2013 – Our Crete Adventure

Our Crete adventure began with one of those dreadful early evening flights. The kind that  because of the time difference between the UK and Greece arrive really late at night. Fortunately passport control at Heraklion Airport is pretty lax so we sailed through to the chaos at the baggage carousels pretty quickly. Typically three flights were crammed on to the only working carousel, so we had to fight through crowds of Polish body builders and Russian bodyguards to retrieve our bags, once of course baggage handling had finished whatever break they were on.

No trip to Greece is complete without pictures of cute kitty cats

No trip to Greece is complete without pictures of cute kitty cats

Having collected the bags it was out past the disinterested customs officials into the mad chaotic fury of the coach park, where eventually we found the bus to our hotel in Rethymno and then about an hour to the drop off from there.

Is it bedtime yet?

Is it bedtime yet?

Since we were the last drop off the sight of the hotel porter waiting with his trolley was more than welcome, but then as the coach pulled away into the darkness our hearts sank as he uttered the words: ‘There is a problem, the hotel is overbooked’

I want my mum

I want my mum

Fortunately it turned out that we did have rooms, so after he’d scraped us off the floor he explained that a party of Russians had turned up and they didn’t have rooms for them so things had then got a bit moody in reception which was why he was lurking outside ready to sneak us in up the fire escape and bypass the argybargy.

Think I might just lie down here for a moment

Think I might just lie down here for a moment

As it happened this was a bit of a blessing in disguise as it saved us from all the form filling and bureaucratic nonsense that normally accompanies a Greek hotel check in and we were soon ushered into our rooms. The local time was by then 2am and we had been on the road since 2pm London time. My brain does not do figures so I have no idea how long we had been travelling, but I was delighted to sink between the sheets for a well-earned kip.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Ready to play in the sand when the Sun came up.

It's down here somewhere

It’s down here somewhere

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

Rhodes: The Valley of the Butterflies and the Island of Halki

Close to the village of Theologos on the western side of Rhodes is The Valley of the Butterflies.

Jersey Tiger

The butterflies are actually moths which in the UK are known as Jersey Tigers. The Jersey Tiger is quite widespread throughout Europe, but was until recently confined to the Channel Islands in the UK. Now there is even a breeding colony in South London. I suppose that’s global warming for you. In Rhodes the Tigers congregate in this particular river valley, where the humidity is just right for breeding.

Entrance to the Valley of the Butterflies

The moths are absolutely everywhere, covering the surfaces of trees and walkways.

Jersey Tigers everywhere

During this part of their life cycle they are dependant upon stored energy reserves from their time as a caterpillar as the adults have no digestive organs. As a consequence it is expressly forbidden to startle the moths into the air with hand claps or whistles as they need all the energy for breeding. Anyone caught doing that gets a €50 fine from the National Parks Service.

We visited the Valley of the Butterflies as part of a day trip that also took in the nearby island of Halki. Taking the ferry from the nearby port of Kamiros it’s about an hour from Rhodes. Halki (also called Chalki) is the smallest of the Dodecanese Islands with a population of just over 300. It used to be a centre of sponge fishing before the days of synthetic materials, but tourism is now the major earner.

Halki from the ferry

As you approach the island the influence of the Venetians and Genoese who ruled the island before the Ottoman Turks arrived in 1523 is immediately apparent in the architecture of the houses and church in the port of Emporio which is the only large settlement on the island. We had lunch at Maria’s, a dockside taverna where the baked aubergine (€6) was delicious, before heading into town to explore.

To be totally honest there isn’t really that much to see aside from The Traditional House of Chalki, which an enterprising widow set up after the death of her husband.

The Traditional House of Chalki

Within the house an eclectic collection of items is on display ranging from traditional furniture, ceramics and lace to an old car radio.

From the wind up gramophone to the knackered old car radio, just some of the eclectic items inside the Traditional House

In the beautifully tended garden there is a fine display of peppers, pomegranates and limes along with a vending machine that dispenses beer, chocolate and condoms, everything you could wish for a good night out!

I spent some time chatting with our knowledgable tour guide, John on the return journey. He’s an ex-pat Brit with a part Greek wife. Aside from the guiding he has written some books on Rhodes and has a blog called Ramblings from Rhodes. You will find a link to the blog on the right, go pay him a visit to find out some more about the island.

Back on the mainland we arrived back in Lindos just in time for a quick shower before dinner. That night we ate at the Kalypso, a delightful rooftop restaurant.

View from the rooftop at the Kalypso restaurant

I started with the Feta Sagnaki, Feta cheese wrapped in filo pastry basted with honey, followed by a lamb kebab in Feta and tomato sauce on pita which was exceptionally good. Our youngest travelling companion had the Greek burger which was so good that her father and I forced down every leftover scrap. With wine, water and coffee the bill came to only €90 for the four of us. Kalypso was the only restaurant we ate in twice during our stay (not counting beachside tavernas) on the island so it’s highly recommended.

The trip to the Valley of the Butterflies and Halki was booked through the Thomson Holidays website, cost £37.99.

Up the Rhodes to the Acropolis

On Wednesday morning we got up really early to climb the 300 steps up through Lindos to the Crusader Castle and the ancient Acropolis. there were two good reasons for this; avoiding the heat and the crowds of day visitors from other resorts and the cruise liners. Fortunately the acropolis opens at 8.30, so we had breakfast and were soon passing the alarm clocks on the way into town.

The alarm clocks of Rhodes

Even early in the morning it was a bit of a slog up the hill, but there was the odd place to take a photo of the view while taking a breather.

View of Bay of Lindos

The Castle was built by the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem around 1317 on the base of an earlier Byzantine fortification.

Entrance to the castle

Of course the Byzantine fortress was built over previous Greek and Roman buildings. At the top of the fortress is the partially restored Temple of Athena.

Temple of Athena

This Doric temple dates to around 300BC.  A monumental staircase leads down from the temple to the remains of a Stoa (colonnaded covered walkway)

The Stoa at Lindos

that originally consisted of 42 columns. It was probably a covered market and dates back to 200BC.

Close to the stoa are the remains of the Greek Orthodox Church of St John. These are 13th century, but built over the remains of an earlier Byzantine church.

Greek Orthodox Church, Lindos

Not all of the visitors had paid the €6 to get in

It was starting to get really hot by 10.oo, but by then we had seen just about all there was to see and the day trippers were begining to arrive all hot and bothered by the coach load.

Our gateway to the outside world

Old ladies had pitched stalls selling textiles on the rocks by the path on the way down. We bought a table-cloth from one and told the next one that: ‘her friend had already had our money’

‘She’s not my friend’ she replied.

Gotta love Greek old ladies.

 

 

 

Sunrise over the Acropolis and Sunset in Rhodes Town

It wasn’t so much the donkeys and roosters who woke us up on the morning of our fourth day in Lindos, but the howling of the wind. Overnight the familiar whirring of cicadas had been replaced by something that would not have sounded amiss on the soundtrack of a Hammer Horror movie. Rather than curling up and going back to sleep we got up and watched the Sun come up over the Acropolis.

Sunrise over the Acropolis Lindos

If I’m going to be absolutely truthful we did nip back to bed for a crafty snooze, before hitting the pool for a couple of hours. Always keen to learn something from our fellow guests as I waggled my toes in the water, I discovered how to disable the security tags in branches of George by folding them in half, it’s not a piece of knowledge that I intend to apply I hasten to add.

That afternoon we had a trip booked for the island’s capital Rhodes Town.

Medieval City Walls, Rhodes Town

It took about an hour to get to Rhodes Town. We assembled outside the city walls that date back to the time of the Knights Hospitaller. The warrior monks of the order conquered the island from the Byzantine Empire in 1309. They wanted their own place to hang out when their stay in Cyprus didn’t work out following the fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291. Much of the present Old Town including the city walls dates from the time of the Knights who were eventually kicked out by the Ottoman Turks in 1522.  The city walls were one of the first in Europe to be designed to withstand those new-fangled cannon and had an extensive moat to trap any invaders in a killing ground where they could be cut to pieces. There are still Ottoman cannon balls littering the moat today.

Ottoman cannon ball

The Italians who took Rhodes off the Turks in 1912 used the moat as a prison for Greek dissidents and there is a moving sculptural tribute to those that died there just outside the city walls.

Memorial to Greek prisoners held within the Old Town moat

In 1943 the Italians found the tables turned when many Greek families hid their former colonist’s soldiers from the Nazis when Italy changed sides in World War II.

Entering by the main gate we passed through the narrow medieval streets towards the town centre.

the Medieval streets of Rhodes Old Town

To survive the regular earth tremors in the area, local buildings are pretty solid and often buttressed against one another as the photo above shows. Towards the centre of town we found one of the few remaining practicing mosques. After the Ottoman conquest only Moslems were allowed to live within the city walls, so the Greek Orthodox churches became mosques. When most of the Turks left only a few remained mosques to serve the island’s small Moslem community.

Mosque Rhodes Old town

By far the most impressive building in the Old Town is the palace of the Grand Master Of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Grand Master’s Palace

The palace was originally built-in the fourteenth century. During the Ottoman occupation it was used as a prison and ammunition magazine. In 1856 a lightning strike caused the magazine to blow up and destroyed much of the palace. What you see today is an Italian reconstruction built as a palace for King Victor Emmanuel III and Mussolini and now a museum.

The Knights were a pretty international bunch. By far the largest contingent came from France, but there were also knights from England, Scotland, Spain, Italy and the German states all of whom have left mementoes in the buildings on the Street of the Knights.

Coats of Arms of the English Knights of the Order of St John

After taking dinner at a delightful little taverna called Romio’s (included in the trip), we went for a drink in the Piazza where entertainment was provided by a massive barney, complete with shouting and pushing, between the staff of the Palazzo and Archipelago restaurants over poaching each others customers.

Piazza Rhodes

The final part of our trip took us out of the old town into the Mandraki area and down past the rather imposing Italian Fascist architecture of the port for a moonlit cruise around the harbour. To be honest it wasn’t exactly a cruise ship, more a ferry complete with car deck below, but the harbour was beautiful lit up after dark and the brief moment out to sea allowed the stars to be seen away from the light pollution of the resort areas.

Rhodes by Night

We booked the trip online through the Thomson holidays website, cost £50.99 including dinner. You could probably find a similar excursion cheaper in resort.

The Rhodes to the Beach

By the time the donkeys woke us up on day three of our Lindos adventure we were ready for our first day at the beach.

Lindos Alarm Clock

The Old Town’s taxi donkeys are tethered all over the place so we passed a good few of them on the way to the death alley that passes for a road on the way down into Lindos. It was good to see that they do get regular days off where they can stand about looking disagreeable instead of grumping around town. Goats keep them company or perhaps it’s fairer to say steal from their feed buckets. The goats are more or less free to go where they please as it is up to local land owners to properly fence in anything that they don’t want the goats to eat.

Morning travellers

Lindos has two sandy bays down the hillside from the Old Town. The main bay has two stretches of beach connected by a rocky path and plenty of tavernas. Just around the headland is St Paul’s Bay where the apostle Paul arrived in antiquity to spoil all the pagan fun that was going on the island. We opted for the smaller of the two beaches in the main bay, hired some sunbeds and umbrellas which came with a complementary Lilo (€4 per person) and settled down for some serious relaxing.

Lunch was taken at the Skala Taverna. We ate here twice during our stay, as the menu had some interesting items that I hadn’t experienced before in Greece, like Spetsofai. This was a stew made with Greek village sausage, Feta cheese, tomatoes and onion. Quite nice but the sausage itself was a bit bland for my taste. I think if I was to make this at home I’d use a spicier one like a Spanish chorizo. Depending upon what we chose lunch usually came in at about €45 for four people with beer, water and coffee.

Orthodox Church Lindos

Hitting the trail back into town it was time for ice cream. Now there are a few ice cream parlours in Lindos, but the one we wanted to try was Gelo Blu. Gelo Blu is located within the courtyard of another old sea captain’s house deep within the old town’s winding lanes. The building is relatively new, dating back to 1911, just before the 1912 Italian-Turkish War where the Italians got to take Rhodes and the rest of the Dodecanese Islands away from the Turks.  It was worth searching out, the ice cream came in about 20 flavours and was absolutely delicious. For €3 you get two great big dollops.

Peach and Cookies ice cream at Gelo Blu

That evening took us to Caesar’s, a rooftop restaurant in the Old Town. I thought the menu a bit expensive (€102 for four including water and an indifferent wine.) while the portions were a bit stingy , but I suppose we were paying for the view.

View rendered unto Caesar’s

The Twisting Rhodes into Lindos

As the braying of the local taxi service brought me back to consciousness on day two of our Rhodes adventure, I became aware of how cold I was. Having thrown off the covers in the heat of the night I hadn’t expected the frightening efficiency of the air conditioning we’d shelled out an extra €65 for.

Lindos Town Taxi at rest

Opening the patio door soon warmed up our apartment, it was already like an oven outside. I was very pleased with the Lindos View Apartments. Having spent many holidays in both Greece and Cyprus I expected to find at least a couple of things that either didn’t work or were broken awaiting a handyman sometime, eventually , maybe. However everything was pristine, the kitchenette even had enough crockery. And it did indeed have a magnificent view of Lindos and the Acropolis.

Still getting over the trauma of the previous day’s epic travelling ordeal we decided to spend the hottest part of the day by the pool and take the winding road down into the old town of Lindos in the afternoon. In daylight this was hazardous enough, dicing death with cabs, trucks and coaches, since the pedestrian sidewalk was delineated by faded yellow stripes that had been painted on the tarmac way back through the mists of time. In one or two places there were safety bollards, but by Wednesday some lunatic had driven something large and heavy over them to leave a mess of flattened metal in the road.

The architecture of the old town reflects the island’s chequered history of occupation. Byzantine, Genoese, Arab and Ottoman buildings cast their shadows over the narrow streets of shops, restaurants and bars in the medieval centre.  We found this delightful bar, The Captain’s House that was originally a house built for a Christian Genoese merchant captain (note the crucifix carved above the door) by a Moslem Arab architect, just one example of cultural merger on the island.

The Captain’s House, a medieval Christian merchant house built by a Moslem Arab architect

Entering the town the first thing you come upon is the donkey garage. Since Lindos is built into the side of a mountain the donkeys were the only way to move goods on the steep winding roads that lead from the medieval centre up through the typical Greek whitewashed residential buildings to the Fortress of the Knights Hospitaller that commands the summit. Today they mostly carry lazy tourists up to the fort or down to the beach.

View from the Rainbird Cafe

Having taken Shanks’ pony up through the town and down to the beach, on our return we were drawn to the sounds of Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon emanating from the Rainbird Cafe. The vine shaded courtyard of the Rainbird, with its magnificent view over the bay, was just the place for a reviving Ouzo and lemonade (€4) before descending back into the town to hunt down something to eat.

Rainbird Cafe kitten

After much wandering about we decided on Maria’s Restaurant, drawn in by the fish tank set in the window. Having secured a table right by said window much amusement was derived by pretending to be underwater every time a curious child peered inside from the street. The food wasn’t bad either. I had Tzatziki (Greek yogurt with cucumber and garlic) followed by a delicious stiffado (beef stew with tomatoes and onions) . With wine and water our bill came to €86 which wasn’t too bad for four.

So bellys full it was time for a drink. The sounds of Dick Dale’s surf guitar drew us into the first bar, unfortunately it segued into Footloose so we left before ordering a drink. Next stop was Socrates where we were drawn in by Neal Young‘s Heart of Gold. The Stones’ Gimme Shelter drew us up to the roof terrace and cocktails (about €7 each) were consumed to the Doors, the Clash and Mr James Marshall Hendrix, before catching a cab (of the Mercedes rather than the donkey variety) back up to our hotel. It may have cost €4, but I think we were slightly safer inside a vehicle than outside as the madmen drivers sped up and down the road!

The Cross Rhodes of the Near East

If you have been wondering where I was over the past week, this was the view from my hotel.

Fort of the Knights of Rhodes and Acropolis Lindos

From the Greek island of Rhodes you can just about see the coast of Turkey. The island has been fought over and occupied by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusader Knights, Ottoman Turks, Italians, Nazi Germans, the Brits and finally Greeks once again. Our own invasion of Rhodes began at London’s Stansted Airport, where having allowed plenty of time to cope with the Olympic hoards we were rewarded with the quickest ever airport journey and a very quiet Stansted once we arrived. So much for the scare-mongering about Olympic crowds from Boris and co!

Kitty that got the cream, well yogurt actually, Rhodes Old Town

Too early to check in we had a great lunch (certainly by airport catering standards) in The Bridge. Top quality gastro-pub burger with pint, just the thing to help pass the time. After check-in, security was a breeze, so we had plenty of time to contemplate the numerous Fifty Shades of Gray knock-offs in the Airport bookshop. Stansted used to have quite a good bookshop at one time, but since WH Smith got the concession consumer choice has been a bit limited. I was pleased to see a copy of my friend Peter Caddick-Adams’ Monty and Rommel on the shelves though.

East meets west Rhodes Old Town

Our flight left at around 4.30pm, so with the four hours spent crammed into the plane and the time difference we got into the pit of Hell that is Rhodes Airport at around 11pm.  Naturally it was stiflingly hot so our baggage took ages to materialise. When it did we had to fight for it with the Czechs and Italians sharing the same carousel. Despite fearing further anarchy outside in the coach park, finding our bus to Lindos was a doddle. About an hour later we were watching the Moon rise over the Crusader Fort, with a refreshing pint of Mythos.

Moonrise

I was grateful for my bed that night, travelling late in the evening while going back in time exerts a toll on the physiology of this 50 something!

Taxi!