A Travellerspoint blog

The Other Side of Rhodes

sunny 27 °C

A few days ago we left the ancient capital of Rhodes to drive down the east coast past dozens of multi-starred resorts, complete with casinos, strip-joints and bars, catering to the planeloads of holidaymakers who stream here from Northern Europe and around the world for some guaranteed sun. But beyond this fringe of fun there is another world: a peaceful pastoral world of orange and lemon groves; a mountainous world where goats and mouflon scratch a living from the sparse vegetation; a world of olives...
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Petrified olive leaves more than fifty thousand years old have been discovered on these islands and the goddess Athena is said have given the Athenians the first-ever olive tree, the Moria Elaia. So, after travelling south some 5,000 kilometres from the land of Odin, we have arrived here in the mountains of Rhodes to discover the fabled land that gave birth to the the legend of Athena, the olive and the liquid gold that flows from it.

With this summer's temperatures topping 45 degrees, and no rain since February, it has been a stressful year for the Island's grapes and citrus fruits. However, the centuries old olive trees have thrived. But many islanders have abandoned the groves as they seek to harvest greater riches from the Island's tourists. Unfortunately, in their effort to cash in on this bonanza they have seen their dreams turn to dust. There is a side of Rhodes never featured in the glossy brochures and rarely seen by tourists...
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Thousands of abandoned and unfinished holiday complexes litter the island and even the promise of mile after mile of pristine beach along the north coast is not a big enough draw...
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The biggest beach is at the most westerly point of Rhodes where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean and here we discovered the world's largest free parking lot with room for hundreds of thousands of cars...
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Our little hire car was not entirely alone. A small yacht bobbed in the gentle surf just offshore and the owner of a beachside cafe served us coffee while saying that we would be her last customers of the year. But all is not well at this end of the island. In order to power the thriving tourist industry, and keep the casino wheels spinning, the government has built a huge heavy-oil power station just behind the beach which threatens to pollute the water and air. It is an ugly sight so instead we will show you the ruins of Monolithos castle...
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This fortress was built in 1480 by the Knights of St. John and was never successfully attacked due to its location high atop the insurmountable cliffs on the north coast of Rhodes. The view from the castle is spectacular....
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From Monolithos we drove across the mountainous centre of the island and discovered the charming village of Siana on the slopes of Mt. Akrimitis...
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The church of St. Panteleon, a fabled healer who was a martyr of Nicomedia of Bythynia during the Diocletianic Persecution of 305 AD, (Thank you Wikipedia), must be one of the most elaborate and best preserved small churches in the world. Yet the village it serves has all but died. Only 70 people still live in this once thriving community and now survive on producing honey and a potent local drink called souma which is distilled from fermented figs. However, we couldn't help but wonder if the numerous roadside shrines alongside the tortuous mountain roads weren't in some ways connected to this allegedly potent alcohol...
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The mountain roads may, in places, be somewhat scary and potentially dangerous, but the views of this starkly beautiful land are well worth the drive. Equally beautiful is our next stop - the picture perfect castle of Lindos.

Posted by Hawkson 08:38 Archived in Greece Comments (4)

The Poetry of Island Life

sunny 28 °C

In his third novel featuring Detective Inspector David Bliss, 'No Cherubs for Melanie', James wrote a poem about life on an island for one of his characters. The words of James' poem come to life as we sit on Haraki's deserted beach beneath the ruins of a Byzantine castle, (circa 5th century AD)...
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Life passes by with a whisper of breeze
Rippling the waves and stirring the trees
But spurned and rejected goes on it's way
Life, on an island, holds no sway...
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Time in the fast lane rushes by
From the time of birth 'til the time you die
But e'en though the sun shines day after day
Time on an island holds no sway...
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Buy this or that, dog, goat or cat
Brand new knickers or a saucy hat
But here you can put your wallet away
Wealth, on an island holds no sway...
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Hope fades fast but lingers long
For the shipwrecked sailor and his plaintive song
In a search for a saviour both far and away
Hope, on an island, holds no sway...
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Thankfully we are not shipwrecked on this deserted beach. We have rented a beautiful apartment together with a car for just $80 a day and we may be forced to spend the rest of our lives here in the bars and cafe's on Haraki's deserted promenade...
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Just dreaming...winter will reach here eventually and then it will only be a few months before the hordes will return with their buckets and spades and kiss-me-quick hats. But for the next few days we will own this little piece of heaven and wax lyrical about its charms...
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Feraklos fortress has been a witness to 1,500 years of strife as warring armies and pirates fought for control over this island at the southern end of the Aegean. It was captured by the Knights Hospitaller in 1306 and the Ottoman Turks in 1467 but now it stands sentinel over the serene bay and makes a perfect backdrop against an indigo sky.

Posted by Hawkson 04:44 Comments (5)

All the World's a Stage

sunny 25 °C

Every year from March 1st to October 31st the island of Rhodes puts on a spectacular show for more than two million visitors, but as the summer season nears its end and the final curtain gets set to fall we witness the transformation. Rhodes is still putting on a performance every day, but the audience is thin and some of the actors are working hard to squeeze the last hoorah from their lines. The quayside barkers who have been whipping up the crowds to take in the expensive aqua show aboard a fleet of speedboats, ferries and fishing boats, have abandoned their booths but will happily grab a few mites from any stragglers...
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Most of the stars of the summer's 'Aqua Spectacular' have already left and are brushing up their act ready for their winter appearance in the Indian Ocean or the Caribbean, but we still got to see some of their superyachts in the harbour, and there was excitement as the daily ferry arrived from Athens...
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The restaurant owners surrounding the mainstage within the ancient city play chicken with each other as they drop their prices by the minute to clear their stock before the shutters close and the season wraps up. Lunch for 2 euros and a beer for another 1.50 as we sit under the orange, olive and palm trees listening to the bouzoukis of Mikis Theodorakis and the songs of Nana Mouskouri and Melina Mercouri...Oh, how we miss our 50 dollar lunches in the rain in Norway! But now it's November; the auditorium doors are shut; the curtains are coming down...
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However, the spotlight of the sun still brightly illuminates the stage during the day and a few of the actors hang around to take a final bow. With the main show over there are plenty of empty front row seats with unobstructed views of the 14th century Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller...
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This fortified palace was later refurbished as the summer home of the Italian King Vittorio Emanuele III, followed by the fascist dictator, Mussolini, and it is easy to imagine it as the setting for a grand opera by Puccini or Verdi...
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The palace's many stages are inlaid with ancient mosaics, all brought from third century Roman villas on the island of Kos in the 1930s, to entertain the king and his illustrious guests...
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Now, with the show over we are free to wander through the labyrinthine scenery of Ancient Greece and marvel at backdrops that were first painted several hundred years before North America even existed on a map...
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By being in Rhodes for this year's final performances we got the best seats (and beds) at knock down prices. There were no line-ups at the loos and no crush at the bar during our many intermissions. But we came to see the theatre not the show. We were happy to pull back the curtains and look into the dressing rooms We came to see the scenery and the props of Rhodes city and we loved it - although the local souvenir sellers weren't so happy...
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The lights and heating are still on so now we are heading out to explore the rest of the island. Next stop – Haraki, on the east coast.

Posted by Hawkson 06:42 Archived in Greece Comments (4)

Rhodes – Who Could Ask For Anything More?

sunny 25 °C

The Dodecanese, twenty or so idyllic Greek islands that lie off the coast of Turkey, have been fought over for thousands of years, but all is peaceful today since the bulk of the summer tourists have gone home and the flood of Syrian refugees has abated. However, we are not entirely alone as we begin our visit to the island of Rhodes. A few stragglers from Northern Europe have delayed their return to take advantage of the warm seas and the glorious Aegean weather...
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We have a couple of weeks to explore the island of Rhodes and parts of mainland Greece so we will start with a little history.
The Minoans and Myceneans overran the stone-age inhabitants of the islands nearly 3,000 years ago and then in 407 BC Hippodamos of Miletos, (the town planner extraordinaire of his day), built the city of Rhodos; the finest and best organised city of the known world at the time.

Rhodos, (or Rhodes to us), has had many names and many different rulers over the millenia including the Ottomans,Turks, Italians, Germans and Brits. It has been firmly Greek since 1947 when the British gave it back after liberating it from the Germans at the end of WWII. Despite numerous conquests and countless earthquakes, the bulk of the fortified city built over a period of two thousand five hundred years has survived...
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Unfortunately, the earthquake of 226 BC destroyed Rhodes' greatest monument – the Colossus of Rhodes. This enormous bronze statue of the Greek god Helios was erected to celebrate Rhodes victory over Cyprus. It was over 100 feet tall and in Medieval times it was fancifully believed that it had straddled the harbour entrance of Mandraki. There are plans to replace the statue but for now there are just two columns surmounted by a bronze doe and stag – the city's emblems
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Much of the city we are visiting today was built about 700 years ago by the Knights Hospitallers – a religious order of Knights Templars who established their headquarters on Rhodes in 1307 when they left Cyprus and were given Rhodes by the Pope. The fortifications and walled city are the largest and best preserved Medieval constructions in Europe and we barely skimmed the surface as we walked around the dry moat...
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...climbed some of the battlements...
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And took a first look at the maze of streets within the walls...
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It is easy to see the Turkish coast from the fortress of Rhodes and ferries make the crossing daily. We have no plans to re-visit Turkey but we took to the sea in a glass-bottomed boat to view the somewhat sparse sea life and to visit the windmills that once ground the city's grain...
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There were thirteen windmills at one time but only three survive today and they no longer operate.
Both the city of Rhodes and the island seem to have much to offer and as we dine under the stars on freshly caught fish we can already see why it is a very popular tourist destination... Sun, sea, culture and a plethora of authentic Greek restaurants – who could ask for anything more?
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Posted by Hawkson 10:23 Archived in Greece Comments (3)

Last of the Summer Wine

sunny 23 °C

Summer lingers longer on the Cotes d'azure in the South of France and we were lucky to enjoy the warm seas, spectacular vistas and sunny skies that this part of the world is renowned for...
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The palm-treed beachfront promenades of Cannes are packed with visitors from around the world in summer, but most have gone now and the locals get to enjoy a leisurely afternoon stroll...
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The real heat of the Mediterranean sun has gone. along with the mega-rich owners of the many super-yachts and fancy villas that litter the hillsides along the coast. Some of the hotels and restaurants have already shut up shop for the winter but temperatures in the mid-20s have brought out the sunbeds and filled the remaining beach bars and restaurants, (although it took us a couple of hours to get lunch in one place). A modern five-masted cruise liner sits off the coast while people still enjoy a dip...
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However, the coastal roads that can be a total nightmare in summer are at least navigable once the masses have gone...
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Although the road traffic may have lessened, the Port of Cannes is still full of the yachts of the rich and famous...
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And the castle that has been a beacon to sailors for centuries still stands sentinel over the ancient harbour that was just a haven for a few sardine fishing boats before it was transformed into one of the world's most fashionable haunts of the glitterati...
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We are now refreshed and relaxed after a family holiday and are briefly back in England to enjoy a typical autumn day – maybe the rain will stop later! Tomorrow we head back south to the sunny Aegean island of Rhodes. We hope you can join us there in a day or so.
Au revoir from France.

Posted by Hawkson 05:41 Archived in France Comments (3)

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