It takes at least two hours to see everything, but if you're short on time, head straight for Room IV, where you'll find a carved black stone bull's head with jasper eyes and gilded horns, a ritual vessel from Knossos.
Upstairs is the so-called "toreador fresco" from Knossos, depicting a man somersaulting over a charging bull as one woman holds the horns and another stands ready to help.
Back outside, I headed for the pedestrian streets off Plateia Eleftherias. Heraklion's young set filled the tables at sidewalk cafes along Daedalou and Korai streets; at 5 Korai I found Loukoulos, a lovely restaurant in an old townhouse.
Although alone, I was shown to a table for five and showered with attention. The cuisine is more Italian-Mediterranean than Cretan, and my beef entrée was fine but not memorable. If you go, be aware that rock music from a nearby venue penetrates the back windows of the dining room; choose a table in the pretty front garden.
In the land of Zorba
The next morning I hit the E-75 for Chania. The road, the new national highway, is four lanes much, but not all, of the 85 miles west to Chania. On narrower stretches, I hugged the shoulder, as I'd been advised to do by an Athens taxi driver who feared for my safety behind the wheel.
About halfway between Heraklion and Chania, I turned off at Rethymnon, which has appalling traffic but — once you fight your way into the historic core — morphs into an old town rich with Turkish minarets, Venetian facades and narrow streets with shops selling jewelry, leather and lace.
At a seaside open-air taverna in the shadow of the imposing Venetian fortress at the harbor, I bundled up against the chill and ate just-OK spaghetti with wild mushrooms — spaghetti is a standard menu item hereabouts — and bitter dandelion greens splashed with olive oil and lemon.
Back on the highway, I passed roadside shrines, a few goats and even a sheepherder with his flock. Just west of Rethymnon, big new resort hotels have sprung up along the coast. I'd seen in a guidebook the name of the village — Kokkino Chorio — where Zorba lived in "Zorba the Greek," the 1964 film based on a novel by Crete native Nikos Kazantzakis. When I saw a road sign for the turnoff, it was irresistible.
Up and up I drove on a narrow, winding mountain road, my enthusiasm flagging with each blind curve. When I learned I still had 4 kilometers to go — on an even narrower road with huge potholes — I turned back.
Map in hand, I drove into Chania and headed for hotel Casa Delfino.
My map forgot to mention the auto-free streets, so I found myself driving in circles.
Finally, I parked near the harbor and walked 15 minutes to the hotel, where I described my situation to Stella, the clerk, who called Costas, the off-duty clerk, and asked him to get on his motorbike, meet me at my car and lead me to the hotel's parking area. Costas was a lifesaver; he even schlepped my bags up the 49 steps to my room.
Although I'd booked one of the lesser rooms (the suites are fabulous), I loved the place, which is in the heart of the old town, just removed from the bustle of the seafront promenade.
From my room, I looked down on a beautiful gated courtyard and weathered red-tile roofs. Candles flickered on tables as I enjoyed a cool drink in the courtyard.
Dinner was at Dino's, a long-established seafood restaurant at the less touristy Outer Harbor. Nothing fancy — bare wood tables and half-hearted décor. I put away a mezede (appetizer) of grilled red peppers and a plate of the three biggest shrimp I've ever seen, grilled in their shells. All very tasty.
Casa Delfino is just off Theotokopoulou, the prettiest of the old town's cobbled pedestrian streets.
It's named for Crete's most famous son, El Greco (born Domenikos Theotokopoulos). I poked through shops selling jewelry, sponges, spices and ceramics before heading for the esplanade, where annoyingly persistent touts drummed up business outside cafes.