Until I visited Rhodes in the Greek Islands all my previous trips had either been expeditions or with friends and partners. Although the trip was not exactly independent being booked via an airport agency it was my first experience of solo travel. Arriving at the airport with a packed bag and getting a deal on a flight and hotel package which was flying in just a few hours seemed quite exciting though.
That was in the days when last minute bookings could still be found making huge savings and although the hotel where I stayed was not the plushest it was comfortable and certainly worth the price paid.
I must have at least appeared as a solo backpacker as on my arrival at the airport as several women tried to persuade me to stay at their homes, informing me that they were clean, friendly and very cheap. It was actually very tempting and if my accommodation had not already been sorted the offer would have probably been taken up.
Hiring a mountain bike provided me with a decent way of getting around the local area and seeing the majority of sites worth visiting. The only exception was a short ferry ride to see the Acropolis at Lindos, which is certainly well worth a visit. The walk up the many steps almost takes as long as the ferry excursion to get there. It is also a bit of a labyrinth and can get a little confusing but there are signs and getting a little lost is part of the charm.
The view from the top alone is worth the trip, standing amidst the fortifications provides a panoramic viewpoint on the bay, harbour and lower city below.
The Temple of Athena sits at the centre of the Acropolis and is accessed through the castle, dating all the way back to the 4th Century BC. At the time this was possibly one of the oldest structures I had visited and its state of repair was quite impressive. Greece is home to one of the oldest civilisations and archaeological wonders are scattered all over the mainland and islands like discarded toys. A country which is paradise for those that love history especially the ancient variety, even for a philistine like me it provides plenty of excitement.
Looking down on the Aegean at the time however it was hard to be sure which was main attraction, that shade of azure blue that it is only possible to find in places fitting descriptive words such as stunning and gorgeous.
I also took a trip up to the Acropolis of Rhodes which is only a few clicks from Rhodes city centre and required just a thirty minute bike ride. The site consists of Temple of Apollo, an outdoor amphitheatre and a track where athletic and possibly even chariot races were held. A decent way to waste an afternoon for sure, you can almost feel the history, dating back almost to the 3rd Century and if you try hard enough it is quite possible to picture chariots racing around the track.
Spending an inordinately long time here considering the sparse amount of things to see, it was almost certainly down to soaking in the ambience of the site, but could have also had a little to do with not looking forward to cycling back.
Rhodes is one of the largest of the Greek Islands which attracts plenty of visitors and incidentally cats; which are everywhere. Almost anywhere that you visit around the main town is home to a family of kitties. They can be cute but they can also be a flea ridden bundle of skin and bones that it is hard not to feel sympathy for. This is probably why so many get fed by tourists, locals and even restaurant owners alike. No wonder it is such a popular holiday destination with felines.
Eating out is pretty good, the city may not be especially clean but the restaurants serve tasty meals, seem clean enough and are good value. Some have ‘touts’ who are employed to bring customers in to dine. Walking down the street close to my hotel most evenings meant running the gauntlet of these. However unlike some other destinations these touts were generally very polite and quite a few have a good sense of humour. The banter before deciding where to eat was often almost as enjoyable as the actual meal.
Of course one problem with choosing a mountain bike was that I was realistically restricted to anywhere with a couple of hours ride which means around twenty kilometres or so. This might not seem too far but you had to see the bike! This was not such a disadvantage however managing to take a few excursions around the main city as well as enjoying a little sightseeing in the surrounding countryside and villages.
I was of however enjoying my period of selfishness, having the freedom to do as I please without having to compromise for the sake of others and being able to choose whether to spend time on my own or mix with others was very liberating.
Enjoying spending time around the enclosed harbour area which is extremely attractive with a series of windmills, a pretty promenade area with countless streets leading away into the city. It is easy to get lost but this is another of the attractions, wandering aimlessly through the many narrow streets often without meeting another tourist is part of the fun.
The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes dominates the harbour, sitting imposingly on the high ground it is an obvious attraction and is not long before any visitor is drawn towards it for a visit. Spending an afternoon there, the exhibition is split into two floors the first is of ancient artefacts from Rhodes itself but photography is prohibited. It is permissible to take photographs of the second floor exhibits but they are of a later period, a little less interesting in my opinion and frustratingly hardly any are described. Tour guide anybody?
Greece and Rhodes is extremely popular with tourists, the mixture of good weather, great sandy beaches, a clear, warm sea and several sites of significant archaeological interest is a tempting mix and plenty come to soak it all up.
Exploring the island in my own manner and at my own pace was the highlight of the trip for me. I enjoyed my first taste of independence and although several groups or pairs of people were met being able to join them when it suited and spend time on my own when preferred was to become the blueprint for the vast majority of my trips since then.
I may have visited more exciting, remote or even beautiful places but Rhodes possibly had the greatest impact on my travel choices; it defined me as a solo traveller.