Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Rhodes to Ruin? / Going "Home" to Crete

Friday, July 08, 2011—Rhodes Town, Rhodes, Greece

I got into Rhodes around a quarter of eight last night. One of the rules I have while traveling is never to arrive in a new town at night, if it can at all be helped. It’s too disorienting and stressful, which are states that can easily lead to bad decision making. In this case that didn’t really happen to too great of an extent. However, I did allow something to happen I usually don’t let go down. For the first time on this trip I let myself be “captured” by one of those pension owners who wait at the dock when the boats come trying to pick up customers. Now these people aren’t necessarily bad or anything—just a touch aggressive for my tastes. Plus, I don’t like agreeing to stay at a place until I’ve seen it (I also don’t like that “hooked fish” feeling I get when they start talking to me). But in this case it was getting dark, I was tired, and I didn’t feeling like traipsing thru dark windy medieval alleys in search of a room.

So I let myself be corralled by the old lady whose place turned out to be a pretty good deal. It’s only thirty Euros a night, which is cheap for this town (especially since the room has its own bathroom and a refrigerator), and it’s in the Jewish Quarter, which is where I had hoped to be staying (it’s just off the main drag, but is relatively quiet, especially at night). The only problem, which I amazingly failed to notice when checking out the room, is that it and everything in it is permeated by the smell of cigarettes, which is pretty damn disgusting.

I did make one bad decision, though. By the time I got settled in here it was almost nine o’clock and I hadn’t eaten anything of any substance for about ten hours. So tied, hungry, and feeling pretty lost, I ended up eating at one of the tourist joints just down the road from my room. The food wasn’t bad or anything, but it wasn’t great and it was overpriced. Plus I had to listen to some really bad guitar-playing/singing duo who were doing songs by groups like REM, even though you could tell they had no clue of the meaning of the lyrics coming out of their mouths. Needless to say, this part of my evening was pretty painful. (It became even more painful when I realized this restaurant was only fifty feet from a very non-touristy place called Mandala, which was highly recommended by Lonely Planet and turned out to be even better they said it was—I had lunch there today.)

Rhodes Town itself is turning out to be everything I feared it would be: a touristy nightmare of staggering proportions. The medieval streets and crumbling fortress walls that this place is renowned for are fascinating. But that almost doesn’t matter because the place is so plowed under by tourists and endless tourist shops selling the same stuff and mediocre, interchangeable restaurants with annoying touts out front trying to get you to go in—it’s like Hania times ten. Still, I tried to make the best of it and do the tourist thing, well, because there’s really nothing else to do here (except go to what has to be one of the most crowded beaches in the world), and because there were some things I definitely wanted to see. So I went to the art museum, saw the Knights of St. John’s Castle, went to a famous mosque, etc. It was an OK day I guess—but a hot, crowded, and somewhat stressful one as well.

I did have one truly disappointing destination today and that was the mosque Lawrence Durrell lived in back in the 1940s. The tour books all mention it, but none say that it’s totally fenced off and you can’t go inside, that it’s a dilapidated wreck that’s only just now beginning to be refurbished. This really sucked because what I could see looked quite interesting (there was an old Muslim graveyard on the grounds that looked especially cool). Dear butt monkeys from Lonely Planet—what the fuck?

Speaking of Durrell, I was told there’d be decent bookstores in this town—but there aren’t any! I looked and asked around and everybody looked at me like I was crazy. So I’m still stuck with the bad SciFi I brought! A well-stocked Kindle is really looking like the way to go right now …

I did make a big decision today, which owes a bit, I suppose, to my experience on Rhodes. I’m scuttling the whole Dodecanese part of this trip and heading back to Crete. I simply don’t have the heart or the interest to expand my trip into these islands. There are several reasons for this decision. First off I don’t want to be a tourist flitting from place to place seeing things but not really experiencing them, which is what would happen if I kept heading north. I’m realizing that the Dodecanese are simply too big and far flung to travel thru the way I want to in the time I have left. Crete’s also too big to see in just a month. Since I’ve already devoted so much time to Crete, given the realities I’ve just discussed, there really isn’t any option but to head to that island. And again, there’s a book to be written, which I’ve said many times has to be a Crete book—and I don’t yet quite have what I need from there to write such a book. Plus, I just want to go back there. I already miss Crete, feel like I’m wasting my time searching up here for what I’ve already found there. Everyone has their special places in this world, places that speak to them. Crete’s such a place for me. It’s where I should be right now.

I’m not going straight back, though. I want to pick up my Crete travels right where they left off -- in Sitia. There’s no ferry heading there until Tuesday. There is one heading just to Karpathos, though, on Sunday morning. Now I didn’t have that great of an experience there, but as I was heading up to Rhodes the ferry I was on stopped at Diafani, a little port on the northern part of the island. The Lonely Planet guide didn’t make the place sound all that interesting, but it looked really cool from the boat, like a place that would be fun to explore, to relax in and hike out of. So I’m going to head over there on Sunday morning and then pick up the ferry to Sitia there on Tuesday.


When I was coming into Rhodes I noticed something very recognizable to a Southern Californian: smog; it was hanging over the city like a yellow-brown halo. A bad vide moment. An L.A. moment in Greece. I frown.

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