On the left you see us in Rhodes, the background is the area where the Colossus of Rhodes was supposed to have stood. It's marked by two columns with a deer at the top. Here are two better photos of the spot, photo 1 and photo 2.
On September 12 we got up before dawn at 5:15 and checked out of our Parador in Ronda, Spain. We drove south through the mountains and arrived at the Malaga Airport around 7AM. It was a dark ride on twisting roads. The toll road along the coast cost over 6 Euro. We had arrived before the rental car desk opened so we just deposited our keys, as instructed, in the mail slot. You always feel like you shouldn't do this. Someone can say you never returned the car or drive it for a few days but we have never had a problem and we've done it several times. I guess you just have to learn to trust people, maybe we've been lucky. We had arrived at the airport early and when we checked in we were put on an earlier flight to Madrid. We had a long wait in Madrid so I tried one of the Internet machines to check my email. I had entered some email addresses on my Yahoo email and we sent email to a few friends to let them know where we were. You pay for a few minutes and the speed is around 56K. We flew Olympia Airlines from Madrid to Athens. The new airport north of Athens didn't look so new anymore, the rugs were dirty but at least they've banned smoking in most of the airport except in many of the restaurants and cafes. I was pretty impressed that there were very few people who disregarded the no smoking signs. In Madrid airport people smoked everywhere, including in the cafeteria food lines.
We arrived in Rhodes and hopped in a taxi to the Hotel Cava D'Oro in the old town area. The cab rates are pre-set and posted. We had a nice cab driver and we were tired. The cab fare was 13.50 Euro and I gave him 20. He was nice, pointed out some sights and drove us into the old town right up to the door of the hotel. I'm trying to make up for past problems with Greek taxi drivers so when I meet a nice, fair, driver, well.
We had booked with this hotel over the Internet because it is located in the old town and there are few hotels in the old town. It also had air-conditioning. We were very disappointed with the room, it was very small and no windows and right next to the breakfast area. It cost 90 Euro per night. Our bathroom in Ronda at the Parador had been twice this size. I told the owner that we were not satisfied with the room and she said that was all she had. I never unpacked. We were so tired that we immediately fell asleep and both slept like rocks. The next morning we ate breakfast, it was a very good buffet with good coffee, and then we prepared to leave. We informed the lady, Bridgid, that we were not satisfied and would be leaving. She was most gracious and showed us another room but it too was small but this room was on the first floor (USA second floor). She said she could recommend some hotels in the new town area that had larger rooms and she could call us a taxi. We realized that this old building couldn't possibly have any large rooms as it was several hundred years old. Bridgid convinced us to stay. Later, we talked to another couple who had the same problem, they too had arrived very late and had been put into a small room and when they complained, were put into a different room for the rest of their stay. I believe this may be the result of arriving very late, early arrivals are able to turn down a room and choose another, and then those arriving later have to settle. If you can't arrive early, then complain.
We had a very good time at this hotel, they were friendly and helpful, I would stay here again.
We set out to explore the town by walking along the harbor, stopped to see where the Colossus of Rhodes was supposed to have stood, saw many cruise ships and found some markets. Rhodes Old Town was fantastic and filled with shops and tavernas. Probably one of the best areas I have been in for tavernas and shopping. It was also filled with passengers from the cruise ships but this thinned out as the day went on and the evenings were much less crowded. The sun was very hot and Christine stopped and bought a hat. Here are some photos of the market areas:
Outside the restaurants and tavernas are men trying to entice you to sit down. Like most tavernas in Greece you can sit down for a drink, a drink of water or a meal. They just want you to sit down so the place looks popular and other people come in. We met this one man, Mike, in front of the Everest Grill. We had already eaten while we walked around (I had some slouvaki and Christine had some toast) but Mike was nice and we stopped to talk. I asked Mike about the lamb on the spit. He said it was spiced and immediately cut off a piece for me. It was good and we assured him we would be back for dinner. The dinners we so good at the Everest Grill we ate there 3 nights. Christine had fish all three nights and said it was the best she had eaten in a long time. We met and talked to people each night and would recommend the place.
We continued to walk in the heat and visited a few "ruins" like an old Arab library and the fortress. Then we walked to the beach which was 15 minutes away. This was near the "new" area with all the new hotels, discos, etc. but the water was great. After a good swim we went back to our room, had a good shower and the air-conditioning was a welcome relief. Out for the evening we first stopped at local bar for our first drink and later stopped at a bar in the market area to watch people. You have to be a little careful, even though the drinks are cheap, some are big unless you are careful. At the place in the market where we sat and watched people, the glasses were 375 ml, one-half a bottle. We were careful from then on to order the smaller glasses.
We had told Mike at the Everest, we would be back and when we showed up, it was like we were old friends, they couldn't have been nicer and gave us a nice table. I know it's a business but they sure know how to make you feel welcome at a Greek taverna. We started talking to a young Turkish couple at the next table, they were on their honeymoon.
Back at the hotel, Christine asked for a blanket and Bridgid laughed until Christine told her how I liked to keep the room very cold Then, in our room, the owner came to the door with some special grapes from his parent's as a gesture of hospitality. As I said, we were glad we stayed.
The next day we met Walter and Gretchen from Park Forest, Illinois. They, too, were on an extended holiday and Walter was a retired history teacher. We saw them several times over the next few days and Walter was a real asset. He was able to explain many of the questions we had about Rhodes and the medieval lifestyle. It was like having your own private guide. They had bought tickets the day before to see the Palace of the Knights only to have the place close a few minutes after they entered. When they complained they were told to come back the next day and they would not be charged. Here is Christine with Walter and Gretchen at the Palace of the Knights having a drink.
We visited the Palace of the Knights (6 Euro) and then went for a walk "on the wall". The wall can be walked on Tuesdays and Saturday. The entrance is open from 2:30 to 3 PM and you walk one way. It's a great walk and the exit was near our hotel, which is just inside the wall. Another trip to the beach, the water is very refreshing. Here are some photos from the Palace of the Knights and the walk on the wall.
We had dinner again at the Everest, Christine had fish and I had roasted chicken. There were lots of people just out walking, the woman were dressed up but the men were not. Earlier, we had stopped at a taverna for a drink and talked to one of the waiters who had pockets full of cash. Christine joked he was like an ATM and he told us that he works hard and long hours but he could never own his own place as the businesses were very expensive on the island.
We got up early this morning, the hotel had arranged for a rental car for us and it was delivered promptly at 9:30. It probably cost a little more than we could have gotten at a car rental desk but the hotel took care of everything and they delivered the car to the hotel and we left it in front of the hotel when we returned. We left the car key at the front desk. We drove along the coast to Lindos. We parked and walked through the town, by the Roman Amphitheater, and up to the castle ruins overlooking the town. It was really hot at the castle, how did anyone build these places, how did they get anything up to the top? Walter said it was slaves. I think I would have lasted less than a day as a slave. The streets of Lindos are very narrow and curved, like Paros, to confuse the pirates and other raiding parties. On the way down we found this café, the Captain's House Bar, that had a very ornate carving on the building. We stopped for a drink and some pictures. Later, Christine found some shopping and we found a small beach where we swam to cool off. We drove across the hills to the western side of the island and drove back to town after stopping at a small café for coffee. Christine was the only woman among about 77 local men that were playing backgammon at "warp speed". Everyone asks us where we are from.
We stopped at the Rhodes Acropolis but it was just so-so. After we freshened up in our room we went to a new bar for our first drink of the evening where they put grapes in our glass and gave us apple slices...but it cost 7 Euro for 2 glasses. Back at the Everest Grill we sat next to two little girls (Emma and Sophie) and their mother who had flown in from a nearby island to visit the hairdresser and to shop. There was a guitar player and I gave the little girls some coins to give the entertainer but they decided to hold some back and keep them! We also met some English couples, Neil, Margaret, Joe and Pat, from Newcastle and we sat with them for awhile. The people at the Everest Grill were quite nice. Here is a photo of us at the Everest Grill and another photo with the Turkish couple on their honeymoon with Mike from the Everest Grill.
Christine had found an ice cream stand that had chocolate and orange ice cream so we stopped each night before we returned to our room. They had quite a few flavors to choose from and they were displayed in a glass freezer but you had to ask for the orange ice cream. They had that in the back freezer.
The next say we checked out of the hotel and left our bags. Checking out early allows the hotel to clean your room for the next guest so most places will gladly store your bags for free while you sightsee. We had a late flight so we walked around the old town. It was windy but very hot. We explored an area which was pretty much tourist free and stopped at a shady café to write out some postcards and this diary. Back at the hotel we collected our bags and the hotel staff called a taxi for us. We had a flight to Iraklion, Crete at 1745. We were booked into the Fortezza Hotel in Rethymnon, Crete and had planned to take a bus into Iraklion and then another bus to Rethymnon. If we were lucky we would arrive in Rethymnon's bus station at around 10PM. We saw the taxi stand and they had prices for all destinations posted. It was 43 Euro to Rethymnon, not bad and no transfers. I asked if any of the drivers wanted to go to Rethymnon and a young driver asked if we were going to the resort area east of Rethymnon or into the old town area and I told him the old town. He said it would be 48 Euro, 5 extra didn't seem like much more but I had noticed he was smoking so I said "50 Euro and no smoking." He smiled and said okay and put our bags into his very nice air conditioned Mercedes taxi. We got in and he drove over to a kiosk and asked if we wanted any water, we said no but he bought us each a bottle anyway and we were glad he did. He was a good driver and we got to Rethymnon in an hour. The one way street directions had been changed and he was not familiar with the town so we had hard time getting to the hotel. Finally, I knew we were only one block from the hotel so I told him to let us out and we would walk. Rethymnon is very crowded in the old town at night and many streets are closed to traffic. I gave him 60 Euro and he said no, we had agreed on 50, but I told him thanks and we left.
At the Fortezza we were welcomed and they gave us our old room, a two room suite with two balconies overlooking the pool. With breakfast it was about 70 Euro per night. A quick shower and we went out. A good shower is very important in Crete as it is very hot and you may take several per day. First, we went to the Castro Bar on the seafront where were normally watch the boat leave for Athens every night at 8PM. It had already left but we could see it on the horizon. After a drink and some snacks we walked into the old town area and selected a restaurant under one of the Turkish Minurets, the Minares Restaurant. There are so many restaurants, cafes, etc, in Rethymnon. Rethymnon is a great place to shop, just like Rhodes.
September 17, Thursday, we looked for a laundry and dropped off our clothes, they did it for you, 6.50 Euro per load. We then went to the ferry office and purchased our tickets for Athens, a double outside cabin for two with shower and toilet for 121 Euro. This was pretty good because you got a nice bed and you still get to Athens (Pireaus Port). We went on Anek lines. They have two boats that go back and forth to Pireaus both leaving at 8PM, passing in the night and arriving at around 6AM. You don't need a cabin as there are plenty of seats on deck, in lounges, and some aircraft type seats too....but a cabin is nice.
Then we went to a local travel agent and booked a bus ride to the top of the Samaria Gorge for the next day. This cost 24 Euro each and they don't tell you but on the bus they collect another fee for the Gorge and the boat ride, which was 7.90 Euro. The Samaria Gorge is a National Park.
We stopped at an Internet café. We had also stopped in Rhodes and they were nice in Rhodes because they were air-conditioned and it was real hot there. We relaxed for the afternoon around the pool, played some ping-pong and had a drink on our balcony.
We watched the ferry sail over a bottle of wine and some snacks. We usually make up corny poems about ships on the sea, specks of light, etc. We're really quite good after a few drinks Later, we chose a new restaurant by the harbor.. It was a disappointment. We had a favorite restaurant only a hundred feet away but we wanted to be different. Sometimes you just want to try something different and sometimes you shouldn't.
Up at 5AM, it's amazing the people out at this hour. Some of the trendier disco bars had just closed. We found a coffee shop and walked over to our meeting point, the Odion Hotel where we met two English girls, Gwen and Julie, who were also making the Samaria Gorge Walk. The bus picks up people along it's route to Xyloskalo near the village of Omalos at about a mile up in the mountains where you start the walk. You walk 18 kilometers to the Libyan Sea and the village of Agia Roumeli. Here, you can swim in the sea and eat at the tavernas until a boat takes you down the coast to Hora Sfakion where you meet your bus and it drops you off where you were picked up. It took over an hour to get to Omalos where stopped for a toilet and coffee break. When the bus stops, go straight to the toilet as the lines get very long, many buses stop here on the way to the Gorge. The bus ride makes some people sick as it is a very small road and it twists and turns like you won't believe.
We started our walk downhill a path of rocky steps a few minutes after 8 AM. People quickly string out and the younger people from our bus all passed us up rather quickly. You have to keep your eyes down as there are boulders and rocks under your feet. If you want to take a photo, you have to stop. We carried food and water and it was cool at the start. The gorge is beautiful with steep canyon walls and very large boulders. We kept pushing along and only stopped to take a drink and for 10 minutes to eat. We didn't want to stiffen up. It is definitely a hard walk, not one I would do again real soon. The last half-hour was out in the sun and it was around 12:30, so it was hot. By the way, we passed all those young rabbits along the trail and finished in less than 5 hours (by just a few minutes). We were sitting at a the Taverna Samaria after having a swim when those young people from our bus came into Agia Roumeli. Later, on the bus they were telling each other how long it took them for the walk and most said they did it in less than 5 hours. I don't think so!
The beach at Agia Roumeli is clean, with black sand and very refreshing. The tavernas are good quality with reasonable prices considering everything comes by boat. The ferry arrived and most people took a nap on the boat trip to Hora Sfakion. I was surprised that there was no smoking in the inside cabin of the boat. Another trip by bus up winding roads to the top of the mountains and then down again. Our driver decided to pass the bus in front!
Here are some photos we took during the 18 kilometer walk. We had talked about taking this walk for several years with our friends Jerry and Kathryn, maybe we should have talked more.
We got back to Rethymnon at 6:30 PM, quite a day. We showered, I pulled down the shower curtain and broke a glass, the hotel cleaned it up while we were at dinner. Again, we watched from the Cafe Castro Bar as the evening ferry left for Athens and we ate at the Stavos Café on one of the side streets in the old town area. The owner was very friendly, and he was breaking in his son into the business. After some ice cream we were ready for bed. Another photo of the Cafe Castro Bar which is on one side of a very busy street and the tables and chairs ar on the other side. You never know whether your waiter will arrive safely with your drinks.
Here are some photos of the harbor area in Rethymnon:
We had to get up, even though we couldn't walk, as the rental car was arriving at 10AM. We rented a car several times on this trip where we just arranged it through the hotel or a local travel agent. They deliver the car to the hotel and when you are finished, you leave the key at the hotel desk and the car in the hotel parking lot and they just pick it up, very convenient. It was cheaper to rent the car through the travel agency in Rethymnon than through the hotel in Rhodes. I'm sure the hotel in Rhodes gets a commission. The car in Rethymnon cost 35 Euro per day with air-conditioning.
We drove to Hania and then we weren't sure why we went. It's a lot like Rethymnon so we sat by the seafront, had some coffee at 6.50 Euro (expensive) stopped at an Internet café. Along the way back we stopped at a village (for lunch) we had seen on the bus from the gorge (Vresses) and then headed back to Rethymnon. That's one of the nice things about independent travel, you can go back to something that looks nice. Along the way we stopped at an empty beach and went swimming. The water was very nice and we stayed a long time until some other people showed up and it was too crowded so we left.
After cleaning up we headed for the Castro Bar to watch the ferry leave, talk to the waiter, George,and drink some wine. Later, we decided to eat at the harbor area at the Zefyros Taverna. We had eaten there on previous trips and it was very good. The Greek sign looks like this.The grilled octopus was very tender. We shared a Greek salad and we each had a sea breem. Christine was able to watch the moon over my shoulder and they bought a bowl of grapes with our check. The meal cost was 53 Euro.
We still had the rental car so we decided to go to Matala the next day. We should have planned on staying in Matala. Arriving in Matala we were immediately spotted by Ioannis Fassoulakis at the Lions Cafe. This is probably the only bar in the world where we are known by name. Ioannis greeted us by name, Sir John Vittoe and Mrs. Christine. We had something to drink, met Mike, the best taxi driver in Matala (maybe the only one too) and then started our walk over the hill to the Red Beach. Our legs were still hurting from the Samaria Gorge Walk but the Red Beach is worth it. You don't need to worry about a swim suit at the Red Beach. This is a view of Matala from the hill overlooking the Red beach.
When we got back to Matala we were again hot and sweaty so we went for a swim at the Matala beach (this is a panorama photo, it will open in a new window so scroll it horizontally to see the whole beach. before going back to the Lions Café to see Ioannis and his girlfriend, Kristine. Later, Christine pointed out to me that their names were the same as our but in a different language. Matala has many tavernas and good restaurants and nice reasonably prices rooms to rent. It's not that crowded and I highly recommend it if you are on Crete. If you're fit and want to walk over the hill, try the Red Beach.
Here is a view of the beach and Matala caves (another large photo to scroll that opens in another window from the Lions Cafe. Here is Ioannis and me, Kristine, Ioannis, Kristine, and me, Kristine, Christine and Ioannis, and all of us at the Lions Cafe. It's a great place to drink, watch the beach, watch the sunset and then you can go downstairs and eat some great fish in the restaurant.
We couldn't drink because of the drive back through the mountains so we decided to leave and go back to Rethymnon. On the way back we saw several old men on very small donkeys and women dressed in black. I guess widows dress in balck for the rest of their lives.
In Rethymnon we went back to the Castro Bar and then on to the Zefyros Restaurant for another great meal. We stayed at the restaurant and talked to an English couple from Chester, Peter and Ann. Every night we stopped at the same kiosk for an ice cream bar and then went for a stroll. After awhile the waiters at the tavernas would greet us and comment on our ice cream. It's really a good feeling to be sort of "known" in a foreign land.
We checked out of the Fortezza after breakfast and asked if we could leave our luggage since we couldn't board the ferry until early evening. They said sure and said we were welcome to use the pool and showers during the day if we wanted to. We've stayed at the Fortezza Hotel several times and it is worth it. It's right in the old town, near the harbor, air conditioned, really nice pool, and quiet. We paid 70 Euro for a two room suite with breakfast for two.
Later, we stopped for a glass of wine near the Rimondi Fountain and just watched people. At one point we had a great view as two tour groups came towards the fountain from opposite directions. We still refer to this as "when tour groups collide".
We weren't sure what would be available on the ferry so we bought some wine, meat, cheese and bread for our dinner. This was unnecessary as there were plenty of places to eat on the ferry and the food looked good and the prices were good too.
At 7PM we boarded the ferry, were shown to our cabin and then we went on deck to watch everyone else board and to view the city of Rethymnon as the sun set. In our cabin the steward had placed two very big and ripe peaches and some chocolates. The cabin was air conditioned, clean, with two twin beds, a toilet and shower, and two portholes. There was also some silverware and dishes. They gave us a key and kept my passport which they said they would return when we left the key.
On deck we watched big trucks back into the cargo area, people were going from everywhere, cars, trucks with produce, it was quite a sight, a lot of excitement. Promptly at 8PM the cargo gate started up and the ferry started to move. A few people were still hurrying to get on. There was a full moon and the sea was like glass, no clouds, a very smooth crossing. We brought our meal on deck and ate as we watched Rethymnon and the Castro Bar disappear. We bought ice cream bars and went for a walk around the ferry before retiring to bed. We slept well.
Sunday, September 22, came quickly and we were in Pireaus Port. It was still dark out. A quick shower and we were off to catch the airport bus. We had considered taking the Metro but the bus went directly to the new airport with no changes. We had to walk about a half mile to catch the bus so we were thankful for our wheeled luggage. We passed the Metro Terminal and almost didn't notice it. You'd think they would put up a big sign. The bus was full and it took one hour to get to the airport but it was Sunday morning and the roads were empty. It cost us each 2.90 Euro.
At the airport we found a cart trolley because we had to carry our luggage, it was too early to check in. We found a self service restaurant and bought 2 coffees (which were awful) and 2 croissants which cost 10.10 Euro, what a rip off. Everyone had a trolley filled with luggage and it was impossible to get to the back No Smoking section. The airport is no smoking except in the restaurants and cafes and then they usually have a No Smoking section but it's in the back and you can't get to it with a trolley and it you do, you can't breath. We decided to go to McDonalds on the second level. Here they had windows, it was sunny, clean and good Bunn-O-Matic coffee........and No Smoking. There were still a couple of people smoking but not too many. We arrived in Rome and had trouble finding where to pick up the Renault we had leased. This was partially my fault as the instructions did say where to go if no one met your plane. The clerk at the desk was on the phone and said she would call the Renault company for me. She forgot and after 30 minutes I reminded her. We waited 90 minutes before the car arrived and the agent apologized, said he had not been told the flight we were to be on. We did the Renault lease again at Christmas (2002) and made sure the incoming flight was on the paper work and we were met timely.
It's sort of strange meeting someone in a snack shop, signing a bunch of papers and then getting the keys for a new car. It was easier than renting. The agent made sure I knew it had very little gas and where I could buy some. We were off to the Castle Montgualandro on the border of Tuscany and Umbria.
I've leased a car twice from Renault now and if you want to have a new car, with zero deductible insurance, and you need the car for at least 17 days and not more than 180, this is the way to go. The car is registered in your name, it's brand new, you can choose an automatic with air conditioning, whatever. You can drop it off and pick it up almost anywhere (there is a charge for locations outside France), you have trip interruption insurance, zero deductible collision damage coverage, liability coverage. The car is brand new. We are doing the same thing in September 2003. I highly recommend it. The main cost is in the first 17 days and it only cost us 18 Euro per day after that. Christine wanted to drive an automatic and automatics cost a lot to rent. This was much better. We got a Renault Clio. You must be from outside the European Union to avail yourself of this bargain.
If you are driving clockwise around Roma, please remember, exits 9 and 10 are combined so when you see 9, get off if you want exit 10 for Firenze. On the road to Firenze we zipped along at 120 kilometers per hour when suddenly all traffic stopped and we sat there for one hour. People got out and talked, there was even a water fight. We figured it was an accident as we found out later that the police just stop traffic when there is an accident and don't let anyone drive through until they clean it up.
That's all for now, more to come as we explore Umbria, Lake Transimeno, Cortona, Tuscany, the Cinque Terre, Provence, France, Normandy, Honfeur, Bayeaux and Bruges, Belgium.
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