Greek Island Hopping
Santorini and Rhodes
by Linda Coffman
Santorini - June 13th
Spectacular and mysterious in the early morning
light... the world's largest caldera loomed before us. R1 slipped
silently through the watery sunlight, approaching what legend
suggests is the Lost Continent of Atlantis. Waves of visitors are
drawn to this beautiful and arid island by the legend, the
scenery, the resorts and beaches, and most significantly, to see
the ancient Minoan city at Akrotiri.
Our arrival was punctuated by the
tenders waiting to take us ashore. Curious, I thought... the
jagged cliffs are covered with snow. Nearing the port of Athinios, the dusting of white became recognizable as the
whitewashed buildings so typically identified with Greek isles.
Unfortunately, our day in Santorini
coincided with European Union elections and Akrotiri was closed
to the public. It was a major disappointment--our peek at the
Santorini frescoes in Athens' National Archaeological Museum
whetted my appetite for a tour through this Pompeiian-like site.
Destroyed in 1522 BC by the eruption of the volcano Thera, the
city's two and three story building were perfectly preserved
beneath the lava and ash. Since excavation began in 1967,
Akrotiri has been regarded by archeologists as one of the world's
most significant sites. Alas, we weren't able to view the remains
of this advanced civilization.
Instead, we boarded buses at Athinios and made
our way to the picturesque village of Oia. Passing barren
volcanic landscape, our guide pointed out areas where pumice was
once mined for export. Santorinians quite literally were selling
their homeland! Currently agriculture and tourism are the main
commercial pursuits. Oia, like much of the island was devastated
by earthquake in 1956. Rebuilt, it perches on the cliffs above
the sea and gleams -- buildings and tree trunks are painted white
every year. White serves to disinfect and the rounded roofs are
designed to collect water, scarce on Santorini.
After a leisurely stroll through Oia and
a visit to the Naval Museum we had free time to visit the shops
which opened for our visit. Somewhat touristy, they nonetheless
contained some nice souvenirs, including lovely watercolors and
hand-painted shirts. The real appeal of Oia is the stunning
scenery and utter tranquility. We then made our way to a winery
where we were shown through the working areas, tasted their wines
and had the opportunity to purchase our favorites.
Back in the capital of Thira, we were on our own
for the rest of the day. Buildings cascade over the caldera rim
and it's quite breathtaking to stop for lunch at a taverna
seemingly suspended in mid-air. Merchants in Thira are anxious to
show off their wares, particularly their gold jewelry crafted in
ancient Greek designs. Be sure to barter for the best price.
To make our way 1000 feet down to the
small harbor below the town (and our awaiting tender) we were
faced with three choices -- the cable car, a donkey, or walking.
No contest. We selected the cable car and a heart-stopping ride
straight down. Thankfully, it was swift and we concluded our day
with coffee and conversation in a shaded waterfront cafe.
Rhodes - June 14th
Arrival in Rhodes, the sunniest of all Aegean
islands, isn't nearly as dramatic as Santorini, but it's intriguing
nevertheless. Between earthquakes and invasions by Goths, Persians, Romans, and
Crusaders, Rhodes has managed to acquire quite a rich selection of sightseeing
stops. Immediately visible beyond our balcony doors was the walled city built by
the Knights of St. John in 1309.
These are the same Knights who later fell to the Turks in 1522 and retreated to
To conserve my flagging energy, I chose only
the afternoon "medieval" tour and sent Mel off to explore Beautiful
Lindos in the morning. What a major gaffe on my part. Without exception,
everyone who visited Lindos raved about it and I've had to settle for seeing it
through the lens of Mel's camera. Fortunately, he captured the Temple of the
atop the Acropolis of Lindos, gleaming in the beautiful morning sunshine. How
could I miss a temple named for the goddess Lindia? Sounds like my kind of
place! Mel returned with a small pottery vase for my collection and didn't rub
it in too much about what I'd missed.
I didn't waste the morning, though. Walking to
the walled city, I struck a bargain with a cabbie and headed off to buy earrings
in a traditional Greek design from a non-tourist suburban jewelry maker. Once
back in the old city, I wandered past the ruins of the Church of the Virgin of
the Burgh and browsed through shops tucked into the old city buildings.
Happening across Cathy and Jim Gaffney and Len Hansen, I joined them for a
morning pick-me-up and the four of us proceeded to explore the Old City with its
moats, churches, mosques, and museums. When they decided to climb the clock
tower, I bid them goodbye and headed for the R1 for lunch and the afternoon
Our Ancient and Medieval Rhodes tour began
with the ride to Mont Smith, site of the Acropolis of Ancient Rhodes and the
restored Temple of Apollo. Then on to Mt. Philerimos and the serenity of the
Church of the Virgin and the monastery with frescoes of the Knights of St. John
at prayer. The afternoon's highlight was back in the old city and the completely
restored Grand Master's Palace. The 14th century original was destroyed in an
1856 explosion and rebuilt by order of Mussolini in the 1930's. Probably one of
his few good ideas, it's a "fake" but a terrific one. Using original
plans for the exterior, the rebuilders made up interior spaces as they went
along. Lifting floor mosaics from temples and Roman villas on neighboring
islands, they created vast impressive chambers that are just what you'd expect
the Knights would have enjoyed in their heyday.
Unfortunately, our fellow tour companions
included a contingent of slowpokes and we grew impatient. Mel hadn't seen the
rest of the walled city so we ducked the tour and made our way back to the ship
through the old streets. For once I played "guide" and pointed out my
morning discoveries. If I had it to do over again, I'd have taken the morning
tour to Lindos and skipped the one in the afternoon. The Old City can be seen
more effectively at your own pace.
What about the Colossus of Rhodes? One of the
Seven Wonders of the World, it sadly no longer exists. The huge bronze statue
collapsed during a massive earthquake in 227 BC and lay in ruins for nine
hundred years until it was carted away in 653 AD by Arab conquerors of the
island. No record remains of the figure's appearance and the efficient Arabs
left not a trace behind. Did the Colossus straddle the harbor as popular myth
suggests? Probably not. The statue's height is know to have been 31 metres and
that pose would have been impossible. But it's a popular notion and no one is
really certain of anything -- other than that the statue fell on land, not into
the sea as it surely would have had it been guarding the harbor entrance.
Facts and Touring Tips
Tour prices may vary from season to season (and from
one cruise line to the next), so I haven't specified them. We felt Renaissance's
tours were competitively priced with those offered by Royal Caribbean last year
in the southern Mediterranean as well as the ones we purchased on our own in
Barcelona. Prices ranged from $40 to $70 per person (longer tours, and those
which included a meal, were more expensive).
Without exception, the Shore Excursion booklet we
received with our Renaissance documents recommended "seasonal clothing and
comfortable walking shoes." I can't emphasize enough the need for comfortable
shoes. Conservative walking shorts or slacks and short-sleeved shirts were
the norm -- it was quite hot and I chose a skirt or light dress. A hat and
sunglasses are a necessity. As is the case in many European cities, respectful
attire is required when visiting churches and cathedrals. Shorts are not
Several of our tour descriptions contained the
disclaimer, "This tour involves strenuous walking and climbing." We
had no problem reaching the sites thus described and we're not particularly
athletic. Unfortunately, Europe is not user-friendly for those with mobility
problems. While none of our fellow travelers were confined to wheelchairs, there
were some difficulties for anyone not sure-footed. I can't stress enough that
care should be taken when an uphill walk includes stone and marble steps. More
than once I felt my rubber-soled shoes slipping, particularly on the way down.
It's easy to be distracted by spectacular scenery and sights -- stop when you
want to look around and watch the ground when walking.
A must for tourists is bottled water. Available for
purchase at all our stops, it was nearly everyone's drink of choice. In
addition, several of us carried individually wrapped moist towelettes which
proved refreshing. Tissues are a necessity if the "facilities" run out
of paper, as they often do.
Smooth Sailing! ~
Delights - Uncovering
Ephesus, exploring Istanbul, and that unexpected "eastern" plumbing
Pre-Cruise - The tour starts
here! Seeing antiquities come to life.
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