Off-Season Travel: Greek Island-Hopping

The picturesque harbors of the Greek islands offer sanctuary from the Aegean’s famous tempests.
The picturesque harbors of the Greek islands offer sanctuary from the Aegean’s famous tempests.

I got off to a good start in Haifa, Israel’s main seaport. I’d been staying on a nearby kibbutz, and managed to find a berth on a cargo ship bound for Cyprus with just two other passengers. Moshe, a 74-year-old Israeli, was delivering a couple of cars to a customer.

Like most Israelis of his generation, he has led an eventful life and had many stories to tell. The other passenger, Tomas, a young man from Poland, had been traveling all over the Middle East, even managing to enter Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

When we reached Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean, however, my dreams of splendid isolation were dashed. Walking along the seaside promenade in the port city of Larnaca, I heard English voices everywhere, and many Scandinavian ones, too.

It turns out that Cyprus is popular with long-stay retirees from cold northern climes. The Scandinavians swim and play ball games on the beach, while the British keep the bars busy in the evenings. Lovely island, but time to move on.

I had picked out Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanes islands and easternmost of the major Greek islands, as my next destination. Unable to find a ship bound for Rhodes, I had to resort to a less-romantic means of travel, an aircraft.

I arrived in the city of Rhodes, at the far northern end of the island, at about 9 p.m. Its labyrinthine maze of cobbled streets are punctuated with archways and courtyards that had a Gothic, surrealist quality to them in the nighttime gloom. I’ve visited some narrow-laned towns in my time, but this one takes the biscuit. It was too dark to read the map in my guidebook, and the streets were deserted.

I walked past the shuttered hotels and shops before stumbling across a jeweler’s store that was still open. The owner led me to a tiny hotel, and before long I found myself in a charming, centuries-old bedroom. Feeling encouraged, I headed off into the lanes in search of food and drink. I found both in a cave-like tavern where I enjoyed a bowl of pasta while sitting next to a roaring log fire.

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