Sailing into Rhodes Town, the capital of the Greek Dodecanese islands, made for a hard landing back in modernity. But our distaste for the cruiseliners and high-rises crowding the shoreline — the only colossuses left in Rhodes — didn’t last long. Old Rhodes Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, was once the stronghold of the crusading Knights Hospitaller. Later conquered by the Ottoman Turks, it’s an intoxicating brew of East and West — a fantasia of ramparts and minarets, sandstone masonry and geometric tiling, dotted with ancient excavation sites. Strolling its medieval streets, we could feel the place casting its spell.
Rhodes was a hard act to follow, but our final destination, Symi, more than managed. We put into this jewel of an island just as the sun was beginning its final descent. Wreathing the harbor’s steep hillsides was a riot of candy-colored neoclassical villas, their pastels aglow against the arid terrain.
Tickled by the whimsy of it all, I leapt ashore — only to be waylaid by a gung-ho salesman eager to school me in the art of sponging. “Symi was built on sponges,” opened his well-honed sales pitch. This splendid harbor town, he explained, owed not only its prosperity but also its very survival to the soft, sea-dwelling tufts. In his reign of terror, the Owttoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent vowed to spare Symi in exchange for a yearly delivery of sponges to his concubines. Sold, I forked over 18 euros ($24) for one — a bargain, factoring in the free history lesson.
Later that night, after a hike to the spectacular Byzantine monastery overlooking town, we gathered on Regina’s foredeck for ouzo. A light wind sighed through the rigging of countless small crafts ringing the intimate harbor. Stirred by drink and the magic in the air, we recited poetry. Arguably a silly flight of romanticism — and probably a bit touchy-feely for Bond’s taste — but we couldn’t help ourselves. With the wraparound lights of Symi twinkling like so many eyes in an amphitheater, the least we could do was put on a show for this landscape that had served up such a feast for our senses — not to mention our souls.
Marc Mewshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.