Heraklion seems nice enough, although it’s a little more hardscrabble than the wealthy cities of northern Italy or southern Spain. Stray dogs sleep in the streets, and tiny gypsy children circulate in the crowds asking for money and eyeing valuables. Even in the upmarket pedestrian malls through which tourists are channeled there’s a sense of there not being quite enough money.
We wandered the streets, absorbing the ambiance, then had a coffee and a glass of frankly sensational fresh orange juice in a cafe. We strolled along the waterfront, where the Mediterranean is so clear and sparkling that it looks like something out of a mineral water commercial.
Then, on a whim, we visited the Natural History Museum. The way the staff set upon us with glee suggested that nobody ever goes to the Natural History Museum. We had a personal guided tour of an exhibition about holograms and optical illusions, then a ride in the earthquake simulator, which taught us that earthquakes are fun when you know you’re not going to die. Then we visited the museum’s little zoo, which featured Mediterranean lizards, snakes and small mammals, as well as some exotics from further afield that had been confiscated from local collectors by Customs.
Once we left the Natural History Museum, there was just enough time to trot back to the ship before the embarkation deadline. The deadline is a fairly inflexible time limit that has already seen three passengers left behind in Katakolon, so we were careful to make it. Plus, of course, we were missing the buffet.
On leaving Heraklion, I realised that one of the things I'd noticed most about the city was the patriarchal nature of the society. From what I can see Crete has a very macho culture, all hair and ouzo and staring at women until they feel uncomfortable, if not downright violated. There is also a uniformity of male fashion. Every Cretan man dresses more or less alike.
So how does one dress like a Cretan man? I'm glad you asked.
1. Schmick hair. The hair of the typical Cretan man is naturally schmick, thanks to centuries of being in close proximity to vast amounts of olive oil, but the modern Cretan man uses product anyway, just to make sure his hair is at its schmickest.
2. A modest beard; anything from an ambitious 5 o’clock shadow to hipster plumage, but not extending into biker territory.
3. Aviators, preferably smoked, but mirrored will do, although that carries a hint of trying too hard.
4. A leather jacket or nylon windbreaker, even though it’s a cloudless warm spring day and I’m sweating in just a light cotton shirt.
5. Sweat or track pants. Even the chatty attendant in the Natural History Museum was wearing sweat pants. You can wear faded old jeans if you want to project a professional image, like the waiters at the high end café I had my coffee in. Maybe they spend so much time moussing their hair, polishing their aviators and practicing their glower that by the time they get to putting on pants they’ve run out of energy and they just go “Meh.”
6. Brightly coloured running shoes, preferably with contrasting laces.
7. A piano accordion, because apparently that’s a thing in Crete. Every street corner has some scruffy low-life with a piano accordion getting all Zorba on our asses. It’d be nice to think that this is just a spontaneous outpouring of traditional Greek spirit, but they stop halfway through a song if there’s a momentary gap in the passing tourist traffic and have a cigarette. Either that or iMessage the urchin further up the street to start playing.