We left Crete in a ferry on Friday morning not knowing whether we were going to stop for a couple of days on the island of Karpathos or to go straight to Rhodes to wrap up our time in the Greek Islands. Since the time on Karpathos would have consisted mainly of more time on the beach and we were trying to maximize our time in Turkey before our flight on October 20, we decided to spend a brutal eleven hours on the ferry and stop at Rhodes.
Of course it was well into the evening when we arrived in Rhodes Town (which is what they call the main city to distinguish it from the island as a whole). We knew that it was a fairly large town, by Greek island standards, and were surprised at how dark it was as we approached it from the water. We walked from the docks toward the town, and discovered that the reason it looked so dark from the ferry was that this portion of the town was enclosed in stone fortifications approximately thirty feet high. We entered through one of the ancient gateways to the city, complete with ballestraded turrets on each side and heavy wooden and iron doors, and the town came alive with lights, music and the smells of a dozen restaurants circling the plaza. It was a dramatic welcome, and I felt as though I should have been riding a warhorse and wearing chain mail, rather than hiking boots and toting a backpack.
Once the magic wore off from our medieval entry to the Old Town--which didn't take long given all the postcard shops, T-shirts emblazoned with English slogans and countless touts trying to find customers for their restaurants--we went about trying to find a place to stay. The Old Town, all the area enclosed within the four kilometers of city walls, is a labrynth of dogleg roads, hidden plazas, alleyways and deadend streets with a twofold design: (1) to hinder an invading force by slowing them down and providing a number of traps to give the defender an advantageous battleground and (2) to cause each and every tourist to become incredibly lost within minutes and making any effort at map reading completely futile. I'm not sure as to the effectiveness of the design as to the former, but can certainly attest to the latter. In fairness, becoming lost as you wander the back streets of Rhodes' Old Town is a joy because of all the wonderful scenes you come across in the process and because you can't get too far off track as the walls will stop you sooner or later; however, being lost in the Old Town while carrying packs and looking for accommodation at nine o'clock is far from a joy. We eventually did find a nice room, got settled, went to dinner and called it a night.
Saturday, I went out alone for my customary early morning walk and photo shoot. After Abi and I ate the pastries I brought back to the hotel, we went exploring the Old Town. I was amazed at the transformation of the area from 7:30, when it was empty except for myself and a few cats, and 9:00 when nearly each street was lined with merchandise the shop keepers had set out and the number of people milling around. We spent most of our time checking out the fortifications, walking in and out of the nine gates to the city (two of which we found had drawbridges), and pondering the moat, whose walls were now covered in the flowers of late summer, rather than the bodies of an army laying siege to the city.
Rhodes was the jumping-off point for several of the European armies during the crusades, and most of the fortifications were constructed under the direction of the Knights of St. John. In the northwest corner of the Old Town is the Palace of the Grand Masters, once a castle, now a museum. Along the major east-west street leading away from the Palace are seven Inns, one for each of the primary nationalities of the knights. I enjoyed the fact that the Italian Consulate in Rhodes is housed in the Inn of Italy. At six Euros per ticket, Abi toured the Palace of the Grand Masters on her own, and, other than a few impressive mosiac floors, said it was much more impressive on the outside than the inside. Twice a week the city allows tourists (for another six Euros a head) to walk the tops of the forty-feet-wide walls for half of their length around the town; as we had basically done this from inside and outside the town on the street level, we skipped the tops.
We took a short rest in the afternoon, then walked to the Acropolis, located about two kilometers outside the Old Town. Not much of this ancient area is still standing, just a few rows of stone bleachers around the athletic field, a small (ten meters across) amphitheater, and a few re-erected columns from a temple. It is set upon high ground, with views of the city below to the east and the western coast of the island below a cliff of a couple hundred feet. We walked along the cliff toward the northern tip of the island, where we enjoyed a drink and the sunset while sitting on the beach.
As we made our way back toward our hotel (on the lookout for dinner as we went), we saw a sign for Nick's Sports Bar emblazoned with the St. Louis Cardinals' insignia. Curious, we went inside and discovered that the manager of the place grew up in St. Louis and has an uncle who lives in our particular neighborhood. Since he was running around, looking after customers, he called his mother down from upstairs and sat her down to chat with us. Within thirty seconds of learning our names, Marietta was telling us how a condition recently took hold in her esophogus (she reports that she has lost quite a bit of weight, we told her that she really looks good), how she met her husband in her little village on Rhodes in 1951, how they were married fifteen days later, how he went back to America a couple months later and she immigrated a few months after that (seven months pregnant) and had to spend four nights on Ellis Island with no one else that spoke Greek, how her husband and his brothers ran grocery stores in St. Louis until 1981 (Michael, the 87-year-old husband, had arrived by this time and spoke up a little during this part of the story), how they then purchased the building in which we were currently sitting with the proceeds of the sale of the family estate in the little village, renovated it into a pension and operated it from May to September for fifteen years, how Nick took it over in 1998 and made it into a sports bar (the first one in Rhodes, now "everyone is doing it"), how we were there on the last night of its operation as they had just sold it, and how, maybe, with the proceeds of the sale, she won't have to work at the Greek restaurant in St. Louis owned by her nephew ("he's an idiot"), which would be nice because of the esophogus condition. See, it all comes full circle.
Over two hours after entering the bar to inquire after the St. Louis Cardinals' sign, we left for dinner. We chose the pizza place where we had to tell the owners that "Terry and Daniella [Australian friends of Nick] sent us", over the fish taverna where we were supposed to tell the owners that "Marieta sent us" and the "place ran by two gay Dutch guys that really know how to cook" where we were supposed to tell said gay Dutch guys that "Nick sent us." The pizza was good, but mainly we recounted Marieta's saga, Michael's patience with his wife of 52 years, and the instance in which Marieta whacked Nick in the back of the head and he whined "Ahh, Maaah!" (straight out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
The next day, we rented a car and toured the island. Our first stop was a ruined castle overlooking the west coast. Scrambling over the ruins was fun and the scenery breathtaking, but the real highlight was the octagenarian fruit saleswoman who guarded the entrance like the fire-breathing dragons of old. Her shtick was to approach each tourist who arrived at the little parking lot with a bag of grapes in one hand, a plastic box of watermelon cubes in the other hand, and a guidebook tucked under an arm. She opened with the line "one euro, one euro." We countered with "no, efkaristo (thank you)." She raised with "no pay, no pay" while pointing at the castle. We saw her bet with "yes, we know." She doubled the pot by opening the guidebook to a photo of her standing in front of the castle, wearing the same outfit, as far as I could tell, and holding a bag of grapes. We had been warned that she'd pull this trick, and called her bluff with something along the lines of "that's a nice photo" before heading inside. After a few minutes inside, we watched her play this game with several other couples that arrived at the site, and she got every one of them to buy some friut (really, we're not hard-hearted, we were just pre-warned about her tactics and would have felt like suckers had we given in--also, the fruit looked a little beaten up).
The remainder of the day we drove along the coast, walked around yet another set of castle ruins overlooking dramatic seaside scenery, hiked up a short canyon, and found a great little apartment to stay the night. We fixed our own supper and played cards on the veranda. The next morning we drove to Lindos, and enjoyed walking its neighborhoods of whitewashed houses and restaurants before climbing to its Acropolis (much more complete than the one in Rhodes Town). This Acropolis was also fortified by the Knights of St. John with a castle--we got the idea that these knights were a little leery of the Turks.
Around noon we arrived at Falaraki, a resort town about a half an hour south of Rhodes Town, where we ate lunch, found a hotel, and spent the afternoon at the beach. We had understood that the ferry we were taking from Rhodes to Turkey left at 9:00 AM, and hustled to town the next morning to discover that it didn't go until five that afternoon. With no car and no nearby castles to tour (ha ha), we found a little restaurant that was closed for the season (but they left their patio furniture out) and parked there for a good part of the day, reading the paper, playing cards, and recalling again the life and times of Marieta, wife of Michael and mother of Nick.