All Rhodes lead to Cairo

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

He Said:

Rhodes, like Bulgaria and Romania, was not originally included in our itinerary. Before this Lebanon/Hezbollah/Israel situation occurred we had planned on flying into Istanbul, then traveling overland through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan before finally ending up in Cairo where we are meeting up with Katie's parents on September 1. Needless to say, we decided not to chance the Middle East during this flare up and instead head to "lower risk" areas. So we decided to spend some time in neighboring Bulgaria and Romania, then head back into Turkey before flying to Cairo. Rhodes is a Greek island that is only a 45-minute ferry ride from Turkey. With easy access from Turkey, nice beaches, tons to see and do, and a relatively cheap one-way fare to Cairo from there, the situation resolved itself!

So after taking a bus from Bodrum to Marmaris, we boarded a ferry to Rhodes. Much to Katie's delight, it was a high-speed ferry (see her Istanbul entry on slow ferries) but there were pretty rough seas so she was a bit green at the gills, but at least the boat was non-smoking! I guess we got out of Marmaris just in time. It turns out that a Kurdish pro-independence group set off a number of bombs around Turkey that day and some blew up in Marmaris just a few hours after we departed, injuring about twenty people with shrapnel. Hmmmm...and we thought Turkey would be one of the lowest-risk countries we visited; maybe we should have spent time in Syria after all. For months before we departed friends and family expressed grave concern about our safety when they found out all the places we were visiting in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Ironically, the foiled terrorist plot against the Hoboken PATH subway train two months ago and the London flight liquid explosive bombing plots are starting to convince us that we should be more concerned about your safety than you about ours. Nowhere is 100% safe...

Enough sermonizing and back to the trip. First, the obligatory history blurbs: Rhodes recorded history began as part of the Athenian alliance (what we call Ancient Greece.) Later it became dominated by Macedonia under Alexander the Great until the Rhodians eventually defeated his successor to become independent. To celebrate the victory in 323 BC they built a large bronze statue at the entrance to their harbor that was known as the Colossus (which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.) Unfortunately the Colossus collapsed from an earthquake less than 100 years later and no trace of its existence remains today. Rhodes in the intervening centuries came under control of the Romans, Persians, and Saracens. In the 1300's the Knights of St. John (based in Malta among other places!), took over and controlled it for over 200 years. During their occupation they radically fortified and build much of the city that remains today. I won't go into the extended saga of what happened in the later centuries, leave it to say that Rhodes officially became part of Greece again in 1948.

The old town of Rhodes is stunning and in near pristine condition. I've visited lots of castles and walled cities around Europe and the Mediterranean and I have never seen anything like this. Leave it to say that if you ever wanted to understand how castles and medieval fortifications were built, this is THE place to go to. The city defenses are unbelievable, surrounding the entire old town is a double moat, double thirty to fifty-foot high city walls, triple door fortified gates with drawbridges and surrounded by towers, as well as about every kind of protection known in the medieval world. It is amazes me that the city actually fell to the Ottomans after a six-month siege in 1522. We have walked the two-mile path through the moat and from that vantage point; the cities' defenses look invincible. Today the siege continues, but this time it is not from the Turks but from the mostly European hoards visiting on package tours and going ashore from cruise ships. Thankfully there are lots of atmospheric back alleyways, squares, and courtyards to escape the crowds, and the salesmanship is quite low-key (except for restaurateurs, who will do about anything to get you to dine in their establishment!)

We are staying in a small guesthouse within the walls of the old city and have spent our days thus far venturing to beaches in nearby towns. Tan and read during the day, walk the old town in the afternoons and evenings. Being back in the Euro zone we had a bit of sticker shock after coming from relatively cheap places like Turkey and Eastern Europe. So in trying to stay on budget we've been dining accordingly. Let's just say that we are becoming quite the connoisseurs of the gyro and souvlaki cafes in Rhodes, and they serve up a tasty pita sandwich here!

So tomorrow we will spend another day at the beach before flying the red-eye to Cairo to see all the wonderful sites of modern and ancient Egypt before venturing on to eastern and southern Africa. I guess Rhodes will be the last time I can drink water straight from the tap for the rest of this year!

She Said:

Spending time in Greece feels almost like being at home in the US. The more similar the people, culture, customs, and menus are, as well as the number English signs and people speaking English, the easier it is to "forget" that we are traveling (except for the fact that we have to keep packing our stuff). Last summer, we took a trip to the Greek island of Santorini, and I remember thinking how different the whole experience was. This time around, I seem to be focusing on the similarities rather than the differences and taking comfort in them. For example, people seem to wait in line. Hooray! People also wait their turn to get off the bus instead of all trying to get off at the exact same time. Crosswalks actually mean, "please cross here and you probably won't get hit." You can pretty much walk up to any local and they speak some English and are happy to help you find your way (no more charades!). We actually had a soda with ice in it - without asking or worrying about the water that made up the cube. And best of all, things pretty much run on posted schedules that actually make sense... just like home! I'm trying to relish these last few moments of sanity before we head to Cairo and on to Southern Africa. I'm sure we will find many similarities there, but we will have to dig a little below the surface to recognize them.
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