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.
|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.
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