let’s go to that beautiful sea

aegina

The phrase “Greek Isles” summons up visions of an idyllic Neverland of ethereal sunsets, white-washed buildings, olive groves, turquoise water, and all the romance that comes from being shipwrecked on a remote island.  There are an astounding 3,000 such little Edens scattered across Greece’s corner of the Mediterranean, which means to each his own: everyone has their particular, or peculiar, favorite. The most famous are far afield – Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos, Corfu – but for the daytripper there are a few easy options close to Athens, too. The most popular excursion is one of those three-in-one boats, which stops off for about half an hour at each of three nearby islands. I wanted something a little more adventurous – and immersive. So, instead of going the package experience route, we decided to head off on our own via the fast ferry to the island of Aegina – without a map or an agenda and knowing little more than that it happens to be famous for its pistachios.

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live blog: be our guest

One of the curiosities in Lindos is the town’s pebbled – if somewhat tourist jammed – streets. (Be sure to time a visit early; by noon the crush of people becomes overwhelmingly claustrophobic in such narrow confines.) Shod in sneakers with little to no cushioning, my morning ramble feels strangely invigorating, like an acupressure session; my feet tingle as though the stony path has been designed to touch on certain pressure points and release rivers of energy – a pleasurably odd complement to the oppressive heat. In addition to the pavement, many individual doorways are fascinating, too: each adorned with a welcome mat mosaic of intricately patterned black and white pebbles.

 

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live blog: hitching a ride

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live blog: another acropolis

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live blog: but first ….

A pit stop at the ancient town of Lindos, on the southern coast of Rhodes opposite the Old Town. Once one of the most important cities in classical Greece, Lindos grew to prosperity under the Knights of St. John. So much of medieval Lindos has survived that the town has been declared a national landmark; the streets a maze of continuous buildings with ornate carvings and pebbled alleyways which windingly bring you – almost imperceptibly – to what I’m most excited to see: the ancient acropolis.

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live blog: homeward bound

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live blog: bang into bodrum

Situated at the end of a peninsula jutting into the Aegean, Bodrum, Turkey – home of the Greek historian Herodatus – is these days better known as a coastal holiday resort. In ancient times the town was called Halicarnassus – famous for the Mausoleum of Mausolos, one of the original seven wonders of the world. Destroyed by successive earthquakes, the Mausoleum today lies in ruins. Of interest however is the fortress of Bodrum Castle, which overlooks the harbor. Built by the same Knights who later fled to Malta via Rhodes, the castle has been turned into a museum of underwater archaeology, with a collection of amphoras, ancient glass, bronze, clay, and iron items recovered from ancient shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea. It’s also a great place to sip a Turkish coffee.

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live blog: setting an open course

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live blog: midnight at the oasis

The sun sets over the old town of Rhodes and the city lights up like an oasis in The Levant: palm trees, minarets, and medieval ruins all crowned by a crescent moon. There’s something mystical here. The island, though clearly Greek today, has been a crossroads for travelers and divergent civilizations over centuries. It’s made for a perfect launch point: tomorrow I’ll be sailing the Dodecanese for just over a week, zigzagging my way from the coast of Turkey to Santorini, Crete and a handful of lesser islands on a small sailing ship with Variety Cruises. Yet again, I’ve no idea what the internet situation will be, so postings may be sporadic.  Fear not, however; Odysseus will be making a full report as time – and technology – allows.

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live blog: knights of the rhodes table

The biggest medieval city in Europe, the picturesque old town of Rhodes is an unexpected delight. A rabbit’s warren of narrow streets and buildings of traditional architecture, much of the town as it appears today was built by the Knights of St. John at the end of the Byzantine era. Following the conquest of the Holy Land by Islamic forces, the crusading Knights retreated to Rhodes, over which they claimed sovereignty, fortifying the northern tip of the island with the castle, towers, bridges, and gates that still stand. The Knights would later move again, weathering a name change and establishing a more famous state on the island of Malta. What they left behind saw an invasion of the Turks, who built mosques, public baths and mansions for the new patrons, followed by Italian colonizers after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and British bombs during World War II. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, it’s a minor miracle so much of the town’s architecture has managed to survive 700 years of relentless give and take. For that, the flaneur in me was quite grateful this afternoon.

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live blog: shrimp saganaki

Surrounded by the lush gardens at the Sheraton Rhodes Resort, Mediterraneo showcases modern Mediterranean cuisine with a strong emphasis on seasonal local ingredients, like Memezeli salad – a traditional Greek salad of tomatoes, soft goat cheese, fresh onions, capers, barley rusks and garden basil – and Gemista, tomatoes and green peppers stuffed with aromatic rice, onions, and fresh herbs. Although I sat down to lunch craving an authentic platter of lamb gyros, I was ultimately swayed by Chef Patrick van Velzen’s take on shrimp saganaki: a dozen plump shrimp, pan-cooked with tomato, green peppers, ouzo and feta cheese. At long last I am starting to understand the appeal of shrimp!

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live blog: sounds of the sea

At last, a proper computer where I can jot down a few words:  I’ve arrived on the island of Rhodes and am happily ensconced at the Sheraton Rhodes Resort, the only internationally-managed hotel on the island. (Most of the accommodation in the Greek isles is still family-owned and run) My deepest desire on landing was a headlong plunge into the Aegean - and that’s exactly what I did. The beach is accessed through a vine-covered pergola, which leads under the road and out to a wide stretch of powdery sand, with the coast of Turkey in the foreground. The actual swimming part of the beach, however, is pure pebbles. Or rocks, more to the point, which have been tumbled to smoothness by the relentless crash of the waves. The water is a deep blue, almost iridescent, and warm as a bath. This is the northern, windward side of the island, so the surf is challenging, yet I am still surprised at the depth of clarity to the water, despite the churning. There is a musical element to my wading swim, too: the stones hurtle low toward the shore carried along by the force of water; when the tide pulls out they tumble back from whence they came, making the most pleasant of sounds in the process, like a rack of billiard balls coming into play, or the start of a game of skee-ball. It’s rhythmically sporadic, like wind chimes, making me eager to drift off to sleep tonight with the windows wide open.

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live blog: the colossus of ouzo

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live blog: bedtime stories

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live blog: arriving in rhodes

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