Walking in Crete – Discover Heraklion

If you like walking in the midst of history, legend and romance, without forgoing the hustle and bustle of modern life, you’ll love walking in Crete! The largest of the Greek islands and also the most highly-populated, Crete’s local culture-dialect – art and music – is distinct from general Greek culture, so it has its own unique charm. It’s definitely a must-stop place on your holiday in the Greek Isles. Where to start? Heraklion!

Your Doorway To Crete

The island capital, Heraklion (also called Iraklio or Candia) is an international port and a popular stop for cruises – making it the perfect setting-off point for a holiday walking in Crete. At first glance, what will greet you is a seemingly bustling, modern city- just what you’d expect of a major port- humming with activity, with scooters zipping up and down city streets. Go a little further (preferably with a guide or a guidebook) and you’ll find pretty much everything you could want to see – whether it’s shopping, culture, history or just great beaches.

Walk Backward In Time

One of the best reasons to go walking in Crete is the sense of experiencing life as it was in ancient times. The best place to learn a bit of the history is the huge Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This famous landmark, converted from an old power station, houses a massive collection of relics covering a period of time that spans around 5,500 years: from the Neolithic Period through Minoan, post Minoan and later periods – all sourced from Cretan archaeological sites such Knossos, Phaestos, Zakros and Archanes (Arhanes). It is best visited either early in the morning or late in the day to avoid the rush hour, especially in summer. If you have some spare time, you could also make a quick stop to the Battle of Crete Museum nearby.

The Palace of Knossos, five kilometres south-east (around 20-30 minutes) from the centre of Heraklion is another important stop when you go walking in Crete. Here, you will be able to see where King Minos (and his Minotaur!) is said to have lived, and from where Daedalus and his son Icarus took their tragic flight. Other sites you may want to visit in order to make the most out of Crete’s capital city are the Venetian Walls and the Loggia, Agios Minas, Koules Fortress and Transanades.

Say Hello to the Flora and Fauna

If you’d like to meet more of the denizens on your holiday walking in Crete, check out the Natural History Museum of Crete, where you will find great exhibits showcasing Cretan wildlife. Children will enjoy the area designed specially for them, complete with caves and other play materials. Don’t miss the earthquake- experience platform at the basement!

Another great place to visit if you’re on a holiday walking in Crete with children is the Thalassocosmos, a wonderful aquarium of tanks representing Cretan life under the sea. You can view almost 2500 specimens of Mediterranean marine species, including hunter sharks and beautiful jellyfish. There are some 50 viewing areas, while modern touch-screens provide additional facts in five languages.

Exploring the city of Heraklion is a wonderful starting point for your holiday. Walking in Crete can be so much more enjoyable if you know a little about the history of the island. Spending time in this fascinating city will enable you to better understand Crete and its culture.

Holiday & Travel Guide For Corfu, Greece

Corfu is the second largest Ionian Island, and is off the coast of Greece. The northern area is close to the coast of Albania. The main town on the island shares the same name as the island itself, and is a good place that can be visited on Corfu. Connected with a lot of Greek Mythology, one thing that you can do on Corfu is go in search of things related to this. However, the sites that are all around the island can be traced to many different eras, and the architecture can be a lovely thing to have a look at as a break from a typical beach holiday.

Corfu Town itself is on the east of the island of Corfu, and is worth a visit so you can look at a few attractions there. The Corfu Saint Spyridon Church is dedicated to the patron saint of the island, who is said to be responsible for several major turning points in Corfu history, such as recovery from famine, and the driving out of Turkish occupation from this Greek province. The Corfu Archaeological Museum is in the town too, and shows you many of the older finds from the island. See, for example, items which have been picked up from ancient Cassiopeia.

The Corfu Fortress of Saint Mark is near the Old Harbour and was vital for protecting the town against invasions when it used to be at risk. There is a lot of detail here, as galleries and so on were formed perfectly, to make sure there was a good defense system.

Get a boat from Corfu Town and visit the islet of Vidos. This is protected now as a nature reserve and has a lot of the flora and fauna on display for you to see. This is a lovely haven away from crowds and can be a nice place to spend part of the day you may dedicate to Corfu Town.

If you wish to stay on this side of the island, then Corfu Gouvia Village can be a good spot for tourists to get a hotel in. There is good nightlife in this area, which will attract masses of people, as well as a good handful of dining places which can offer nice traditional Greek dishes, or typical English fare, to tourists, depending on where you choose to go. The taverns of the area can be lovely though. In the day, Gouvia beach is somewhere you may want to set out for. The closest beach to the village, it offers sunbathing and the typical beach holiday activities that you can expect from islands catering to tourists, as Corfu does.

If you want an excellent beach then take a one hour hydrofoil ride from the capital to Paxi Island. You will not regret it, as a day trip here will show you wildlife and beaches that are of really high standards and will make for a great day for you. Another day trip to take is the Aqualand which is near to Corfu Town. One of the best in Europe, there are many slides and activities to make it a day to remember in amongst the viewing of some of the best sites Corfu has to offer.

North and west of the island there are really nice beaches, as well as the opportunity to visit neighbouring Albania to soak up the architecture there.

Happy Holidays

Holidays in Basilicata, Italy

Located in the south of Italy, in what could be described as the instep of the boot, Basilicata is a dry and arid region that nevertheless has two coastlines. One part borders the Ionian Sea in the Gulf of Taranto, while there is a tiny stretch on the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is home to one of the biggest resorts in the area, Maratea. Basilicata is most famous for its ancient ruins and archaeological finds and, unsurprisingly, many of the best attractions in the region are museums and outdoor interactive parks dedicated to some of the amazing finds that have been made nearby.

Matera

Matera is one of the main towns in Basilicata and is home to some amazing rock structures, which were built into the nearby cliffs and ravines. The Sassi are the caves that were first home to prehistoric man and later to monks. More spectacular is the collection of 150 rock churches that have been built on mountainsides in ravines, some in areas that are now very difficult to reach! There are tours of the best and most accessible churches in the summer months. There are also a number of museums in Matera, dedicated to medieval art, peasant culture, contemporary sculpture and archaeology.

Archaeological sites

Two of the most impressive archaeological sites are the Greek ruins in Metapanto and the Roman artefacts in Venosa. The Greek relics in Metapanto include the remaining columns of a the Palatine Table or temple, while in Venosa there are a number of Roman buildings that can still be visited. Highlights include the amphitheatre, which is located within the town’s archaeological park, and the baths, which though ruined are still fairly complete. There are also the ruins of a typical Roman house, and the artefacts found nearby can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in the town.

Maratea

If the kids, or even the adults, have had enough of trailing round ruins in the hot, Italian sun, then everyone will appreciate a break at the seaside resort of Maratea. There are plenty of places to stay and eat, as well as pleasant sandy beaches, though these do get very busy on summer weekends. Maratea itself has a pleasant old town, and if you can manage it, the climb to the top of the San Biagio Mountain is worth it for the view over the coast. There is a chapel and a sculpture of San Biagio himself on top of the mountain, which are both part of an important and lively festival held in the town during May.

Athens City Breaks Guide

For more than 3500 years Athens has been attracting visitors. Rich in history and home to one of the most famous buildings of the world – the Parthenon, which represents the golden age of Athens urban planning, it is impossible to compete with the impressive architecture of the city. Apart from being just a tourist spot, Athens is also home to more than half the population of Greece. Athens city breaks will surely help you know about this extremely beautiful city.

You are sure to fall in love with the jumbled and elegant skyline of neoclassical facades, whitewashed sugar-cube houses, the Plaka quarter – a colorful mixture of flea markets and antique shops, markets that have stalls piled with huge tubs of olive, fresh fish and well stocked tables laid out of the pavement tavernas.

The acropolis is one of the places visited most by tourists. It provides the best of classical architecture that you can find anywhere else in the world. You find the slender ionic columns of the Temple of Athena and the six female caryatids of the Erechtheion included in the satellite buildings. Theater had a great role in ancient Greece. The Roman theater of Herodes Atticus still stages summer shows for theater enthusiasts. After having a cultural feast at the Acropolis, you can visit the Benaki Museum where you can kindle your curiosities, and the National Archaeological Museum will keep you occupied for days. If you are looking to take a break from the hustle of the Athenian life, a peaceful walk along the 40 acres of the National Gardens is the best.

It is believed that modern Athens was born in 1834 and restored as the capital of the newly independent Greece. After the second world war, a massive expansion took place that was funded by American money. The Mediterranean climate was responsible for the high temperatures in the city. Pollution and excess traffic were some of the problems that Athens began to face. Visitors and philosophers felt that the architectural excellence were overshadowed by the urbanization. However, more than 3 million people visit this city each year and have a quick look at their favorite places.

Apart from the celebrated classical sites, the city also boasts of Byzanthine, the medieval and ninth century monuments and some of the famous museums in the world. You will also appreciate some of the areas that are immersed in surprisingly natural beauty. Though there is heavy traffic, the village like qualities are very evident in their cafes, markets, tavernas, and in the maze streets surrounding Plaka. Athens is also known for its fine restaurants and colorful and varied night life. The port at Piraeus and the metropolitan area are economic powerhouse and industrial areas of Greece. The Olympics in 2004 brought in many new developments that included an airport, new sports venues, extension of the metro system, up-gradation of hotels and renovation of many top museums.

Experience Guatemala

A tour of upland Guatemala will immerse the traveler in the archeology of the last aboriginal Maya of 900-1524, with unparalleled experiences in how archaeological knowledge about society, culture and astronomy is read in the ruins of the richest civilization of the Americas. The adventure travelers are guided by an archaeologist, who is author of many volumes. Our archaeologist tour director also deciphers the principal Mayan sites of the always climatically temperate highlands. The many Maya who live in the region today also provide keys in their lifeways to reconstructing the rich past. This incomparable experience of learning by doing archeology and anthropology is coupled observations of the incredibly rich flora and fauna under the guidance of an expert ornithologist.

Mayan Green Tours is offering a ten day expedition combining archeology, cultural anthropology and birding–to Guatemala during June 11-22, 2007. The four thousand- year-old Mayan culture still flourishes in highland Guatemala among millions of Mayan speakers today. While a glimpse of the aboriginal Maya is viewed in this year’s film Apocalypto our tour fully situates our members among still living Mayan communities with their colorful costumes, religious rituals and dance ballads, and more generally lifeways of the millennia. The discerning traveler thus experiences the ancient Maya in their archaeological cities situated on mountaintop as well as the living Maya at the foot of these mountain sites in their indigenous communities of today. This is the most authentic adventure and educational learning setting of the premier indigenous civilization of the Americas. In the achievements of writing, city building and the architecture of kings and high priests in palaces and temples, the Maya rank among the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and Chinese. If one is to fully understand the Americas, understanding its civilization is a must.

The observation of the wildlife in its natural habitat is the second of our twin goals. The Mayan landscape is also a biotic treasure trove where wildlife abounds around every tree. The setting of highland Guatemala is also unparalleled in its natural beauty -lofty volcanoes ring highland lakes, a rich diversity in flora and fauna are set in a year round spring-like climate of temperate days and cool evenings. The different altitudes make excursion rich in an ever-changing biotic diversity each and every mile. Ecotourism thus multiplies the Maya experience in their natural settings.

We travel by van across the verdant highland valleys and mountains to see the Mayan cities in their natural settings as they were on the eve of the arrival of the Europeans immediately following Columbus. Our first stop outside of Central America’s metropolis of Guatemala City is to Iximche, the location of the first Guatemala City (called then “Cuauthemala”) where the Spanish Conquistadores garrisoned in 1524. At 7,000 feet elevation, the citadel of Iximche was capital to the Cakchiquel Maya with whom the Spanish conquistadors allied in their strategy to “divide and conquer” the major Mayan kingdoms. This strategy was an improbable one of succeeding – for the native population was in the millions and the Spanish military force was merely in the hundreds. But in the final analysis the plan defied the odds in victory. Yet the Maya have dealt with conquerors before and have endured to rise again. And they have, for they represent the only indigenous American civilization still intact in so many of its original practices

The marvelous palaces, temples, ancient ballcourts, and murals at Iximche have been brought to light by meticulous archaeological excavation so that the site is the best preserved in the highlands. The city is intact and all there for understanding of meanings ascribed by the Maya. At this highest site in altitude and all sites that the tour visits a variety of birds inhabit the ruins.

Day two will find the group on Lake Atitlan, which is incomparable for its pristine beauty, for birding within the Reserva Natural Atitlan where hundreds of species of birds have been sighted and recorded. Next, we boat 10 miles across the lake and tour the ruined Tzutuhil capital of Chuitinamit in one of the most picturesque spots in the world. The more avian minded adventurers may climb on the forest engulfed Volcano of San Pedro with rich vistas of the tropical birds and of the Pacific coastal plain below.

In cosmology, Lake Atitlan was the southernmost edge of the Mayan world and was conceived as the place of the famous creation of humanity dramatized in the Mayan book of the Popol Vuh. (This book is the single largest native American epic, and has been translated into every European language plus many more around the world). After an evening of birding in San Lucas Toliman, the group may participate in the continued mapping of the only known Mayan zodiac. The archaeological remains of the zodiac, with each of the constellations of the night sky carved on huge boulders, is where the assembled Mayan tribes would ignite the flame of the solar calendar during the last week of January each year. The Mayan chronicles detail the actual ceremony and dance; vestiges of the ancient ceremony were enacted until about 50 years ago and are still remembered.

While the zodiac was simply the ritual south point for a highland Maya, the political and cosmic center was Utatlan (K’umarcaaj). This city was seen as center of the Mayan ritual and political cosmos. The astronomical principles dictating the arrangement of temples, caves and palaces of this most revered of the highland Mayan ies to coincide with the equinoxes, solstices and the rising and setting of particular constellations, will be decoded on site by Dr. Fox, based on his three decades of research.

When the conquistadors burned Utatlan as bastion of Mayan resistance in 1524, its population was forcibly removed to nearby Chichicastenango. Members of the tour will have the opportunity to bargain with Mayan vendors for their handicrafts of textiles, dance masks, pottery and much more in the biweekly market of today in the central plaza of Chichicastenango in much the same way it was when held in the central plaza of Utatlan before.

The tour culminates in a flight to Tikal in the lowlands to see two hundred foot high temples loom above the jungle canopy and relish in the experiences of some of the richest birding locales in the world. Birding enthusiasts will probably note this as a highlight of the trip as do most visitors to Tikal. Tikal is testament to the grandeur and mettle of the Classic Maya. It is an enduring legacy in which the people of Guatemala take great pride.

The traveler will return with remembrances to fill a lifetime; the Maya will be known first hand in person and in their mighty archaeological achievements which have come to represent the indigenous civilization of the Americas. Flora and fauna will be observed and probably photographed in their native habitats in both the tropical highlands and lowlands -together comprising almost unparalleled species diversity.

Dr. John Fox together with Roy Smallwood formed Mayan Green Tours, Inc. to introduce tours to the rich archaeological and cultural labyrinth and ecosphere of Guatemala. Dr. Fox is a leading authority on the Maya and has published extensively having spent 30 years researching the highland Guatemala. Roy Smallwood joins the tour assisting in the identification of the avifauna of Guatemala.