Friday 18 May 2012

My fairytale, my kingdom. My castle, my knights.

Author: Stephanie Leong

Article written for 

Destination: Rhodes, Greece

Rhodes was, in a word, magical. It was as though I was transported back to the medieval times in the 14th century. I was a princess for a day, I made believed in my head, and it wasn’t so hard to do, with the tall castle walls and cobble-stone crooked pavements and the rich history the town entails.

Because Rhodes was under the rule of various empires, the architecture shows it too. First the Knights, who were the medics back then, built the Hospital of the Knights, which is now an Archaeological Museum, and the Palace of the Grand Masters, erected as a testament to their military power. Next came the Ottamans, who saw, and conquered, turning the palace into a prison. Shortly after, just as the palace was being restored from a series of earthquakes and explosions in the 19th century for Italian politician Musolini to use as his summer home, WWII broke out. What a story.

The flight there from Heraklion in Crete was a bit of a joke, I have never been in a plane that tiny in my life! An interesting experience, that was. What made it even more interesting was an entire batch of school children, barely in their teens yet, occupying the entire flight. Hallelujah. My supposed 45 minute slumber was replaced with boisterous hollers and resounding giggles.

We arrived at 9ish at night, took a taxi to our hotel which (for the first time in my 6 cities in Greece) had no free wi-fi. Tech-detox indeed. We stayed at Hotel Agla, which faced the vast ocean, and the wind was so strong we couldn’t withstand 2 seconds at the balcony because it was positively howling at our faces, whipping our hair in every direction possible.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast buffet in the hotel’s restaurant, we took a stroll to the Old Town, where we were submerged in its medieval labyrinth. The buildings and offices retained its ancient architecture; the only thing out of place in the whole experience is probably the modern cars driving around the winding streets. 

We entered through the fairy-tale infrastructure of St. John’s Gate.

Leading us through the walls to the port of the Old Town.

This is what I meant when I mentioned earlier how the modern vehicles awkwardly contrasts the charming supposedly quiet, peaceful old town.

This is the Avenue of the Knights, which was the city’s main boulevard more than 500 years ago, and is currently one of the few streets stark empty of souvenir shops. The simplicity of this avenue makes it one of the more picturesque streets in the city, or so my guidebook says.

During the Knights’ reign, there were different inns for different nationalities, for example, the French and the Italian and so on. In every inn, members could congregate to socialise, eat, drink and converse without any language barriers.

We unknowingly walked into the French Inn, thinking perhaps if it was the Hospital of the Knights, only to find out that it used to be the meeting place for the French. Now, it is used as a space for exhibition, there were some art students putting together their work for the showcase two days later.

We walked upward to the top of the avenue, and there it stood, and all its enchanting glory, was the fairy-tale-like castle- the Palace of the Grand Masters. Entry for students of the EU is free, like most other attractions in Greece, cheers to that! The palace, which encased grand staircases, lavish dining tables and romantic chandeliers, also had Japanese vases, fine China, Hellenistic sculptures and medieval tapestry.

Enormous battlements

Courtyard of the castle

Prayer room at the entrance

Hellenistic Sculpture

Tres romantique!

The castle from the outside

Finally an apt car.

Actual Knights in shining armour in the past!

We walked through the winding streets of the bustling part of the Old Town.

Almost decrepit buildings of residences.

We ventured out of the Old Town and I was brought back to the 21st century. We walked along the port looking for a place to eat, and it was rather fascinating, seeing the architecture morph from Sleeping Beauty castle-like to Turkish mosques and Islamic buildings.

This is what Rhodes is famous for, something that no longer exists. In the place of the two deer-like sculptures stood, tall and grand, the Colossus of Rhodes, which used to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Day 2
We rented a car and drove to Kalithea Springs, which is once believed to be the sacred spring of curative waters. It is the perfect harmony or beach and architecture.

Italian spa rotunda

Beautiful crystal waters

I was trying hard not to fall and severely scar my face with the sharp edges of the rocks while walking towards the sea.

After that, we drove to Lindos, which was really picturesque because of the white-washed houses that cluster beneath the acropolis which used to be a castle.

The serene beach village

White-washed houses

We rode a donkey up the steep winding alleys to the castle!

I regretted my decision when I hoisted myself onto the donkey. Especially when it was climbing up stairs or trotting on the cobbled mosaics, I felt so unsteady.  But perhaps that’s just me, Zenn seemed to be doing perfectly alright.

The journey finally ended. I bet the donkey’s glad to have me off its back too. 

This acropolis housed the remains of the Neolithic, Doric, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Medieval structures erected through the city’s history, and today, all that’s left, are ruins. Ta-dah!

We walked back down, careful not to step on any donkey’s droppings, because no way in hell will I take a donkey ride downhill. I’ld rather step on poo, to be honest.

We had tea at the hotel halfway down to warm ourselves (it was really chilly atop the acropolis) before taking a joy ride around the entire circumference of Rhodes. Total journey took about 5 hours, non-step driving. It was fun! My first experience at left-hand drive! The thrill wore off in a bit, and I got used to it, after being frantic as I haven’t gotten behind the wheel for about 8 months or so.

It was a scenic drive, up and down the winding mountains and along the coast, where Zenn had to sternly remind me to keep my eyes on the road- the shimmering blue waters was so, so distracting!

I got us both home unscathed. She was suffering a little from motion sickness though. Because of the winding roads, not me, I swear!

Day 3

Had a stray escorting us from the hotel to the port where we took a catamaran to Symi Island. Had a very childish moment, bemused by its name. Sounds like “What!” in Hokkien.

The catamaran cannot be more unlike the one we took in Mauritius, I thought that it would be the journey that was exciting, but this turned out to be another ferry.

Arrived at Symi Island, freezing. I was literally jumping up and down because I was dressed for a sunny Catamaran journey, not an air-conditioned ferry and whipping winds.

The brightly-painted houses look like flowers sprouting on the cliffs overlooking the main port of Symi. We climbed up 383 steps to the top of the residential area, which was pretty contrasting, the new refurbished houses standing right next to the terribly dilapidated ones. Each of the colonial homes has an artistic flourish and charm which are preserved by strict historic conservation laws, which is excellent, so as to retain the little tiny city’s authentic essence.

See what I mean by the huge contrast?

After wondering around the homes and waving like an idiot to little school children having lessons from the outside, and battling flies because there are just so many, we settled at a cafe by the harbour and leeched on its wi-fi for the rest of the day, until our so-called catamaran came back in the evening, sailing us back to Rhodes.

Goodbye, my pretty.

The next day marked an end to our Greek odyssey. I was SO SAD! Did NOT want to leave the glorious sunshine and smiling faces of Greece and head back to the freezing London weather, where I had the fortune of battling with the merciless peak-hour tube crowd.

Here’s to home!

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