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.

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