I was quite excited to be leaving Turkey. Not because I was leaving Turkey, but because I was heading to Greece! A few years ago, I hadn’t even entertained the idea of going to Greece for some reason. But from Marmaris, on the southern coast of Turkey, it was only a short one hour ferry ride to Rhodes, the biggest island in the Dodecanese group of islands in the Aegean Sea. And from Rhodes, there were all sorts of boats to other islands. How could I NOT detour from Turkey to check it out?
So off to Rhodes I go. The ferry left at 9am, but I had to make my way to the port by 8am to get through passport control, etc. I was pretty much the first person on the ferry, and scored a good seat up on the top deck. And then I patiently waited for the other passengers to board while enjoying the fresh sea air. I was somewhat dismayed, however, when there turned out to be an endless stream of people boarding the boat. I would guess that around 300-400 hundred people boarded. Many were day trippers, and there were a few carting wheelie suitcases; I was the only one hauling a backpack. Doesn’t anyone backpack in Greece anymore? By the time we left Marmaris, the ferry was packed. This was not going to be my quiet little island getaway, obviously. According to Wikipedia, the island of Rhodes is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. How did I miss this little fact before I decided to come?
As the ferry got close to the city of Rhodes (at the northern end of Rhodes Island), I got my first glimpse of old fortress walls (built in the 1300’s by the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John) that surround the old medieval town. The Old Rhodes town is another World Heritage site – one of the best preserved sites, apparently, with castles and moats, medieval fortresses, mosques and churches. Once off the boat, I followed the wall for a kilometre or so, passing old fishing boats and some fairly flashy launches and sail boats before walking through one of the gates into the Old Town and to the bus stop.
When I got there, I discovered that I now had a 3 hour wait for the bus that would take me to Kolymbia Bay, where I had booked my hotel. Bugger! I have been spoiled by the excellent transport services (both intra- and inter-city) in Turkey where it’s all so easy and frequent. It turns out there are only 3 buses a day (at this time of year) that go to/from Kolymbia Bay, so no more impromptu days out for me. I will actually have to plan things in advance and keep an eye on the time.
The ride to the hotel was somewhat disappointing. The bus was packed with other tourists now heading back to Kolymbia after their day out. We travelled along a large main road lined with flashy car yards next to fur coat shops, large Tescos and other supermarkets and a bunch of other uninteresting commercial buildings. This was not how I imagined a Greek island at all!
I was dropped off at the hotel where I had booked for 4 nights. At least I struck gold as far as the hotel was concerned. They very kindly upgraded my room from a ground floor basic room to an upstairs sea view room with a brand shiny newly renovated bathroom. They gave me a glass of wine on arrival, offered me a free load of laundry (he figured I needed it after travelling for so long – maybe I was looking a bit scruffy!), a free one hour ‘tropical shower’ and sauna treatment and all the contents of my mini-bar for free (which included a bottle of red wine, juice and water). I had a TV with international channels, a hair dryer (yay!) and even an ironing board and iron (when have I last seen one of these?). All of this for around NZ$31/night, including a big buffet breakfast. I was chuffed. I’m easily bought, obviously – but it IS nice to have some unexpected treats along the way.
As I said, this wasn’t what I imagined for a Greek island, but if I was going to have to stay in a resort area, then this was going to do just fine. The good thing is that this was still the low season (in spite of the numbers that came over on my ferry) and the hotel was maybe 1/4 full – the large ones across the road, on the beach weren’t even open yet. The beach umbrellas and loungers were still stacked up on the grass – I’d hate to imagine what the beach would be like once everyone arrived.
Further down the beach was another hotel that had put out their chairs and umbrella – and even a boardwalk so that you didn’t have to get your feet sandy. Seriously?
The downside of it being still the low season is that many of the tavernas were closed, so my eating options were limited, and far away. But never fear, I didn’t starve.
The beach here at Kolymbia was also disappointing – it was dusty gravel mixed with pebbles and stones rather than sand. But the water was stunning. A gorgeous turquoise colour that was crystal clear – and way too cold for me to jump in! But I did enjoy walking along up to my ankles.
Picturesque Lindos and the Acropolis
One of the must-see places on Rhodes is Lindos, a picturesque village and old acropolis. I got the early bus there in an attempt to avoid the worst of the crowds, and to give me plenty of time there before I caught the afternoon bus back. From the bus stop, I was hit with this stunning view looking down over the white-washed village, the gorgeous blue water and the ruins of the acropolis city at the top of the hill. Yes – this is starting to look more like what I wanted to see!
I had a 15 minute walk down a small winding road from the bus stop before arriving at the bottom of the village.
From the base of the village you can then follow the path that leads up to the Acropolis ruins at the top of the hill. Lindos village was established in 1000BC and is now a World Heritage Site. Admittedly it’s fairly touristy with the walkway up to the top lined with souvenir shops and cafes, but it was just so darned pretty and there really wasn’t any hassle with touts trying to lure you in. Walking up the narrow cobblestone and mosaic paths of the terraced housing was like walking through a maze, with unexpected turns leading in all directions.
The rewards at the top – the ruins of the Acropolis, not to mention a stunning view. People ‘back in the day’ really knew where to position their cities to make the most of the view.
I took my time exploring the ruins, taking the usually 500 photographs of the views, and broken rubble, patiently waiting for the crowds to thin out or move on so I could sneak a photo before the next person moved in my way. I’ve noticed this before (in particular, at the Pamukkale white terraces in Turkey), but the Russian girls are terrible for having to have their photos taken in front of every object and in front of every view. But what is really funny, is watching the girls draping themselves over the rocks, the statues – or their boyfriends in sexy poses as though there were photographing a swimsuit calendar.
This one couple really annoyed me for standing in front of the Athena Temple, stopping everyone else from taking their photos, as she endlessly carried with various sexy (?) poses. Her boyfriend looks really enthusiastic.
I did get my photo in the end.
From the top, was a drop-dead gorgeous view of St Paul Bay –this is where St Paul supposedly landed to bring Christianity to the island. I don’t know about that – but it was beautiful, and I was gutted that I didn’t have my swimsuit to go in for a swim, no matter how cold it was.
I meandered my way back down through the village, stopping for a coffee on a roof-top terrace café to just sit and admire the view. And to contemplate how bloody good life is – taking a moment to really appreciate where I was and how fortunate I am to be doing this.
I wandered down to St Paul Bay for a closer look and then stopped for lunch at a nearby café where I got to talking to a British woman, similar age as me, who has been travelling for 2 years or so. She had just scored herself a job here in Lindos for a few months looking after a luxury B&B. Basically she just has to get a simple buffet breakfast organised in the mornings, be around to meet new arrivals, and be around in the evenings as guests return from their day out. In between, she had time off to do her own thing – like swim in the bay, enjoy endless coffees at the terrace cafes. It was an inspiring moment for me – and has now got me thinking about possibilities for myself. We’ll see….. 🙂
Old Rhodes Town
Even though my heart wasn’t really in it, I ventured out to spend a day in the old heritage area. I wasn’t so keen for two reasons: I’ve seen enough ruins and old buildings to last me awhile, and I didn’t feel like putting up with the crowds of people and the touts that push for business (as I witnessed on the day that I arrived). But – I was here to see Rhodes, and I didn’t want to regret have missed something interesting later on – so onward I went.
I checked out some of the old buildings – like the church below.
And the palace.
And a mosque.
And one of the central squares.
But what I enjoyed more was venturing to the back alleys of the old town area, where people lived – more so then the more central areas that really seemed than the more touristy central areas.
200 islands – where to next?
I wanted to see real Greek islands – one that matched the image in my head, most likely obtained from TV and movies like Mama Mia! Rhodes was pleasant enough, but it was geared to the European packaged tourist, and was just not my scene. Even Lindos, while very pretty and interesting, was still very touristy.
I really hadn’t done a lot in the way of research before coming here. I had over 200 inhabited islands to choose from (out of a total of approximately 6000) all with very foreign sounding names that didn’t mean much to me. How did I choose one?
I initially latched on to the name of three islands to visit: Rhodes, Santorini and Mykonis – only because I had read about them on other traveller blogs and/or friends had been there. But when talking to the guy who owns the hotel, he made some other recommendations for smaller islands that he felt would be more what I was looking for, based on the fact that I had said Rhodes was too big and busy for my liking. And the long ferry rides to get to them seemed a bit pointless when there were so many options much closer to Rhodes.
So partly through his advice, and partly through my own subsequent research, I narrowed it down to 3 islands to visit: Tilos, Nisyros and Chalki (pronounced Halky).
First stop was Tilos. And I very well could have made it my last stop. I loved it so much I had to re-arrange my pre-booked ferries and accommodation to extend my time there, and decided to forfeit Chalki. All of a sudden, 2-3 weeks in Greece was just not going to be enough time! More on that in the next post…