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Published: June 10th 2017
We get up early. The hotel is full, but we are just about the only people at breakfast. It seems that the very posh people who are staying here either aren't into breakfast, or don't mind forking out for room service. A very fit looking middle aged German lady is doing laps of the pool next to where we are sitting. I wonder if she is trying to make us feel guilty.
We have booked a taxi to take us in to Rhodes Town. It is good to see the road in daylight. It is also good to see it when we don't have our hearts in our mouths because our taxi driver is a lunatic. We have booked a half day walking tour of Rhodes Town. We meet our contact at a fountain in the main square. His name is George Papadopolous which I think is the Greek equivalent of John Smith. It turns out that George is not our guide. He tells us that he will take us to get some coffee because our guide is running late. He says that we are the only people on the tour. He is originally from the northern part of Greece
near Macedonia, but he says that he has been in Rhodes for many years. He tells us that Rhodes' economy is totally dependent on tourism. Tourist numbers are up by ten percent this year, but income from tourism is down by forty percent. He says that most tourists to Rhodes come from Europe, and most Europeans don't have as much spare cash now as they did a year or two ago, so they are typically coming for shorter periods and are spending less. He says that it is relatively quiet today around Rhodes Town because there is only one cruise ship in the port. He says that there are fewer cruise ships coming here now because of the recent coup attempt in Turkey. He tells us that we are only 13 kilometres from Turkey, and the cruise ship companies aren't prepared to take any risks on the safety of their passengers.
Our guide arrives. Her name is Constantina, and she looks to be in her forties. She tells us that she is eight months pregnant with her first child, and that today's tour will probably be her last. She is overflowing with enthusiasm. We are her second tour for
the day and it is only 10am. The tour is scheduled to last for three and a half hours, and it is very hot. She looks like she could go into labour at any time. I'm not quite sure what we'll do if she goes into labour during the tour.
We set off through some of the residential parts of the old town. Constantina tells us that some of the houses have been here for a thousand years. She says that families in this area still live in the old style and houses typically only have one room. Everyone lives in this room and this often includes several generations from the same family. Houses are passed down to the eldest daughter in the family, but she can only inherit it if she is married. She is allowed to have the house to herself on her wedding night, but after that the rest of the family takes up residence again. I hope that the bride makes the most of her wedding night. I wonder what she or anyone in the family does if they they want some privacy. I suspect they must have come up with something, otherwise the Greek
race would probably have died out by now.
We go into a very small old church, which is the church of the patron saint of Rhodes Town. It is being prepared for the annual feast which will take place in a few days time. Constantina seems to know all the people in the church, including the lady doing the vacuuming. She gets her to turn off the vacuum cleaner while we are here so that we can hear her talk. She has a conversation with just about everyone we pass in the street. Issy says that she thinks that all Greek people have conversations with all other Greek people in the street, whether they know them or not. I'm not sure about this. I get the feeling that Constantina knows just about everyone in Rhodes. She takes us into a shop where we try some black ouzo which tastes like very strong licorice. The lady in the shop says that it goes very well in coffee.
Constantina tells us about the history of Rhodes. It seems that it has changed hands many times during its long history. After the Golden Age of Greece it became part of the
Roman Empire, and then the Byzantine Empire. In 1309 it was taken over by the Knights Hospitalier, and the Palace of the Grand Master was built during this period. The Knights were defeated by the Ottomans under Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522, and they then moved to Malta. The Ottoman Turks then ruled Rhodes for nearly 400 years until they were defeated by the Italians in 1912 in the Italo-Turkish War. The Italians then ruled until 1943 when Rhodes fell into German hands. We passed a very sad memorial earlier in the day to the more than 1,600 Jews from Rhodes and the nearby island of Kos who died at Auschwitz. Rhodes was handed back to Greece in the aftermath of World War II.
Constantina is most definitely Greek. She makes lots of references to 'The Glorious Age', and she gets a quiver in her voice when she says this. We are left in no doubt that she is referring to the Golden Age of Greece, before it fell into the hands of the Romans, and a whole bunch of other subsequent undesirable foreign invaders.
We pass a large mosque. Constantina tells us that there are quite a
few mosques in Rhodes, and these date from the Ottoman times. We go into the entry courtyard to the Palace of the Grand Master. Constantina says that we don't have time to look around the Palace as part of the tour and suggests we come back on our own later. We walk around the Palace and through a wide grassed area between the two parallel sets of city walls. Constantina says that this wide area was meant to trap attackers. We pass a street performer all dressed in white. Constantina talks to him. We then hear the sound of bagpipes and walk on past the man playing them. Constantina knows him as well. I think there really can't be anyone here that she doesn't know. I suspect she probably knows most of the tourists as well. The piper's bag is made from goatskin and the pipes from wood. The piper is not wearing a kilt but rather a torn singlet and a pair of baggy pants that are half falling down. If he's trying to look Scottish he's not doing a particularly good job.
We go through one of the gates in the wall and out into the new
part of the town, and then on through a large market from the Italian era down to the waterfront. Constantina tells us about the Colossus of Rhodes, which was a bronze statue of the sun god Helios built in 280 BC. It was more than thirty metres tall which made it the tallest statue in the world at that time, and it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It only stood for fifty four years before it was toppled by an earthquake and broke off at the knees. The local people weren't sure whether they should re-erect it. To resolve their dilemma they did what apparently everyone did when faced with an important decision at that time, they went and consulted the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle told them that they should leave it where it was, so it then lay on the ground for 800 years. Apparently is was still impressive even when it was lying on the ground, and lots of tourists came to Rhodes to see it. Eventually an Arab army attacked Rhodes, and they took it away and melted it down.
We go into a very old church on the waterfront
and then on past the casino and behind a beach area with wall to wall sun lounges and beach umbrellas. They are nearly all occupied. The beach is much rockier here than at Lindos. It is also much windier, and the sea is much rougher. Constantina says that the west side of the island is always much windier and rougher than the east side.
We ask Constantina where she recommends we go after we get our hire car. We would need to spend several weeks here to go to all the places she suggests. Just to be sure we didn't miss any of her recommendations she goes into a tourist office and strips it of most of its brochures. We say goodbye to her and wish her all the best for the impending birth. I hope this doesn't happen before she gets home.
We stop for lunch in a square in the old town. I am very thirsty. I order a litre of lemonade, and Issy orders a small glass of Coke Zero. The waiter misunderstands her and we both get litre glasses of soft drink. The glasses are massive and in the shape of boots; they're so
big that the straws aren't long enough to reach the bottom. There is also not enough ice in the glasses to keep everything cool. We decide that the way around this is to only drink from the top of the glass, where the ice is.
We finish lunch and go back to the Palace of the Grand Master. The Palace is very big, and is a series of large rooms on two levels. There is a special display on the life and times of Lord Nelson. The views over the waterfront from some of the upper level rooms are excellent.
We leave the old town and catch a taxi to the airport. Issy has been very quiet since before lunch. She is also looking very anxious. She says that she is very worried about us driving. I think 'us' means me; I think she would rather stick pins in her eyes than drive here herself. I'm not sure whether her anxiety is a reflection of my driving ability, or the driving abilities of the collective population of Rhodes. We pick up the hire car. The man from the hire car company says that Rhodes is an easy place
to find our way around and very safe to drive in. He tells us that we don't need a GPS. As soon as we leave the airport we take a wrong turn, and as we drive into the hotel car park we narrowly avoid a collision with a herd of goats.
We decide that we will drive into Lindos for dinner. It is now dark. Issy tells me that I'm not allowed to drive in Rhodes in the dark, but it seems that if we want to eat in Lindos she will need to relent. We get in the car and set off. Issy's fingernails have long gone, and she is now munching into her knuckles. We take several wrong turns before finding a spot in a car park that seems to be quite a long way from the village. I suspect that we may have been closer to Lindos before we left the hotel than we are now, but I decide that it might be better that I don't mention this to my anxious bride. We see the Lindos Acropolis all lit up at night. It looks spectacular. We walk from the car park up several long flights
of steps to the main road and then down the other side along a long narrow path into the village. There are people everywhere. This feels like a classic Greek village. The walls of all the buildings are whitewashed, and there is a maze of narrow paths going in all directions between them. There is no shortage of places to eat. We settle for a seafood platter on an idyllic rooftop terrace.
We leave the restaurant and try to retrace our steps back to the car park. After a while we realise that we have no idea at all where we are. We walk up a lot of dead ends, and stumble up and down lots of steep steps in near pitch blackness. The way down here seemed very straightforward, and we wonder why finding our way back up should be so much harder. We keep finding ourselves back in the middle of the village. There seem to be more people around than ever. There is loud music coming from everywhere, and the party seems to be just warming up. Constantina told us this morning that we should 'embrace the night life'. Maybe we should. If we stay here
until it gets light again we might have have more chance of finding our way out. We wander around aimlessly for nearly an hour before eventually stumbling across the path back to the car park.
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