On the island of knights

8 to 11 March 2018

After our stressful arrival into Mandraki harbour the anchor held and we happily spent a few days on this fascinating island full of history at every turn. After Kasos and Tilos, Rhodes Town felt like a big city. It even had a Marks and Spencer!

On our first exploration of the old town we found ourselves trapped in the huge moat outside the great walls. We walked on and on and found no evidence of a way into the town or indeed a way out. It was like a twilight zone out of which we might never emerge!

Eventually we followed a couple walking their dogs up a very hidden staircase and into a warren of deserted vaulted streets. We later discovered that this was the Jewish Quarter. We had lost all sense of which direction we were heading and just followed our noses passed mosques and fountains and great stone buildings. We loved the old town and would return several times to enjoy getting thoroughly lost. The tourist shops were firmly shut although some shopkeepers were starting to dust the shelves down in preparation for opening sometime soon. Something told us that it would be a completely different place in the heat of the summer when the crowds descended.

But until then we had the old town almost entirely to ourselves. In order to make sense of where we were we started at the Archeological Museum, housed in the Hospital of the Knights, itself a fascinating 14th century building.

This ancient building housing ancient objects from all over the island with its shady gardens uncovered treasures in such an evocative setting. There were plenty of lions, a symbol of the Knights Templar.

Reconstructed mosaic floors told the stories of Eros riding a dolphin and again of Europa’s abduction by Zeus. There was even a duck motif. A pintail perhaps?

Sculpture and pottery filled the galleried second floor of the museum.

Stefan’s interest was peaked by the story of the knights from all over Europe and what brought them together on Rhodes. Here the tombstones of Renier Pot, a French knight and Thomas Newport, an English knight from the 15th century.

At this point, for possibly the first time ever, Stefan voluntarily suggested that we visit the Palace of the Grand Masters to learn more about them. Walking up to it via the Avenue of the Knights we passed the inns of each of the different orders of knights – the French, English, Spanish and Italian – some of the most famous military Christian orders.

Largely rebuilt more recently by the Italian rulers of Rhodes (and ultimately designated as a holiday home for Mussolini) the Palace was a series of vast rooms given warmth by checkered honey coloured stone walls. Unfortunately for Stefan the exhibition about the history of the knights was closed and we were left to google it all later!

In the afternoon we hiked up Monte Smith, a hill named for the English Admiral Sydney Smith who watched for Napoleon from the heights. An example of the casual nonchalance of Greece’s relationship with its antiquities, in an area of modern housing and an uninspiring park, we found a 2nd century stadium complete with tiered seating for spectators. For us it was much more impressive than the stadium at Olympia, helped by watching some 21st century women run laps of it to Stefan’s best athletics commentary. Above the stadium, a scramble up some enormous stone slabs, was the Acropolis wrapped in scaffolding. An impressive sight all the same with views down to both sides of the island.

We hired a car for a day to take in more of the island and drove across the middle of it through pine forested mountains and back to the eastern coast to Lindos, a Doric settlement with a wonderful harbour and mazelike streets. We regretted that the weather hadn’t been right for us to anchor there. It would have been a great place to spend a few days. We decided against the climb up to the Byzantine castle high above the town opting instead for a walk along the beach to enjoy the view across to it.

On our way back north we shopped off in the busy town of Arhangelos, overlooked by another cliff top castle. We had a snoop around the whitewashed streets of the old town and found ourselves in the churchyard of a pastel pretty church.

Back on the main streets stopped for what might be our last gyros before we leave Greece. I am anathema to the Greeks with my requests for coffee without caffeine and gyros without meat but occasionally we found someone who understands “vegetarian”! We also stocked up on oranges, honey and marmalade from road side stalls.

We loved our few days on Rhodes and could have lingered longer. But the Turkish coastline was so temptingly close and we were keen to get there. From the beach you could practically touch it!

Leaving Rhodes for a country outside the EU meant checking us and Pintail out of Greece, an administrative process that we had yet to experience in any EU country and knowing how Greece loves a bureaucratic process we feared might be challenging. We had also read that the officials in Rhodes were particularly officious! We also couldn’t get clear advice about which offices to visit first. Some said Port Police then immigration then customs. Some said customs then Port Police then immigration. None of this was helped by each office being 2km apart! Luckily that walk was a pretty one through the old town walls and we encountered none of the officiousness. Our attitude is smile and be nice and if necessary feign complete ignorance!

The woman in immigration was delightful and helped us prepare our formal crew list and stamped it in triplicate. The customs man efficiently issued us a sufficiently stamped scrap of paper. Only the Port Police were slightly concerned by the fact we hadn’t got a stamp from them when we arrived in Rhodes but eventually we exchanged the right formula of pieces of paper with stamps on top of stamps and several for luck and we were ready to leave for Turkey…

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