Travel Dates 6th-12th July 2013
I deliberately planned the final section of my European trip to be in the Greek Islands. I visited Greece in 2003, seeing the Peloponnese and Athens, but I had always wanted to see their major islands and regretted missing them on that trip. I also thought Rhodes and Crete would be good places to wind down and relax after Iberia and Morocco. I had no planned itinerary for them, apart from relaxing, soaking in the atmosphere and visiting the old towns and some ancient sites.
I had lost a couple of hours with the baggage problems in the terminal. Later planes had arrived and the queue for cabs was long when I reached it. I discovered that there was a set fare of €22 for the 15km trip to Rhodes Town. Because of the crowd I was not surprised when a driver called for someone to fill the front seat when he already had passengers in the back. When I was a cab driver in Melbourne we were allowed to do the same. But in Melbourne the arrangement was that each hirer paid ¾ of the meter fare as they reached their destination. Not in Rhodes. Each hirer pays full fare. Well, at least I got there before midnight. Later I found I could have taken the bus, but when I arrived I had no idea where the bus stopped or its route. The cabs were reasonably inexpensive once I reached Rhodes Town, but rarely around when I wanted one.
I had only booked the first two nights at the City Center Hotel, not knowing what the standard would be like. When I decided to extend the booking I found they were booked out for two of the remaining four nights of my stay. I booked their available nights and ended up at two other hotels for the remainder. I didn't mind as it gave me a different perspective of the town near the western beaches for those other nights, but City Center was definitely the best experience of the three. Originally I intended to do some overnight trips by ferry to other islands, but I quickly realised I had arrived at the peak of the season and those hotels would also be full so I decided not to risk it.
Rhodes was nothing like I expected. In my pre-trip reading I read about its rich history and the many ancient civilisations which left their mark on the island. In my mind's eye I suppose I was expecting a place like Mycenae or Argos, which were almost deserted when I visited Greece in 2003.
I should have spent a little more time reading about modern Rhodes.
Rhodes Town was full. The town is “tourist central” full of hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and nightspots.
That had the advantage of lots of choices for meals, although many of the tourist restaurants had identical menus in ten different languages, including all the Scandinavian languages.
I looked for the smaller cafes and tried to avoid most of the tourist traps. It was a pretty forlorn quest in Rhodes Town. If I ever return I will go to one of the smaller towns or villages.
The food was mostly very good. I mainly ate soups or gyros for lunches and fish or mussels for dinners.
The town was jam-packed with tourists. Not tourists to see the ancient sites but visitors from colder mid-July climes, mainly the UK and Scandinavia, to bask all day in the sun on the island's beaches and drink and party most of the night.
The European custom of paid spaces on beaches for Li-los and deckchairs with umbrellas in military-style formations is a strange one to an Aussie accustomed to free beaches where you find a spot to toss your towel where you can.
Unfortunately for many of the sunbathers the westerly wind became quite fierce for my final four days on Rhodes. Possibly the eastern beaches were OK, but only hardy souls occupied the deck chairs when that wind was blowing.
Although there were a few seniors in the crowds the vast majority of visitors appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. In the evenings they tended to form groups of four or five of the same gender then go hunting for their opposite numbers in packs.
I enjoyed watching the fun from the upper floor balconies of restaurants. There were David Attenborough moments watching the mating selection habits of Northern Europeans in a warm climate.
I spent much of my time wandering on the local buses or walking around the old town. The buses were a bit confusing. They stopped for the locals between sign-posted stops, but not for me when I wanted to get out at the same place. I never found a map of the routes, so I tended to get on one going in the direction I wanted then get off as soon as it headed in a different direction. As a result I sometimes walked a lot further than I intended.
I spent a couple of days visiting the Old Town and the Acropolis; the report on those will follow this.
On my final afternoon I took the bus to the airport; much less expensive than the cab. Despite being the 'Airport' bus it is actually a local transit bus; the airport being just one of its stops. About half the passengers were heading for the airport with luggage. The bus was full after the second stop with no place to stack luggage so we all squeezed it in where we could. Gradually, as the bus dropped local passengers en-route it became more comfortable. Check in was a bit odd. After checking in the clerk labelled my checked bag, then returned it to me to be taken to the security x-ray point. I was pleased but slightly surprised to see it arrive on the carousel later in Crete.
One of the odd points I noticed while waiting for my flight was the high number of package-tour planes on the tarmac. They out-numbered the commercial airlines by at least two to one.