Rhodes is a part of the (Twelve) Dodecanese Islands. It boasts wonderful beaches, and great swimming. What intrigued us most was the Old Town. And it is a very “old town” dating back to 500 BC. I continually wondered how this area built 2500 years ago could be in such perfect condition and it was amazing that it has functioned during all this time with dwellings, shops, restaurants, museums, and places of worship.
Rhodes is the fourth largest of the Greek Islands and dates to 4000 BC. It is considered one of the great islands of the Mediterranean. Because of its unique location, it was essentially a bridge between Europe and the East and was in the center of Dodecanese trade, politics and culture. There is evidence of Romans, Crusaders, Turks, and Venetians in Temples, castles and fortresses left behind.
Our arrival by air brought us to Rhodes very differently than the arrival by ship (from which one immediately sees the Marina Gate), that my friends experienced, and it took me a little while to see what they raved about. We chose to take a taxi to our hotel. We did not take the local bus. A colleague did and reported it was very inexpensive and took half an hour, the same as our taxi. No need to rent a car for our short visit, we thought. As the taxi took us along an unremarkable road, I kept wondering what it was about Rhodes that my two friends simply loved.
Arriving at our hotel , we found it to be very well located with a gorgeous view of the ocean, near shops and restaurants, and the new Turkish Market. We learned later that it was also an easy walk to the Old Town. Our first evening we wandered around the shore observed people swimming and enjoying the beach. We walked along the edge of restaurants and shops and when we decided to have dinner, we surprised to be offered crepes and then we surprised that they were delicious. Continuing to explore, we noticed an opening into what looked like a walled city. It was amazingly well preserved. This was the moat and it was huge. There was a castle looming above, and it felt unreal. We walked a long way along the outer walls and could not see where to enter the city. Being tired, we opted to try again the next day.
So the next morning, energized by a wonderful breakfast that came with our room, we continued the search for the Rhodes my friends loved. I inquired at the Tourist Information Office about what I could see so that when I left Rhodes, I would love it. The unflustered woman was very helpful, telling us where to find the major attractions both in and out of the Old Town, including the City Sightseeing Train.
Following the excellent map provided by the Tourist Information Office we found our way to an open gate and into one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. In 1988 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has been an actively functioning town with hotels, restaurants, museums, houses of worship, shops and more since 500 BC. Motorized vehicles are prohibited, and walking in these streets feels like a step back in time.
A visit to the Archeological Museum was impressive. The exhibits were beautiful and we noted the pottery reflected the influence of Athens. We enjoyed visiting the Palace of the Grand Masters, noting the Mosque of Süleyman, exploring the old Jewish section, observing the shops, restaurants and hotels. After a full day here, I did agree with my friends that this was a unique, beautiful and magical place.
We were advised to take the little red City Sightseeing Train run by the city to see the main sights in the city. We boarded the bus made to look like a train and had a 45 minute tour outside the walled city, past the beautiful Marina Gate to Old Town, to the remains of the Acropolis of Rhodes, then to a high point from which we had a good view of the new city that wraps around the walled city and then through the new city noting the casino, and government buildings.
At the end of the tour we were shown the site where the Great Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, once stood. Currently, two bronze deer statues mark the spot. It is said that the 110 foot statue stood for one half century until an earthquake in 227 BC razed the city. The remains were left in place for eight centuries until they were allegedly sold as scrap metal and taken to Syria by a caravan of 900 camels.
We had dinner with friends at the Best Western Hotel where they were staying. We chose to eat there with them because their mobility was limited. This was our introduction to hotel buffets. It was reasonably priced and the food was plentiful, varied and delicious. But it wasn’t the best meal we had on Rhodes.
The very best meal of our entire trip was in the Old Town at a restaurant we would never have found on our own. Several members of the conference returned to Rhodes from Symi and among the group was a Greek couple that knew Rhodes well. They lead us through the Old Town to a quiet, unassuming restaurant, tucked away from the glitz of other restaurants but just had wonderful food. Wandering through the lanes and alleys of the Old Town, we finally reached the Sea Star, a fish restaurant, which has been there since 1970.
Our group delighted in the varied flavors, textures and types of foods presented. I was thrilled with the first group of foods that were mostly vegetarian. The green salad was outstanding and was followed by several dishes that were not familiar to most of our group. These dishes delighted me and included; Split pea puree, Wild greens, Feta Saganaki. There was also unusual substantial bread that had corn, whole wheat and stone ground wheat, which tasted so good.
Several of the kinds of dishes served during our trip, followed. Seafood eaters raved. Tasting the octopus, I heard- “Remarkable flavor, a sense of the sea, firm and tender”. Next came the Calamari and I heard-“Melts in your mouth, very soft, small, boiled in olive oil”. When the mussels were presented, I heard, “Delicious, succulent, tender, wine sauce with garlic is fabulous”. The sea urchin dip had mixed reviews.
There was one more surprise. For dessert, we were presented with the best Greek yogurt of the trip with a fruit. We could not guess what it was but when told it was tomato confit, we were amazed. It was so good and such a lovely, memorable experience. How lucky we were to be there with friends who knew Rhodes well.
Our time did not allow the opportunity to see more of the many and varied things Rhodes has to offer. To find out more, go to: http://www.ando.gr/eot
Photos: Leon Keer