Greek Island Cruise: Patmos to Rhodes to Crete to Santorini

in Greece

The most efficient way for the Walleighs to see the Dodecanese Islands between Turkey and Greece was by cruise ship.  In Kusadasi, Turkey they boarded the Aquamarine, which enabled them to land on four islands in three days. The good news was Rick and Wendy saw more islands in that time than they could have by ferries on our own.  The bad news was they were herded with up to 1,000 other passengers by busses to spend only a few hours in what might have needed a couple of days on Patmos, Rhodes and Crete.  But once they reached Santorini, they abandoned ship to be independent again–much preferable–for three days.  In any case, the most fascinating part of the islands was how many times they changed hands depending on which empire overran them.

Briefly jumped ship at Patmos

Wendy and Rick left the ship via “tender” to reach busses that absorbed what seemed like hundreds of passengers to

ride up the hill to the St. John Monastery.  It was built in 1088 to commemorate John the Apostle’s writing the gospel on Patmos.  We had just left Seljuk which is where supposedly St. John lived out the rest of his life after Jesus’ death, and was buried there.  Wonder why he left to write on Patmos?

Rhodes’ history was definitely more interesting

On this trip off the ship, the busses drove us to tour Rhodes “from the top down” at Filerimos which provided a lovely overview of the island and surrounding ocean. The next stop was the Order of Malta Knights of St. John’s Palace of the Grand Masters. The Palace was built sometime during Knights of St. John’s rule over Rhodes from 1300 to 1500s C.E.; then it was accidently destroyed in the mid-1800s; and finally it was reconstructed in the 1930s by the Italian Fascists to honor Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III (of Italy) but who never actually visited Rhodes to see the Palace.

After leaving the Palace, the Walleighs walked down the Street of the Knights with buildings representing different countries’ orders of St. John which still fly their respective flags along the street. Wendy found some silver jewelry with symbols of Long Life and Good Luck that George the store owner convinced her to buy.  Then they wandered down the narrow streets where shops signs were literally the products sold inside, such as copper pots.  As Wendy walked by a pharmacy, she got a kick out of the fact that she could actually read the Greek word for pharmacy just by sounding out the Greek letters.

Before returning to the ship, they found the monument memorializing the many Jews of Rhodes who were killed by the Nazis. They also discovered and entered the old Synagogue where very old marriage contracts from the local community were on display.  There was also a plaque for the 1,600 Jewish families who died in World War II which noted that only 150 survived and less than 50 still live on Rhodes today.

Crete aka Herkalon had strangely restored ruins

During their half-day on Crete, Rick and Wendy mainly spent time at the Knossos Palace, originally built about 1900 B.C.E. by the Minoans.  Over the last 3,000 years, the Palace had undergone many additions and iterations but formal excavations started in the late 1800s.  Then about 1900, Sir Arthur Evans of England purchased the whole Knossos property from the crumbling Ottoman Empire to begin more serious discoveries of buildings, tools, and statuary such as the remaining foot of a huge statue. His vision for the Palace’s restoration to its state in approx. 1700 B.C.E. remains controversial among current archeologists. While most ancient buildings were originally painted, not plain stone that is typical of ruins, Sir Evans’ implementations to re-paint all aspects of the excavations seemed gaudy and Disney-like.  This felt not only undignified, but also detracted from impressively sophisticated systems and structures started 3,000 years ago by the Minoans and their successors.

The main town on Crete was mostly modern 20th century but throughout were relics of the past, such as a Venetian fountain from the 1600s.

White-washed towns with blue roofs and 360o views of sunset typified Santorini

When the Walleighs arrived at Santorini, they observed that there were a few ways to reach the towns, all of which were on the top or other side of the volcanic cliffs from where the ship’s tender left the exiting passengers.  The first Santorini port mainly carried tourists by tram which didn’t allow luggage.  So Rick and Wendy disembarked at a different port where a taxi drove them and their luggage over switchback roads to their hotel.  Along the way up the mountainside, the views were just spectacular, including the town of Fira (FEE-rah), at about mid-way on the cliffs.

Even into the 1970s and 1980s, the main modes of transportation were foot, public busses, and donkeys. Clearly now donkeys were much less common since there were signs prohibiting their parking on the streets! The Walleighs took a public bus to Fira where they had lunch on a café terrace where they enjoyed a glorious view.  They were also amused by finding ourselves in wine country, according to many signs along the town despite being 1000s of miles from Napa.

Both in the towns of Fira and at the top of the cliffs, in Oia (EE-ah), were the “classic tourist photograph views” of blue and white, domed or barrel-vaulted churches and white or pastel stucco homes and shops, often with blue roofs.  The bright sunlight throughout the day makes everything seem sun-washed. In contrast, our Kamari beach hotel faced a beautiful black, volcanic sand beach which even in the sunshine quieted the colorful local architecture.

Santorini’s most famous entertainment besides walking, soaking up rays, and shopping, is watching the sunset from the top of the town of Oia where you can have 360o view of the sky and ocean.  Though they found a perch at the perfect terrace cafe to watch the “fireworks”, many others had to stand in every nook and cranny below them.  But the show was definitely worthwhile even if it was over, start to finish, in 15 minutes.

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