Rhodes Island (Part I) - Jan 29-Feb 2
Feb 2, 2011
|January 29, 2011
We were leaving the northern part of Greece behind today and heading to our first island stop, Rhodes. Our flight was not until 8pm but we had to have the hire car back at the airport by 1pm so we knew we’d have quite a wait at the terminal. Given we hadn’t flown for quite a while we didn’t think this would be too bad and it didn’t turn out to be. We had a good breakfast at the hotel around 10am, including fired eggs, and then we set off. The drive to the airport took just over 90 minutes (via some interesting diversions from our GPS!) and the hire car company dropped us at the terminal just after 1pm, as we’d expected. The departure area prior to check-in was quite large and had plenty of seats so we sat down and had some lunch, this time more bread and honey in an effort to at least get rid of the last of the bread we were carrying!
The airport was pretty decent and the time didn’t drag too much. Just before 6 we checked in and got rid of our bags and went to grab some dinner, knowing we wouldn’t get anything on the short flight and it would be late by the time we landed. We both got moussaka from the café at the airport and although it was edible it was clearly the worst meal we’d had in Greece and the most expensive, too. I guess we expected it, really.
The flight was only an hour and we were up and down before you knew it. The down bit was a bit shaky and I’m never a fan of arriving on an island after dark where you can’t see where you are. Thankfully the town of Rhodes was lit up enough as we came in to land but the pilot had great trouble keeping the plane level and he took forever to touch down. This meant that he fast ran out of runway and as we got towards the runway exit towards the terminal the pilot slammed on the brakes and you could clearly hear the tyres screeching. Not only could you hear them, you could smell the burning rubber! We were glad to get into the terminal and join the endless queue for baggage. Outside we found the bus stop but we were soon approached by a taxi driver who offered to take us and one other girl into Rhodes Town for a little more than the usual bus fare. We were happy to pay a couple of Euros extra and so we headed off.
We were dropped off by the shore, about 50m from our hotel. The wind was blowing like crazy and it felt really cold. We had to ask a passing local where our hotel was but thankfully he knew and we were soon checked in and out of the draft! I popped to the local store to get some coke and yoghurt for a quick bedtime snack and we were soon in bed watching TV and enjoying being somewhere other than an airport.
January 30, 2011
We had a decent night’s sleep and only really got up as early as we did so as not to miss breakfast! In many ways, we needn’t have bothered as it was some pretty dry bread accompanied by cheese and ham and coffee/tea and a syrup-like fruit drink. I wanted to watch the Aussie Open final on TV but we couldn’t find a channel with it on so I paid for internet at the hotel (yes, PAID for internet!) and managed to get a good radio signal with the commentary on. Again, I needn’t have bothered as Andy Murray was beaten convincingly and it wasn’t pleasant listening.
The match lasted until almost 1pm so we were both hungry by the time it was done and we decided to head out. It was a gloriously sunny day with not a cloud in the sky but, like Thessaloniki, it was still cold. We walked towards the old town and just outside the walls we found a taverna where we were able to tuck into a large chicken souvlaki with some tzatziki and fries. Thankfully, after a rubbish dinner yesterday and a crap breakfast, we were back to good food!
In the afternoon we made the most of the great, clear skies to walk around the old town. The walls here are really impressive and are much more extensive than any we’d seen before, even those at Dubrovnik. We walked through one of the main gates, called D’Amboise, and across the now empty moat and into the centre of the old town and past the Palace of the Grand Masters. This was closed today and tomorrow but we will come back later in the week to visit it as it looks impressive from the outside.
We turned in front of the Palace and walked along the Avenue of the Knights of St John. There were some really impressive buildings along here including the Inn of Provence which had four coats of arms forming a cross carved into the stone and the Chapel Française with a large statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. All the while we walked down the Avenue, we were followed by a black and white cat who was very friendly and had a marking across his nose which looked like the sort of moustache you would association with Hitler. Of course, this earned our new feline friend the nickname of Kitler!
At the end of the Avenue was a big church and just along from this was the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite. We had walked along one side of the old town and were near to the harbour so we decided we would walk along to the end where the Fort of St Nicholas stood. It was really windy along this part of the harbour and the rocks to our side were being battered with waves. This didn’t stop the local cat population though. There were hundreds of cats everywhere between the rocks, lying on the rocks, running across the streets and hiding in any spare spot they could find, presumably shielding themselves from the wind like we wished we could do! We passed three windmills along the harbour before the fort and in one there was a brick missing – even here, in the small gap, a cat was sleeping! When I said there were hundreds of cats, I might have been exaggerating a little but I bet we saw at least one hundred or thereabouts. Given today was a Sunday and the town was quite quiet, we had had seen far more cats than we’d seen people, too!
At the end of the harbour was the small Fort of St Nicholas and just beyond these was a narrow strait which marked the entrance to one part of the harbour. On either side of the entrance there are statues of a deer and a stag. I’ve no idea what significance these animals have to the city. Along the other side of the harbour were some quaint little buildings as well as the market building and the Church of the Annunciation.
We walked back to the old town walls and were glad to be somewhere a bit more sheltered. In fact, we decided to follow the path which is where the moat used to be so we had the high walls surrounding us and blocking much of the strong gusts. It was really impressive seeing the old walls from the bottom of the moat as you really got a feel for how tall and extravagant everything is. The walk around the moat was relaxing, too, as the area is now mostly grass other than the footpath and the only people we encountered where a handful of joggers.
Once at the opposite corner of the moat, we exited the lower area and walked back through the centre of the old town, past the main square, through the Ottoman area and past a large mosque. Everything in the old town was closed from high-end shops to tacky souvenir shops to shops selling furs to cafés and restaurants. We weren’t sure if this was a Sunday thing or a winter thing. We were suspecting it was probably a winter thing and we might not see much life around here at any time of our stay!
We headed back to the hotel, stopping briefly to enquire about car hire and to check a couple of restaurant menus, but we weren’t there for long before we were out for dinner. We decided to try the Italian restaurant on the corner near our hotel and we both went for pizza. We had no idea how big they were going to be and we hadn’t learnt our lessons from the past as we were soon faced with two massive pizzas that we barely ate half of! With our leftovers safely wrapped up and in our bag, we went for a walk around the harbour so I could take some pictures of St Nicholas lit up at night. Despite being stuffed we did get some dried fruit and more yoghurt from the store on the way back. Greek yoghurt with honey is fast becoming our pre-bedtime snack of choice!
January 31, 2011
After another crap breakfast we decided to rent a car for a few days and explore the island. There is a lot of stuff around the island we wanted to see and given the “winter” bus schedules we thought the best way to see everything was with our own wheels. We started off heading south out of Rhodes Town and towards Kallithea and the thermae baths there. The area here had been thoroughly renovated and the area looked really nice despite being empty and undergoing some clean up ready for the summer. The main building had a number of photos which showed the difference between the buildings as they were before the renovation and how they look now. Some of the areas look completely different and are barely recognizable now. There were also photos of the films which had been filmed here including “Zorba the Greek” and “The Guns of Navarone”. One of the things which was really cool was the floors which had been re-laid with small stones in various mosaic patterns. It was nice walking around the complex with no-one else around but still with decent, sunny weather. I bet this place is rammed in summer and although it is frustrating that so many things are closed in winter there are advantages of coming at this time of year.
We continued driving south and we went through the major tourist hotspot of Faliraki. This is one of the places which is well known in the UK for being a big party town in the summer but what we saw was a ghost town with lots of, er, scummy, rundown hotels. It made complete sense now why UK tourists come here! Heading out of Faliraki, the GPS seemed to be taking us around some fairly small, narrow roads and one such road seemed to disappear at one point and enter a river. We could see the road the other side and guessed that the water flowing over the road was a result of the storms which apparently hit the island the day we arrived. We decided to just cross the raging river anyway and thankfully the car decided it wanted to get to the other side too! The next stop was the Seven Springs mud bath. It wasn’t supposed to be a mud bath and we didn’t actually make it to Seven Springs either! As we turned off the main road we drove up the hill which looked more fitting for a 4 wheel drive vehicle as there were loads of rocks covering the road from some sort of minor land slide. As we turned the third or fourth corner we were faced with a tree lying across the road and decided that we should probably try and walk the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the area underneath and surrounding the tree was a complete pool of mud and I was soon up to my ankles in brown stuff. Another quick decision meant that we’d give up as we had no idea what we’d find further up and I was already covered in mud! It is with regret, therefore, that I can’t tell you whether there were seven springs or not!
On the way to our next “stop” we passed through a village called Psinthos. The main square looked like it had a few restaurants on it and we decided to stop for lunch. When we entered there were no staff around but one of the customers, a local priest, told us that the woman had gone to take her kids to school and would be back in 10 minutes. While we waited (and waited!) he chatted to us and even offered some of the fish he was eating that he’d bought himself and asked the restaurant to cook. We passed on the generous offer as the fish looked like they were quite small and having seen the gentleman pick all the bones out I didn’t want to have to do the same. I quite like fish but I hate playing with food – anything on the bone is to avoided, as far as I’m concerned although I’ll make exceptions for some things! When the lady finally returned we ordered tzatziki and tyrokafteri dips with bread followed by some lovely souvlaki and a lovely coconut cake for dessert. This place was obviously a small, family run restaurant as the woman was running around doing everything, including entertain her youngest (I assume) grand-child. It is nice to eat at these places though as the people are always really friendly and helpful and, so far, the food has been excellent. After our two hour stop for lunch our next stop was Petaloudes where we were supposed to find the Valley of the Butterflies. To be fair, we did find it but it was closed and from what we could see from the outside it looked pretty rubbish and we probably saved ourselves a few Euros!
Heading back towards Rhodes Town we decided to visit another small site, this time at Ialysos. The great thing about having the car is that when you find things are closed or inaccessible you can easily head somewhere else, a freedom not granted by an hourly, or less frequent, bus service! Just outside the town of Ialysos was Filerimos Hill with Ancient Ialysos perched atop. The drive up the hill gave us some great views of the area south of Rhodes Town and the west coast of Rhodes Island. The view was in fact facing slightly northwards which meant we were able to see across the water to Turkey, an advantage of a lovely sunny, clear day. Unfortunately when we reached the top of the hill we found that this site was also closed but inside we were able to watch the peacocks. Someone had thrown some crumbs just inside the closed gate and there were over 30 peacocks and peahens surrounding the gates at one point! I’ve only ever seen one or two at a time so to see so many of them was really cool. The area inside the closed gates looked pretty cool and as this site was so close to Rhodes Town we decided we would come back another day to see it.
The final stop for the day was the Rhodes Acropolis. This was on our way back into town and was perched on the hill overlooking the city. The acropolis is quite impressive, if basic, and it is perhaps the setting and backdrop which makes it seem even more impressive. The few remaining columns showed where the Temple of Apollo once stood and the lower ruins showed where the ancient stadium used to be. I’m sure we’ll see more impressive ruins than here and Ialysos whilst in Greece but the views from both sites was lovely. Even more than this, the peace and quiet of almost no other people made it actually quite relaxing rather than the hell of summer!
We drove back to the hotel after the acropolis. At least, we tried to. The hotel is surrounded by a load of one way roads and we passed near to the hotel on three different occasions as we drove around in loops trying to find a way to get down our road. We’d driven past the same tower about 5 times when I finally worked out where we needed to go! We didn’t have parking included with the hotel and the road rules around here were pretty vague so I just grabbed the first gap I saw and we left the car there. The term “road rules” in relation to Greek drivers is quite an oxymoron anyway so I was pretty sure I was safe wherever I’d parked. The driving around Thessaloniki and northern Greece had been interesting but today exceeded that. We’d had roads flooded, off-roads where there should’ve been roads and landslides along normally clear roads not to mention the stretch of dual-carriageway which was being ripped up and supposedly re-laid. And that is just the roads never mind the idiots behind the wheel you have to contend with. Stop signs are plainly ignored as are traffic lights and speed limits. Where I come from these things are orders but I think here they are just suggestions! I had cars beeping at me as I was doing 70km/h in a 30km/h area as they wanted to get past me. At one point I saw a police car and so slowed down a bit but this merely meant the car behind me got more impatient and overtook me on a blind bend!
For dinner we weren’t overly hungry having had a large lunch and so we went to Goody’s for burgers. Goody’s is a Greek chain serving salads and burgers and sandwiches and the like and we did feel a bit guilty eating here but at least it wasn’t McDonald’s! The ironic thing is that as we ate dinner with Verne a few nights ago we commented on how much we were enjoying Greek food and he made a comment that we’d probably get fed up of it at some point and have a pizza or Goody’s. In fact, in the last two nights we’d had one of each! We did have Greek for lunch though and I’m certainly not that bored of it yet! Besides, the chilli burger I had and the barbeque one Elizabeth had were actually quite good and unlike the afore-mentioned American chain the actual burger and salad were edible!
February 1, 2011
The plan for today was pretty simple. We planned to wake up early (really early) and drive down along the coast to see the sun rise before heading to a couple of places and then back for an afternoon nap. However, when the alarm went off early I just told Elizabeth to turn it off and went back to sleep! The advantage of having a TV in our room is that we can watch some TV before bed. The disadvantage is that most nights a film starts about 10pm or so and it is in English so we invariably watch all of it! With our early morning out of the window we eventually got up and got ready to go out and headed to Lindos to see acropolis. We had decided to skip breakfast at the hotel, mostly because it was shit but also because we’d bought some sweetbread to eat for our early start. We decided this was the better option even with the late start!
The drive to Lindos took just over an hour and as we approached the town we were able to see the large hill and the temple on top of it. The issue now was how we got to the hill as the town of Lindos was closed to vehicles and none of the three car parks around the edge seemed particularly easy to get to and from the town. The first was high up on the hill meaning we would have to walk down to the town to then walk up the opposite hill and the second was very much the same. The third car park seemed a bit further away but it was lower down meaning we would have a walk up to the acropolis but the walk back would be mostly downhill. That solved that problem and we parked in car park C! The town of Lindos is really pretty and is a maze of winding, narrow alleyways and very little in the way of signs. Thankfully we found a sign pointing towards the acropolis and we followed it. In truth though, it wasn’t difficult to see the big hill and the temple on top! The walk up to the top wasn’t as bad as it looked and we were rewarded with some stunning views when we reached the summit. On one side the Aegean Sea spread out before us and on the other the town of Lindos, with its perfectly white buildings covering the hillside. At the top of the acropolis were the amazing medieval walls and within that is the Temple of Athena. As we entered the walls there was a really impressive carving in the rocks of a ship which had withstood the conditions and still stood out clearly. There were loads of columns and rocks around with amazingly clear inscriptions in both Greek and Latin. At the very top of the hill stood the Temple of Athena. Much of the temple has been recreated and rebuilt to how it would have looked. The first reproduction was done by Italians in the 1980s but many local archaeologists didn’t think the work was very “true” so further work was carried out in the last 10-15 years. They had gone to a lot of trouble to make it clear which bits of the temple were original, which were from the first restoration and which were from the latest. It was obvious which sections of wall and which column sections were original but the restoration certainly gave you an idea of the impressive scale of the original building. Like yesterday though, the setting was a true highlight and I spent a lot more time looking at the views than the temple itself!
After visiting the acropolis we headed back down the hill and into the town. We walked around looking for somewhere to have lunch and we weren’t exactly overwhelmed with choice. The locals must not eat out very often as there were a ton of restaurants but none of them looked like they had been open for months and it was clear they were here for the sole reason of serving tourists in the busy summer months and not the quiet winter ones. We eventually found a café where we were able to get a basic toasted ham and cheese sandwich while we listened to the local weirdo sing along with the TV, brazenly smoking his cigarette directly underneath the “No Smoking” sign!
We strolled around the town some more and wandered along some of the alleyways. In the centre of the town was a lovely little church with a bell tower and the striking red roof really stood out. I made my way up the stairs of the bell tower to get a better vantage point for photos but the tower itself was closed so I didn’t exactly have to worry about vertigo! The streets of the city themselves were actually really striking as outside every doorway and at many other random points there were detailed mosaics showing different pictures, from flowers to animals to random patterns. We soon found our way out of the town and back to the car park and having spent a fair bit of time here we decided we’d head back to Ialysos to visit the site there before it closed for the day.
After an hour or so of driving, back the same way we’d driven this morning, we arrived back at the top of the hill and were pleased to find the gates open today. We were even more pleased to see the ticket office unmanned and so we just walked straight in! The peacocks and peahens were again out in full force but this time they weren’t so busy eating. Elizabeth commented yesterday that she’d never seen a peacock with their feathers out on full display but today she didn’t have to wait too long to have that rectified. Loads of the males were taking turns to put on a display for the females (and us!) and as we walked around we saw plenty of displays of beauty and courtship! We even saw a few different males trying to outdo each other and chase each other away. I’d never seen it before, but the females also lift their feathers up to compliment the male display but this wasn’t anything compared to the bright, colourful male show. We even saw a young male trying to show off, too. His feathers weren’t all fully grown and his display looked a bit pathetic but he wasn’t going to give up any ground. As I moved closer to him to try and get pictures he stood his ground and faced up to me, something which the bigger males weren’t doing. When I got close to some of them they just dropped their tails back down and moved off but this little bugger wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to get his girl! To be honest, I was only going so close to him in the hope I would get him to move out of the shadow he was in and into the sun so I could get a better photo! I’d managed to get a couple of them to do what I wanted but this kid was having none of it. If anything, I think I was more scared than he was so I left him to it!
Not wanting to annoy them too much, we let the peacocks get on with their shows and went to actually see the site. Ancient Ialysos consists of the ancient ruins of a 3rd Century BC temple and a 14th Century complex featuring the Monastery of Our Lady and the Chapel of Agios Georgios. The main chapel was closed so we couldn’t get inside any of the buildings and this might explain why there was no-one at the ticket office! Still, we were able to walk around the buildings and see all the ruins as well as more peacocks! Outside the walled area where the peacocks were, we walked along a pathway leading to a large cross. The pathway was lined with 14 carvings which depicted the seven Stations of the Cross, showing Jesus in various scenes leading up to the crucifixion. As we were walking back we saw a few of the peacocks had come outside the gate and they were really making some noise. The call of these birds sounds really similar to the cry of a cat and the sound really carries, too. We weren’t sure where some of these noises were coming from half the time as it sounded like they were coming from the trees above us but there were clearly no peacocks in the trees!
Back at the hotel we managed to get some more lovely views of the sunset. We’d had good, clear weather since we’d been here and our balcony looks out over the sea which gave us a lovely sunset without having to get up off of our bed! In the evening neither of us were very hungry despite our small lunches so we just lazed around at the hotel and watched some TV, snacking on our sweetbread when we got peckish. We also had a bottle of wine from a winery called Boutari, which was one of the ones we tried to visit in northern Greece. We had seen it in a nearby wine shop and decided we should try some of the wine we hadn’t got to try before. This wine was really cheap but was very, very drinkable. We’d bought the last bottle of it in the store so we hoped they restocked before we visited next!
February 2, 2011
This morning the alarm went off at 5am and this time we did actually get up. I wanted to head to the southernmost tip of the island and from our hotel it was around a 2 hour drive. It was quite a decent drive as there was hardly any traffic around that early and we were soon close to where we wanted to be. The GPS wasn’t really picking up where we wanted to end up and the map we had wasn’t very clear so we turned off the main road where we thought we needed to be. It wasn’t quite the right road and in fact it was quite a rough bumpy dirt track! I was so glad that it wasn’t my car I was wrecking! After about 20 minutes of off-roading we were in a place which gave us a decent view of the horizon and we stopped to watch the sun rise. After seeing the sun come up and blinding ourselves looking at it, we headed back along the bumpy road and rejoined it. About a kilometer further along we found the road we’d wanted to find previously and we followed it to a small town called Prasonissi. The town was, of course, dead with a combination of the unearthly hour and the blatantly unearthly season, too! We were also pleased we hadn’t come here for sunrise as the setting wasn’t as good as the one we’d had. We had hoped to get to the very southern tip but the final section of island was not accessible as the tide was in. I’d already driven through a flowing river but I wasn’t prepared to battle with tidal seas to say I’d been to the furthest south point on Rhodes Island!
We turned around and headed back to the main road. There is basically one road which does a big loop around the entire island and having followed the east side all the way to the bottom we now worked our way up the west coast. Along the way we stopped at a number of different sites, the first of which was Monolithos Castle. This was basically the ruins of what must once have been a very striking and imposing structure, perched high up on a hill over-looking the beautiful coastline. From there we drove through the small town of Agios Isidoros, in the heart of the Rhodes wine producing region. We didn’t see a single vine around so I’ve no idea where the grapes come from and it wasn’t really the right hour of the day to be hunting for wine tastings!
The next stop was at another lovely castle, this time the Kritinia Castle. This was in a better state of repair than the one at Monolithos and in an even better location with even better views of the surrounding islands and the Turkish mainland. The stops we made today were mostly because they were on the route we were driving and looked to be remotely interesting rather than anything we really wanted to see but the castles had been worth the time spent to find them and climb up to them and the final stop at the ruins of Kamiros was an unexpected bonus, too. We did have to pay to get in but the large ruins were well worth the price. Kamiros was the third largest city of Ancient Rhodes behind Lindos and Ialysos but being so isolated it has retained far more of its original feeling as it is less commercialized than the other sites. The site here includes walls which made up the majority of the buildings including temples, bath houses, fountains and the houses lining the main street. Some of the city dates to the 6th Century BC but much of the city was rebuilt following a massive earthquake in 226 BC so this is when many of these structures we can now see were built. Unlike the reproductions at Lindos, for example, all of the walls here are original. Of course, some of the walls and columns have been re-erected but all the stone used is original and it was amazing to think that you are walking around surrounded by walls that are well over 2,000 years old.
On the way back to Rhodes Town we stopped at a supermarket for some bread and dips for dinner and to fill up the car before we dropped it back. Back at the hotel we ate the doughnuts we had bought and Elizabeth had a nap, the early morning taking its toll on her! We eventually headed out and dropped the car back, working our way around the one ways adequately before grabbing a late lunch. We were looking for a restaurant which was known for its salads but obviously nobody eats salads in winter so the restaurant was closed. Just opposite was a restaurant which was open and had customers so we went to look at their menu. It looked pretty local and had decent prices so we went in and ordered a Greek salad and a dish made of beef and rice. The food was alright but the atmosphere at the restaurant was certainly not very appealing. Greeks are one of these nationalities who believe a conversation should be carried out from all corners so we had to listen to a man in one corner have a conversation with a woman in another corner while the waiter chipped in from whichever position he was loitering in. The woman’s voice was particularly annoying and as they talked over each other the noise level soon reached shouting. If this wasn’t unpleasant enough, the owner’s dog then started yelping and no-one did anything to stop it or try and see what was wrong. In fact, the woman who had been sitting with the dog just got up and left it to cry. The noise was so high pitched we just finished our beers and asked if we could pay. The noise was unbearable and there was clearly something wrong with the dog but no-one cared. Frankly, the dog shouldn’t have even been in the restaurant anyway and certainly not if it was going to annoy paying customers. As we left one of the guys working there said “Sorry, there is a problem”. Yeh? No shit there is a problem. I couldn’t be bothered telling him what the real problem was and we just left, the yelping still ringing in our ears as we walked along the main road.
As we walked through the town, weaving our way back towards the hotel, everything was closed and it put paid to us spending some time around the town looking in the shops. By this time I was quite tired anyway and was ready for my afternoon nap so we went back to the hotel and laid around. It seems like we’ve been doing a fair bit of laying around again but it has been quite good as we’ve been able to get out at a reasonable hour and get all the things done that we wanted to and still have time for a nap! We watched some TV, read, slept and Elizabeth did some cross-stitch. The room here isn’t that comfortable and is actually quite cold but at least we have a reasonable amount of peace and quiet in the room to do what we like. For dinner we had a variety of dips with some bread along with a bottle of locally produced wine. After the wine last night we thought we should try something a bit more local and this one was also drinkable if not quite as good as last night.