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.  

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