Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Another night journey.

Mithynma to Rhodes is a long haul. First I had to catch a bus to the port at Mytilini Town. Then I was in the annoying yet inevitable position of having to kill time (~six hours) with my rucksack, since there didn't appear to be any sort of left luggage facility anywhere. Dealing with luggage is just a reality of travel, and it is what it is. I don't let it bother me. But I will never understand the people who travel with suitcases big enough to fit a body. The payoff of having however many changes of clothing or other luxury items can't be worth the hassle it is to manhandle those beasts up and down stairs, onto and off of transportation, and everywhere in between.

Mytilini Town has a couple of ruins - one castle and one ancient theater. I walked to both, and neither was worth the sweat involved when you have a rucksack. The theater, especially. Up a winding hill, getting there was starting to border on the absurd because at every turn there was another Ancient Theater sign with an arrow pointing the new way. I should have given up after the first five, but I've proven time and again to be too bloody-minded for my own good. It's lasted this long, so I don't think I'll be changing my ways. Returning to the city center, I stopped at the grocery store to get some ferry supplies (water, soda, pastry cake for next morning), ambled around the streets until I was too tired to do it anymore, then got some take out souvlaki in a pita and sat by the harbor to eat. I should have gotten two, because I was still hungry afterwards. Luckily there was another café near the port entrance, and I got a slice of spinach pie. Then I was too full.

My ferry sailed at 23:00. This one was better than the last. There was far less interior seating than the other vessel, but the arms on the seats raised up, allowing people to lay down across three seats. I initially gave the deck a go, but after a couple of hours it was too windy and cold, so I went inside, found three adjacent seats, and conked out. Woke up a few times during the night from the standard interruptions, but overall got some sound sleep. At 7:00 am I dragged myself into an upright position since sunlight was streaming into the cabin. We weren't arriving at Rhodes until late afternoon, so I had about nine hours to twiddle my thumbs. I started reading up on Turkey, since I'm going there next. Took a nap. Stared at the sea, hoping to see dolphins, but no sea life appeared. Sunburned my face. By the time we got to Rhodes between 16:00 and 17:00, I was plenty bored and ready to be off the boat. Rhodes is the last stop on that run, and only a handful of passengers were left at the end. The vessel had taken on a creepy, deserted feel. At one point I wondered if I was the only person left on board. Turned out everyone was sitting on the other side of the boat, cooking their skin in the sun, or else in the table seating area next to the smokestacks. I couldn't figure out why they were sitting there, because the boat exhaust smelled terrible.

Again, I arrived in town without a paper map. To avoid carrying guidebook paper weight, I scanned a bunch of guidebook sections before leaving, and do a map check the day before traveling, at least trying to commit basic town layout to memory. It's worked so far, mostly because all the towns I've been in have been fairly small. I found my hotel after only overshooting it by one street, and a minimal amount of zigzagging backwards.

It shouldn't do, but sitting for hours doing nothing on transportation always makes me tired. I usually take a walk to get my bearings, determine the lay of the land, and stretch my legs, but mostly after I've traveled, I want to sit around. And eat. More chicken gyros. Hey, they're cheap and fast, and include protein, veggies, and yogurt, and come in puffy pitas to fill you up. The only place I walked to my first night was Old Town, where I also spent a large part of the following day. Rhodes Old Town is the fourteenth century medieval fortress of the Knights of Saint John, and is so well preserved it kind of makes one think it was made just to be a knights-in-armour tourist attraction. It's even got a moat (dry), which serves in part as a community park. Appropriately, there are murders of hooded crows flapping around, in the moat and everywhere. I don't know if we have hooded crows in America, I've never seen them there. They are oh so pretty, all grey and black, and floating in the air. I could never get a good picture of one because they were just a bit out of range for my little camera. I'm quite fond of all the Corvidae family birds, since they manage to pull of being obnoxious and clever at the same time.

Old Town has several medieval attractions, but the two main museums are the Palace of the Grand Masters, and the Archeological Museum, both jam-packed with medieval, and older, artifacts. Lots of stone coats-of-arms. Stone altars from graves, many of which are decorated with the heads of oxen around them. Asking one of the docents about these, she explained that since an ox was the ultimate sacrifice someone could make, the frequently decorated altars. And...cheese graters from the 8th to 7th century BC. Seeing them from across the room, I though, "Whoa, those look like cheese graters. Naahhhh..." You can clearly see that the cheese grater design has changed little in over two millennia, having achieved almost perfect functional form from the beginning.

To be sure, these places are full of interesting things, but I sorta like the building themselves even more. I'm no expert in medieval architecture, or any architecture, but I'm guessing the building of this fortress were designed to be sturdy and utilitarian above all. No sense looking nice if it doesn't keep the enemy at bay. Yet for all their perfect function, and walls of stone so rough that even looking at it too closely will take skin off your eyeballs, I thought they were really beautiful and elegant, with their arched doorways and windows, and vaulted or timbered ceilings. Many of the windows had nifty window seats on each side, but they only worked well if the windows were closed, since all the shutters opened inward.

I also went to the Ottoman Library, which is housed in a perfectly proportioned little building. The building turned out to be more noteworthy than the collection; I was hoping to see Arabic calligraphy, which is there, just not many originals. There's lots of displays of scans which are showing their age. Since it's free I can't complain. The perfect building is surrounded by a similarly perfect little terrace garden with small trees, and each of the trees had ram horns tucked into the branches.

I spent the next couple of day commuting by bus to two archeological sites on opposite coasts, Lindos and Ancient Kamiros. The ruins at Kamiros are more extensive, remains of houses and temples covering a hillside that felt like an oven on the day that I visited, but the Lindos acropolis is perched above the town atop a cliff. It's easy to walk up to the ruins, but a lot of people go by donkey. You need to be careful on some of the narrow streets, because passenger-less donkeys are heading back down at brisk trot. They won't barrel straight into you, but they are a bit wide in the middle, and their saddles make them even wider. Visitors to the acropolis are responsible for their own safety, which is the way it should be; the bastions are not fenced off, so you can take a flying walk right through them and off the cliff if you like. Parents are encouraged to hold hands with their children. Or, not.

Like many tourist-centric towns, including Rhodes, Lindos has the tourist trap/souvenir shop area, and a residential area. Other than meandering through the residential streets, I don't generally find a whole lot in these towns to keep my attention. One thing that did catch my eye and ear was a British family who were all royally pissed off at each other and having possibly the absolute worst time any family on holiday could have. They were enjoying neither their day nor each other's company. It isn't the first time I've seen a family on the edge of combustion, and it's always a bit painful to see. One the other hand, it makes me feel smug and relieved that I'm not part of such a unit. Holidays should be a time of enjoyment, not a time to gnaw on the bleeding esophagus of your significant other. Maybe if they plummeted through the acropolis bastions they'd have a better time.

Since Rhodes Town is so small, I made a point to walk to the entrance of the small harbor, reputed site of the Colossus of Rhodes. It seems pretty well accepted that the Colossus existed, but there is no definitive documentaton about its exact location or form. Reputedly 32 meters tall and fashioned of bronze, the statue of Helios is frequently depicted straddling the entrance to Mandhraki Harbor. Inspiring imagery, but technically questionable, if not totally impossible. In any case, it hasn't been there since an earthquake toppled it around 225, and the Saracens sold it for scrap in 654. The only thing there now are two pillars with deer on top. I don't know why deer.

If you go to Rhodes, there's a tiny scruffy café across the street from the east coast bus station that you should find. It has a chained up cooler on the sidewalk outside, two granite machines, a stack of fresh oranges, and no pretensions. It's run by an equally scruffy, chain-smoking guy sporting a shock of grey hair. There were never that many people sitting there, and those that were seemed to be locals. Initially lured in by a sign advertising €1.50 lattes, I ended up there once a day afterwards, to get coffee, sit at one of the shabby tables outside, and write in my journal. On my last day there, needing to write a lot, I got two coffees, and according to posted prices should have owed the owner €2.80. Handing him two €2 coins, he teased only one of them out of my fingers and gave me a wink. I was wondering if he was going to be offended when I didn't show up the next day, but imagined he would figure out that I had moved on.

On my last day in Greece, I:

° visited some ruins (Ancient Kamiros)
° had a Greek coffee in a café
° admired indigenous fauna (hooded crows, stray cats)
° ate gyros and drank sour cherry juice
° swam in the Aegean Sea

I'm going to miss the Aegean Sea. It's so warm and clear and pretty, and sometimes there are little fish swimming around in the surf with you. You can only tell they are there from their shadows.

By the end of my days in Greece, I can mostly grind my way through words written in Greek. I know almost all of the capitals, and about half of the miniscules. I recognize phi because it's in καφές, which is the third most important phrase to learn in any language. The second most important is how to greet someone, and the first is how to thank someone. It's the easiest thing in the world to do, and for some reason loads of travelers don't bother. Or worse, it hasn't even occurred to them to bother. In Budapest a few years ago, I got a really bright smile from a ticket seller when I thanked her in Hungarian, which really was the only word I knew, Hungarian being kind of a difficult language. I couldn't even figure out how to pronounce words properly by looking at them on paper, so I just eavesdropped on a conversation until I heard it. Loads of people in Greece speak English, especially in the tourist industry, and I suppose this gives many people reason enough to not bother with pleasantries. But similar to my experience in Budapest, I've had several moments here where someone seemed to appreciate the fact that I had at least learned how to say thank you, and frequently I was answered in Greek. I didn't see this happening with people who just started right in with English. I'd really like to learn Greek, since so much of the English language is rooted in it. When I'm President of the United States, all schoolchildren will learn Greek and Latin.

To thank someone in Turkish, you say "Teşekkür ederim."

1 comment:

Heidi said...

We would travel well together. I, too, have a very determined mind once I've set my sights on a destination... much to the chagrin of my family. I fear we have at times ended up like that unfortunate British couple because of my dragging everyone around to see some silly something that ends up to be very disappointing once we get there. Let's just say that I don't choose our destinations so often anymore :)