The Palace of the Grand Masters towers over Rhodes Town as the sun goes down.
For more medieval pictures of Greece, click here.
I feel a rap on my shoulder. I’m suddenly aware that it must be the second or third that Matt’s applied.
“Come on. We’re here.”
I can’t tell the difference between being moving and stationary.
At this time yesterday, we were sitting at a small café in Göreme, the heart of Cappadocia. Two bus rides, a day near the beach, and an hour and half long ferry ride later, we’re standing in line for passport control on the Greek island of ΡΟΔΟΣ (Rhodes). Going between Turkey and Greece on the water, Rhodes is the best way to go.
The sun is glinting off the water across the port, the medieval city walls glowing gold in the perfect light. Rhodes, former home of the Colossus and the empire of the Rhodians, is the largest and most popular of Dodecanese, one of three major chains of Greek islands. The line of people is long. I get in the shortest line, figuring it’ll go the fastest. I’m tempted to go take pictures of the bay, but I want to get through customs. I’ve already had to wait multiple hours to get on to the ferry.
Coming from Göreme, we took an overnight bus. “No change,” the man said when we asked about transfers. Despite this, at three in the morning, we were thrust into the cold light of a bus station and forced to switch buses. I didn’t sleep nearly at all on the first bus. I slept poorly on the second. By the time we pulled into Marmaris shortly after sunrise, I was cold, cranky, and simply wanted to sleep. The book said that ferries go regularly to Rhodes from Marmaris, so I was shocked when I found out there were only two per day. We spent four hours wandering the waterfront looking for breakfast and the ferry port, just missing the first ferry at 9:30 AM. The second one didn’t leave until 4:30 and wouldn’t let us enter the port until 3:30 due to customs. The Greek’s don’t like the Turkish and charge exorbitant port usage fees to non-Greek travelers.
Somehow, by the time we make it through passport control in Rhodes, we’re the last ones. Everyone else must’ve been EU members, ushered quickly through the other windows. I’m sore in ways I didn’t think was possible, and my excitement level has dropped to Orange Alert. I’m about ready to shut down for a few days.
I stop to hit an ATM just outside the port. In Turkey, few places take American Express, and as my Wells Fargo card expired, I’m left with no other access to money. Many of the ATMs in Turkey offer Turkish Lira (YTL), US dollars ($), and Euros (€). With my American Express, I can only take out YTL apparently. Greece doesn’t accept YTL and I don’t have any Euros yet. The ATM at the port lacks American Express capabilities. I’m running out of options and we’re running out of money.
“Do you need lodgings?” an old lady asks us. “I have a place. Very close. Only 50€ a night for the two of you.”
“No, we’re just fine,” Matt says. At 50€ a night, we would not be just fine. We head out of the main port area and find the ferry window. It’s possible we can grab an overnight ferry from here to another island tonight. At the very least we want to book one for the following night. In Greece, we don’t have the time to wait. We have only 7 days to get through Greece and back to Istanbul for our flight. The old lady follows us.
“Everything else is booked. I offer a fair price.”
“No, we’re fine,” says Matt. He steps into the ferry office and I turn and smile at the lady. So far, he’s been pretty good. When he’s stressed, I’ve seen him get curt and rude with hawkers, touts, and cabbies pushing their services and wares.
“I appreciate the offer, but 50 is far too much for us,” I tell her. I’m not really paying attention to the lady. In the background, the clerk is telling Matt the ferry to Crete is three nights a week. Tomorrow is the next one. It’s cheaper than our hour and half trip to Rhodes from nearby Marmaris.
“For you, I make special deal. 45€.” The lady seems determined.
“Thanks, but we’ll find something cheaper.” Matt buys our tickets for tomorrow. I’m a little disappointed. In a perfect world, we’d have arrived here this morning, explored during the day, and been on a ferry to Lesbos or Santorini or Ios or another Greek Isle this evening. The walls of old town Rhodes Town loom before us. The old lady is still beside us.
“It is a private room. Very nice. You have shower, TV. It’s very close. Not far to walk. Come look.”
“We’re fine,” says Matt.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt to look,” I say. Matt shoots me an annoyed look. I don’t know if he’s annoyed with me because I seem to have folded or because I’m encouraging the woman and she’s still there.
“Good, good. This way. This way.” She’s small and wrinkled, hunched over. If it weren’t for her modern clothing, the combination of her age and the elegant fancifulness of the surrounding city would have me calling her a witch or a crone. There’s a sparkle in her eye that speaks of magic. Maybe I’m just sleep deprived.
As we enter the town, I spot another ATM with the American Express logo on it. “Hold on,” I say as I walk up to it. Matt and the woman are still talking. She’s bargaining the price down. He’s telling her no. I’m successfully getting money out of the ATM. We now have enough to afford the room if we want, but I’m sure we can do cheaper.
“Dammit,” I say, feigning failure.
“How much?” the woman asks. She’s nearly begging for us to make an offer.
“No dice,” I say to Matt.
“I have about 45€. I can get more tomorrow, but if we’re going to eat, how much can we spend?”
“The most we can afford for a place is about 30€,” I say, doing the math as if I didn’t have money. “That will leave us about 15 to get food today and tomorrow, which should be doable.”
“30€? Ok,” agrees the woman. I hadn’t actually looked at her since coming down from the ATM.
“30€ for both of us?” Matt wants to make sure. He’s dependable; on top of things. I’m far too whimsical to be the organizer.
“Okay,” she says, shrugging as if this is terrible. 30€ is what we would’ve paid for the cheapest rooms at the places we were looking. Matt nods and we’re off.
The place is down a back alley, passed a synagogue and Jewish Museum. It’s the first synagogue I’ve seen since I left Boulder. From the cobbled street, it’s just a wall with a door and a mezuzah. According to the plaque, Rosh Hashana is the 30th and Yom Kippur is the 8th. We’ll be in Germany by then and I can catch services there. I’m a little giddy.
The room is nice. She gives us a key and I change clothes and clean up. I don’t hurt as much without the weight of my baggage. Matt reads in the guide book that people meeting you at the station is normal here. It’s illegal, but it’s common practice, and you’re expected to bargain. I feel pretty good about how things worked out.
The sun is casting beautiful shadows across the town. The tiny cobbled squares are full of people. A little girl is playing the accordion by the side of a fountain. Couples are ducking into corners to steal kisses. The smell of food is coming from every angle and it’s delicious.
Rhodes Town is divided into the old town by the bay, formerly a medieval stronghold centered around the Palace of Grand Master, and the new town, a bustling modern city with shopping, yachting, and buses to famed beaches across the island. The women here are beautiful. The women everywhere are beautiful.
We wander past the clock tower, through the palace, and down via the botanical gardens. We’re in Greece. The thought finally hits me. We’re in Greece
SIDE NOTE: Everywhere we go, our first day has been this strange elated jumble of stress, shock and realization. “We’re in India!” Matt says emphatically. “We’re in fucking Thailand!” I bounce. It always takes a little time before this sinks in. We’re dealing with arrangements and food and getting rid of our luggage and all the mundane aspects of traveling, and not until those are done does the exotic locale we’re in finally sink in. We’re in a grand theater for the greatest show on earth and we’re starring at the playbill for the entire introduction, only looking up in amazement when the show is already in full swing. It’s a wonderful surprise.
The flowers in the gardens glow magenta and pink. I remember how vivid the plants were in Asia, but I’m tempted to say these are moreso. Perhaps everything else isn’t glowing as much. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe I’m finally waking up. We walk down the hill and stop to look at the bus schedule. For 3€ each we can catch a bus to a famed beach east of the city. Our ferry doesn’t leave tomorrow until 11 PM, so a relaxing beach adventure in the afternoon would be nice.
We stop at a three tiered pizza parlor in the center of the old town. We wouldn’t have stopped there, but the guy out front offered us 10% off and I feel I need a treat after such a long journey. The pizza is good. The salad is better. I still don’t like olives, but fresh tomatoes, cucumber, spices and feta with a little oil and vinegar is divine. I drink one of the local brews.
SIDE NOTE: Throughout my journey, I’ve been trying to drink the local beer at least once. San Miguel from the Philippines is pretty good. Every other beer I’ve had has been pretty much your standard domestic beer. I couldn’t describe the difference between Miller, Tiger, Tsing Tao, or any of the others. Indian beers weren’t even India Pale Ales (so named because they brew in the time it takes for a ship to go from England to India), much to my chagrin. Turkish beer and Greek beer seem much the same too. There are definitely slight differences, but overall, none hold a candle to the microbrews of Americas beer mecca in which I lived. Hopefully Germany and Belgium will change that.
We watch Presumed Innocent with Richard Gere on the local TV. It’s subtitled in Greek. Matt falls asleep halfway through. I can’t figured out what they’re saying in Chinese. I need to go back and watch this movie again someday.
Check out time is 9 AM. It’s too early. I have time to take a shower and pack up. We stuff out luggage in the courtyard, collect our swimming gear and head out of the day.
Our first stop is the archeological museum. We get there just before opening and the place is empty. It has ancient Greek items, beautiful statuary, and a history of pottery that explains the three different eras in Greek clay work better than I’ve ever seen summarized. It also has an entire room dedicated to the Knights of the Hospitalier and the grand master.
Matt tells me that the Hospitalier were a group that split from the church during the crusades and attempted to make their head quarters Jerusalem. When that failed, they came to Rhodes, a major port in the Mediterranean that linked the West with the Near East. I suddenly remember the Hospitalier flags in Jerusalem from Assassin’s Creed. It’s certainly not the conspiracy theory that game puts forth, but it’s starting to make more sense to me.
We wander past the Temple of Athena. It’s merely ruins now. We walked by it the night before and I never would’ve guessed.
“How do they know what these buildings are used for?” Matt asks me.
“Many years of study and inference. Much like science, theories are kicked out the window pretty often in Archaeology. One day a jug will be a ritual sacrifice blood catcher and the next it’ll be a simple wine jug used at the market.”
“Even after years of study, how do they know what the other items they’re applying were used for?”
“I would guess texts. At least in the Greek’s case.” He has me wondering now. I’ve always believed that knowledge lacks enough substance to be real most of the time, but we generally blindly trust experts’ opinions when it comes to things like this. Maybe the battle of Thermopylae was completely made up by Frank Miller. Or maybe it was made up by the guy who made the film 300 Spartans in the 1960s. Maybe those Greek texts have been falsified to help create a nationalistic identity. I’ll never truly know. I can become one of those experts and everything I say will still only be theory, albeit more educated theory.
We wander through the new district. There’s lots of shopping, but no internet cafés that we can find. There are a few in the old town, but we were hoping to find something cheaper out here. It’s a normal city outside of the old town. If we hadn’t just been crawling across cobbled streets and climbing over ancient walls (admittedly rebuilt recently, most likely), I’d doubt we were even on the same island, let alone a mere half a kilometer away.
The beach appears out of nowhere. It’s rocky, covered with smooth stones. In contrast, the people are younger than stones, but far less smooth. It hearkens back to what I expect to see when walking into a European vacation spot. Hundreds of older men and women lounging in chairs and soaking up the sun. We sit down in a couple chairs and listen to the surf. A watermelon is being rolled back and forth by the tide. It’s hypnotic. In the distance, a paraglider is floating along. There aren’t many people in the water. I can’t tell why. It’s a hot and sunny day.
Only a few moments later, our reverie is interrupted by a pair of middle aged women in sweatsuits. “You have a ticket?” one asks.
“A ticket for what?” I say.
“For the umbrella,” she says. “12€.” I’m up and walking away before the women realize I’m having none of it. Matt’s slower to get up. They turn the chairs away from the beach so they’re facing the sun as we walk away. On the cement wall of the beach is painted a big sign: beach umbrella/chair 6€ per person. It’s absurd. I’ve never had to pay a beach fee in the US.
The beach leads into a rocky cliff. The view is stunning. Matt lays down for a nap. I can’t sleep. It simply doesn’t work. I wander down the cliff-side path. There are small theatres built into the rock, caves I could spelunk in, rocky paths down to the waterfront, and plenty of shade to sit in. A group of German bicyclists go by. There are about 40 in all. They came from a cruise ship. I can tell because they’re all using the same rented mountain bike, a brand I’ve never heard of. Most of them seem out of shape, but a few are in full fledged biking gear, complete with package enhancing padded biker shorts.
We climb back through the city, stopping at a gyro place in the old town. Gyros and Kebaps seem to be the same thing to me, for all intensive purposes. I notice that Greek coffee is listed on the menu and a theory begins to percolate in my head.
SIDE NOTE: When I was a Freshman in high school, there was a Greek kid named Nik Stavros a year ahead of me. We were about the same size and matched up well in sports. When he found out that I had Turkish ancestry, our competition became a feud for him. “Greeks hate Turks,” he would tell me, though he never gave me a reason. And even though my Turkish blood dates back nearly 500 years and is likely so diluted it doesn’t even matter, the simple fact was enough for him.
As a Red Sox fan, I understand the instant feud idea. My theory there is that New York and Boston are very similar. They’re both cultural meccas in America: New York for its music, theatre, and art, Boston for its universities and education. They have similar accents and foods: New York has red clam chowder and the best delis in the US, Boston has New England clam chowder and lobster par none (save Maine, which is just an extension of Boston). They’re both central hubs of their region: New York is the heart of the Tri-State area, Boston the center of New England. They both have similar accents, are historically important, boast liberal ideologies, and have famed sports franchises and competition in almost every aspect. Boston and New York are only different in minor ways.
Now having visited Greece and Turkey, they’re more similar than not. I’m beginning to think their rivalry is because of their similarities. They have similar looks, similar islands, similar food, and similar industry. They both have incredible histories, a wealth of religion, and part in many of the same empires or opposing empires. And if they stopped for five minutes to really examine the other, this rivalry would be one of a dialectal nature, each requiring the other to exist in their best form.
I order the Greek coffee. It’s exactly like Turkish coffee. I feel my theory is proven.
We grab a bus to the beach, but the driver doesn’t tell us when we’re there, so we end up one town too far. It’s a nice beach none-the-less. Getting home will be more difficult. There’s no direct bus from here. We need to go to another city and transfer.
The waters of the Mediterranean are clearer than anything I’ve ever seen. Even where my feet can’t touch bottom, I can see all the way to the sea floor. It’s rocky, but the rocks are smooth and worn, not sharp and painful like the coral around Guam. The water is colder than I expected. It’s still comfortable, but I can feel my nuts shrink as I get in. After an hour, I’m done. The sun is beginning to set and I want to warm up and dry off.
We ask around about the bus. Unlike Rhodes Town, the English here isn’t great. We’re told to wait for the green bus by one person and the yellow bus by another. A green and yellow bus arrives to take us to town. The transfer is easy, and within an hour, we’re back in Rhodes Town. We drop our wet clothes off at the luggage and grab a great dinner at a small joint in the new town. The gyros are divine. The restaurant offers us free ouzo at the end. It tastes like a strong peppermint schnapps.
We still have a few hours before the ferry leaves, so we stop for gelato. Matt and I discuss ego, intelligence, and personal understanding of the way we work. We talk about hosting parties, cooking, and pleasing people. Our gelato is long gone and the conversation just getting started when we arrive at the ferry, still early. We discuss software piracy, the errors in customer service, and whether the customer is responsible for the item or company. We discuss an engineers perspective versus the common man’s perspective. And then we board.
I’m hoping the ferry is smooth. The chairs don’t seem comfortable. I sit there, having claimed my spot, when Matt returns from exploring as says people are claiming couches in the lounge. We rush upstairs and claim a spot. It’s in the non-smoking section. The non-smoking section is filled with smoke from the smoking section that makes up the other 9/10 of the room. Between the smoke and noise, I’m unsure if I’ll be able to sleep. Matt doesn’t have that issue. He drops like a 10 ton weight in a Monty Python sketch.
I climb up top for some fresh air and watch Rhodes fade in the distance. It’s cold up top, but I’m wearing my hoodie. A few people have laid sleeping bags out under benches on the deck. The disco is closed.
Rhodes had more to offer than I had expected. And though I’m far more excited about our two days in Crete or our two days in Athens, Rhodes was good, with or without the Collossus. The lights of the island blur as we speed across the water. The engine hums. I can feel it vibrate in my legs. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll even sleep well tonight. After all, we have a couch in the lounge and that’s something.