I always return to Crete at least once during summer.The beauties of the island are so many that neither an article nor a book would be enough to mention one by one. However I would like to share some information regarding Heraklion, Crete that may be useful for the peaceful traveler. I hope in the future to visit, photograph and write relevant articles for the other three major cities of Crete and beyond.
Firstly, Heraklion can be reached by large and comfortable ships. Usually they depart from Piraeus at 21.00 – 22.00 pm depending on the time of the year and they arrive to Heraklion at 6.30 – 7.00 am the next morning. Due to the increased traffic during July and August, the ships execute some extra daily trips, something that one may opt for, not only because you don’t have to book a cabin in order to sleep but also because you have the chance to enjoy your coffee on the deck, watching the sea route. Alternatively there are many flights to and from the airport N. Kazantzakis connecting the island with the most important airports of Greece as well as many other airports abroad, especially during summer.
In recent years Heraklion has become quite friendly to travelers and of course to the inhabitants. Apart from the museums and the attractions you can find on every city guide, you shouldn’t miss a walk on the new promenade and to Koules – the fortress built by the Venetians in the port of Heraklion- during sunset. I also like to walk on August 25 Street, the road that leads to the famous commonly known as “Lions square” after the Venetian-era Morosini Fountain in its midst, which features four lions supporting the main basin.
Lion’s sq- Το ενετικό συντριβάνι με τα τέσσερα λιοντάρια έχει ονοματίσει την πιο πολυσύχναστη πλατεία της πόλης. Εδώ υπάρχουν όμορφα καφέ και επίσης από εδώ ξεκινάει και ο πεζόδρομος της 25ης Αυγούστου που οδηγεί στον Κούλε και το λιμάνι.
Heraklion is surrounded by the Venetian defensive walls which remain intact till today and they are considered to be among the best preserved Venetian fortifications in Europe. Today one can walk on the walls, where a beautiful park has been created. Especially during spring one can see a great variety of Cretan herbs and plants that grow along the walls. Moreover the place is visited by many quadrupedal and bipedal creatures that want to have a stroll and enjoy the beautiful view from above. One can see dogs playing around and people staying till late, talking, walking or jogging. There are several entries that lead to the walls, some of which are located on Plastiras street. In addition there are some specific places within the walls where various events take place, such as the garden theater Kazantzakis, where one can attend concerts and performances especially during summer, while the grave of the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis in Martinengo Bastion can be visited all year round, without a fee.
Organic farmer’s market – Μια γεύση από την βιολογική λαϊκή που πραγματοποιείται τρεις φορές τη βδομάδα στο πάρκο Γεωργιάδη.
A coffee after shopping organic greens! Μεσημεριανό καφεδάκι στο δροσερό, καταπράσινο πάρκο Γεωργιάδη.
In order to buy some traditional products, fresh produce or souvenirs, it is worth visiting the central market of Heraklion, on 1866 street, very close to the Lions square and Meidani. Along the street there are shops that sell a variety of herbs, fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, bakeries and cafes. However if you are looking for organic products, the best idea is to visit the organic farmers market that takes place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from the morning till late in the afternoon (usually 4-5 pm) on the beautiful Georgiadis park. Here you can buy in season locally produced fruits and vegetables. We were lucky enough to find local papayas from Lasithi! We usually visit the market at noon and after shopping fruits and greens, we offer ourselves an iced coffee at the coffee shop that is located in the park.
Central market in Heraklion -Η κεντρική αγορά του Ηρακλείου.
In Heraklion we may not have identified a 100% vegan/vegetarian restaurant, but this doesn’t not mean in any way that we did not enjoy plenty of vegan dishes. Most restaurants offer several dishes that can be consumed by vegans, such as vegetable-based dishes, a variety of legumes and beans cooked in the traditional way such as baked giant beans, split peas puree, salads, olives etc. However it’s better to clarify that you do not want meat, milk, eggs and butter in your plate, as in most restaurants, the staff may not be quite familiar with the concept of veganism. Some of the places where the locals gather for coffee and / or snacks and raki, beyond the outdoor cafe in Georgiadis Park, is the Lions sq. (especially in the morning), the cafes – taverns located in Kagiampi str., an alley parallel to Kalokairinou str. and the numerous restaurants that are located close to the promenade. One traditional cafe – tavern with vegan options that we found interesting was named «Lakouva» and is located on Zotou Kosmas Street 11.The owners have created a vegan/vegetarian menu especially for those who abstain from eating animals and animal-derived products, with very interesting choices and friendly prices. Here we ate “askorvoulakous” (sort of bulbs that grow in Crete), amanitous (grilled oyster mushrooms, topped with a delicious blend of olive oil, lemon and balsamic vinegar) and falafel (ask without yogurt).For our next food adventure, we chose another beautiful place called “Lakkos» (Taxiarhou Markopoulou 41), where we found several vegan options also in very low prices. Here we had delicious homemade stuffed vine leaves (ask without yogurt) made with the traditional Cretan recipe, potato salad, beans and eggplant salad. However there are even more options such as mushrooms, greens, olives etc.
Traditional vegan dishes – Χορτοφαγικά μεζεδάκια στο παραδοσιακό καφενείο «Λακκούβα». Αν παραγγείλετε φαλάφελ ή ντολμάδες πείτε στο προσωπικό να παραλείψουν το γιαούρτι με το οποίο συνήθως σερβίρονται.
Cretan people love good food but they are also passionate with bread and bakery products. Thus in Crete one can find many top quality bakeries with a wide variety of traditional –and more- pastry and bakery products. Here there also many vegan options. For example, whenever I visit Crete one of the things I really like to eat is the traditional, fried or baked pies filled with spinach or other greens. I know, I know fried food is not the healthiest option but it is so delicious that it’s hard to resist. You will find these greens-pies both small and large size in several bakeries but also as an appetizer in restaurants. In addition, many bakeries also offer freshly squeezed juices, salads and smoothies.
In the tavern «Lakkos» vegan Greek mezes – Στο καφενείο «Ο Λάκκος» με νόστιμους μεζέδες. Ο χαμηλός φωτισμός κάτω από τα δεντράκια της πλατείας δεν βοήθησε στην φωτογράφιση, μπορεί όμως κανείς να πάρει μια ιδέα της ατμόσφαιρας και των γεύσεων.
Fried spinach pie – Η τηγανιτή χορτόπιτα είναι μια από τις σπεσιαλιτέ του νησιού.
The weather in the island is usually very good and allows swimming in the sea from April up to October. However, since the weather here is relatively good almost always, there are many people that choose to swim all year long. There beaches close to the city of Heraklion but they are either crowded or seem relatively less clean and they cannot be compared with the fantastic beaches in the southern part of Crete. We chose some of the beaches in the southern part of the island to swim enjoy the sun and fall asleep looking at the stars. When someone asks me what to do when he or she gets to Heraklion, I always say that of course one should go for sightseeing in the city. On the other hand, if I had to chose I’d rather spend my time exploring the hidden beauties of the prefecture such as the numerous small, wonderful villages, the magnificent lake of Votomos in Zaros, the magical lake behind the dam in Faneromeni, the unique beaches of the south, the historical caves of Matala, the mountains with the wild flowers and the rare Cretan herb species. This is what Crete actually is.