From New York City to Greece
28.08.2013 - 02.10.2013 23 °C
New York City, an intricate maze of glass, concrete and brick sprouting from a narrow land mass that is Manhattan. In perpetual upward motion, the city never looks exactly the same and each visit reveals new buildings scratching at the troposphere. Dominating the skyline is the nearly complete Freedom Tower, the kingpin of the new World Trade Center complex.
It's been over 10 years, yet the wound is wide open.
On this particular visit to the Big Apple, a dear friend treats us to a breathtaking flyover of New York from his 4 seater. We glide along New York's sandy shores before turning inland towards the southern tip of Manhattan, flanked by the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island on either side. Trying to decipher plane-speak and scouring the airspace for aircraft announced by air traffic controllers is a fun exercise.
On the ground, New York's waterfront has blossomed over the last 15 years. In addition to the classic Staten Island, Statue of Liberty, Circle Line ferries and other private boat trips on offer, there is now a bustling network of short-hop ferries shuttling people to and from New Jersey (Hudson River) and Brooklyn (East River) in just minutes.
With an all day pass on the East River, we hop on and off and visit Brooklyn, but spend most of our time on the waterfront taking in the magnificent view of New York City from the well-deserved, most popular spot - DUMBO. It's a picture-perfect day and the parks along the river are teeming with a mix of tourists, film crews and local residents.
In the shadow of Manhattan's tall buildings, Roosevelt Island rests in the middle of the East River offering a sublime view of the city and in particular the United Nations. The short tram ride carries us over the city's busy avenues, by the mid-floor windows of several apartment and office buildings and dangles us just meters over the East River before easing into the tram terminal on the island. We walk to the newly refurbished FDR Four Freedoms Park and marvel at the view.
Across town, running between Gansevoort Street and West 30th street, the former railroad known as the West Side Line has been reincarnated as the High Line. Just over a mile long, this elevated park offers a delightful stroll and mid-high view of New York's rehabilitated Chelsea district.
With a belly full of oversized American food, we head towards a Mediterranean diet in Greece.
Arriving in Rhodes is like taking a colossus (pun intended) step back in time.
The largest island in the Dodecanese and adjacent to Turkey, Rhodes is an ideal starting point with low cost flights from Europe and endless island hopping options via an extensive ferry network.
The Old Town is a masterpiece whose beauty is trumped by a multitude of souvenir shops and restaurants fronted by overzealous touts. I admire the grandeur of the fortified walls against the pristine azure sky and revel at the relevance of this ancient civilization to our own, when suddenly the sound of the wind rattling the "I love Greece" paraphernalia that covers every inch of retail space, jolts me back to the present. It is mid-October yet the frenzy of tourists continues to beat fervently.
We find the Panorama hotel outside of town for 20 euros a night. It's a good half hour to walk to town, but there's a bus for lazy days, and a taxi home at night is just 5 euros; no haggling necessary. The family-run place is a steal at this time of year. The room is actually an apartment. Breakfast by the pool in the morning is delightful, but we remind ourselves that it's off season and it's probably a different scene during peak months.
With a barrage of offers at the waterfront, we settle on a day trip to a small island called Symi. What a revelation! The picturesque port is lined with freshly painted neoclassic buildings. Leaving the majority of tourists behind, small alleyways lead to wide stone steps that wind up into the hills in an endless labyrinth forcing us left, then right, no back, around. Symi oozes charm and we can easily imagine spending more time here. We head back down to the port for a feast of grilled octopus before dragging ourselves back on board the ferry.
On yet another picture perfect day, we hop an island bus to Lindos the other highlight of Rhodes. From a distance, the town looks like a pile of white sugar cubes neatly fitted into the rock. A steep walk down a winding road leads us to a charming bleached-white village with narrow winding streets and pretty hotels marred only by wall-to-wall tourist shops. The beach here is a perfect crescent of sand with clear blue water, that is likely jammed during the top months. Clearly, the best way to visit this and most islands in Greece, would be on a private boat. We hike alone, along the plateau opposite offering a splendid view of the village, the acropolis and the bay.
The 9 hour ferry to Santorini turns into a 2 day adventure. Gail force winds prevent the boat from docking leaving the captain no option but to continue another 8 hours to Athens. While everyone yells at the poor man and his staff, we seize the opportunity and are offered a cabin, which will be ours until the ferry takes us back to Santorini the following night. The next morning, with a full day to spend in Athens, we head off to explore.
We arrive in Santorini in the middle of the night. At the Blue Sky Villa, my name is taped to the entrance with instructions and the key to our room. It's a charming hotel in the main town of Fira, off the tourist trail (read: no spectacular view), for again 20 euros. The room is bright and clean with a tv, fridge, terrace and though we won't need it at this time of year, a/c.
I get why people flock to Santorini. Colorful rugged rock formations crowned with whitewashed dwellings that change color as the sun shifts in the sky and wide-angle views from heights that leave you breathless. Beautifully appointed hotels and restaurants tightly terraced along the cliffs, with private balconies, infinity pools, candlelight dining and sunsets on the 10 side of the scale. But, at least 2 cruise ships drop anchor each day bringing thousands of day trippers and I cannot fathom why one would pay for the privilege of having hoards of people parading through the tiny streets and alleys that weave through these establishments.
Thankfully, there are ways to escape the crowds. We explore the traditional villages of Pyrgos and Megalochori delighting in local eats. But the prettiest and most popular is the 10km hike along the cliffs from Fira, through Firostefani and on to Oia (pronounced eeya) at the northern tip of the island.
At sea-level below Oia, lies Ammoudi, a mini port lined with nice looking restaurants and a ferry to the small island facing Santorini. As we step off at Thirasia, an eager restauranteur ushers us, the only tourists, to his rather unassuming resto. After a tasty batch of small fried fish and homemade wine we hike up to the top of the island to admire the fantastic views of Santorini. The homes along the winding street seem deserted but we encounter a few locals and learn that during the high season, approximately 2000 tourists traipse through daily.
As November approaches and temps drop, businesses slowly shut down and ferry schedules dwindle. We agree to return to Greece at a later date, perhaps before the season starts, when we'll have more time to visit the hundreds, no thousands, of islands scattered in the Aegean.