Crossing the Aegean

Sanctuary of Apollo, Delphi

Following some vague instructions I found online, I walked to Athens’ bus station “B” and bought a return ticket to Delphi (and a quick spanakopita and yogurt for breakfast. Having just arrived from East Africa, I was amazed that the bus actually left at the scheduled time!). Located on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus a couple of hours drive from the capital, Delphi was the summer location of the famous oracle of Apollo, consulted by kings and oligarchs on all matters from war to harvests. Not realizing the site closed relatively early at 3pm, I was just able to explore the length of the ancient city, ponder life next to the temple of Apollo, and make a quick stop into the disappointingly uninformative museum before everything shut down. However, the afternoon was absolutely beautiful and I spent a few hours strolling along the road and admiring the sweeping views of the valley and sea below.

View from the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, Delphi

The next evening I gathered my belongings in Athens and took the metro down to its historic port, Piraeus (this time thankfully without any attempted pickpocketing). I boarded the massive Blue Star Ferry to Rhodes with its hotel-esque reception desk and found my cabin. A few minutes later my roommate for the voyage arrived: a friendly, businesslike car parts salesman from Athens. We chatted for a bit (his brother lives in California) and then I went up to the top deck to watch the ship depart as the sun dipped below the horizon. The rest of the 15-hour journey was uneventful. I fell asleep to the rocking of the boat and the scratching of my roommate’s pencil as he worked well into the night.

The sun getting low over the port of Piraeus

When I woke in the morning we were passing the island of Kos and opposite, the mountainous coastline of Turkey! It was the first time I had laid eyes on the country since completing the Fulbright program five years earlier; a wave of elation and energy swept through me the dark grey sky slowly began to lighten with the new day. I would take the ferry across the strait in a few days, but first I wanted to spend some time exploring the island of Rhodes. Once home of the Colossus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Rhodes is the largest island and capital of the Dodecanese and contains one of the best preserved medieval towns in the Mediterranean. The Knights of St. John, crusaders who had been expelled from the Holy Land, took control of the island for two centuries before it was conquered by the Ottomans and then taken by the Italians, only becoming a part of modern Greece after the Second World War. We docked, I found a friendly hostel to stay at and began taking in the city.

These two short towers supposedly mark the spot where stood the Colossus of Rhodes

I walked the full perimeter of the medieval city walls, venturing into a few of the dark, twisting tunnels underneath that were unexplicably left open and ungated (one thing that would never happen in the US), wandered the narrow, empty streets of the old town (it was very early in the season) and tasted some of the local dishes which suspiciously reminded me of Turkish food. There are still a number of Ottoman mosques in the city, along with some Italian-designed buildings on the waterfront and the crusader architecture of the palace and old hospital (now housing the archaeology museum). One day I took a bus down to the town of Lindos (“the Santorini of Rhodes”, according to the hostel guy, and indeed the white houses covering the slope beneath the castle reminded me of photos I have seen of that island). I planned to hit the beach after clambering around the castle and enjoying a rooftop lunch (with ouzo), but unfortunately the cold, rainy weather was not conducive to diving in so I settled for soaking my feet for a bit in the chilly Mediterranean.

Lindos beach, town and castle, Rhodes

My timing with the ferries was off again, so instead of sailing straight to Turkey I caught a boat back to Kos (stopping by the beautiful port of Symi on the way) and bought a ticket for the evening crossing to Bodrum. This left me a few hours to check out the Kos castle and a few parts of the old town; there is a lot of history there as well and I would love to go back and truly get to know the island. Waiting for the ferry to Turkey to depart, I watched as a dark thunderhead edged its way towards the port and wondered if I would be spending yet another extra day in Greece. But we soon set off (straight into the middle of the thunderstorm), feeling both exhilirated and apprehensive as rain soaked half the vessel and lightning struck the turbulent waters around us. Thankfully we made it through, the weather calmed and we sailed smoothly next to Bodrum castle into the port. After a short wait at passport control, I was back in Turkey.

Entering the storm, Kos Strait

Bonus photo! Rhodes old town: