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 . . . 


  1. I loved the interweaving of scripture, tradition and eschatological significance into your experiences there. Your potential harsh winter due to inadequate roofing seems like a very worthwhile trade off.

  2. Oh, also, from this point forward, I'll be seeking a breakfast buffet with breakfast beer