ATHENS AND RHODES
The next few days of the trip were delightful. In addition to
teaching several dance classes, we explored Athens for the second
time. Over the past year Athens has been
the source of much rioting over government-enforced austerity
measures. Fortunately the day we were there, things were
quiet. But just six days later, the city erupted again in
riots erupt amid Greece strike
Wednesday Dec 15, 1:44 pm ET
ATHENS, Greece – Protesters clashed with riot police across
Athens on Wednesday, torching cars, hurling gasoline bombs and
sending Christmas shoppers fleeing in panic during a general
strike against the government's latest austerity measures.
Police fired tear gas and flash grenades as the violence
escalated outside parliament and spread to other parts of the
Thank goodness we missed it. For a change, we dodged a bullet.
As I said, with the economic problems and terror-threats, Europe is
really struggling right now. By the way, since I have written
Athens before, I will
simply refer you to my earlier story.
After Athens, the next day we visited
the island of Rhodes
for the first time. Rhodes was a pleasant surprise. Rhodes is a
large island in the Aegean Sea located just twelve miles of the
southwest coast of Turkey.
The island of Rhodes is too small to develop a population big enough
to write its own destiny. Since the island of Rhodes is one of those
places that everyone passes on their way to somewhere else, over the
centuries Rhodes has been conquered many times. At various times the
Minoans from the nearby island of Crete were in charge, then the
Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Persians, then Alexander the Great, and
later the Romans. Then the Turks came along only to give way to the
Crusaders for a while. Next came the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) which
lasted for four centuries. Then Italy took over for a while followed
by the Nazis during World War II.
After the war, Rhodes was reunited with Greece. Considering most of
the inhabitants speak Greek, have Greek blood, and are 96% Greek
Orthodox, the people of Rhodes were more than happy to fly the Greek
flag. In the years that have followed, Rhodes has known great peace
and prosperity. Everywhere I looked, something new was being built.
The coastline of Rhodes features an endless string of rugged hills
and rocky cliffs that offer a perfect view of the sparkling waters.
All along the highway I saw various seaside dwellings built into the
hillside to take advantage of the spectacular vistas of the
beautiful Aegean Sea. The blend of lovely homes set in perfect
harmony with the hills overlooking the ocean is wonderful to behold.
The beauty of this area reminds me of the equally beautiful French
Riviera. It doesn't take much of an imagination to guess why
visitors from Greece, Turkey, and other Eastern European countries
flock to this location during tourist season. From what I gather,
Egyptians like to visit Rhodes as well. Rhodes is right in the
middle of everything!
In stark contrast to the troubled island of Sicily, we quickly
discovered that Rhodes has a very strong economy. Like the Cayman
Islands in our own Caribbean Sea, it seems this lovely island has
wrapped its entire economy around tourism. From what I gather,
business is good. The woman in the picture
asked 20 euros for a particular print I liked. I bargained
with her and got her no lower than 18. Considering this is the
off-season, there would likely be no more tourists for another 10
days when our cruise ship returned again. Since I was probably
the last person she would have a legitimate shot of selling to for
ten days, I was deeply impressed at how strongly she stuck to her
price. No, I didn't buy. I wanted to see if she would
change her offer as I walked away. She never said a word.
These people are obviously doing pretty well.
While the nearby Turks specialize in their beautiful carpets, the artisans
here on Rhodes are famous for their ceramics. Poor Marla
was beside herself with the beauty of their work. She wanted to buy
one of those bowls in the worst way. Unfortunately, ceramics are
easily broken. We learned the hard way when
a beautiful dish broke on a previous trip.
The sign in the shop said it all -
The pottery is so beautiful to see,
Just remember Nothing is free.
If you break it, you can take it
And don't forget to pay for it too.
Marla could not imagine how she would ever be able to guarantee the
safety of these fragile bowls, so eventually she gave up. I could
see the frustration written all over her face.
Lindos was an ancient town about 30 miles from port which had the
most marvelous acropolis (i.e., city up high). Once you were up there, you could see for
Like its famous counterpart in Athens, the Acropolis in Lindos is
very well preserved. The walls are completely intact. On
the right you can see an artist's depiction of what the place looked
like back in its heyday. I have a hunch why it is in such good
shape. The city is so high that no catapult would be very
effective. Any archer trying to shoot upwards would make
himself an easy target. Nor could anyone storm the place.
It is situated on a rock that is a sheer climb on all sides.
No battering rams would be possible. Approaching this place
would be suicide.
The only way to conquer the Acropolis would probably be by siege.
If they had a good source of food and water, I imagine the
inhabitants were pretty safe up there.
Our guide Alexis was one of the most knowledgeable men to ever
conduct a tour. Alexis was able to rattle off one fact after another
without any visible notes that I could detect. Not only did he make
his material interesting, Alexis was able to handle any question
with complete ease. Even better, he managed to add both wit and
warmth to his message.
For example, we passed a cemetery. Alexis pointed out that the first
section contained people of the Greek Orthodox religion. The
adjoining section had Jewish people. The third section was reserved
for Muslims. He quipped that unlike other parts of the Middle East,
all three religions were able to achieve perfect peace and harmony
here at this cemetery. Then to my surprise he added, "Imagine people
killing in the name of religion. Now isn't that absurd?"
That's when I decided I really liked this guy. With all the killing
and hatred that permeates the Middle East, here was this wonderful
level-headed guy in the middle of nowhere. A Mark Twain quote
flashed across my mind:
fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness... Travel
helps us discover we are family after all."
--- Mark Twain
Later Alexis told us an anecdote about Sophocles, the famous Greek
philosopher that liked to visit Rhodes. So I decided to share my own anecdote about Sophocles.
Sophocles said the most important decision a man will ever make is
who to marry. If he marries well, he will be happy for the rest of
his life. If he marries poorly, he will become a philosopher. Marla gave me the oddest look.
Uh oh. I quickly added that I
personally don't have a philosophical bone
in my body. This time I got Marla's famous
"drop dead look" which made Alexis break out in a wide grin.
Remind me again to learn when to keep my mouth shut.
By the time our tour ended, Alexis and I had become buddies. I asked him if
he was a college professor. He laughed and said no. Puzzled, I asked
him how he became so knowledgeable about everything. Alexis replied
that he had a college degree in tourism. He added that he had to
pass a very difficult exam to become a professional tour guide.
was amazed. I had never heard of a program like this before. I
always thought the job of tour guide went to the only guy on the
island who could speak English. Instead, I learned that his
expertise was no accident. Alexis was the best tour guide I ever met
not only because he had talent, but also because he studied long and
hard for his role. Very interesting.
As I shook his hand to say goodbye, Alexis looked up at the
darkening sky. He said if we were lucky, we might be able to escape
Poseidon's wrath. I had no idea what he was talking about,
so he explained there was an immense storm brewing in the eastern
Mediterranean. Alexis pointed to a
destroyer and another cruise ship (see picture). He said both
ships had just pulled into port to ride out the coming storm.
Winter storms in the Mediterranean could be pretty brutal.
He added that early indications had this particular storm listed as
a monster. We were in for some pretty rough weather.
Alexis suggested that our Captain would be wise to sail early.
Anything we could do to stay ahead of this storm would be worth
big storm in the very same waters
where Poseidon had once made life miserable for brave Odysseus!!
Odysseus and his ships had been
blown to all sorts of distant shores. It took him ten years to
finally get home. I dismissed Alexis' warning as silly. There
was one difference. Odysseus had a Greek Trireme. We had
a 90-ton ocean liner with all its modern equipment.
No storm was a match for our giant ship.
In retrospect, I realize I had the same smug attitude as the people
who boarded the Titanic. Interesting. I
wonder if anyone else on our ship had the same ignorant attitude as
Now that our trip to Lindos was over, the main city of Rhodes was
within walking distance of the ship. This medieval was surrounded by
the most incredible wall. Marla and I couldn't
resist. We immediately trekked over to get a good look.
Once we were inside, we saw an
endless row of shops selling all sorts of beautiful items. What a
It started to rain pretty hard while we were there. I noticed an
umbrella for sale and asked how much. The man said 5 euros. Marla
started to protest, so the man dropped the price to 4 euros. Marla
had the biggest frown on her face. I asked her what was the matter.
She said the sign listed the umbrellas at 3 euros.
Marla was outraged the vendor had
taken advantage of the rain to mark up the price two euros on the
I felt a little sheepish.
I had not even noticed the price on the wall.
That was the second time I had seen someone on this island drive a
hard bargain. Oh well, I didn't feel
like losing any sleep over a one euro markup. In fact, I was
impressed. These people were definitely sharp. They didn't miss an
opportunity. Fortunately Marla soon forgave
me. That umbrella came in handy.
Marla and I had a blast walking through this lovely walled city.
Whatever frustration we had experienced in Palermo was long
forgotten thanks to the charm of Rhodes. I
have never seen a more colorful array of shops. With its
winding streets and shops of every variety, I thought this would be
a fun place to have a life-size Monopoly festival.
Meanwhile we noticed some very dark clouds rolling in.
When the rain wouldn't stop, Marla and I went
back to the ship. We got back just in time.
While we were eating lunch, we were treated to a
powerful rainstorm complete with sensational lightning bolts.
Suddenly the temperature dropped dramatically. I frowned.
Alexis had been right. That was
one heck of a storm brewing out
there at sea. In retrospect, I
wished we had stayed in Rhodes like the other two ships and simply
waited for the storm to pass.
Somewhere out there Poseidon was waiting for us.
The city of
Rhodes is surrounded by an amazing wall that remains completely
intact. Inside is a beautifully preserved town!
saw some of the neatest shops. I can see why this place is so
popular with tourists. Even better, the old town is within
easy walking distance of the cruise ship.
THE TRIP TO EGYPT
As the ship departed Rhodes on its way to Egypt, the Captain got on
the speaker to announce there would be some very rough sailing
ahead. He said there was a major storm in the
Eastern Mediterranean. In order to minimize its effect,
he would change course and head into the waves for our
comfort even though that was not the shortest
route. A direct route would have
caused so much rocking that we could not have even stood up, much
So now the Captain was
taking a zig-zag
path to Alexandria, the port of Cairo. His decision to turn our route into a right
angle probably did add comfort to our voyage, but it
also made our trip much longer.
I am only
speculating, but this longer route plus the reduced speed
fighting the rough seas probably allowed the storm to catch up to
HUGE STORM SHUTS
Isn't our Christmas
tree pretty? It must have been at least 25 feet tall.
Despite the heavy rocking caused by the massive waves, the mood on
the ship was cheerful as we left Malta and headed over to Egypt.
We knew full well there was a storm outside. Walking was
pretty difficult that night, so most people preferred to just sit
The much-anticipated Tango Buenos Aires show was
canceled - no one could possibly dance in these conditions! In
addition, all the elevators were taken out of service.
Otherwise they would have been banging up against the walls as they
rose and descended.
We were not allowed outside. If the winds didn't sweep us
overboard, a huge wave might do the trick instead. Therefore I had
no idea that the storm outside was so violent. With the ship
to protect us, we were spared the knowledge of just how bad it was
I had no idea what was going on around us.
The problem with being
at sea is that it was difficult for me to keep track of world
events. For example, there was only an occasional
clip on CNN. Therefore, at the time of
our approach to Egypt, neither Marla nor I had any idea just how
serious this storm was. We assumed that if
we could just get to the other side of the storm, Egypt would be dry
and calm. After all, it never rains in Egypt, does it?
All I knew is the Captain was taking a funky path to
Alexandria and that tomorrow I would get my picture taken riding a
camel before the Pyramids. While I was thinking about, don't
forget my sun glasses.
How could I have been so blind!! The worst storm in years was
raging outside and I didn't have a clue. Here is a report I found on the Internet describing our storm:
storm has battered the eastern Mediterranean over the weekend,
causing destruction in several countries and bringing to a
dramatic end months of drought.
Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt were all hit by severe
weather, with lashing rain, hail, snow and sandstorms wreaking
havoc across the region.
In Lebanon, 10 meter waves smashed into the coastline as wind
speeds topped 100 kilometers an hour on Saturday. A woman was
killed when her car was crushed in the northern city of Tripoli,
and four small planes were flipped over at Beirut's airport.
By Sunday, the rain had turned to snow in the country's
mountains, leaving drivers stranded on frozen roads. Meanwhile
coastal roads were closed as fishing boats were smashed to
pieces by enormous waves.
In Israel, a Moldovan freighter sank in the storm off the coast
of Ashdod after its 11 crew members were rescued, and a Russian
tourist was feared dead after being swept into the sea.
The storm comes just a week after a devastating forest fire
killed 43 people near the northern city of Haifa in Israel.
In Egypt, temperatures plummeted as huge sandstorms blew up,
compounding problems caused by high winds and lashing rain in
The weather disrupted shipping in the Suez Canal, which links
the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and local media reported three
deaths in a factory collapse in Alexandria.
Five people were also seriously injured in the collapse of the
textile factory, a security official said blaming the accident
"on bad weather and heavy rains."
"It has been raining steadily and very hard since yesterday
(Saturday) in Alexandria. The building is 30 years old and the
foundations could have been damaged," a security official said.
Jordan was also engulfed by sandstorms, and was braced for heavy
rains expected later on Sunday, while in Syria, the capital
Damascus was hit by a violent snow-storm.
The eastern Mediterranean region had been suffering from a
crippling drought and unseasonably high temperatures for months,
and in recent weeks people have been praying for rain as the
land became dangerously parched. The storm comes just a week
after a devastating forest fire killed 43 people near the
northern city of Haifa in Israel due to the arid conditions.
During the day as
our ship approached Egypt, I assumed that once our ship docked, we
would be able to visit the desert and see the pyramids without a
problem. I figured that it never rained in the desert.
Better yet, any remaining storm might cool down the place would be welcome. I could not
possibly have been more ignorant if I tried.
I did not know at the time
that Egypt was
also in the grip of this deadly storm. Now that I
have access to the Internet, the reports are unbelievable.
In Egypt, all
the ports in the Red Sea and the port of Alexandria on the
Mediterranean Sea were shut down. At least 26 ships were barred
from entering the Suez Canal and another 29 faced heavy delays.
The waterway was hit by poor visibility and winds of up to 40
knots an hour on the Red Sea, said an official at the canal. The
loss of the Suez was a major problem because it is Egypt's
third-largest source of foreign revenue after tourism and
remittances from expatriate workers.
Northern coastal Egypt received heavy rain showers with strong
gusty winds. Inland, dust storms and high winds prevailed which
also extended all the way to parts of Jordan.
Traffic on the Suez Canal disrupted as storms furiously lashed
the Middle East for the entire weekend. Winds, rain and hail
battered the eastern Mediterranean on Sunday, as a months-long
drought came to a sudden, drastic end.
In Alexandria, Egypt, a cloudburst flattened a six-story textile
factory in the sea-side city, killing at least 10 workers. Five
more people were seriously injured. Others were still missing.
Officials blamed the accident on "violent winds and heavy
In the Nile
Delta city of Tanta, a child was killed and nine people hurt
when a five-storey residential building came down on Sunday,
leaving one person trapped under the rubble.
Twenty people were killed and more than 40 injured in road
accidents on Sunday across Egypt, blamed on poor visibility from
heavy rains and sandstorms, officials said.
Throughout the weekend, Egypt was hit by blinding dust
storms and torrential rain. The winds created a violent sand
storm that shut down the entire country for two solid days. Cars
were unable to drive in many places as sand not only made
visibility impossible, but somehow entered the cars as well.
Clouds of thick dust coated Cairo and contributed to a rash of
The storm unleashed damaging winds, widespread blowing dust,
torrential rain and even heavy snow. Visibility at Cairo airport
was reduced to 300 meters. The entire population was forced
inside to escape the stinging sand.
The death toll had risen to at least
31 people as of Tuesday.
Several days later
while I was in Malta, I spoke with a man who was an Egyptian
national. This man told Marla and me this had been the most violent
storm in a century. He said he had never
seen a worse storm in his lifetime!
The Egyptian man said that even if we had been able to dock,
it would have done us no good. There were no pleasant boat trips up
the Nile. There were no planes departing for Luxor. There were no
buses willing to take us to the Pyramids.
Furthermore, even if we had somehow gotten
there, our eyes would have been ripped to shreds by the blinding
He said it was a blessing we didn't make it to Egypt. If we had been
there, we would have spent the entire time in a hotel room hiding
from near-hurricane force winds just like everyone else.
So why on earth was our ship trying so hard to make it to Egypt?
That is a very good question.
He predicted that if the ship had managed to dock,
just one look outside and none of us would have been willing to
leave the ship!
What an utter waste of time to try and make port!
I was baffled by his words. Why didn't the Captain simply
explain this to us in the first place?
All the ship had to do was explain what was going on and we would
have come to our senses. Yes, we would have been disappointed to
miss this opportunity of a lifetime, but any reasonable person would
quickly realize it was out of the question.
face it. Now that I have all the information, it seems clear there was absolutely no point in going to Egypt
unless there had been some way to change our itinerary. In
retrospect, an extra day in Rhodes might have been the best option.