Sunday, October 28, 2012

Greece, Day Four

(Rick's words are in black; Jenese's words are in blue.)

We left our bags at the hotel and went in search of breakfast, which became an arduous task.  There are restaurants and tavernas everywhere in Rhodes' Old Town, but most of them serve only coffee and pastries. We were Americans in search of an American breakfast.  I spotted a sidewalk marquee, complete with color photo, advertising a breakfast plate that appeared to include everything you could want for less than 6 euro, which made my stomach growl and my wallet get all warm and tingly.

We walked around a bit just to see if we would find similar options before returning to that spot.  A waiter was standing in front of the restaurant, calling out to passers-by, which is a common and irritating business tactic in Old Town.  He spotted us and offered us an outdoor table, which we accepted.  He reproved me for taking my seat before Jenese was settled into her own, so we were off to a bad start.  (My enemies list now contained two Rhodes waiters.)  (A bit embarrassing, yes, but, well ... a girl does like a bit of old-fashioned courtesy now and again.  And the reproof was gently given.)  Jenese ordered a coffee.  The waiter brought it and then returned to his post in front of the restaurant.  It was some time before I managed to get his attention to tell him that we wanted food.  When he brought the menu, we saw that breakfast was more than 9 euro and that we had sat down at the wrong restaurant.  These sidewalk restaurants in Old Town abut each other with very little indication of a division.  In this case, the only indication of division from the restaurant with the cheap breakfast was a different upholstery pattern on the chairs.  Lesson learned.

Sometimes you luck out, and the chairs are made differently altogether.  In this case, unfortunately, it was all about the big difference between solid peach upholstery and a floral pattern.  It is interesting, too, how these restaurants exist, cheek by jowl.  There seemed to be more camaraderie than rivalry between the "opposing" staff members -- you could see them joking and talking with one another.

We didn't have the nerve to simply get up and move two tables over into the enemy camp, so Jenese downed her coffee and we returned to the hunt.  After a great deal of walking, we came upon a place that was empty, but was serving breakfast.  We each had an omelette (which is typically found on the lunch and dinner menu in Greece) served with fried potatoes and a couple of tomato slices.  It was a tasty breakfast, but not as cheap as the breakfast we had seen on the marquee, which would forever remain only an aspiration.

The coffee was better at the second cafe.  In case you were curious.

Our first sight-seeing stop in Old Town was the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. The palace was built in the 14th century by the Knights of Rhodes, who occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1522.  The original palace was largely destroyed by an ammunition explosion in 1856.  It was rebuilt by the Italians in the 1930's during their occupation of Rhodes.  (This wouldn't be the first time we've been fooled by an impostor castle.)  For a time, it served as a holiday residence for Benito Mussolini.  Today, the Palace (or Castello) serves as a museum.

Each room contained only a smattering of objects, and there was always at least one of them that didn't seem to belong, such as an Oriental vase.  The main attraction seemed to be the colorful mosaics that covered the floors throughout the Palace.  Most were Hellenistic or Ancient Roman, taken from the island of Kos.

Medusa Mosaic

Many of the rooms contained really old-looking chests with intricate wood inlays.  There was one in the room where Jenese posed for the above photo.  I watched as a tourist handed his camera to his girlfriend and then sat (!) on the chest.  The creaks, groans, and pops echoed off the stone walls, but this did not dissuade him from placing his full weight on it.  He sat there grinning while his girlfriend snapped away.  In the same room, watching the whole thing, was a museum employee who was sitting by the doorway.  She was unmoved by the chest's cry for help, so I'm not sure what function she served.

Her Sgt. Schultz routine inspired in me a new boldness.  If we were to find suits of armor in the next room, I was fully prepared for Jenese and me to slip into them and act out a battle scene.

Armor wasn't what I had in mind, but I did think, repeatedly, that I was in the wrong costume (Actually, I thought that before we left the hotel -- WHY didn't I grab something other than my Anytime Fitness shirt when we changed bags for Patmos?  Sigh . . . ).  Walking through the wide, echoing halls, and studying the carved armrests on the curious old benches, I couldn't help but muse and daydream.  Something with a bit of a train, and long sleeves, I think, would have been a more appropriate style of dress.  I could almost see torches flickering.

After leaving the Palace, we explored more of Old Town, enjoying the medieval architecture.  It is tempting to think that Old Town is like a medieval Silver Dollar City that exists just for the tourists, but it's actually a fully-functioning town, complete with residences, businesses, and government offices, except that they are all behind walls and doors that look as they did in the 15th century. Even the cobbled streets we walked on, made of white and black polished stones, helped draw us back into the past.  (See the photo at the very top of this page.)

We peeped through windows, and saw government employees at work in these grand structures!  This is life, regular work-a-day life, for these folk!  Incredible.  

We exited Old Town by passing through a large gate that led into a very large moat area (now dry).  Keeping to the moat area, we walked around the south and west sides of Old Town, which offered some nice views of the fortification towers and walls that enclose the town.

On the north side, we found ourselves back at Mandraki Harbor, where our ferry had docked.  We walked along a long earth and rock wind breaker that forms one side of the harbor entrance.  It was lined with luxury yachts from a wide array of countries.  It was fun trying to distinguish all the different flags.  One or two were from the the U.S.

At the mid-point along the wind breaker are the Windmills of Mandraki.  Originally, there were more than a dozen of them.  Three of them remain and have been renovated. These medieval windmills were used to grind the grain that came from the commercial ships docking in the harbor.

At the end of the wind break is St. Nicholas Fortress. The guard tower was built between 1464 and 1467, with a bastion added after the siege of Rhodes in 1840.

We saw stray cats everywhere on Rhodes, but they were abundant around the fortress and up and down the wind break.  There was also a hand-painted sign soliciting donations to help feed the cats.  I noticed that it was written in English and not Greek.  I'm guessing that the cats don't get to dine on Fancy Feast when the Greek unemployment rate is above 25%.

At the fortress, the wind break turns and continues another hundred yards, ending at the traditional harbor entrance.  This is where the Colossus of Rhodes once stood.  It was a statute of the Greek god Helios, erected in the city of Rhodes by Chares of Lindos between 292 and 280 BC.  Is is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It stood over 107 feet high, making it one of the tallest statutes of the ancient world.  Some accounts describe the statue as straddling the harbor entrance with ships passing in between its legs, but there is no hard evidence to substantiate this.  Today, there are bronze statutes of fallow deer at the harbor entrance -- one on each side -- which have become the symbol of Rhodes.

We took a seat on the shady side of a pillar, to rest and slowly take in the harbor, and the boats on the gorgeous water, and the water breaking on the rocks.  We found ourselves next to a couple -- Scottish, I think -- who travel to Rhodes every year.  That very spot was their favorite, and they could sit for hours just watching the water and tourist traffic.

We returned in the direction of Old Town, but before reaching the entry gate, we came upon a bastion along the water's edge where you can climb and walk along the ancient wall.

It was also here that we saw a little gypsy girl, looking forlorn and "playing" the accordion.  You couldn't deduce a tune being squeezed from that thing -- it was more like a random assortment of chords.  At her feet were a collection cup and a puppy.  The puppy was meant to add to the pathos of the scene and thereby boost collections, but the tactic suffered when she would stop squeezing the accordion long enough to beat the puppy.  At first, we thought she was the same gypsy girl we had seen in the moat area on the north side of Old Town, so we wondered how she popped over to the south side, but we eventually discovered that there were carbon copies all over town -- similar children, similar cute animals, similar instruments.  

Sad.  Sadder still, it wasn't the most pathetic method of begging we encountered.  We are very sheltered, at home.

Back inside Old Town, we saw several mosques, the Islamic library (19th century), the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue (built in 1577), and the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite (3rd century BC).  Of course, there was also more medieval stuff to see.

The synagogue also had a lovely little museum about the history of the Jews of Rhodes.  Among the artifacts and photos was a mikvah, the ritual cleansing pool, complete with the highly decorated little clogs women wore as they immersed themselves in the pool for spiritual purification.

At an outdoor cafe, we split an order of stifado, which is a traditional meaty stew with onions.  We also had eggplant salad, which is more of a spread or a dip, than a salad.  It was wonderful.  (Yes, we have fully fallen off the primal wagon, by this point.  It's about survival, folks.)

We left Old Town and returned to the spot where he got off the airport bus.  We were hoping to find a car rental place.  A woman in a convenience store gave us directions to Zeus Rent a Car.  There, we were given a quote of 40 euros for a 2-day car rental, which sounded great.  We said we'd return to pick it up later, but for now, we wanted directions to the Acropolis of Rhodes (which is located in the area known as New Town).  The man at Zeus told us something like, "Keep going up the hill to the light and then go left."  What he did not say was that we would need to go left for about a mile and a half.  What we would have preferred him to say was, "It's really far from here, so maybe you should wait until you have the car, so that you can drive there."  But he didn't, so we walked.  Every time we would start to give up, we'd see another sign for the acropolis, so we kept inching upward until we found it on the highest hill in the town of Rhodes.

It was in a large wooded park with dirt jogging trails.  At the bottom of the hill was an odeion (theater) and a stadium built in the 2nd century B.C.

Hellenistic Stadium at Rhodes

At the top of the hill was the Temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus.  

There's not much of it remaining to look at, but it was a nice warm-up for the Parthenon.  There was a cable preventing us from getting any closer than what you can see in the photo, but it didn't stop another couple who were wearing fewer items of clothing than we were.  The girl leaned against the ancient columns and laughed while her shirtless boyfriend took her photo.  There was no park official or anyone else of authority around to see them.  There was a guy in a little booth at the bottom of the hill, but he could see neither the temple, nor the stadium from there, so I have no idea what function he served.  If he was selling snow cones, no one seemed to be buying.  

I would've bought one.  To cool my aching feet.

We made the long walk back to Old Town and to our hotel to get our bags before returning to Zeus Rent a Car.  We took a different route, so it was a minor miracle that we found it without any difficulty.  If I were to image Zeus renting a car, it would not be a raspberry compact Fiat, but that is what we were given.  The moment I put the key into the ignition, my anxiety level shot up, because this is the moment I had been dreading since I purchased my international driver's license a week earlier.  I had read that Greece has the highest automobile accident rate in Europe.  The traffic conditions I had witnesses since arriving in Rhodes did not make me feel any better.  

We climbed in, turned on the A/C, turned OFF the radio, and tightened our seat belts.  At least they drive on the same side of the road as us, right?  That should make us feel more confident, right?  Deep breath . . . 

For that reason, I made sure to get clear directions to the Hotel Princess Flora from the woman at Zeus.  On a city map, she clearly marked two different routes we could take to get to our hotel.  It looked simple enough and it was, until only four blocks from Zeus, there was a police car blocking the road we were to follow.  The policeman waved all traffic onto an alternative street.  I didn't notice a street sign, but I like to call it Chaos.  We were instantly lost, but traffic was moving too quickly to pull over, so I just kept moving.  

It seems like half the motorists on Rhodes are on scooters and motor bikes, and they have no regard for lines or lanes.  You can hear their constant buzzing like a swarm of gnats that can never be waved away.  They seem to pop in and out of existence like quantum particles and obey no laws of physics, let alone laws of the road.  At all times you must assume there is a scooter on both bumpers and so let that influence your decision to brake or accelerate.  

He is not exaggerating.  I realized I was crushing our map, which would not help me to navigate.  I smoothed it out and transferred my white-knuckled grip of death to the door's armrest.

Only major roads have signs (some of which are really, really small and faded), so when I turned, I was doing so from a leap of faith.  We ended up circling several blocks, sometimes finding ourselves on one-way streets, but we eventually spotted a sign with the name of the neighborhood where our hotel was located.  We followed that sign, which put us on a coastal road that looked familiar, but we weren't certain.  After about a mile, Jenese yelled, "There it is!"  We were right in front of the Princess Flora.  I missed the first entrance, but managed to turn into the second one.  A wave of relief washed over both of us.  

We gave each other a high-five.  And gave thanks to the One who did not let us die or otherwise suffer lasting physical harm in that mad gambit of exhaust and honking.

We checked in and found our room, which was upstairs and in a different section of the hotel than before.  We headed for the restaurant to eat our free gruel.  This time, being the experienced Princess Flora guests that we were, we knew to be seated and allow the waiter to take our drink orders before heading to the gruel line.  Of course, my old nemesis was on duty.  He asked what would we have to drink and I held up one finger and said, "We will have ONE bottle of water for the two of us."

He lowered his eyelids and nodded, as if to say, "Ah, yes, I remember you, Mr. Tap Water."  He wrote down the order and left us.  We went to the gruel line, which looked much like it did before, but with a few changes.  There were no dolmas, which was a disappointment for me.  There was a new item, which was a large bin of uniformly shaped chicken fingers that must have been in a freezer a few hours earlier.  (But it was still an improvement over what was to come the following evening, which was something that appeared to be wet cat food on half a tomato.  Jenese liked it.  I decided to fill up on sliced nectarines from the dessert bar.)  

The gruel line
On the way back to the room, I had to stop by the front desk and call Zeus.  This is because when I parked the car, I was unable to shift into reverse.  After struggling with it for a good five minutes, I decided that it was, after all, a compact car, so Jenese should have no trouble in getting out and pushing it whenever I yell, "Reverse!", but Jenese didn't like my plan B, and insisted that I call on Zeus for help.  The woman at Zeus said she "thought" there was a button on the floor I needed to push "somewhere" -- "oh, you will figure it out."  

I shared a good laugh with the lady at the front desk over that phone call.  She thought it was absurd, too, but couldn't offer any advice.  Thankfully, I was traveling with The Rick.

We returned to the Fiat to search for reverse.  There were no buttons on the floor, but after much searching and experimenting, I found that I could lift up on the ring that was the top of the dust guard around the shift handle.  That was the release for reverse.  

Another high-five.

The last challenge of the day having been met, we retired to our room.  The temperature had dropped a few degrees, so we decided to brave the night without an AC fuse or remote.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Greece, Day Three

(Jenese's words are in blue; Rick's words are in black.)

A rooster crowed.  Then another.  And another.  Good heavens -- are they having a concert?  I pulled back my eye mask (an indispensable sleep aid due to the brilliant green exit signs that kept showing up in our hotel rooms) and discovered that it was not morning.  But it was still Patmos, nevertheless, with the sea breezes still whispering, and so we drifted back to sleep.

One of Rick's must-accomplish goals for the trip was jogging on Patmos.  Ever the supportive wife, I had searched and searched for new running shoes, even forcing Rick into a stressful shopping excursion, all so that I could join him in making his dream come true.  We got up a little after dawn, so we could set out before the heat set in.  We tried to follow the road around a little bay close to our hotel, but hit what seemed to be a dead end.  So we took the road that led north, out of town.  Every so often, an islander would drive by on a scooter or a small truck, but the road was ours, for the most part.  (Wave, and sometimes they'll honk, friendly-like, at you.)  We passed farm plots divided by low rock walls and rickety barbed wire, large, affluent homes, and others that were less so.  Tiny white chapels appeared suddenly around bends, or on outcroppings high in the hills.  Fig trees overhung the road, dotting the pavement with sweet, neglected fruit.  We saw pomegranates blushing in their squat, bushy trees, and a few orange trees, and soft, sleepy donkeys.  Cresting the hill, we looked down on another bay, sparkling and quiet in the rosy sunrise.

The "neglected" fruit, hanging on the branches and smashed beneath our feet, gave us reason to look forward to finding figs in the grocery stores that would be almost free, but we would be disappointed on that score.

We followed the road down to the bay, drank in the clean air, and jogged along the pebbly shore.  Here the path got a bit tricky, because it was hard to tell what was a public road, and what was on private land.  There were no dogs or shotguns, however, so we wound through a large garden and back through a small neighborhood.  (But there was indeed a "Beware of Dog" sign, conveniently written in English, perhaps for straying tourists.)  The island was waking up, and you could hear snatches of conversations, and Kali mera!  (Good morning!) from some of the houses.  Every so often, Rick would reach up and pluck off some figs for us, that had dried into rich sweetness on the trees.  I haven't been keeping up with my jogging, so by this time, I was ready to head back (to be honest, I'd done more walking than jogging.  Sorry, Leon!)  Rick loped off to explore the hills, and I went back to the room for a shower.

I didn't realize just how narrow the island was until I crested the hill just behind our pension and looked down to see another bay.  I jogged down to the water's edge, which was cupped by high rock outcroppings.    I was standing on a small beach that wasn't very inviting for sunbathing, but had a nice view.  I climbed back up to the road, which continued to rise as it followed one side of the outcropping around the bay.  Soon, I could see far out across the blue horizon of the Aegean.  The road ended at a lookout just large enough for a solitary bench that was perched high above the churning waters.  

I retraced my steps and then found another road that continued an ascent that took me up a high hillside that allowed me to look down on the many little white houses of Skala.  I found another road that took me down a series of switchbacks before dumping me out beside that town's graveyard, which we had previously passed on the harbor road without even noticing.

When he had returned, and showered, we sat on our balcony and sipped tea and munched on dried fruit and nuts, for breakfast.

Suzanne the Hospitable said we were more than welcome to leave our bags in the room until it was time for our ferry, so we grabbed some water and walked into Skala.  Near the ferry dock is a large sign with a map of trails looping around the island.  We chose "Kastile", which is a three-kilometer hike up to the ancient acropolis.  We had to climb up roads and stairways between houses, and then follow the trail right up the hillside.  It.  Was.  Hot.  There wasn't much shade, and the Mediterranean sun is inexorable.  In no time, sweat was rolling down, and I was grumbling internally about why I'd bothered with a shower (and with washing my hair, thank you!).  But here's one of the lovely, strange things about Greece.  Stand still a bit, and her ocean breezes waft by, gently cooling you.  And if you're lucky enough to stop in the shade, why, she'll lull you into thinking it was never hot at all.  Magic.

It never got really hot -- upper 80's at the most.  Actually, we picked the perfect time to go to Greece.  The "high" tourist season had ended, so crowds were thinning and prices were dropping.  (Our room on Patmos, which cost us 50 euro a night, normally ran 90 euro.)  Yet, it was still warm enough to lie on the beach and swim in the water.  I have been told by others that during the "high" tourist months of July and August, you can expect it to hit 100 every day.  That is real misery.  

Scrambling and panting up the goat trails, we made it to the top.  Not much remains of the old acropolis (I think they worshiped Artemis) but some crumbling corners of walls and a cave or something that's fenced off for safety.  And a little white chapel.  The view, however, is worth the climb.  You can see almost the whole island -- the monastery, the windmills, the whitewashed towns and blue bays.  We spotted cruise ships and sailboats, so far away that they looked like paintings, and misty-distant islands.

The church (building) of Agios Constantinos is the white chapel built beside the remains of the Greek temple.  I'm guessing that the placement of the chapel is significant, signifying that Christ and his church has triumphed over paganism once again.  In this photo, I'm sitting on the remains of the Greek temple and you can see the top of the chapel behind me.  If you could have seen us struggling to climb to this spot, you'd better appreciate the efforts that would have required to build the temple as well as the chapel.

A few photos, and we started back down.  Another thing that struck me (in addition to the goats' cleverness at making, and marking, trails that we could actually use), was the amazing smell of the island.  All the herbs and trees and flowers bake away in the sun, and then the breeze bathes you in that every-changing perfume.  I amused myself with trying to guess the different notes:  Let's see ...  Flowers ... That's definitely pine ... Oregano?  Basil? ... Maybe not basil ... Incense!  Are we close to a chapel? ... Oh!  That yummy, sweetness again!  That last odor  defeated me for a couple of hours, until we got back down in Skala's walled gardens.  It was fig tree.

Back at the room at last, we picked up our bags and refilled our water bottles, and headed for the port.  We were hungry, and stopped at a cafe with beachside tables.  All they could offer for food, for some unfortunate reason, was ham sandwiches and potato chips (!!?!).  No, thank you.  We had fresh-squeezed orange juice, though, that was fantastic.  We continued further into town to look for a grocery store we'd spotted the evening before, to shop for a lunch we could take on the ferry.  After about 20 minutes of aimless wandering, Rick finally announced that the search was getting us nowhere but too close to our departure time, with no lunch.  We made our way back to Ostria and ordered take-away -- pork and chicken soulvakis (meat cooked on a skewer).  We had just enough time left for Rick to buy a T-shirt, and for me to fret myself out of spending too many euros on a linen shirt or dress.

The ferry took the same route back, with the addition of a stop at Lipsi and the deletion of the stop at Nysiros.  We settled in and opened our lunch, and found the waiter had packed plenty of pita bread and tzatziki sauce.  SO good.

Now, our arrival in Rhodes was going to present a fun and exciting challenge.  Due to a bit of plan juggling, we had no room reserved for our first night (subsequent nights would put us back at the Princess Flora).  But with guidebook in hand, we were going to seek out a spot in Old Town, enjoy the medieval sights the next day, and wind up by renting a car and driving to the Flora in the evening.  That was the plan.  Rick already had a pension in mind, Hotel Isole, which we'd located on the teensy city map in the Lonely Planet guide.  The ferry docked.  We disembarked, entered Old Town, and got completely lost.  You knew it had to happen at some point.

Old Town is a marvelous mish-mash of ancient and medieval monuments, and modern tourist meshes.  The wider streets are thronged with snack shops, souvenirs, and restaurants with wait staff waving/inviting/practically dragging you to an open table.  The smaller streets are where the hotels and residences are -- like winds, if you've ever been to Scotland.  You have to be on your toes, because people on scooters zoom down these twisty streets like Tron on a lightcycle.  It was all a lot of fun to take in, but we were getting tired, and St. Andrew's gate just wasn't quite so charming the third time we trudged through it.  My Ricky finally came through, and led us to the right street, which had signs pointing to Hotel Isole.  Just one more corner and -- it's locked.

The front door was barred fast.  A sign on the door instructed us to call a phone number if we wanted a room.  Easy enough, if you have a phone.  We didn't.  We dodged another scooter and discussed options.  A few steps away was an outdoor taverna, the Anchor.  We agreed to ask for help there.  Maybe we could use their phone, or maybe they could offer advice.  A waiter in all whites listened to our tale.  Rick explained that we just wanted a cheap room.

"What do you mean, cheap?"  the waiter asked.  Tired and therefore idiotic, I replied by trying to explain what the English word, cheap, means.  Oh, Jenese.

"I know what this means, this cheap!"  The waiter stared me down, and turned back to Rick.  "What do you mean, by cheap?"  (He could sense that I'm multilingual when it comes to "cheap.")  Rick gave him our price.  He disappeared into the kitchen and made a phone call.  When he re-emerged, he told us there was another pension just around the corner, that met our price and was much nicer than the Isole, which (he said) was not very comfortable.  One of the people from the nicer pension was on their way, to show us the way.  And then the waiter let us have a seat while we waited.

A beautiful Grecian woman named Sofia appeared in a few minutes.  I thanked the waiter in my very best Greek, which seemed to please him (and hopefully made up for my gaffe), and we trotted after our lovely guide.  She explained that her family owned the pension, The Olympos, and a restaurant.  The Olympos was clean and snug, and painted in happy pastels.  She showed us to a room with one double bed and one single, which overlooked their lush garden.  From our tiny balcony, you could hear a tiny fountain playing.  We agreed to terms of 50 euros on the spot (and found out later that the room usually goes for 60, in low season!).  (Also, air-conditioning is normally extra, but we got it for no extra charge.)  We dropped our bags and headed back downstairs.  Sofia introduced us to her father, and then showed us the way to a grocery store.  

View of the courtyard at The Olympos from our balcony
We were looking for breakfast food, but could only settle on four plums.  It was fun poking around the tiny, cramped store, which had a nice selection of food and drink, considering its size -- they even had a small deli.  It was pretty late by this point, and we decided we couldn't do better than return to our friend at the Anchor.  One good turn deserves another.  

What got my attention at the grocery store were the gallon jugs of sunflower oil.  I hadn't known sunflower oil was so important in Greek cuisine.

He really was friendly, and funny.  He chatted and joked with all the customers, in our respective languages.  Rhodes sees a lot of European tourists, and so wait staff develop a working knowledge of German and English, and French, I think, to meet the needs of their customers (even the menus are multi-lingual).  Rick had a fluffy green salad with lime wedges, and I dove into my first, real Greek salad.  Then we shared an order of moussaka, and agreed we should have each gotten our own, it was so good!  We strolled back to our room, turned on the A/C (extra in general, free for us!), and collapsed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Morning Glories

Morning Glories at our front door.  (Bartlesville, not Greece.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Greece, Day Two

(Rick's words are in black; Jenese's words are in blue.)

We still had not reached our final destination.  After eleven hours of sleep (and the iPhone alarm and my watch alarm both failing to go off), we awoke, hastily repacked, and prepared for the last leg of our trip.  Initially, we didn't think we would have time for the complementary breakfast buffet, which is why we bought the yogurt and nectarines the previous evening, but when I returned the key (and air conditioner fuse) to the front desk to check out, the clerk assured us that she could make a call and have a taxi appear in plenty of time to get us to the port, so we decided to make a quick run through the buffet.

The same waiter was working the tables in the restaurant.  Once again, we saw other guests lining up at the drink station.  We headed in that direction in slow-motion, giving the wait staff plenty of opportunity to stop us, but no alarms sounded.  So drinks are included with breakfast: orange juice, mango juice, tea, coffee, even an unguarded water dispenser!  I picked up a cup and saucer, and dropped in a Lipton tea bag.  I then noticed an odd looking ceramic device with a spigot.  I queried Jenese and she told me it must be milk.  Wanting some milk for my tea, I placed my cup beneath the spigot and pushed the lever back, which released a frothy liquid into my cup.  It was definitely not milk.  The waiter appeared at my elbow and said, "It is beer."  He said it without emotion and kept walking, but I was certain he took some amount of pleasure in delivering this information, which confirmed in my mind that this waiter was indeed my nemesis.  I discarded my tea beer and started over.

Isn't that part of the fun of traveling?  Learning about other cultures through embarrassing social blunders?  For the record, I believe I actually suggested that it might be hot water, not milk.  Either way . . . 

The breakfast buffet was much better than the dinner buffet.  It included scrambled eggs, fried (I guess) eggs, salami, white cheese slices, fresh sliced tomatoes, a large tray of yogurt (indistinguishable from store-bought Dannon yogurt), bacon and weenies (much like we had at Sbarro), muesli, toast, and an assortment of honey and jelly packets.  We ate quickly and left satisfied, happy to not have a water bill to pay.

A taxi took us to the port, which was only about seven minutes from the hotel.  It is on the northern end of the island, just outside the wall of the citadel of the old town.  The moment the citadel and the port came into view was when we started to enjoy our vacation.  It was beautiful.  It was what drew us to Rhodes as one of our island stops.  

Maybe this is a common misconception, but when we thought seeing the sights of Greece, we thought, naively, in terms of crumbling columns and painted urns.  But the history of this land is richer, and much more varied than that.  An amazing place.

The citadel was built by the Knights Hospitalliers in the 15th century.  Today, it is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. So if you want to be transported back to a time of knights and castles, and the Castle in Muskogee and Medieval Times in Orlando just don't do it for you, then Rhodes is the place for you. 

We boarded a Dodekanisos Seaways ferry that would take us to the Island of Patmos.  When planning our trip, I looked at several options for luxury cruises that would take us to multiple islands, but none of the prices we were quoted would come even close to fitting with our budget, so in the end, we opted for a public ferry, which is like a giant bus on water, making multiple island stops to let passengers on and off between Rhodes and Patmos.  It worked out really well.  We had comfortable seats, and because it was the end of the tourist season, the ferry was mostly empty.  We were free to walk about on two levels and to walk all the way around on the outside.  Each stop lasted only about five minutes, so we were not able to disembark to check out each island, but we enjoyed going out onto the deck as we gently glided in and out of each port.  Each island had its own unique look and even its own shade of blue water.  (We never tired of seeing the water in Greece.)

Never.  So magically vibrant, the water's color is alive -- no wonder the sea has given birth to so many tales and songs, and mysteries.  From the oily greens close to land, it transmutes to peacockish teals as you head into open water, and then deepens to a rich azure that rivals the sky itself.  Glory!  If the Creator paints with such a brush on this side of the veil, whatever will heaven look like?  And I have never been on the water so long, before.  Worried about seasickness and migraines, I stocked up on meds before we left home.  I didn't need them.  Inside, the rocking motion was soothing, relaxing.  Outside, the wind was invigorating, and the views of the rocky Turkish coast and misty, far-off islands, a grand stimulant for the imagination.  One expected Sinbad to sail into view at any moment.

The first island stop after passing along the Turkish coastline, was the Island of Symi (Simi).  

Symi (taken through the ferry window before we realized we could go outside onto the deck)
The next stop was the Island of Nisyros, then Kos, which was the largest island we visited, save for Rhodes.  After Kos, we stopped on Kalymnos.

On the stern of the ferry in the harbor of Kalymnos Island
After Kalymnos, we stopped on the Island of Leros.

On the bow of the ferry as we leave Leros
After five hours of sailing among the Dodecanese on the Aegean Sea, we reached the end of the ferry route and our travel destination, the Island of Patmos.  Reaching Patmos gave us a real sense of accomplishment, because the prospect of visiting the island where the apostle John received and dictated the Book of Revelation is what convinced us to select Greece for our vacation.  A year earlier, I had no idea that Patmos was a tourist destination, or that it was even possible to get there by public transportation.  Knowing it to be a place of exile for John, I always envisioned it as little more than a large rock in the Aegean.  But when I was studying about Patmos in preparation for a Sunday morning adult Bible class I was teaching on The Story, I learned for the first time that Patmos today contains four towns and is a regular stop for luxury cruise lines.  I knew then that I wanted to go.  I had already floated the idea of a trip to Greece to Jenese, even mentioning it as a possibility for our honeymoon.  When I told her my idea of including Patmos as part of a Greece trip, she was all in.  

All in.

But when I started running the numbers, I realized that it wouldn't be so easy.  It's one thing to fly to Athens and see the Parthenon, but when you start island hopping, the trip costs really escalate.  Initially, our little travel fantasy included a cruise to Ephesus and Patmos, but I quickly learned that just wasn't financially feasible and would require more vacation days than we were allotted.  Then I decided that it might not be possible to travel to Patmos at all.  I tortured Jenese for a month by floating cheaper options, including Puerto Rico, Portugal, and Ireland, the latter of which we almost pulled the trigger on.  In the end, we decided we could make Patmos work, assuming Greece didn't hock all its ferry boats before we could get there.

I stopped studying the Greece guides, trying to bring my hopes back down.  Tried to envision wandering o'er the Green Isle, or (gulp, sigh) enjoying the comfort of having a new roof on the house.  The decision to actually go, actually happened only two weeks before we departed.  So, "torture" was an excellent choice of word, my dear.  But I really would have been okay with a new roof.  Honestly.

All the travel books identify Patmos, as I did above, as the place where John was exiled, but in the course of researching the island in preparation for our trip, I learned that this might be just as wrong as thinking of Patmos as a deserted rock.  In fact, nowhere in scripture does it state that John was exiled on Patmos.  In the NIV, Revelation 1:9 reads as follows: 
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
The early church fathers presumed that "because of the word of God" meant that John was sent to Patmos by Roman authorities as a consequence of preaching the word of God.  In other word, he was exiled.  But it would be just as reasonable, if not more so, to take from Revelation 1:9 that John went to Patmos of his own accord because there were people living on Patmos, and he wanted them to hear the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  It is true, however, that more than one source from the 2nd century states that John was exiled to Patmos. Also, it was known that Patmos had indeed been used as a place of exile for Christians and others.

If it was indeed an exile, the next question worth exploring is whether the exile was during the reign of Nero, which would date the writing of Revelation to prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (the minority view), or during the reign of Domitian, which would date the writing of Revelation to as late as 95 A.D., and would mean it was written by a very old John (the majority view).  The eschatological implications are immense.  Feel free to ponder that while Jenese and I look for a hotel.

One of the ways we intended to keep costs down was to Couch Surf on Patmos. is a non-profit website that allows members to search among listings of other members who are willing to host individuals in their homes.  We have hosted two different Couch Surfers in our home, and we hoped we would get the opportunity to Couch Surf ourselves for the first time on Patmos, but there are only two members listed as living on Patmos.  One of them lives on a sailboat.  (How cool would that be?)  He told us that sailing season had ended, so he had moved on to Turkey.  The other member never responded. 

So, we showed up on Patmos without having made any arrangements for accommodations.  This worried us a bit, but when we stepped off the ferry, there was an abundance of individuals soliciting tourists to stay in their houses or apartments.  One of them, a smiling, plump, middle-aged woman, latched onto Jenese right away.  She offered us a room in the port town of Skala, which is where we were, for 50 euro.  That was easy enough.

It was as if she materialized right out of the pavement at my feet.  I stepped off the ferry, blinked, and poof!  Suzanne was asking whether I needed a room.  These folks are pros -- they carry laminated signs with pictures of their rooms and their hotel (pension?) information.  But I never even had a chance to browse!

She escorted us to her car and drove us on the main road along the water's edge to her family hotel.  Riding in the front seat was the youngest of her three daughters, who looked to be eight years old.  The family were Patmos natives who operated a hotel during the tourist season.  The hotel was a typical whitewashed, two-story, L-shaped building on a hillside.  The family lived on the bottom floor, and there were maybe four units available for guests.  The woman led us upstairs to the unit directly above the one in which she lived with her family.  It contained one double bed and one single.  There was also a bathroom with a shower, and a kitchen with a wide assortment of appliances we would never use.  There was an air-conditioner (fuse included), but we had such a nice cross-breeze, that we never turned it on.

But the real attribute was the balcony, with a beautiful view of the bay. We could see the town of Skala, the port where our ferry had docked, and far away on the distant mountain, the Monastery of St. John, where we would soon be. 

View from our balcony
Behind us, the hillside continued to rise and was covered with more white homes, separated by narrow, winding streets, just as you'd expect to find on a Greek island.  

A block behind our hotel
We unpacked and then returned to Skala, which was only about a twelve-minute walk.  We wandered around the tourists shops until it was time for the island's one public bus to leave for the capital city of Chora, which is a collection of 15th-century homes perched above Skala.  The crown of Chora is the Monastery of St. John.  To reach it, our bus, driven by a dead-ringer for Shia Lebeouf (Everyone seems to have a Greek equivalent -- I spotted an Alec Baldwin on Rhodes.), creeped along a series of switchbacks.  There was a centuries-old walking path we could have taken, but we knew the bus would cost us less time and much less sweat.  We saved the "old path" for the return trip when gravity would be our friend.  

Chora is a really neat town to explore.  There are strict building codes in place that prevent any exterior changes or new construction, so the 15th-century appearance is preserved (excerpt for all the post card rackets, miniature icon trinkets, and scarves and hats spilling out onto the cobblestone walkways from the tourist shops).  

When you can't walk up any farther, you are at the door to the Monastery of St. John, which is a really cool structure, built just a few years before the start of the first crusade in the 11th century.  It looks more like a castle than a monastery, because it had to withstand attacks from pirates and Seljuk Turks.  Today, it looks pretty much like it did when it was first built.  

It's just as cool on the inside.  There are lots of narrow stone staircases and winding passageways, interconnected courtyards, arches and bells, medieval-looking doors, and Eastern Orthodox priests in black cassocks, chimney-pot style hats, and long hair (tied back) and beards.  

Visitors are permitted to walk through the main chapel and the adjoining Chapel of Theotokos, whose frescoes date from the 12th century.  Photography inside the chapels is prohibited, but I was allowed to photograph the exonarthex of the main chapel, which contains paintings from the 17th century.  I was particularly interested in that portion that appears to depict a baptism.

I already knew that the Greek Orthodox continues the practice of baptism by immersion, so I was watching for any confirmation of this.  (Is it any surprise that the Greeks understand the meaning of the Greek word "baptizo"?)  Also on Patmos is the baptismal font where John is believed to have baptized many believers.  (Jenese and I walked past it more than once, not realizing what it was.)  There is also a river where John performed baptisms, but we didn't know it about it, either.  

We paid for an extra ticket that granted us entry to a library and museum inside the monastery.  (Jenese handed an amused priest her bus ticket.)  (See what I mean about learning?  That day, we learned one should always know where one's proper ticket is.)  It contains a number of really nice manuscripts, including a beautiful Book of Job from the 9th century.  There are many icon paintings, mostly of the Cretan school, and a lot of old priestly vestments and gold and silver chalices, crosses, etc., containing some impressive detailed work.  One really neat item was a long, 11th-century parchment on the wall that is the original decree by Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, giving Reverend Father Christodoulos complete authority over the island of Patmos, as well as the permission to build the monastery on the island.  

Leaving the monastery, we walked downhill following the "old path."  Part of it was a pleasant dirt and gravel trail passing beneath pine trees, which made me wish I had brought my trail running shoes, but it soon became an uneven cobblestone path that was a real knee and ankle breaker.  (Throughout our trip, Jenese and I were perplexed by the number of tourists who chose to walk trails like this wearing flip-flops.  Is it a real vacation only if people can see your toes?)

Maybe I just have soft, pampered feet, but I really don't understand how people even have toes, after stumping up and down some of these paths -- especially one like this.  My toes hurt at the end, and I was wearing hiking shoes.

We soon came to the Cave of the Apocalypse, which tradition identifies as the site where John received his visions.  A sanctuary and monastery has been built around it.  No photography is allowed inside, so a photo of the entrance is the best I could do.

But you can see a photo of the interior here.  The inside is filled with icons, as well as a Bible in a plastic cover that all the Greek Orthodox visitors insisted on kissing.  You can also see a cleft in the rock from which John is believed to have heard the voice of God; the place where the Apostle lay his head to rest; and a curve on the rock which he would hold onto in order to rise.

I was fascinated, but somewhat skeptical.  In the Book of Revelation, we read nothing about John being in a cave. In the first chapter, verse 10, we read: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet . . . " (KJV).  If it was the Lord's day, and there were indeed other Christian exiles on Patmos, wouldn't John be worshiping and having fellowship with them in town on the coast, rather than squirreled away in a cave high up on a hillside?  It is certainly possible that he was in the cave at that time, or perhaps that is where he would go to dictate the revelation he received, but I require more than a Christian tradition to totally buy into it.  It was definitely worth the walk, though, even if it was just for a "maybe" connection to the Beloved Disciple.

Maybe it is a "maybe."  I certainly didn't expect to feel any sort of vibe, or tingle.  But as I sat on one of the benches and contemplated the significance of what happened on that island, in or out of this cave, my heart was filled and overwhelmed by this thought:  That God has spoken, to all of us.  Not just to John, or the others whose pens He moved, but to everyone.  Logos, The Word, has indeed come.  Listen.

Back in Skala, we ate supper at the Ostria taverna in the outdoor seating area under a tent, which was just across the street from the water's edge, lined with docked sailboats.  Our meal consisted of gavros (deep-fried sardines), fried shrimp with the heads still on, calamari, grilled (to the point of being a bit charred) octopus, and a yummy dip called taramosalata.  We were quite pleased with all of it.  A roly-poly dog at our feet was disappointed that no scraps fell from our table.

In case you're wondering about the little fishies, you eat everything but the tail, in one crunchy bite.  (Unless the head's just a wee bit too big, and you're a wee bit too squeamish.)  Very tasty, my friends.

It was dark when we retraced our steps back to our room.  Once again, we were exhausted, so sleep should have come easily, but we discovered that we had the Greek equivalent of Ralph and Alice Kramden living below us.  All of our open windows allowed in sweet sea breezes, but also the loud sounds of Greek domestic bliss.  Sleep was delayed, but could not be denied.

Ahhh . . . 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Greece, Day One

(Now that we are home and no longer limited to a borrowed iPhone for our blogging, we will give a fuller account of our trip to Greece.  As we did with our wedding page, one of us will write the main account and the other will insert comments.  Rick's words will be in black; Jenese's words will be in blue.  We will alternate who gives the main account.  Rick will take the lead for Days One and Two.)

Performing the third of the Twelve Labors of Heracles, my heroic brother-in-law picked us up at 3:50 AM and drove us to the Tulsa airport to begin our Greek odyssey.  Along the way, he caught us up on the latest George Clooney sightings in Bartlesville.  (It seems that the Copper Bar is the place to hold counsel with Batman No. 3.)  

No, we haven't seen him.  But we keep driving past the house he's supposed to be renting.

We flew from Tulsa to Atlanta on Delta.  There was no meal, and the only snack was a single packet of peanuts, trick-or-treat size.  So we pulled from our carry-on bags some Ziplock bags containing coconut flour pancakes and turkey bacon left over from the previous morning's breakfast.  The pancakes were very satisfying.  They were also the focus of attention for the gentleman sitting across the aisle from us and one row back.  I don't know whether his stare was curiosity or envy, but maybe he'll know to bring his own pancakes for his next flight.

Waiting at the gate for our flight to NYC, we sat across from a woman who appeared to be in her early 60's and was wearing a straw sunhat the size of a hobbit door.  Without discretion or shame, she used her finger to thoroughly clean out both nostrils, and then used the same fingernail to clean her teeth.  Once her personal grooming was concluded, Jenese gave me the unhappy news that she had noticed that the husband of Mrs. Booger was studying a map of the Greek islands.  So now I'd to be watching for that giant hat in Greece.

I missed the "grooming", and merely noticed what appeared to be a nice older couple, poring over small guidebooks and a large map in preparation for a Grecian holiday.  I followed their example by studying the Greek phrases in Rick Steve's travel guide.

On the flight to NYC, we were apportioned another packet of peanuts as our only meal, so we were hungry enough to purchase airport food when we landed.  We were quickly seated at Chili's and then ignored.  After about ten minutes, I observed that our boarding time was only twenty minutes hence, so we left.  Jenese ate a ready-made salad with chicken and dates ($11.00) that we picked up from the refrigerator at Healthy Gourmet; I ate an apple we had brought with us.  

For the 9-hour Air France flight to Athens, we were seated in the middle of the row, almost all the way to the back.  I can't imagine there were any worse seats.  There was so little legroom, that I had to sit with my knees at two o'clock.  At least they fed us.  There were two meals and two snacks.  

Even I was cramped, so you can imagine The Rick's discomfort.  And he should've gotten a salad, in preparation for the in-flight meals -- I've had tastier Swanson TV dinners.

There were also plenty of movies to choose from.  I watched Young Adult.

My review:  Charlize Theron was enjoyable, but her character, Mavis Gary, was unlikable, having never outgrown the narscissim of adolescence.  That was intentional and that would be fine, so long as some sort of transformation is the payoff.  Indeed, we are led to believe that this is what is coming, but just when she is about to become a human being, she pulls back and commits to remain just like one of the self-indulgent characters she writes about for the young adult market.  Credits roll.  That renders the entire story pointless, unless the point is that we should respect or even admire her for being "true to herself" -- embracing who she is, even if who she is is rottenness.  Hollywood often values authenticity more than redemption. 

Next, I watched Iron Lady.

My review:  Another impressive performance by Meryl Streep.  (I'll tell her that if I run into her at Wal-Mart in Bartlesville.)  Base on the movie title, I was hoping to see her in a jet-powered metal suit manufactured by Stark Industries, but I made do with the British accent.  However, I didn't like the story being told through flashbacks, which had the effect of keeping the focus on the senility of an aged Margaret Thatcher, rather than upon the things she accomplished.  I think this approach betrays the political bent of the filmmakers who undoubtedly prefer the image of Margaret Thatcher as a lonely old ditty conversing with her dead husband.  Flashing back to those moments when she stood center on history's stage only serves to feed the pity that the audience is to feel.  I also noticed that although the filmmakers take care to show the influence of Margaret's father in shaping her character and instilling her values, there is an absence of any depiction of Christian faith, even though it is my understanding that it was at the core of both father and daughter.  But it's probably for the best when Christianity gets ignored, rather than get the full Hollywood treatment.  

Sitting beside me on the plane was an elderly Greek lady -- one of the few Greeks I would meet on our trip who spoke no English whatsoever.  When she let me out to use the restroom, I told her "thank you" in Greek, thereby putting to use some of those Greek language podcasts Jenese and I had been listening to for the past two weeks.  I counted it as some sort of accomplishment to be the first of the two of us to speak Greek to a Greek.  Jenese would certainly go on to beat me when it came to word count, however. 

I could see that the Greek lady was bewildered by the video system.  The man sitting across the aisle from her showed her how to remove the controller from her armrest and manipulate the buttons to scroll through the movie selections, but then she was on her own.  When I noticed that she was watching Chronicle, I knew that a certain random unnatural selection was at play.  I waited to see how long she would enjoy watching American teenagers react to their newly acquired telekinetic powers.  The answer is about 5 minutes.  At another point, she was watching Young Adult, but she did not prove to be a Charlize Theron fan, either.  Finally, she turned to me, her fluent Greek-speaking seat companion, and sought my help in turning the thing completely off.  But I discovered that I'm no more technologically inclined  than a little old Greek lady, since I couldn't figure it out, either.  In despair, she threw her blanket over the screen to block the light. Jenese would end up adopting the same technique.  

We simply could not find a switch to darken the screen.  How on earth is one supposed to nap to the airline's lovely classical music selections with a blinding white screen burning 18 inches away from one's face?  Tossing my denim jacket over the screen helped.  Until the impromptu frat party burst forth merrily in the row directly behind us.

Passing through Greek customs and border control was effortless.  We then had a long layover before our flight to Rhodes.  The first order of business was finding breakfast.  We walked to the Sofitel, an upscale hotel directly across the street from the airport.  Seeing that a cup of tea in the hotel restaurant was four and a half euros, we returned to the airport in search of cheaper options. We settled on a Sbarro that offered a full breakfast, including scrambled eggs, fried (I guess) eggs, sausages (hot dog weenies), bacon (more like fried Canadian bacon), french toast, fried potatoes, baked beans (no thank you), and roasted tomatoes.  We then made the mistake of going to the soda fountain and getting two cups of water, assuming they would be free.  Because the water was carbonated, we were charged 3.25 euro per cup.  That's $8.40 for two cups of water.  I still haven't recovered from that one.

Silver lining:  The soda water was very refreshing.  But after that plane ride, water from a cattle pond in July would've been refreshing.

We went to a neat little museum inside the airport that contained archaeological finds that were made during excavation work for the airport.  One item of particular interest to me was a beehive dating to the 4th century BC.  (No photography was allowed, but here's a photograph taken by someone who doesn't follow the rules.)

For the rest of our layover, we returned to the Sofitel, which had a nicer waiting area and much nicer restrooms than the airport.  Sleeping on the plane proved to be impossible, so this was our first opportunity to snatch a few minutes of sleep.

And we weren't the only ones -- I suppose the hotel staff must be used to exhausted travelers stumbling over from the airport to crash in their lobby.  Pets are welcome, too.  A gentleman napped in the chair directly across from me, his faithful dog by his side.

It was a one-hour flight from Athens to the island of Rhodes (Rodos).  I was amazed that the bags we checked in Tulsa made it all the way.  We picked them up and caught the airport bus for the 45-minute ride into the town of Rhodes, which is on the north end of the island.  The bus made multiple stops along the way, adding more and more passengers until we were all pressed in rather tightly.  I was standing for the entire ride, but was able to see out the window.  I was surprised by the simple look of the shops and homes we were passing.  It reminded me much more of what I saw in Albania than western Europe.  The flat-topped buildings were all made of poured concrete and rebar and were a dull assortment of right angles.  Also like Albania, the roofs all had solar powered hot water tanks and the sidewalks were made of concrete tiles.  As we got closer to the town of Rhodes, the view became much more touristy.  There were beaches with lots of umbrellas and plastic chairs, and windsurfers on the water.  There were numerous luxury hotels with lots of activity, even though we were now in the "low" tourist season. 

Once again, I was impressed by these European drivers, and the skill they display in tight spaces, whether they're driving a bus or a moped.  I couldn't see enough of the sea, but it was fascinating to look at the buildings, and their arrangement and color schemes, so different from our planned developments.

We were let out at a busy town center, not far from the walled Old Town that we would be exploring later.  We took another bus to get to our hotel, which was 3 km southeast of town.  Even though the driver called out the name of the hotel, we were too dense (Read:  "brain-dead.") to know that we needed to press the stop button, so we had to get off at the next stop and walk along a busy highway for about 200 yards back the way we came to reach the Hotel Princess Flora.  It's a large, 3-star hotel with multiple two-story units arranged around a central pool and grassy courtyard scattered with lounge chairs and stray cats.  Our room was simple, with two single beds we able to push together, a ceramic tiled floor, a small TV, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a balcony with a white plastic table and matching chairs.  The balcony faced the pool and the courtyard crammed with pink Euro flesh.  (We would learn that we were quite possibly the only Americans in the hotel.  Most of the guests were British or German.  There was also a sprinkling of Russians.  That generally held true for tourists as a whole on Rhodes.  American tourists frequently go on cruises that make a day stop on the island, but few tourists actually stay on Rhodes like we did.)

My fellow Americans, if ever you travel to Greece, allow me to suggest that you take a few days to relish Rodos.  This beautiful island is well worth savoring.

To turn on the electricity, we had to place the magnetic key fob into a slot by the door.  However, the wall AC, which was just like the ones I knew from Albania, still would not work.  I returned to the front desk where I was told by a bemused desk clerk that AC is 7 euro per night extra.  (You won't learn that from their website.)  I paid it, whereupon I was given a remote control for the AC and a fuse that I had to insert into the fuse box.  At least I wasn't handed a can of Freon and a hose.

Took about 10 minutes to figure out how to open the fuse box.  Someone, somewhere, was laughing at us.

We unpacked and then walked to a supermarket we had passed on our walk from the bus.  We purchased yogurt and nectarines for breakfast and then returned to the hotel.  We went to the hotel restaurant for dinner, which was included in the room price.  What was not included, however, (and, once again, not mentioned on the hotel website) was drinks.  When we headed for the drink station where we saw other guests picking up glasses, the hostess who had seated us yelped and then frantically ran toward us and stopped us.  She told us that we must sit and let the waiter take our drink order.  Our waiter, a man in his fifties with salt and pepper hair, soon approached.  I asked him whether drinks were included with the buffet, and he said no.  "Okay, then we'll have two glasses of water," I said.

"Two bottles of water, then."

"No," I corrected him, "two glasses of water.  Can we just have tap water?"

He looked at me with a crooked smile, as if he had caught me walking out with the cutlery in my pocket, and said, "No, you can't."

"Alright, we'll have one bottle of water for the two of us."

He wrote it down and left us.  We headed for the buffet.  It consisted of a cabbage and tomato mix, a huge mound of shredded carrots (which I thought was peculiar), tzatziki sauce, chopped beef in gravy, sliced pork, spaghetti, an unidentifiable thin soup (vegetable broth?), dolmas, and an odd sort of crepe with chopped ham inside and something resembling barbecue sauce and parsley on top.  None of this food was good enough to pay money for, but it wasn't bad enough to justify skipping out on a complementary meal and go in search of good food.  The best part was the fresh nectarines on the dessert bar.  They must grow on the island, because we would see them on the dessert bar every night.

You could say that this buffet was the Greek answer to college cafeteria vittles.  Which, if we continue the comparison, makes the tzatziki sauce the equivalent of the cereal bar, or soft-serve machine.  It may not fill you up, but it sure helps.

The waiter brought the bill for the bottle of water (1.60 euro) in a little shot glass.  I left a 2 euro coin in the glass, leaving our waiter a 40-cent tip for all of his hard work in transporting that bottle of water to our table.

Once we were back in our room, we collapsed into unconsciousness.  Our travel time from the moment our plane left the ground in Tulsa to the moment we touched down on Rhodes had been 22 hours.  It had been almost 30 hours since we had slept.