Greece: a few Mediterranean Islands


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May 31st 2019
Published: June 9th 2019
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Greece: a few Islands







We had started out booking accommodation on two islands in the Dodecanese (group), but finished visiting seven; Rhodes, Symi, Tilos, Nisyros, Kos, Kalymnos and Astypalia.



After the hectic pace that was our journey through the Middle East and Turkey, this was our ‘wind down’ period.



As always, if you want to see the picture in a larger size, just click on it.








Day 1 - Sunday May 26; arrival Rhodes



We’d scheduled two accommodation destinations in Rhodes, the ‘capital’ Rhodes Town and Lindos. Having an (international) airport that allowed us to arrive from Turkey, we weren’t quite prepared for what we discovered. After where we’d been, the airport was very low key and laid back. The (public) bus to Rhodes Town took about 1/2 hour and the route generally followed the coastline. Scruffy was our first impression, and it didn’t get any better as we travelled to our destination.



After checking in, we headed ‘downtown’ (5 blocks) to buy some groceries and beer. Returning back to the hotel to enjoy nibblies and beer on the balcony, we looked online for a nice place for dinner. With a couple in mind (close) we toddled off only to find them defunct. Asking around, we were told Kouros (nearby) and had an amazing meal of slow roasted shoulder of lamb with baked vege’s (onion, beets, capsicum, eggplant, etc.) washed down with a great wine. Inexpensive, too! 😊


Day 2 - Monday; ‘Old’ Rhodes




The attraction of Rhodes is it’s ‘old’ town, a medieval walled city ( originally) built by the Knights of St John as a Crusader stopover. Being walled (to protect against pirates), the city had an immense castled area, a Jewish area and an area for locals (Rhodians, as they are now called). As with other Crusader cities, the Ottomans arrived here in the mid-500’s and converted the buildings to their own use. That said, they found a city degraded by several earthquakes.



We left immediately after brekky and entered the city via a pleasant gated entry. Here, the fortification is a double walled structure with a massive moat (now a grassed walking area). Originally, entry was over a drawbridge. As we entered, we found the place overrun with tourists and tour groups. Heading past the iconic castle (and down the gentle slope we exited via another gate onto the harbour. We could see why the place was packed - 4 large tourist ships were in port. As we learned later, this only supplemented a huge industry catering to mid-European tour groups staying in large hotels and moving around by the busload.



We made our way around the outside of the city (walls) and re-entered at the opposite end to which we’d earlier entered. Lonely Planet writes that this Jewish area is a maze of twisted laneways and dead-ends. Fortunately we had the ‘Maps.Me’ app on our phone so could navigate with ease. The laneways were certainly filled with character. We headed to the Kahal Shalom Synagogue; it had been refurbished in recent years to provide a place of worship for the remaining Jews. The Synagogue is also a museum telling the story of the Jewish community on Rhodes. Apparently, Romanoite Jews (from the Eastern Mediterranean) are recorded as living on Rhodes in the 2nd century BC. From records, in the 15th Century the Crusaders (following instructions from from the Spanish Inquisition) ordered the Jews to convert to Catholicism or leave. A mass exodux to France followed. 50 years later, they returned with Spanish Jews fleeing persecution in the Iberian Peninsular. Interestingly, while the Ottomans got along well with the Jews, it was ideological conflict between the Romanoite and Sephardics (Spanish Jews) that burned most deeply. By the 20th Century, with difficult work conditions following Italian control most emigrated to Africa and America.



Departing the Synagogue, we turned a corner from the narrow alleyway to be confronted with a wall of tourists. Taking our leave, we headed back into the ‘new’ Rhodes and went searching for a Greek sim card. We also ventured northwards along the peninsular to view how the ‘other’ tourists entertain themselves at the beachfront - miles of deckchairs and umbrellas carpeted the beach! Yuk!



Along the way we discovered a craft beer bar - soon to be open. YAE!!! We returned to our hotel for a clean up and went back out for a decent beer! And, later dinner.


Day 3 - Tuesday



We’d been ‘advised’ that we could get a data sim card for half price from the Vodaphone vendor by the cruise ship terminal (but only after 9:30am). After a sleep in, we found the guy (Vodaphone’s Rhodes manager!!) about 10:30. In our conversation, he advised that on Thursday he wouldn’t be there as there are no cruise ships scheduled for that day. Hooray, we thought, that’s the day we’ll go visit the ‘old’ city.



On the way back from the terminal we went to an ATM for cash only to find A$1.18 in our account. A rush back to the hotel thinking we may have been ‘fleeced’ got our hearts racing. After a bit of time being mucked around with slow internet, we discovered we’d spent all those funds. So, transfer more in and go use another source for cash.



We spent the rest of the day pottering around the ‘new’ town, enjoying the cute things and looking at oddities.


Day 4 - Wednesday; Symi



The previous day (on realising that today would be crowded with several big cruisers in town) we booked seats on a ferry to Symi Island. The trip is about 2 hours, but on the way over the ferry stopped at the pretty bay at Panormitis (on Symi Island) for a 1 hour ‘stop’. Originally a Monastery village, the lack of apostates has meant the village purpose has moved on to tourism and some fishing.



Back on the ferry, we were taken around part of the island to Symi town. Along the way, the ferry ventured close to several picturesque villages fronting the shoreline.



The arrival at Symi town was a camera spectacular. No matter where we looked, there was another amazing picture to be taken. We can see why it’s so popular as a day trip from Rhodes (and Turkey as well - it being only about 50km away). A jumble of similar looking houses spilled down the very steep hillsides each painted in a different colour and most with contrasting trims. Unlike elsewhere in Greece, it was the riotous colour that gave Symi a quite different visual ambience.



We alighted the ferry in the u-shaped harbour and turned right. The alternative seemed a tightly packed promenade of restaurants and retail stores. While ‘right’ wasn’t devoid of the same, it was just less dense. Shortly, the promenade turned left and we ventured beside another bay, fewer boats, a smidgen less people and similar aquamarine water so clean that every rock and pebble could easily be seen.



Eventually, the pedestrian traffic thinned and we spied a nice little eatery with seats under a Wisteria covered trellis and an eye-catching view across the bay. A Greek salad, fresh bread rolls and an Aperol Spritz (for Judy) satiated an already full tum!



Heading further along the track - now rising above the waters’ edge - we spied a track that led down to the water. Having not seen any pebbly (or sandy) beaches, we assumed this was about as good as it gets. Clambering down, we changed and lept in. Brrrr! The Adriatic sea is far colder than the ocean at home. Still, it was very refreshing.



After an amazing ‘diversion’, we headed back to the ferry and returned to Rhodes to further indulge with grog and good food in preparation for the morrow.




Day 5 - Thursday; Old Town




We ventured to the Old Rhodes town earlyish and were rewarded by almost having the place to our own.



As noted above, the structure was originally erected by the Crusader Knights, the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Reasonably intact, the Old Rhodes walled city is a World Heritage listed site.



We learnt that when the Italians ‘acquired’ the Greek Islands (in 1912) at the fall of the Ottoman empire, they found the ruins quite worse for wear. They went about ‘renovating’ the site when under the Mussolini administration and, sadly, within several large ‘hero’ buildings the original interior character was poorly undertaken. To that end, we selected not to further pay the (high) admission charges to enter, preferring to admire the external features.



The ‘castle’ overlooks the northern harbour and the huge buildings are paradoxically connected by quite narrow lane-ways (back then, even underground walkways). Like the previous meander, we elected to follow the little lane-ways away from the main (open) squares that are today hives of tourist oriented commercial activity. We discovered, little ancient churches, breathtakingly beautiful alleys, and many characters going about their daily chores. We eventually arrived at a square with the most massively shady fig trees. In earlier times, the square abutted a church - later converted to a mosque - and today in ruins. We assumed it too far from the tourist ‘attention’ to get renovation moneys.



After a few hours, we found ourselves back in the tourist ‘zone’ and bid our farewell. We spent the remainder of the day further exploring the ‘new’ part of the city, then returning to our hotel to do our ‘home’ administration chores.



After an evening refresher of Craft beer, we headed to a restaurant we’d seen the previous evening that had a 2 hour queue for entry. Fortunately, we waited only 20 minutes (with chilled wine served to enhance) and the wait was well worth it. We’re loving the modern Mediterranean food!




Day 6 - Friday; Lindos



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We had booked a rental car for 1pm, so had a late brekky and just got ourselves ready by the (standard for here) midday checkout time. The car (Suzuki Baleno) arrived on time and we headed south towards our next (booked) accommodation at Lindos.



Being a (now) hot day, we snuck into Faliraki for a bite to eat and a cool drink. Faliraki educated us to what lay before us - plenty of tourist accommodation and most street retailers vending to the same population.



Having already read about it, we put Anthony Quinn Bay into the phone satnav. Judy had expressed a desire to visit as she admired the work of this Greek actor. Down the (almost obligatory) steep road to an amazing pair of coves had our eyeballs stunned. The was only ‘fix’ was to go for a swim. The beach was pebbles (think marbles to flat egg size) and quite difficult under (bare) foot. And, like Symi the Meditteranean ocean was COLD! But, against the hot dry day, it was sooo soothing.



We eventually arrived at Lindos, but to the wrong spot. The hotel proprietors had 2 offerings. A swish modern hotel adjacent to Lindos (not for us) and a character filled set of apartments within the pedestrian only village of Lindos.



After parking the car at the top carpark and lugging our backpacks to the apartment, we pinched ourselves as we settled in. The view was (as Judy says) “to die for”. Overlooking whitewashed (squarish) buildings was a rocky outcrop with an ancient fortress / temple atop. Referred to as the Acropolis (which in it’s day it was), this outcrop had been occupied since 3000BC!



We made our way down into the village - with it’s narrow cobbled lanes - to get some provisions from the supermarket. Just before dusk we ventured back into the village for dinner. Again, a wonderful meal. We are not only loving the modern take on Greek food but also the seafood - especially the black mussels.



On our return to the apartment, the view was even more drop dead... The Acropolis was lit up like a beacon. Amazing!




Day 7 - Saturday



Noting that busloads and ferryloads of tourists visit Lindos each day, we decided to use the car and head further south. As the crow flies, the southernmost tip of Rhodes island is only about 50km, or about an hour by road. Slow traffic and stopping for a looksee every so often made for a 3 hour trip.



At the southernmost point - Prasonisi - we found a cool breeze coming in from the Aegean had dropped the temperature by some 7 degrees to 23. The beach has the Aegean on the west side and 50 metres on the other is the Mediterranean. All we could manage was to wet our feet on both sides.



Venturing north on the western side, we found an absence of tourist accommodation. The beach was no different. Our explanation was that the cause was the cooler airstream.



We decided to head back towards Lindos using a cross-island route. While marked on our (quite good) paper map as well as our phone satnav, we became a little concerned when the narrow road turned to gravel. As we proceeded uphill, the quality deteriorated further and we wondered whether we’d missed the ‘correct’ road. Fortunately, we hadn’t. That said, the uninhabited rugged poorly vegetated mountains provided us with wonderful scenery. The dominance of Pine trees filled the air to offset the dust.



We eventually came across a little village and stopped at a Taverna for a coffee. Being Saturday, several (older) local males had gathered to chew the fat. We suspected we gave them an opportunity to talk about something new; foreigners!



Near to Lindos, we went through a village with a bakery, butcher and greengrocer (the proprietor spoke Adelaide Strine!). Taking the opportunity, we bought inner for the next 2 nights. We also bought a half bottle of white Retsina (dry white wine with Pine resin) which, with BBQ lamb went down really well. After a month of eating out, it was so enjoyable (and relaxing) cooking for ourselves.




Day 8 - Sunday



Just as we did yesterday, we drove into the hills to the west of Lindos. This time, we travelled a bit further north. Here, the landscape was far greener than yesterday. In fact, much was production pine forest. And, the roads were well paved.



After a midday snack, the satnav took us back onto a dirt road. This time it was all downhill. Thank goodness, as it was so steep we feared that we’d have trouble if we had to return. Near the coast, we entered small lot farming. Here was the foodbowl of Rhodes. Despite this, the dirt road didn’t improve until we met the main (coastal) road.



A leisurely drive back along a different route allowed us time to both stop and (literally) smell the scenery, and enjoy some time back at the apartment.




Day 9 - Monday; To Astypalaia via ...



We’d picked up the car at 1pm, and had to return it today at the same time. Having driven the car to ‘view’ the island scenery, we felt remiss at not having spent much time looking around Lindos village. So, after an earliesh breakfast we went wandering out the isthmus that forms the northern finger protecting the (northern) Lindos harbour. Then, we doubled back a little to climb to the entrance of the Acropolis ruins. At E6 pp entry, we bypassed the ‘opportunity’ and headed south to St Pauls Bay which is at the southern end of the rocky outcrop on which the Acropolis sits.



Having dropped into the apartment to change into our bathers, we headed to the little bay for an early swim. Only after we’d returned to the apartment and read up about the bay did we learn that the bay is named after St Paul who, in 47AD visited the exact spot to preach to locals. The church in the centre of Lindos is also named after the saint.



Saying goodbye to Lindos, we took an inland (and circuitous) route back to Rhodes town. We stopped for a coffee in a little village and the aged owners told us they’d spent many years in Narrabeen (Sydney) working and raising a family.



After dropping the car at the Rhodes wharf, we boarded a ship to take us to Astypalaia. To our surprise, the ship stopped at several islands along the way. So, as well as the three islands we’d planned to visit, we were also lucky to experience Tilos, Nisyros, Kos and Kalymnos.



This ‘extra’ journey meant we didn’t arrive at our apartment in Astypalaia until 2AM!!!




Day 10 - Tuesday; Astypalaia




After a long journey on a ship and checking in etc., sleep didn’t come easily. Then, what may have been a sleep-in was interrupted by the noise of people nearby doing their morning activities. Accordingly, little ‘tourism’ was undertaken. That said, after a lounge around day, a few beers with locals later and a meal at the local Astypalaia Taverna made the laziness worthwhile.




Day 11 - Wednesday; Astypalaia




Having woken refreshed, we heard a knock on the door. Our apartment host had a plate of freshly baked goods. Two pasty like items with Feta (cheese), ham and green leaves, a couple of slices of sweet cake and some delightful shortbread biscuits. Certainly different to Corn Flakes and milk.



After brekky, we headed westward, up a huge hill (towards the Castle) and down the other side to Livadi (a small village). After a refreshing coffee, we continued to a very small cove to relax on a delightful beach. The island (like most smaller ones in the Aegean, it seems) comprises steep rocky outcrops with little but grasses and low growing shrubs. The few beaches that exist are either on the front of a flood plain or at the end of a cove. Livadi beach is on a flat plain set into steep hills, the one we went to (don’t know the name) was at the end of a cove and down a steep track. But, it had some sand, lots of pebbles and some wood shavings (flotsam) that made sitting / lying comfortable. It wasn’t long before we were in the water swimming to cool off.



During the time, we were brought up to date with the State of Origin scores. After a few hours of relaxation we headed back to Livadi for a few beers and an amazing fish soup and crusty bread. Such is life.



Later, after a shower it was off for a light dinner of ‘Little Goat in Red Sauce’ with Beetroot salad.




Day 12 - Thursday





Having enjoyed the relaxation of yesterday, we repeated it. Only difference was that we had fried shrimp, beetroot dip and eggplant salad with our beers. And, we ate leftovers for dinner.



Tomorrow we fly out of Astypalaia,






Reflections




After the hectic time we enjoyed in the Middle East, or island hopping was more about relaxation than discovery. Yet, we discovered why the Greek islands are such a popular destination for so many. While the places we visited were far from crowded (or we scheduled around the crowds), we’re glad we finished at Astypalaia as it was almost devoid of tourists. We really only saw a few when visiting restaurants for dinner.



As Judy commented, it was really nice not to have Burqa’s and Chinese in our faces!


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