A Travellerspoint blog

The roads of Rhodes

Rhodes , Greece Islands

sunny 24 °C
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We’ve just spent 3 glorious days in Rhodes with each day devoted to a different aspect of what the island has to offer.

Day 1 – was spent exploring the Old Town within Rhodes town. The old town is particularly atmospheric, surrounded by thick stone walls and navigated via winding alleys and lanes. In the heart of the Old Town is the Avenue of the Knights, where the various tongues of the Knights of St John resided in medieval times. These buildings are still is use, mostly in a cultural capacity (e.g. we were invited into an exhibition of photographs and stamps in the French section, the Italian embassy is located in the Italian section etc). We couldn’t help but notice that most of these offices/ centres were only open for a limited number of hours for a few days a week. With a setting that smacked of such history and a short working week we all decided that a job somewhere on the Avenue of St John should become our next career move.

The town is not just an historical tourism relic filled with medieval architecture and quaint streets, it also contains a lively community who dwell within the restored (and yet to be restored) houses that line the laneways. It must be a surreal existence to have your house and daily activities photographed by inquisitive tourists and streets invaded by curious onlookers for 5 months each year. However, the townsfolk seem to take it all in their stride, greeting strangers to their community with a smile and providing directions to those who become lost within the labyrinth and alleys. For me the areas that were away from the tourist precinct (and inevitable souvenir shops) and closer to the life of the local community were the most interesting parts of the Old Town.

Day 2 – The eastern side of Rhodes. A bit of a tourist route but made quite enjoyable by George, the effervescent cab driver who took us on a ½ day excursion to Kalithea and Lindos (including the acropolis and beach). George had the handy knack of being able to drive without either hand on the wheel. This was fortunate as he needed both hands to gesticulate during his rapid fire conversation with us, which was delivered whilst turned to his audience. Consequently, it was not only possible to drive without hands on the wheel, but also without eyes on the road. Having said that George was not a crazy driver at all, and seemed to have perfected the art of negotiating traffic quite smoothly whilst engaged in storytelling with his passengers.

Lindos was a really pretty spot but certainly a drawcard for day trippers. This was particularly true of the acropolis. The pathway to the acropolis wound through narrow, shop-filled lanes that were clogged with sight-seers. Once through the initial throng, the climb to the cliff-top acropolis gave us sweeping views of the town and beaches below. The acropolis itself was constructed during different historical periods between 200 BC and 4 AD. Again the views across the sea and of the island were superb. We also visited Kalithea. Originally the site of an Italian built spa, the complex is also being developed as a cultural centre, in a pseudo-Greco style. Not sure that the new buildings work all that well but the hohlakia (black and white pebble mosaic floors) were the best we have seen and very extensive. The beach below the complex is famous as the beach from Zorba the Greek.

Day 3 – self-drive tour of the western side and interior of Rhodes. Brian took on the role of driver for us so that we could hire a car for the day and really explore some out of the way places. It was the first time he had driven a left-hand drive car and he did a great job, even if I was a nervous-Nellie in the back seat for most of the trip. He said the most difficult part was driving through towns and villages where the roads were often at their narrowest and the traffic most congested. The western side of the island is more windswept and remote with the most stunning coastline we have seen to date - turquoise and azure blue seas that seemed to go on forever. The interior of Rhodes is quite mountainous with pine trees clinging to the rocky slopes. This is also the primary wine-producing part of the island.

We explored the ruins of Ancient Kamiros (unfortunately coinciding our time there with a couple of busloads of cruise ship tourists). These 3-4th. Century BC ruins were the most extensive we have seen so far, in terms of seeing a whole city/ community. It was clear that the city had housed 500 or so people, with house walls and alleyways still intact. We also visited the 16th.C Kritinia Castle perched high on a headland with views across to Symi. Next stop an inland winery. Good whites and a nice rose to be found, needless to say our luggage is a little heavier now. Our lunch stop was a little tavern where we were the only non-locals in the village. Then on to Fourni Beach below the Castle of Monolithos. This steep, winding road down to this beach provided us with our best views of the coast and the beach itself was nestled in sandstone cove.

Our return journey took us up through the middle of the island with winding roads, deep valleys and lakes. Peak upon peak of forested mountains peppered with olive groves and grapevines. Pretty specky stuff. Our final coffee stop was at the pretty little town of Arhipoli. George (our taxi driver from the previous day) lives in this village tending oranges and olives for 5 months a year and then an original house he inherited in Rhodes Old Town (and driving cabs) during the tourist season. Having seen both locations he seems to have the best of both worlds.

I can’t finish this entry without mentioning two fabulous seafood meals we had in Rhodes, both at venues recommended by our hotel. The first was at a traditional, family-run taverna that we were assured was not ‘touristic’. Throughout the night we were the only non-locals in the place, where only a smattering of English was spoken. It felt like we were guests at a family feast. The owner and his son kept providing us with more and more food (on top of what we had ordered). They were very keen to show us the quality and variety of their fare. The marinated octopus was the best I have ever eaten. Boiled then marinated in vinegar, olive oil and oregano it was served warm and just melted in your mouth. They also introduced us to red mullet, a small, sweet fish that we have sought out since. Everything we ate was very simply prepared, fresh and tasty, letting the produce do the talking. The second fab meal was in a more up-market, but still family-run, taverna within the Old Town. The menu here was a little more diverse. We had a great sesame-encrusted tuna with wasabi and a prawn saganaki to die for. They also served beautiful desserts, which is something we have not eaten often. Sabina and I had a pannacotta with fig sauce that was silken, sweet and syrupy.

I’m writing this entry as we island hop our way to Patmos on a local ferry. It took a while to find the ferry company as our Istanbuli travel agent told us we needed to get our tickets from Jodi, Kanises Seaways. We weren’t sure if we were looking for Jodi at Kanises Seaways or Jodi Kanesis Seaways so sought assistance from locals over a couple of days. The locals in Rhodes were flummoxed and we received plenty of contradictory advice about which of the 3 harbours might be the location of the ferry office we were seeking. We were beginning to think we had been given dodgy tickets when an enterprising man at the tourist info centre took a punt that Jodi didn’t exist but that we might be looking for Dodekanisos Seaways, which did exist. As we are traversing the Dodecanese Islands this made sense. We found the ticket office and a pleasant “JodI” who helped us set sail!

Posted by 50inturkey 12:08 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Didn't we 'ave a looverly day the day we went to Dalyan

Group tours are not our thing!

rain 18 °C
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Well our run of positive adventures run out a bit recently. Before leaving Oz I had read of a place called Dalyan that was near Fethiye. From Dalyan you can access thermal pools and mud baths, glide past the ancient rock tombs of Kaunos set along the river and flop/ stroll/ swim on a long stretch of beach where turtles nest. I thought this sounded pretty idyllic and a bit different from some of the things we had done to date.

The only way to take this trip is via a tour. Although we are not usually tour people we had had some really good experiences of private tours (i.e. just the 4 of us) recommended by our Istanbul travel agent (Arif) or local tourist offices. Arif recommended the Dalyan tour to us and, without asking too many questions, we decided to go with his recommendation.

We awoke to an overcast day on the day of the tour. Not exactly beach weather but, ever the optimists, we packed swimming gear along with our cameras and waited for our hotel pick-up. A gruff, non-English speaking driver collected us in a small Fiat and off we went. Was this our tour for the day we wondered? Very much hoping it would not be so. We stopped by the roadside, the driver motioned for us to stay in the car as it had begun to rain. “Bus” he said, which we took to mean that a bus would be picking us up from this roadside stop.

The bus duly arrived and upon climbing aboard we universally looked longingly at the Fiat as it drove away. After a few minutes Brian said quietly to me “feels a bit like a pokies trip to Tooleybuc”. Apart from us and a couple of twenty-something Turkish girls we found ourselves on board a tour with about 20, mostly retired English folk who looked like they were on their way to a group holiday in Bognor Regis.

Our extremely effervescent tour guide welcomed us with a “Good morning dear guests.” When only some people reciprocated with “good morning” and their response was a little half-hearted our tour guide decided we all needed a bit of energising. Psycho (as the tour guide encouraged us to call him) then went full flight into trying to engage us all with jokes, quizzes and information. His repartee certainly had the desired effect on the Poms with the resultant cackling and prattling making us feel like we were in an episode of On the Buses.

It was going to be a long day……

The first stop was a ‘surprise’ stop at a gold factory. “Bet you didn’t think you’d be coming here today” exclaimed the effusive English host at the shop, “and what a lovely surprise this must be for you”. Hmmm. The expansive collection of jewellery was displayed in glass cases in what can only be described as a showroom. I’m afraid that this sort of setting and sales pitch doesn’t do it for me but many on board seemed to be appreciative of the bargain diamonds and gold they were able to pick up. As we continued on I wondered how many more ‘surprises’ we would encounter.

We arrived at the river, weather still inclement and cold, and clambered into our boat. Before the boat had even taken off Psycho lit up a cigarette and indicated that, while the rules of the boat said that smoking was not allowed, the group could just ignore the rules. Apart from the Turkish girls and ourselves there was no other party on the boat where at least one person in the couple or group did not smoke. The day was now getting longer…..

Drinks were also available on the boat and although it was only about 10am at this stage the English folk were into their lager immediately and this did not let up for the entire boat trip (until about 5.30pm). I reckon you might be getting the picture now.

On the boat itself we had two choices, have the canvas and plastic awnings that ran the length of the boat down, and have a chance of being dry and a little warmer, or have them up and see the views of the river and sprawling lake but be windswept and cold.

Having painted this bleak picture I should say that the mud baths were interesting. Warm, shallow pools that were watery in the surface and squidgy on the bottom required us to crab or commando crawl our way from one side to the other. With aged bodies of varying shapes and sizes, including my own, this did not always make for the most decorous sight but it was quite a voluptuous sensation. Luckily (tongue in cheek) there was a professional photographer on hand to capture the group’s antics and to encourage each party within the group to play up to the camera acting like zombie mud-monsters etc. Needless to say we did not buy the inevitable photos we were offered for £20 at the end of our tour.

The mud bath was followed by a shower, or dip in the lake, before sliding into a thermal pool which was beautifully relaxing (and warm after our windswept, open air photo shoot). Overall the group found the whole experience was a hoot. On the return boat trip numerous couples chatted about “how looverly” their skin felt and “ow I wouldn’t ‘ave believed it would feel so warm” over and over again to anyone who would listen. Many seemed to be experienced tour group types who had a knack of making sure there was always someone who was listening. I think I had the same man tell me “ow warm he was” half a dozen times on the return trip!

Next stop, lunch - in what can only be described as a cafeteria-like setting along the river. The food itself was quite good, standard Turkish fare of soup, bread, mezes, salad and grilled meat – fish or chicken on this occasion. However, we couldn’t help but compare the mass-consumption riverside setting with our previous riverside dining experience in the Ihlara Valley (see Goreme entry).

Following lunch we again boarded the boat and meandered along the river stopping at the Tombs of Kaunos. These impressive tombs were carved high on the cliff face overlooking the ancient city if Kaunos between the 9th. and 4th. Centuries B.C. Each tomb took a long time to carve with workman beginning at the top of the tomb and chipping their way downwards. Evidently, when a new king ascended the throne the work of carving his tomb commenced. It would be somewhat forboding and perhaps unsettling to see your final resting place taking shape throughout your reign I imagine.

We then headed further along the river to the an area that is protected as a breeding ground of the caretta caretta (loggerhead turtles). The turtles only make land at night to lay eggs but during the day can be enticed to the surface with a feed of blue crabs. We saw one of the turtles and then continued our boat journey to a peninsula where the river and sea meet. The spot was impressive even on a cold, grey, windy day but unfortunately the setting was not enough to lure us in for a swim.

Our journey home then commenced. A little quieter this time, much like the homeward journey following a school camp. Overall the mud baths and rock tombs made the trip a worthwhile exercise but the tour itself left us a little lukewarm.

Posted by 50inturkey 21:14 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Unfazed in Fethiye

Fethiye - Turquoise Coast, Turkey

sunny 26 °C
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The journey from Olympos to Fethiye is akin to a Great Ocean Road drive. The bus trips from Olympos to Kas and Kas to Fethiye snaked along the Turquoise Coast rewarding us with views of azure blue coves, snow-capped mountains and off-shore islands. It took almost 5 hours to cover the winding route of about 250kms but the views made the journey easy. On passing through Kas we regretted having bought tickets straight through the Fethiye as it looked like a very pretty little seaside town. We have put this on our ‘to do’ list for a return visit.

The interiors of smaller buses and taxis are often “blinged up” in some way with Turkish flags, religious iconography or charming stuffed toys. When the boys found themselves seated under a stuffed bear emblazoned with Best Friends on its chest we couldn’t help but laugh (and take photos for prosperity of course).

Fethiye is the largest place we have been in since leaving Istanbul. It was a bit of a shock at first. However, the place is fairly low key. A fishing and yachtie hub that seems to attract more than its share of English tourists (more about that in a separate entry!). Locals are often surprised that we are Australian rather than English and most prices are quoted to us in £ rather than TL or € which has been more common elsewhere.

One of the stand-outs in Fethiye was a meal at the fish markets. We were able to select our fish from the fishmongers, located in the centre of a large open courtyard, and then have it cooked for 6TL (about $3.50) at one of the many restaurants that ring the perimeter of the courtyard. Consequently, we had an absolute seafood feast the night we arrived.

On our second night here we went to the restaurant rated in Lonely Planet as the best seafood restaurant in Fethiye. We frocked up for the first time on our travels, ready for a night of refined dining. The meal itself was fabulous; again we could select our seafood and have it cooked to order. However the ambience was not quite what we were expecting. The restaurant was on the harbour and separated by a plastic café blind from a bar next door. A group of men in the bar next door had more than their share of beer and raki and their behaviour rapidly descended into loud debauchery. To provide you with a cultural reference I reckon they may have been on a buck’s night. Drunken singing, boozy games (including one that looked like strip poker!), semi-nudity, mooning and bare bottoms being slapped with big wooden bats were just some of the antics we witnessed – as did the families with young children quietly strolling the harbour on a Friday evening. All quite bizzare really!

We also witnessed The adventure of a trip to the berber (barber) when Brian decided it was time for a haircut. I had read that there was quite a ritual associated with a trip to the barber’s but this was something to behold. I have captured most of the steps in the photos I’ve uploaded. Briefly, the barber’s routine involved:
1. Singe of the head, face and neck with naked flames
2. Shave with a cut-throat razor
3. Trim of eyebrows, nose and ear hair
4. Exfoliation
5. Haircut
6. Head wash
7. Drying of facial orifices
8. Applying lotions and potions
9. Head, neck and upper body massage

Many of these steps were repeated more that once. There was also the liberal spraying of disinfectant and the demonstrative washing of sinks and implements at strategic points in the ritual. All up the routine took about an hour (I usually take about 5 mins to do Brian’s hair but obviously I need to add a few more steps to the process now!)

All in all, our trip has been full of many adventures so far that are providing lots of mirth and memories.

Posted by 50inturkey 22:09 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

On the trail of the beatniks

Olympos - Turquoise Coast, Turkey

sunny 24 °C
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We’ve just spent 24 hours chilling out at Olympos. Olympos is well and truly off the main tourist track. A sleepy little backwater that was part of the hippie trail in the 1960s. I doubt that much has changed since that time. Visitors are mostly young backpackers with a few people our age who seemed to be re-living their 1960s travels.

Accommodation was pretty basic; small wood-clad huts (a rustic version of caravan park cabins) nestled among orange trees. Breakfast and dinner were communal affairs that could be eaten at the tables or Turkish-style lounges set throughout the gardens. All very casual, relaxed and “cool man”. The only concession to the 21st. century was powerpoints liberally scattered about the place so that people could log on, plug in and recharge.

Our accommodation was one of a short series of similar “tree house” style places nestled along a dirt road, below cliffs, beside a riverbed. A short walk alongside the river led to a quiet, idyllic (but pebbly) Mediterranean beach that was accessed via 2nd. Century Roman ruins. Not a bad way to get to the beach I must say. We were free to explore the ruins that went all the way to the sea. In some places the forest had overtaken sections of the ruins but a church and very impressive Roman temple were easily identifiable. Monumental tombs were set at the junction of the river and the sea. We decided this would not be a bad final resting place.

Guilet (wooden boat) cruises often stop in the area as this section of coastline is also very impressive when approached from the sea. We spent the day flopped on the beach, which was welcome after an overnight bus trip. The sun was warm but not hot (24-26oC), with a light, balmy breeze. Pretty much perfect really.

Brian and Sabina took a night-time excursion to Cirali, the next village along the coast. On the side of a mountain is the Chimaera, “a cluster of flames that blaze spontaneously from crevices on the rocky slopes of Mount Olympos” (Lonely Planet, 2011) – SACE folk note that the source has been acknowledged. The flames are produced from a build-up of gases below the surface and are said to look like the flames of hell. The trip was quite long, about 3 hours in total, with a fair bit of scrambling about by torchlight in the dark. Evidently Brian was about one foot width from going over a substantial drop at one point when the two of them strayed off the main path in the dark. I’m pretty glad I was not there to see that. Sabina and Brian said it was an interesting experience overall and I will try to put some of Sabs’ photos up if I can.

The one thing we all missed in Olympos was hearing the call to prayer in the mornings and throughout the day. We’ve become quite used to it and I guess the sound of chanting from the mosque is a subtle reminder that we are in a culture that is different to our own. Even while walking in the Rose Valley in Goreme, the sounds of the lunchtime call to prayer drifted into what was essentially a bush landscape – a pretty special moment really.

Next - a bus trip along the Turquoise Coast, as the Turkish Mediterranean is called, to Fethiye for a few days.

Posted by 50inturkey 07:23 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Walking on the moon

Tales from Goreme

semi-overcast 19 °C
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Cappadocia region of Turkey – True R2D2, Chewbacca and Obi-Wan Kenobi country that met emergent Christianity to unite against the invading hoards from the East to establish the cradle of civilisation. Absolutely mind-blowing stuff. The remoteness and barrenness of the country reminded us of Alice- on a grander scale but without the red earth (for those of you who can reference the Central Australian landscape – Western Macs in particular). Spectacular gorges, soaring canyons, fairy chimneys (naturally eroded rock formations) and table top mountains abound. Above ground, the rock formations became refuges developed by successive Christian communities from the 4th to 11th centuries. Churches, monasteries and schools were all developed within the lunar-like landscape. Underground, cities of up to 11 levels that could hide communities of 3,000 people for days at a time were prepared to protect these communities from Mongol, Roman and Persian invasions.

The landscape and the history are clearly the stand-out features of the region and made us feel like small specks in time and on the planet. The other standout for us is that amid this landscape people are working small plots of land, grapes and apricots mostly. Hence tractors, donkeys and horses in the main street are not uncommon. Sabina and I have commented that much of the physical work seems to be done by women. We have noted that there are often a lot of men (young and old) hanging around talking, drinking tea (few drink alcohol), playing backgammon etc. As rustic as this seems we can’t help but feel this is a bit of an imbalance when we see women toiling the fields/ kitchens etc. in heavy, modest clothing. We have come to the conclusion that the reason we don’t see this is Australia is because the same Aussie blokes are in the pubs and TABs.
Tourism is big business here, with many university graduates gravitating to the region to find work. There is considerable under-employment for young people in Turkey and tourism is often a first port of call for those starting out. Our high-camp hotel clerk spoke 7 languages and was biding his time waiting on government permission to teach Russian.

We were very lucky to have found ourselves a private guide who was able to give us at least some experiences “far from the madding crowd”. Mehmet, a 27 year old Economics graduate, provided us with 2 fabulous days of sights and experiences. We saw many of the main attractions, Goreme Open Air Museum, Derinkuyu underground city, trekking in the Ihlara Valley, the town of Avanos (famed for its ceramics – and yes we did buy!), Dervent Valley and Selime Monastary. But we also had special, intimate moments such as visiting in a local winery, stopping by the roadside to look in awe at Mt Hasan (extinct volcano – and yes Hassan we took photos and thought of you), watching a local woman roll this thinnest pastry I’ve ever seen to make homemade savoury pancakes at a wayside stall on a walking trail, lunching in reclined positions at an outdoor Turkish-style lounge pavilion that hung over a river and visiting one of the few inhabited private fairy chimney homes in Goreme.

The food in the Cappadocia region was fabulous. The local specialty is meat and vegetable casseroles that are cooked in clay pots. To eat the meal you smash open the clay pot. The casserole inside is hot, tender and filling. We became friendly with a family that ran a restaurant in Goreme and, once again, there were hugs and kisses when we left.

There were so many photogenic locations it’s hard to separate the best of them but hopefully the pictures do the area some justice. We were commenting last night that just when we think we’ve had a day that would be hard to top the next day presents us with an even more special adventure.

We are on an overnight bus to Olympos then on to Fethiye on the Mediterranean Coast. Looking forward to some warmer weather and a bit of beach life.

Posted by 50inturkey 07:06 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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