Crete expectations: Minotaurs, mountains and miles of beaches on Greece's great isle
That the Greeks bear grudges is well known. Hercules once pulled out his bow and arrow and threatened to shoot the sun when the midday heat became too much for him.
Sitting on the tarmac for three hours at Luton airport because the Greek air traffic controllers were on a go-slow gave us our first indication of how the Greek government's austerity measures might affect our week on the island of Crete.
Things are looking up: Jenny makes sure that Hercules has not destroyed the sun on Spinalonga
It was only the humour of the pilot and a few well-thumbed Wisden cricket magazines that kept us cheerful.
But all was forgiven when we arrived at the palatial Aldemar Royal Mare Village spa hotel near Hersonissos on Crete's northern coast.
Voted one of the ten best Thalasso centres in the world, this five-star resort is set in landscaped gardens with a private beach and no fewer than 29 swimming pools.
With his elder brother off Inter-railing, our son Dan, 16, brought along his friend Milo to make a holiday with his parents bearable. Having just survived a muddy music festival in a leaking tent and on a diet of Cup-a-Soups and cold baked beans, the two boys soon decided that luxury double beds, extravagant buffet breakfasts and filtered-seawater swimming pools were a pretty cool alternative.
The private beach was a peaceful haven until the guests from the neighbouring hotel discovered that former prime minister Papandreou once decreed that the public should have access to all beaches! Nor were we able to take full advantage of the resort's watersports facilities owing to the windy weather, but that didn't stop us swimming in the beautiful crystal-clear sea.
Most of our fellow guests were wealthy Russians - hence the huge selection of different vodkas and luxury goods in the hotel shops.
Dive in: The Aldemar Royal Mare Village resort is an ideal spot for a family holiday
To avoid teenage boredom we directed the boys to the Aldemar Tennis Club with its six international-standard clay courts. Once it became too hot for tennis, they enquired about the thalassotherapy centre. I explained that the Greeks were the first to discover the healing powers of the sea, and that the elements could regenerate and revive his body and mind (chance would be a fine thing with their GCSEs coming up).
To discover a little more of this 3,000-square-mile island we needed to hire a car, but the petrol tanker drivers had been on strike and once they had gone back to work the forecourt attendants walked out. Fortunately a very determined Polish lady from Hertz managed to secure us a car with a full tank and we set off to introduce the boys to the home of Minoan civilisation.
The settlement of Knossos, three miles south of the capital city of Heraklion, is the island's major tourist attraction. The first palace, built around 1900 BC, was destroyed by an earthquake.
The New Palace and surrounding area was excavated and reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans between 1900 and 1931. It is a truly magnificent place, with royal quarters, homes for officials, priests and servants, burial grounds, workshops, treasuries and storerooms all built around a paved courtyard.
My husband Robert and I admired the giant frescoes, intricate plumbing arrangements and huge ceramic storage jars, while the boys set off to find the labyrinth in which the legendary Minatour was kept, returning to give us a delightful impromptu lesson in Greek mythology. In their version, recalled from their junior school days, the god Poseidon got 'pretty mad' when King Minos refused to sacrifice a magnificent white bull. His revenge was to make the king's wife attractive to the creature - woman and beast duly 'got it together' and the result was the half-man half-beast known as the Minotaur.
A labyrinth was built to house this very hungry beast who was fed a constant diet of teenagers. We were pleased the Year 6 lessons had stuck with them but did wonder if bestiality was an appropriate subject for ten-year-olds.
The following day we headed east to Elounda where there are more five-star hotels than anywhere else in Greece. It was once the resort of choice of President Mitterrand of France and Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi; today Arab princes and Russian tycoons make up the numbers.
Elounda Bay is surrounded by pretty beaches and a former supply base for the British Imperial Airways flying boat which once carried passengers and mail from Britain to India and Australia.
Teenage time: Jenny managed to lure her two teenage tag-alongs to the ruins of Knossos
From Elounda we took a short boat trip to the island of Spinalonga, best known as an abandoned leper colony and also as the setting for Victoria Hislop's novel The Island, which tells the story of a family torn apart by leprosy. As soon as I stepped off the boat I sensed the loneliness and fear that must have gripped those sent to a life of exile.
The island became a leper colony in 1903, having earlier been a haven for refugees from Ottoman-ruled Eastern Crete and later a fortress. We wandered among the ruins of whitewashed houses, shops and coffee houses left over from the Ottoman empire. Each house had a pebbled courtyard surrounded by high walls with cooking and latrine areas. The lepers, we learned, lived independently - they cultivated the land, fell in love, married and had children. The colony closed in 1957 and the island is now uninhabited.
Despite having many more miles of coastline still to explore, we were almost out of fuel. The island's numerous other sights - Venetian fortresses, beautifully preserved old towns, ancient monasteries and Byzantine churches, breathtaking mountain ranges, deep gorges and glorious sandy beaches - would have to wait until next time.
Crete is a wonderful place to visit in the spring when the flowers come into bloom, particularly in the mountains. One of the staff at the hotel told me that 142 species of orchid grow in the high mountains and that all the flowers and shrubs in the hotel gardens were indigenous so they don't require much watering.
There is also a ski slope in the mountains (winters can be very cold) which caused some excitement for Dan and Milo until they discovered there is no lift back - it takes 20 minutes to ski down and several hours to walk up again.
If shopping is your bag you don't even need to leave the hotel, which is littered with Bond Street-style jewellers and fur shops.
Each night, on our way to the dining room, we ran the gauntlet of long-legged blonde assistants swooping like pteradactyls.
Despite temperatures reaching 95F there are an extraordinary number of fur shops on the island - we saw a poster near the hotel advertising 30 within walking distance. Mink used to be farmed on northern Greece and the fur coat shops opened in 1998 with the arrival of the Russian tourists.
A beautiful prison: The island of Spinalonga was once a leper colony
By the end of the week, the strikers had returned to work and fuel supplies were restored. But the angry workers warned of more chaos to come.
Of this there was no doubt. On the way to the airport we noticed the main road was littered with speed camera warning signs but there wasn't a camera in sight.
Our taxi driver said locals had been so enraged by these contraptions that they'd taken up their shotguns and driven along the motorway using the cameras as target practice.
An act of revenge Hercules would have been proud of.
Thomson (0871 231 3235, www.thomson.co.uk) offers holidays to Crete from 11 UK airports, including Gatwick, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Seven nights' half-board at the 5T Aldemar Royal Mare costs from £699pp, including return flights and transfers.
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