Friday, June 18, 2021

Rhodes Less Traveled

The plan was to be at the palace when it opened. That way, we reasoned, we'd avoid the lines of tourists waiting to enter.

However, we found that aside from a few staff members keeping an eye on visitors, we were alone in the Palace of the Grand Master, the crowning structure within the walled medieval city of Rhodes on a Friday morning in May.

As we made our way up the enormous empty stairway it really became clear that we were traveling in a Rhodes less traveled.

Alone in a Palace

The last time we visited the Palace, nearly a decade ago, the crush of tourists was so dense I let The Scout blaze us a trail and we walked single file at times as we made our way through the hordes filling this edifice that dates back to the 7th Century.

Empty Courtyard Palace of the Grand Master - Rhodes, Greece 

By the time we completed this recent visit to this massive palace we had encountered fewer than a dozen other tourists. 

Tourists were few in the ancient city

In pre-pandemic years it was normal to have this and other ancient sites within the walled city teeming with tourists. But this year, like last, is turning out to be not quite 'normal' in terms of tourism. Admittedly, our visit here came within a week of Greece re-opening the country to tourism. It will take some time for tourists to return.

Greek Island Hopping

Arriving Kastellorizo - island-hopping in Greece

Rhodes was part of a week-long island hopping adventure that kicked off our travel season in Greece. The ease of travel within Greece is among the many benefits of being expats living in the Peloponnese. We simply drove to Athens' port city, Piraeus, and boarded a ferry. Traveling by ferry is one of our favorite means of exploring Greece.

The far-flung island of Kastellorizo, also known as Megisti, located far south of Rhodes, off the coast of Turkey was our first destination. After three nights there we caught the local ferry that runs between it and Rhodes to finish our week on the larger island. The massive ship carried us between the two islands in 4.5 hours at a cost of 1.5 euros, roughly $1.80  per ticket. 

We had the better part of three days in which to reacquaint ourselves with Rhodes, or Rodos, as it is known here; the largest of the Aegean Sea's Dodecanese islands.


Our focus was within the walled ancient city

Rhodes has a bit of something for every visitor:  the new Rhodes city (begun a mere 500 years ago) offers modern, sleek high-rise resort accommodations, a casino, dozens of dining venues and a plethora of shopping opportunities like found in any large city. Traveling outside the Rhodes metropolitan area one can find beaches and resorts and several small towns offering accommodations and endless dining opportunities.

Our room - Nikos Takis Hotel Rhodes

With only two nights we were content to focus on the history found within Rhodes ancient walled city. The Scout found us a stunning hotel, the Nikos Takis Fashion Boutique Hotel, which put us footsteps between two landmarks representing different periods of island rule: that of the Knights of St. John and the Ottomans.   

Nikos Takis Hotel patio with views to the harbor

Our room, one of eight in the small boutique hotel, opened onto the hotel patio from where we had views of the harbor. The nightly rate also included a full breakfast served in the patio.

Street of the Knights not crowded at all

We wandered about on foot, following narrow streets back and forth, up hill and down. We remembered these streets as being congested on our last visit, The reduced number of tourists rendered them delightfully easy to maneuver. A number of tourist shops and restaurants hadn't yet opened for the season but there were plenty of shopping, eating and drinking opportunities to keep us satiated during our stay. 

It is interesting to note, that while we think of the old walled city, surrounded by a moat, as a tourist destination, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a very real and active neighborhood in the city - home to some 6,000 residents. 

Knights of St. John 

Entry Palace of the Grand Master

While the island's history, like many in the Dodecanese, is a checkerboard with periods of  Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Italian occupation, it seems the fortifications built, modernized and expanded by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem during their occupation dominate the tourists' top 10 favorite places.

Archaeological museum in Knight's hospital

It was in 1309 when the city was sold to the Knights. The Order had been founded in the 12th century to provide care for the poor, sick or injured pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land and the Crusaders.  It soon became a military unit, acquiring large amounts of land. It founded its headquarters in Rhodes. 

Church of Panagia Tou Kastrou

The Knights' hospital houses the Archaeological Museum. It was difficult to decide if the displays or the building itself was 'the best part' of that stop.  The nearby Church of the Panagia Tou Kastrou, with its towering nave, is a performing arts venue. 

We visited the hospital, church and the Palace as part of a package admissions ticket that got us into the three sites for 10 euros each. 

Ottoman Influence 

Mosque of Suleiman the Great from Sissito Restaurant

Our hotel was a short walk from the Palace of the Grand Master to our right and the Mosque of Suleiman the Great to our left.  We also were lucky to have our hotel recommend Sissito, a restaurant serving amazing food in its courtyard at the side of the Mosque. Suleiman the Great had founded a public kitchen in the area where the restaurant now operates and many of the buildings surrounding the restaurant in the complex host cultural activities and art exhibits. 

An Island Escape Artist

Patricia Wilson, and her latest book, Summer in Greece

One of the highpoints of our stay was meeting one of the best 'island escape artists' I know. British expat Patricia Wilson, author of several novels set on Greek islands, lives with her husband on Rhodes. Each of her books, set on a different island, is an entertaining historical novel that highlights a segment of the featured island's history, while providing a bit of contemporary romance and a very good Greek getaway. 

Over a long leisurely lunch, the Wilsons and we talked of expat life in Greece, writing and Greek island adventures. I am trying to convince her the next novel should be based in The Mani!  BTW, the novel in the photo above, Summer in Greece, was just released this spring. I won't give away the plot but if you want a great armchair getaway to Greece this year - this is the book to read.

Rhodes, Greece

I will sign off for this week with a thank you to all of you who took the time to write and let me know that you had received last week's post. The  new email system is working! And a welcome to all the new subscribers as well - several who've reported how easy it was to sign up.

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However you joined us, we are glad you are here and hope to see you back again!  Stay safe ~

Linking soon with the following:

Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

In Greece: Time to Travel! Or is it?

It is time for some real travel! Or so we have been telling ourselves since our last six-month-long 'hard lockdown' ended in Greece a few weeks ago. 

As we reported here in the last article, this pair of boomer-aged American expats were packed and on a Greek road (and ferry) trip within hours of the lifting of travel restrictions.  

Neighborhood traffic jam - The Mani

We know the change of scenery that we experienced on our 'ferry tale' trip to the Dodecanese islands seemed to replenish the souls and the spirits of these two aging vagabonds.  Our Peloponnese countryside is stunning, but it is great to be reminded of other stunning landscapes to be found in Greece. 

Being fully vaccinated, we didn't have to take pre-travel tests, and because we live here, didn't have to fill out Greece's mandatory PLF, Passenger Locator Form, required for all who enter the country.  We had to wear a mask in public areas, which is becoming second nature these days and we continued to use hand sanitizer as if preparing to perform surgery.

Mani coastline - Greek Peloponnese

As inspired as we were by that taste of travel, we remain hesitant to book any itinerary for outside Greece. And it isn't based on a fear of travel in time of Covid or of any of the health considerations being bantered around in traditional and social media.  It is simply based on the uncertainties of travel.

One of the many Greek ferry lines - Blue Star Ferries

Travel - A Game of Chance

Our hesitancy is fueled by the ever changing rules and regulations that countries are imposing and withdrawing as they try to reign in the spread of Covid and get their populations vaccinated. Planning a trip even a few months down the road has become a  game of chance.  

Reduced flights to Athens have kept the airport uncrowded

For example, we have a huge contingent of British citizens who come to Greece as regularly as Americans head to Hawaii, Florida, or Arizona for their vacation getaways.  Time and time again in recent days we have read of summer travel plans being dashed when flights between England and Greece were cancelled. Travelers report rebooking as many of two or three times and some have finally given up and are waiting until next year. 

(For those of you not following travel news on this side of the pond, England still has Greece on its 'amber' travel list which means a lengthy quarantine when getting back from a trip to Greece or if traveling to England for vacation from here. Therefore numbers of travelers are way down and flights are being cancelled as result.)

View of Dubai from the plane - we transited there in March

I am using England as an example but travel rules related to Covid, seem ever-changing everywhere  on an almost daily basis. Today's news briefs from the World Health Organization announced that Morocco was soon opening to tourists while the next headline announced Uganda was starting another lockdown.  Do you go or do you stay is a very real consideration among travelers.

The uncertainties of rules in countries that one might transit make it difficult for Americans trying to visit Europe as well. A good friend of ours, a seasoned traveler, hasn't given up travel plans - yet - but has delayed booking any flights to come see us this fall until headlines about rampant Covid variants and quarantines and cancelled flights in England have subsided.

You can't forget you are traveling in a time of Covid

We have a week to use in France that we rescheduled five times in 2020 and finally just held off booking a specific time for this year.  We'd considered using it later this month, but an article a few days ago in the Washington Post was so confusing about the rules for Americans entering that country -- whether from America or another European country --  that we decided just to table those plans for now. 

Canadian Rockies as we approached Seattle

A return to the States this fall is also in the talking stages at our house. The conversations no longer focus only on dates and prices but also on routings and Covid requirements.  While I have been writing this post, The Scout has found several options for flying between Athens and Seattle but as he read them off my responses have been questions not confirmations of a plan: 

'But, is Turkey open? Can we fly to Istanbul from Athens?'  (Turkey was closed because of Covid two weeks ago - keeping us from visiting it while on our 'ferry tale' trip.

'Vancouver? Vancouver, BC (Canada)? But Americans aren't allowed there are they, yet?' Even if allowed into and out of both countries now, it is difficult to plan a trip several months out when Covid manages to change things within days.

Celebrity cruise ship docked in Piraeus port

Tourism headlines here this week did announce that the first cruise ships have sailed from Greece, with a 70 percent occupancy. Forty ships are expected to arrive in coming months. Cruising -- before the pandemic -- created 12,000 jobs in Greece and brought in 500 million euros annually.

So for now our cruising will be aboard Greek ferries. The Scout is putting together another 'ferry tale' itinerary for us. Not quite sure which islands will make the cut but I'll tell you about them next week!

Greek islands - so many from which to choose

Travel in the Blogosphere

Our most recent 'trip' into that unknown world of the blogosphere to update the delivery system of TravelnWrite has ended. And hopefully the ending was a successful one - not the double or nothing I pondered as possibilities when that adventure began 

We are hoping that those of you who signed up to receive our posts as emails are reading this as such and that it arrived in your inbox only once having been sent from Mailchimp.  The email format is a bit different, actually better to our way of thinking, so maybe change is good. 

Planning a trip? If so where and when?

How about adding a comment or dropping us a note about  your travel plans - or lack of them due to Covid? I would also so appreciate a note from those 'subscribers' who have received the new email to let me know it came through loud and clear.

On that note, stay safe and have a good June whether you travel in real life or by armchair.  Thanks for the time you spent with us today ~


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