Tagged: rhodes

The Greek Islands

I visited the Greek Islands at just the right time. It was late May/ early June and just outside the touristy high season that begins in late June. While it was hot during my visit I can imagine the discomfort I would have felt should I have shared these islands with the crush of visitors in the heart of summer. Public beaches are hard to come by on several of the islands but outside of the main port you can usually find a tranquil stretch or a slab of concrete from which you can dive into the cool, clear Aegean Sea. My visit to Turkey just before the islands basically forced my hand that my trip should begin with the Dodecanese islands. From Bodrum I was mistaken in my belief that I would have several Greek islands to choose from to start the journey. From this port in Turkey your only ferry option is Kos. You can head up or down the coast to neighboring cities to disembark to Rhodes but your main option from here is the European party island of Kos.  My first stop on the island tour was actually a day trip from Athens to the lovely island of Hydra.

Hydra

Hydra is the quintessential Greek island in terms of landscape as well as architecture.  It had a very low stress cove-shaped port with beautiful houses built into the mountains that towered high above the city below.  Since this island is about an hour from Athens many wealthy Athenians have summer homes and mansions serving as weekend getaways.  Its proximity to Athens provides the island with a locals-oriented society that gets invaded each day by daytripping tourists whose main focus is the port shops and their immediate surrounding streets.  When on the island you can see the ferry boats arrive at the port on a very regular basis and shortly after landing you can feel the influx of new people as they make their way through the village.  On the other end of this you can feel the place thin out at around 4pm when the last daily ferry leaves for Athens.  You can ascend through the hilly neighborhood streets for partially obstructed but magnificent views of the port below.  As far as beaches go you may have to settle for a concrete slab after descending down steps through layered restaurants into the water below.  Not ideal but once you get a glimpse of the clear blue Aegean you will want to jump in the water any way can.

KOS

The ferry from Bodrum cost 27 Euro and takes about an hour even though you can see the island ahead during the whole journey.  Kos is one of the beach-friendly islands with trendy cafes and Miami like ocean front cabanas and loungers.  Each hotel or restaurant owns and operates the stretch of beach between their establishment and the ocean so they lure you in with the promise of whiling away the day under one of their umbrellas and in one of their lounge chairs.  This island seems to be frequented by European and particularly English travelers who take day trips here in order to scorch their skin under the intense rays of the Greek sun.  One of the first hotels I saw along the stretch of beachfront establishments was a foreshadowing of what to expect “Sunburnt Arms Inn”.  You definitely saw plenty of these among other discolored appendages and body parts.  Most of the area is centered around the curved cove housing the port and main ferry area.  This is where you will find a lot of the restaurants, shopping, and travel agencies.  You can hit a side street off the central port and find a stretch of beach front bars and restaurants as far as the eye can see each offering lounge and umbrella rentals.  Just beyond these establishments you will find a wide open stretch of public beach with course, comfortable sand and clear blue water.  I was instantly drawn to the countless colorful pebbles washing ashore with the waves.  I tend to bring back the most cumbersome and inconvenient souvenirs to travel with and this was no exception as I loaded up a bag with the most beautiful stones and sea glass that I could find with the hopes of polishing them and turning them into wearable trinkets.  After spending the day in Kos I caught a 9pm ferry to Patmos that will take approximately 2 hours 45 minutes and cost 15 Euro.

PATMOS

Arriving at 11pm in Patmos does not leave you with all that many options for accommodations as this is not one of the liveliest islands of the bunch.  In my travels I have found that you are in much better shape when not booking a room in advance as your arrival allows you to pick from an area you are able to experience a bit beforehand while also allowing you to compare prices from rival establishments.  This was one time I felt a bit nervous as on arrival I immediately hustled past the few awaiting hotel signs and pickup cars and wandered into what i thought was the center of town.  After about 20 minutes of wandering left me deep into the town on some back roads with even fewer hotel options than I started out with I was in luck when a set of headlights suddenly came to a stop directly in my path.  An old man and woman who may have been shut out by arriving ferry passengers came to my aid and asked if I was looking for something.  They offered up a very nice studio accommodation in Yvonni Studios where I had a huge room with private bathroom and kitchen.  The view of the mountain that houses the monestary and St. Johns cave was the real draw.  Before settling in for the night the over exuberant proprietor came back down with a plate of fruit and tea cookies.  Definitely one of those it all works out in the end moments.  The place was 25 Euros a night and I got two nights for 40.

Patmos wound up being one of my favorite islands as I am not one particularly big on the European club scene that can be found on many of the islands.  There are a scattering of restaurants and bars but an island with no doormen or thumping techno is a welcome respite sandwiched between visits to Kos and Mykonos.  Patmos is a sleepy little community known as much for its religious significance as it is for its typical Greek island charms.  High above the island sits the Monastery of St. John which tends to get a lot of hype but I considered it a huge disappointment due to the access you are given since it is an active Monastery with 20 or so live-in monks.  As a whole I am sure it is a grand structure but visitors are rewarded for their steep climp up the mountain from Skala with access to only the Monastery’s main church and an overpriced museum featuring scattered and broken artifacts from seemingly everywhere but here.  After this disappointment subsided I scurried back down the mountain in search of the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse which is about a mile back down from the church and supposedly the location of where St. John saw the vision of fire and brimstone and dictated the book of Revelation to his disciple, Prochoros.  While I do not consider myself even remotely religious I did feel the significance and power the little cave room gave off.  The once raw cave has been turned into a temple just down the stairs from a church dedicated to the mother of the Virgin Mary.  In the cave you find a split rock overhead that divides a boulder in three pieces representing the Trinity.  St. John is said to have heard the voice of God from this split rock.  Elsewhere you can find a chest-high flat slab of rock where the book was written and an ankle-high, head-shaped hole in the rock where St. John is said to have rested his head during rest over the two years he spent in this cave.  I spent almost two hours in this little enclosure some times sharing the space with rumbling tour groups and some times having the place entirely to myself to take in the spirituality of the location.  After this I descended back into town and had dinner with my toes in the sand at one of the many beachfront restaurants the port had to offer.  My ferry leaves at 2:25am for Rhodes so this was the extent of my final night.

Rhodes

While each Greek island has its own unique character Rhodes has a decidedly Medieval flair and still displays many remnants of its war torn past. As the the capital of the Dodecanese islands Rhodes does not share the other islands small town feel.  Arriving at Rhodes Town port is a bit overwhelming in that the port city is divided into an Old Town as well as a New Town.  These areas are pretty self explanatory with the Old Town being encircled by the original castle walls and New Town residing just beyond the walls consists of the more functioning area of commerce and tourism.  Old Town gets its fair share of the tourist dollar with its cafes and shops but here is where you can get your fill of the original sights such as the Street of the Knights, the Palace of the Grand Masters, and the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent.  The day I got to Rhodes I decided to find a place as soon as possible so that I could get out on the town since I had a ferry the very next morning.  The hotel options in Old Town are very limited as most people see the sights here and then return to their accommodations in New Town.  I finally found some place that reminded me of my budget accommodations in Central America.  The old lady that greeted me had to pass me along to her daughter who had to pass me along to her daughter in order to negotiate a price.  I figured for 10 Euros I could make due with any room available.  I was given the choice of two rooms so I chose the one with the patio view and the toilet seat.  Really both of these places were nightmarish but since my ferry was departing at 5am I figured I could bail at any point in the night.  As I exited the place I immediately encountered a shapely old lady with her dress over her head scrubbing her body.  I seized up a bit and hurriedly moved past this with a look of horror.  The old lady picked up on my discomfort and proceeded to yell in Greek at me for my entire speedwalk down the road.  I passed others on the road who all seemed to be telling this lady to leave the frightened foreigner alone and to get her crazy ass inside.  Its not quite how you draw up a perfect arrival scenario but that is what you get in strange lands.  From here my favorite part of Rhodes was circling the double layered Medieval City Walls which stretch for 2.5 miles around the city.  This seemed to be a popular spot with the locals as I encountered countless people jogging, walking their dogs, and lounging in the sun.  It seemed miles away from the peddlars inside the walls as you could round a corner and not see or hear anybody.  As I rounded the city I imagined the past attacks and parries at each gate.  Every now and again I encountered barn-like ladders that gave you access to the top of the walls.  Of course I climbed each one I came across and at the top you got a birds eye view as to what the city’s defenders saw.  The tops of these walls were not kept up as tall grass and weeds had overtaken all of the plateaus and every now and then you would hear a ladder rung crack underfoot so I did not spend a great deal of time up here especially since it was desolate enough that it was unlikely that anyone would have been around to hear my cries should I have come tumbling down from the walls.  I closed out the night at one of the numerous sidewalk restaurants in the main fountain square and attempted to fall asleep at my flea bag motel to the rhythmic sounds of cats raping each other just outside my screenless window.

In order to squeeze in trips to all these islands and still meet Torrence and the gang in Santorini by the 31st I had to schedule a hellacious 17 hour ferry ride from Rhodes to Santorini that basically had me on a boat from 5am until 10pm on 6/30.  The ferry was much bigger than any of the others and it had a string of lights along the top that I initially mistook for a lit up suspension bridge until I got up close and realized that I would be riding this suspension bridge to my destination across the Aegean.  I settled nicely in a corner table and chair arrangement along the window in one of the ships cafes.

Santorini

Arriving at the port of Santorini at 10:30pm after my day long journey I was looking to walk into town and find a place to rest for the night as Torrence and the gang were arriving on a noontime ferry the following day.  As the ferry pulls into the port and the doors open we as passengers are faced with complete darkness and rocky cliffs in every direction.  As all the passengers arranged pickups and headed into town I wandered around the port for a bit more to try to figure out this current predicament.  Within 15 minutes all the passengers were gone and most of the taxis had left.  Realizing that this was not going to be as easy as I initially thought and also seeing that the town I needed to reach was perched high atop one of these cliffs I came to terms with the fact that I would have to go along blindly with one of the remaining hotel pushers with accompanying transportation left at the port.  I went along with the guy from Hotel Perissa which was on the beach side of the island across from the main town of Fira.  Unless you arrive in Santorini during the day and don’t mind walking up the 588 steps it takes to get from the water to the city above than you are pretty much reliant on either a bus or taxi to get you there (donkeys are available for those adventurous souls).  The beach side of the island at Perissa and Kamari is about 15 minutes away but due to the mountains and cliffs this can take a bit longer.  This beach area reminded me of Kos in that the restaurants maintain their own private patch of sand so you really need to be a customer of one of these places to have access to the prime beach spots.  There is a bit more public beach space here so you do have the option of a free swim.  The mode of transportation most used on this island is the four wheeler which has the power to climb the steep roads and can also handle the beaches.  A very organized bus system can take you anywhere you need to go in Santorini for 2 Euros at the most.

While Santorini is hyped up as the most beautiful island in the Aegean and pictures featuring white washed houses and blue domed churches are synonymous with this place I found that it did not quite live up to expectations as these photographs tend to focus on the same church at the same photograph location.  The whole of Santorini is a bit more varied than a comprehensively whitewashed architecture structure with some earth tones and dinginess thrown in for good measure.  The beauty of Santorini can be found in the layout of the cliffside cities which seem to be dangling and in danger of receding into the sea below.  You can really make out the original pre-volcano structure of Santorini from glancing down at the devastated Caldera below and you can imagine what the island was like before the eruption.

Santorini is a cosmopolitan chic city where I got my first glance of European tourists with their sweaters wrapped around their necks, which was out of control in Mykonos.  Up in Fira the cliffside restaurants are all trying to portray the sophistication of trendy Los Angeles bars only with much better views.  Even with these establishments there does not seem to be a pretentious air about the place as most shopkeepers and hosts are trying to get anyone and everyone into their places.  The sunset location in Santorini is Oia which is about 2 miles along a cobblestone path which skirts the cliff high up above the water.  This spot is preferred to Fira simply because you can actually see the sun drop all the way down into the horizon without the sunken volcano Nea Kameni obstructing your view.

Mykonos

Choosing your favorite island can be a very arbitrary task simply because there are a number of variables that can all change depending on the timing of your visit and the people you meet.  But all things considered I would have to give Mykonos the nod and this may be because I had low expectations and expected this to be the most pretentious party island of the group.  While there were many pockets of clubs to be had Mykonos also had the whitewashed beauty that I was expecting from Santorini.  While Mykonos is one of the flattest islands and the interior is a bunch of whispy tumbleweeds, and scortched earth the coasts and coastal towns are some of the prettiest I encountered.

Our ferry was greeted by about 50 hotel representatives seeking our business but since we had prearranged accommodations and taxis are near impossible to get from the boat we decided to try our luck walking into town.  The town is easily accessible from the main port and the mazelike labyrinth of alleyways add to the charm of Mykonos Town.  There are so many distinct areas to the town but they all have a common theme of outdoor seating set up for people watching.  Little Venice is an area of restaurants and bars along the water through which you can walk amongst the patrons and from place to place along the same path.  It is very cool place that stays busy through around 10:30pm for the dinner and post-dinner crowd.  From here you will likely head to one of the trendy but welcoming clubs nearby.

The beaches are beautiful all along the island but with the beauty comes certain perils.  You have to watch out for sharp, rocky reefs and prickly sea urchins which you can later eat at any number of seafood restaurants in town.  The waves and currents can vary widely as the first day we had no waves whatsoever but on the second day at Paradise Beach we had powerful current warnings and a wavy sea.  Paradise Beach was a tremendous highlight of Mykonos and only about 30 minutes by bus.  What Paradise Beach offers is a small, cozy cove with a handful of beachfront restaurants renting out their lounge chairs and umbrellas.  We ponied up 5 Euros each for our all-day setup and it was worth every penny.  As the crowds started rolling in we found ourselves surrounded by topless ladies.  My heart was a patter at the sight as this did have a resemblance to my view of paradise.  It was especially fun to see the ones who were not used to such freedom take it off with reckless abandon chalking it up to When In Rome.  If it wasn’t for all the pretentious Sweater Necks strutting around the place Mykonos could be the jewel of the Aegean.

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