Sunday, November 4, 2012

Greece, Day Five

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

The night was a bit sticky.  With only a sliding glass door to the balcony, we had no cross breeze to moderate the temperature.  It was a relief to walk to the breakfast buffet, and feel the cool morning air.  We managed the buffet like old pros, without faux pas or beer tea, and then stepped over to the supermarket to stock up on snacks to sustain us through two days of sightseeing.  And some laundry detergent, because somebody didn't bring enough unmentionables.  On the way back, we popped into a tourist mini-mart to buy a power converter, because the I-phone was getting hungry.  Our converter was still at home, with the unmentionables.

Managing the buffet like old pros also meant that we knew not to attempt to sit on the north side of buffet line.  It's like another country over there, signified by bright red tablecloths.  It's also a more populated country.  But the waitstaff always insisted that we sit on the south side in the land of the pale green tablecloths.  We were unable to identify the determinative segregation factor.  At first, I thought it might be hotel guests vs. diners-only, but I couldn't imagine anyone having at least three senses paying money to go through the dinner buffet.  Was it odd vs. even room numbers?  No, the waitstaff were not aware of our room number when they seated us.  Was it EU vs. non-EU guests?  Who knows?  When you are travelling, there are always little mysteries like this one that never get solved. 

Of course, as soon as we entered, I saw him -- my oppugner, my Newman, my Green Goblin, the Waiter.  I saw the look of recognition, but he didn't approach us.  After filling up our plates and seating ourselves in the land of the pale green tablecloths, I realized there was a pepper shaker on our table, but no salt.  I spotted a salt shaker on an unoccupied table a few steps away, but I hesitated, knowing that to go for it would risk drawing the attention of the Waiter.  So I waited.  When I saw him turn his back to me while tending to one of my pale green countrymen, I made my move.  But just as my hand touched the salt shaker, as though sensing a movement in the force, he spun around to face me.  

At first, I panicked, fearing I would draw a reprimand for exceeding my boundaries.  But rather than look me in the eyes, he looked at the tables -- first to the one I was robbing and then to the one to which I was retreating.  He had a look of displeasure, but I deduced that it sprang from his assessment of himself, rather than of me.  Suddenly, this became my victory.  "Yes!  That is right -- you failed to properly lay the tables.  Feel the shame and hang your head!"  So it was a good breakfast.  

Our game plan was to explore the eastern side of the island, stopping at Lindos and anywhere else that seemed interesting, get a little beach time, and make it back to the hotel in time for our delectable free dinner.  As we gathered up our swimsuits, we realized that we had no beach towels.  You can probably guess where they were.  Our only (free) option was borrowing the hotel's towels, but that proved to be a problem of conscience.  I was too big of a chicken to ask the clerk for permission, so Rick went to the front desk while I settled into the car.  He received a qualified acquiesence, and we were off.

Highway driving was ridiculously easy, compared to the madness of town.  The signs are in Greek and English.  The main roads are well-maintained and fairly straightforward.  And there is plenty of room for the natives to whip around the law-abiding Americans.  The highway follows the coast, much of the time, but also weaves through hills and valleys, and mountains.  We'd pass a group of resort hotels with private beaches, and then drive for long stretches with few signs of civilization, save the occasional roadside taverna or private residence.

My passenger declares the driving "ridiculously easy," but I recall getting lost more than once and killing the engine at a stoplight on the highway with a line of cars waiting behind me.  (Hey, it was my first time driving with a standard transmission in about six years.)  I have to compliment Greek drivers for their forbearance, though.  No one honked -- not then or the many other instances when I gave them good cause to do so.  

Looking inland, the landscape reminded me a little of New Mexico.  Dry and scrubby, and yet not quite so monochromatic as NM.  Olive and pine trees relieved the dusty brown of the rocky soil.  The hills rolled into mountains, which were covered with pine forests and dotted here and there with chapels, gleaming white in the hot sun.  The sky was blue and cloudless.

Our first stop was the Monastery of the Virgin Mary atop Mount Tsambika.  One of the legends surrounding this shrine involves a childless couple finally having a baby, and so it has become a pilgrimage site for women who want to have children.  On the shrine's festival day in September, pilgrims will climb the 300 steps to the monastery (some accomplish this on their knees), and leave offerings of wax baby dolls and thin silver or gold plaques.  Now, don't get any ideas.  We were going there for the frescoes and the views.  The steep, narrow road wound up and up the mountain, until we reached a taverna and a parking lot.

It seems you can't see anything on Rhodes without working for it.  Those 300 steps were quite a trudge.  They're numbered, which is a thoughtful encouragement for gasping tourists.  You know when you're finally getting close.  The chapel itself is quite tiny, and the frescoes are faded, but still visible.  The views are stunning -- ocean blue on one side, pine-covered heights on the other.  Before we headed back down, I filled up my water bottle at the chapel's outdoor drinking faucet.  The march down was much, much easier.  And I did a very good job, I think, of not teasing Rick with that water, through the remainder of the day.

After making part of the ascent, we came upon a man with a table, upon which were several varieties of honey for sale.  We were impressed by the man's entrepreneurial spirit, as well as his stamina.  I know I wouldn't want to lug a table and a bag full of honey jars up and down that mountain every day.  But I didn't notice any panting tourists eager to sample a gulp of honey.  I thought maybe he would do better to sell wax babies. 

Onward!  We pulled off at Charaki, which is a fishing village with a medieval castle.  The crumbling turrets still loom over the little village from a barren, rocky hilltop, but the site is fenced off for safety.  Our little Fiat did not appreciate being asked to jerk itself up the rough gravel to get to the fence, so we just snapped a quick picture or two, and departed.

Onward!  Next came Lindos, lousy with tourists, but pretty, nonetheless.  We parked in the free lot, crossed the highway, and joined the stream of fellow travelers that flowed downhill to the main part of town.  Rick has already described our misadventure that occurred as soon as we got into town, so I will simply refer you to his earlier blog entry, which is entitled, "Acropolis at Lindos on Rodos."  I was most unhappy, indeed.

As we plunged into Lindos, we found ourselves weaving in and out of tourists and around the backsides of a group of donkeys.  The donkeys are there for the benefit and amusement of the tourists who prefer to ride, real-live-Greek-style, up the hill to the acropolis.  I was so busy worrying about my bank account and keeping up with Rick's back in the crowd, that I barely remembered to watch my step. 

Lindos is a huddle of white buildings connected by narrow cobblestone streets.  We saw more of the graceful black and white mosaics on some of the paths and porches, that we had enjoyed in Rhodes' Old Town.  Following the signs for the acropolis, we passed cafes and souvenir shops (remarkably similar to what we'd seen before), turned a corner, and found more stairs.  I think there were more than 300.  The first stop after the ticket booth is a relief carving of a graceful ship.  It gives you a good excuse to stop (and stretch your aching calves) before the next flight of stairs.

The steps were cut into the black rock of the mountain and had been worn smooth and shiny almost like obsidian.  They were extremely slick and there were no handrails. It was entertaining watching the many tourists with impractical footwear shuffle along the steep inclines like a poodle on a frozen pond. Several women opted to take their shoes off and walk barefooted.  

Relief of a Rhodian Ship (180 - 170 BC
Finally almost on top, you pass through ancient storerooms and onto an area where archaeological teams have organized the remains of statues and columns into neat rows and piles.  Placards throughout the site explain the remains and how teams are working to restore some of the ancient pillars and steps.  Several pillars are already standing, some a mix of ancient and new stonework, and some entirely new.  It's a bit disturbing, if you're a purist about your ruins.  And the huge crane used to lift stones back into their old places is also incongruous.  You can just imagine some toga-clad old Yannis elbowing a buddy and snorting, "What is this?  These kids have to use metal monsters to do their work?  Pfff!  In my day, we built these temples with our own muscle, and sweat, and ..." etc., etc. 

On the acropolis are remains of the Temple of Athena Lindia and related structures dating from about 300 BC, as well as the Castle of the Knights of St. John, built sometime before 1317 on the foundations of older Byzantine foundations.  So it's an archaeological mishmash that looks cool, but it is difficult to make sense of. 

A few more steps brought us to the summit.  Storm clouds were growling, nearly over our heads, but no rain fell.  (So we did not get to watch tourists slip and slide their way back down the mountain over wet and slick steps.)  Instead, we wandered in comfortable shade, listening to the varied tongues and accents around us, and drinking in the gorgeous views.  Oh, that water.

We descended, refusing the offer of transport by donkey.  We stopped in town for fresh-squeezed orange juice, and resumed our trip south.  (The orange juice was only 1 euro per cup.  We discovered why it was so cheap once when we sat down on a bench with a view overlooking a bay and noticed that all the trees on terrace below us were orange trees.  At our eye level were the tree tops, loaded down with green fruit.)  We were on the watch for a free beach, and it was some time before we found one.  Actually, we just saw a sign and turned off, hoping it was free.  And since it was, we probably should've tried doing it earlier.  It was a pebble beach -- no sand -- quiet, and open.  Umbrellas and lounge chairs lined the shore, just out of reach of the waves.  I changed in the big wooden box available for that purpose, and limped my way to a chair, my flip-flops offering very little protection against the tiny pebbles.  

Actually, I think most of the beaches we passed were free and open to the public.  The number and variety of options were impressive.  There would be a beach turn-off about every ten miles.  You could opt for a pebble beach, a sand beach (no white sand, though), or one with cliffs and rock outcroppings. 

We had a snack, and then made for the water.  We quickly learned that flip-flops are better than bare feet on those rocks.  But the water was cool and clear.  I sat down to watch Rick swim, letting the waves bounce me back and forth.  I'm not a swimmer, so I was content to watch him, and play with the polished pebbles around me -- red, green, pink, white, black.  Eventually, I felt cold and decided to go back to the chair, but I tripped on those treacherous pebbles and stumbled right back into the water. 

The water was so clear, that regardless of how far out I would swim, I could still look down and see the bottom quite clearly.  I had hoped to find a place to go snorkeling, but I could tell just from treading water and looking down past my feet that there would not be anything worth seeing.  There are definitely places to go scuba diving and snorkeling on Rhodes, but I think they require a boat ride. 

I finally understand why people enjoy just lying on a beach.  I always thought I'd be bored, but it was so peaceful, lying on that chair, listening to the waves, feeling the sun.  I wish we could have stayed longer.

Once I got out of the water, I was bored.   The open road was calling me. 

The day was getting on, however, and we still had one stop to make before returning to the hotel.  Our friends at Zeus Rent a Car had told us that up in the mountains west of Lindos, was a monastery from which you could see much of the island.  We pointed the Fiat northward, but when we tried to go west, we missed the signs and somehow found ourselves back in Lindos.  We tried again, and finally found the right turn-off for the Panagia Monastery.  The road led through a thick forest of pines, with little underbrush, and up into the heights.  

First, we had to fill up with gas.  The tank wasn't completely empty, but it still cost 50 euro (or $65 to fill it up).  Oh, and that's for a little Fiat.  Wow.

The monastery was a good-sized complex, with several buildings and some sort of playing field.  Over our heads, on a peak, was a large cross.  Between us and the cross were ... more stairs.  Sigh.  The climb, however, was well-rewarded.  All around us were the pines, filling the evening air with a heady perfume.  In the distance, you could just make out the line of the sea  between the mountains.  All was still and peaceful.  I could've slept there.

The climb was a series of switchbacks.  Approximately every 100 feet, there was a little dilapidated wooden and glass hut depicting one of the 14 stations of the cross.  There was indeed a nice view from the top.

The trip back to the hotel was uneventful.  The buffet included some sort of pressed meat product that must have been sliced out of a tube -- it was formed into too-perfect circles, topped with pineapple rings, and drizzled with some unidentifiable sauce.  The Rick pronounced it cat food.  I pronounced it perfectly adequate, and helped myself to a second slice.  (Meow.)  We went to bed, once more without A/C.

The soup was surprisingly tolerable.  On previous nights, it wasn't really soup, but appeared to be plain vegetable broth, or maybe dishwater.  But this night, it resembled split pea, which is worse than dishwater.  But Jenese seemed to enjoy it, so I tasted it and decided I was hungry enough to get my own bowl.  It had a bit of a coconut curry flavor and it definitely had some sort of pureed legume in it, but I still have no idea what it was.  I filled up on the soup and more nectarine slices from the dessert bar.  The Waiter was there, hovering about, but a different waiter brought us our one shared bottle of water. 

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