In brief: The last full day . I walked the 14th century Medieval City Of Rhodes, got told not to wear a skirt, got distracted by parrots and ate with the cool cats.
Having not been able to organise the Land Rover trip across Rhodes for Sunday*, I was forced to have a long lay in bed instead. Such a shame. The hotel maids tried three times to get in and clean the room. I wasn’t getting up. Not yet.
Just in case there had been last minute contact with the Land Rover people I turned on my phone every now and then to check for emails. I didn’t get very far before I received a text message from my phone provider. The message was something along the lines of “you were warned not to go over your data limit, but you did. We have removed this perk and you will be charged 69p per MB and charged full rates for calls”. Now I don’t know how the system works for them, but I find it remarkable that we already pay high fees towards a non-competitive contract we are tied into, yet they want more money when we go abroad for exactly the same service. I’m in Greece. Not on the moon. The telephone systems are already in place. I don’t think its right to peddle the idea that they’re doing us a favour by allowing us the privilege of using our phones whilst abroad. I can guarantee it doesn’t cost them the £2 a day they charge us for their so-called travel perk. So my phone stays off till I’m back in the UK and they won’t get a penny extra from me. Greed is not a characteristic I’m fond of.
I’d decided window shopping was the answer to my spare day but this was quickly shot down. When I eventually left the hotel every place was closed except the restaurants. The only other answer I could think of was the Medieval City Of Rhodes I’d read about on TripAdvisor. I expected it to be some ruins with a few ancient walls, perhaps some historical artefacts. But it’s huge! It is literally a city within the confines of fortified structures, with a moat, look-out towers, draw bridges and everything associated with 14th century life. The Greek government had marked this location as “historically significant” and had a budget of one million euros to restore it. Believe me when I say a million isn’t going to be enough. Imagine trying to rebuild your local town. Each street, house and church, painstakingly renewed brick by historically accurate hand-crafted brick, from the foundations up. It would cost a million just to do one alleyway. And this place is twice the size of Camden Town.
What I wasn’t expecting were the Sunday markets inside. Once you’ve crossed the drawbridges and gazed high up towards the castle walls you find yourself on cobbled streets like a miniature New York traffic grid. Each alleyway and road is flanked by little shops. Ironically they were all selling pretty much the same choice of things; gold jewellery, tacky t-shirts that say “Fuck Google. Ask me!”, leather goods, olive soaps and scented items, yoghurt, knock-off sunglasses, or tiles with Greek landmarks painted on them. One thing is for sure, and you should all note this one down… if you are ever in need of a set of cutlery with handles that are the shape of an erect penis, this is definitely the place to go. Or perhaps a penis bottle opener? How about an erection candle? A salt and pepper penis set? Boner bath soap? It’s all there. It kind of takes away the humble feeling of history within the walls, though I understand there is significance with the male organ throughout history and various cultures.
Besides dick central, some shops had impressive full replica knights armour. Shoulder and chest plates, chain male, boots, helmets and gloves. I’d love to see someone try get one of these suits into their luggage and onto a plane. The weight cost would be staggering. Considering I was walking the same grounds as medieval knights had done in the 14the century I expected armour, helmets and swords. But one of the more shocking things I discovered was the ability to buy a variety of weapons. And I’m not talking about a plastic shield and a wooden sword. Some of these same shops stocked throwing knives, switch blades, katanas, samurai swords, ninja throwing stars, catapults, belts with hidden knives, nun-chucks and friction-lock police batons to name but a few things I spotted. These were weapons designed and manufactured to maim, injure and kill. If you were caught just having any of these in your possession in a public place in the UK, you’d be immediately arrested for carrying an offensive weapon and likely charged with possession of a dangerous item (regardless of whether you had intent to use them or not). In this day and age, I don’t see the need for members of the public to have any of those things. I mean, throwing stars? Who? When?
I also found one of those Hellenic Culture machines that dish out collectors coins. I had got one in Kallithea during the scuba diving experience yesterday as an item for trade during geocaching. So I thought I’d get another one!
It would be easy to spend an entire day, or evening, within those city walls. With its maze of alleyways and lack of regular maps indicating “you are here”, you could walk in circles and spirals for hours and still come across something new. In fact, I think I did walk in circles. A few times I was off the beaten track, taking back routes and cobbled streets, occasionally through peoples rear gardens by the looks of it. Families live here too, in apparently tiny and cramped houses. Strings of washing hung wall to wall with Greek television blaring loud-mouthed politicians in the background. It would be interesting to see a genealogy tree for some of these families. Did their ancestors live inside this city? Are they descendants from knights of the old age? From the way their kids charged at each other on bikes, they certainly pass as 21st century Jousters. Now that would be a show to put on!
Whilst walking around the incredibly long moat, a group of older teenagers appeared behind me out of nowhere. It was obvious I was a tourist from the backpack and the camera in my hand. I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable I was. There wasn’t anyone else in sight either in front or behind. The last map I looked at suggested the next exit out of the moat was 1200 metres ahead. For a split second it felt like I’d walked into the perfect trap. A pile of huge stone spheres were to my right and two of the lads decided to have a go at moving them and lifting them. Stupidly, I looked over. “These guys are strong, eh? Tough”, said the apparent youngest one. Brilliant. A show of strength. This wasn’t going to go well. I lifted my head in agreement, without speaking. “Where you from?” he said. I really wasn’t in the mood for an international debate. “Scotland”, I replied. “Ah! Skirts!” he said, pushing his chest out towards me. A boy, trying to be a man. I raised one eyebrow. “Not quite, but yes” I said, continuing to walk. He tried again, clearly seeing I wasn’t stopping for the chat. “You go toilet? Girls say skirt. Boys say skirt! Boys don’t wear skirts!”. Clearly not, I thought to myself. Was he trying to intimidate me, or wind me up? I laughed and smiled politely. How do you respond to that, without punching him in his ignorant face? Then again, I’m not always good with understanding interactions with other folks. There’s an obvious language barrier (which he’d overcome) and also a misunderstanding of cultural body language. I misunderstand people all the time. Perhaps he was just making conversation, seeing I was on my own. I wasn’t sure. My paranoia suggested it was still a trap. They fell behind as I continued to walk. A few minutes later, just as I had started to relax a bit, the same guy jogged up behind me. “You take picture of us?” he said, handing me a mobile phone. Reluctantly I said yes, and went to reach for the cheap 90’s Nokia prototype. Before it was in my hand I worked out it didn’t have a camera on it, so what did he want? Just as the realisation set in and the flash of puzzlement spread through my features the kid laughed. Further back the whole group began to laugh at my apparent idiocy. The kid grabbed the phone and wandered back to the group, looking over his shoulder and continuing to laugh. 21st century Jester. Funny guy. It’s probably a good thing he took the phone back. I was near the temptation to sarcastically laugh with him, like Chandler from Friends, before lobbing the mobile reject over one of the high walls in some kind of defiant comedy sketch that would likely end in tears. The only giggles that would get me would be from canisters of laughing gas whilst I was in surgery. Thankfully they wandered off, away from me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw them sneak through a clearly padlocked tall double door, disappearing right inside the basements of the castle grounds. There were plenty of “keep out” signs dotted around. I imagine this was a regular place for teenagers to get high. Off with their heads.
Out of the moat and several streets later I found myself back in one of the main squares, surrounded by food places. I’d hazard to call them restaurants. The abundance of hard-sell owners rallied in their best english to get people to sit and eat. I was starving and only really wanted a cold drink so I took the nearest place with an interesting view. To their credit, the ice coffee with both dunked ice cream and whipped cream on top was excellent. A calorie counters nightmare, I’m sure. The interesting view I had was of parrots. Half a dozen large green and red feathered parrots, gold and aqua, wandering the cobbles in the square with one or two white parrots watching on. The red parrots were in physical disagreement over a piece of bread. A green parrot was reading a newspaper, clearly interested in current affairs like the rest of the locals. Every now and then he shook his head and cawed. I think it was the politics section.
Whilst bird watching I had ordered the meat platter. I was half way through eating it when something brushed against my leg. If I hadn’t had a mouthful of sausage I’m sure the noise I made would have sounded like a girl in a 1960’s horror movie. The sound I actually made was something similar to an olympic weightlifter balancing tonnage overhead who’d just broken a personal best. A mix between a deathly roar and severe diarrhoea. I froze with flashbacks of tarantulas Or was it a snake? Without moving a muscle I rolled my eyes downward towards the ground. Between my ankles a tiny kitten stared back at me, it’s head cocked to one side. It’s expression said “feed me”. The signs disagreed. Looking around it appeared every cat within these walls had received a memo saying I’d ordered the meat platter. Never before have I declared myself a pussy magnet, but it appeared to be true. They approached from every angle. I swear the temperature went up due to the fur insulation surrounding me. It’s very difficult to eat a meal whilst being watched by several generations of starving cats. If anything my mood changed from hunger to guilt. I’d never eaten a meal in more uncomfortable surroundings. Even the cats had learned to charm. My ankle kitten was stroking me. One of them even winked at me. It was all very strange. What the hell was in that coffee?
Back at the hotel the sun set in a purple haze behind the buildings. Out on the balcony I watched a jet pitch and bank its way southwards towards some other land. There were clouds in the distance too. Something I hadn’t noticed for weeks. In 24hrs time I’d be focussed on getting home, with two flights standing between this life and the other. But when I got home, my other life would be somewhat renewed. Truthfully, I need to learn to slow down and take a look around. If life continues as it has, I’m at a stage where I have the option to do just that.
Someone once said “there’s no point being the richest guy in the cemetery”. In terms of money, I completely agree. But you can also be rich with the experiences of life, and I’d had a fair share in the last two weeks. And in that capacity I’d really love more…
Before I go, here’s the Rhodes edition of Cat(s) Of The Day:
* The Land Rover Safari folks emailed me on Sunday night apologising for the delay, however they were now closed for the season. As I suspected. I’ll have to come a week earlier next time!