September 20, 2013

THE GREEK ISLANDS

Greece is a country with 1,400 islands, 227 of which are inhabited. We visited two of the largest. 

RHODES


     I was standing in a narrow street in the city of Rhodes, my hair as wet as if I had just emerged from the swimming pool at our hotel. As water oozed from my pores and dripped down my sweaty face and back, gluing my clothes to my body, I noticed a shop filled with silvery fur coats. “Who could even think of a fur coat in this weather?” I wondered. And then I thought, “Would the shop owner even let someone as sweaty as I am try on a fur coat?”


Hospitalier's Courtyard
     The incongruity struck me until I realized that I was in a different part of the old city of Rhodes. We had entered by the gate from downtown and run a gauntlet of tiny shops filled with cheap merchandise: little plaster white and blue Greek houses, key chains, stuffed donkeys, wooden spoons, t-shirts. The only reason to purchase them was to have a souvenir emblazoned with the name of Rhodes or Greece to display or wear back home. Now we were in the middle of a wider street, one filled with international brand name shops. A bit further on I realized that this section of town ended at a different gate, the one where the cruise ships disgorged their passengers. Did either of us see the real Rhodes?  

     Because of its prime location in the Mediterranean Sea, Rhodes was long coveted by different rulers
Valley of the Butterflies
and the ruins on the island reflect that confused ethnicity. The loveliest place on the island, however, is the Valley of the Butterflies. It is a natural forest and the temperature is mercifully cooler than the rest of the island. Water flows, trickling in creeks, falling over rocks, even in the summer when the rest of the island is dry. The “butterflies” are actually Jersey tiger moths but they congregate here each summer just as the monarch butterflies do in Mexico. When one flew into my nose I almost squealed; but all the other visitors were whispering or silent, so as not to disturb the wildlife, and I simply giggled. 


CRETE


     In my previous blog, I asked what the role of women had been in societies with a predominant goddess. According to our guide at Knossos, in the Minoan society, from the 27th to the 15th centuries BC, women were treated equally with men and worked alongside them. Makes one ponder greater theological questions.

     Crete, like the rest of Greece, cannot decide which world it wants to inhabit: the past or the modern, the developed or third world, the industrious or the laissez-faire. The country is building wonderful new museums but, as a whole, does not seem to appreciate its historical past, unless it will bring in a tourist dollar.

Aegean Sea - Actual Colors
     One of our bus trips seemed typical. We left our hotel in Heraklion to travel by bus to
Agios Nikolaos, a distance of about 35 miles. During the hour and a half trip that made multiple stops at every little town along the way, three different ticket takers inspected our tickets. Two rode the bus at once. Were they dueling ticket takers or is this part of Greece’s Full Employment Act (if there were such a thing)?

     Our hotel had a gourmet restaurant that delighted our palettes so much we ate there regularly. One night, however, we went out for a typical Cretan meal. This apparently must include baby something (goat, pig, or lamb) with celery root and barley bread. I ate pasta with “rooster.” All I can say is, “It tasted like chicken.” For dessert fruit is served with a soft cheese with honey and nuts floating on top. At every meal the waiter gave us something complimentary, an extra glass of wine, a dessert, an appetizer, or a lemoncello.

Window in Venetian Fort
     While here we began to make the transition from Greece to Italy by visiting Rethymno. It has a Venetian fort but, unlike other preserved sites in the Mediterranean, it was more than just a fort. The enclosed walls were city-size and efforts are underway to restore much of it. It was the best example of Venetian naval superiority we have seen yet and put my mind toward moving on to Venice.

But, first the Amalfi Coast.

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