It was dark when we arrived, and as our bus whisked us from airport to hotel all we saw were the lit windows of shops and their tarpaulin-covered extensions where racks and rails of colourful goods ranged across pavements like chess pieces on a board.
The first real taste of our holiday came when after our meal we wandered outside to explore the hotel grounds. As we stepped through the automatic doors, warmth hit us, as did the sounds from the outdoor entertainment area with its stage and bar, people wearing short-sleeved t-shirts or floaty dresses and flip-flops relaxing in chairs. Children, freed from school and normal routine, ran around or created their own performances with loud voices and exaggerated gestures. Even at the height of summer, evenings in Scotland are very rarely this balmy, and the dampness of dew sends us scurrying for jackets. So different here!
We were in the modern tourism-by-the-sea part of Ialyssos, one of the three major cities of Rhodes founded in the sixth century BC. Rhodes is one of the Dodecanese islands in the south-eastern Aegean known for being the sunniest places in Greece, as well as for their medieval castles, Byzantine churches, and ancient archaeological sites. Even in October the weather remained in the mid to high twenties, with a drop of only a few degrees in the evenings. Hence the outdoor entertainment.
It all seemed idyllic until we tried to sleep. Even a light sheet over us made us sticky, bedding becoming a second skin unless we shed it. A few evenings and lively patches of mosquito bites later we sussed out how to operate the air conditioning which made sleeping infinitely easier and more pleasant.
On our first morning we realised not only did our balcony boast a view of the beach but also the not far distant Turkish coast with numerous cruise ships like floating islands passing regularly, Rhodes town, which we could partly see on the opposite headland of the bay, being a favourite stopping place.
The Dodecanese have a colourful past – part of the Byzantine Empire, then in the 14th century, taken over by the Knights of St John who made Rhodes into their stronghold, before being ousted by Suleiman the Magnificent and fleeing to Malta. As part of the Ottoman Empire the Dodecanese paid a special tax in return for autonomous status and freedom from interference and harassment. When Greek independence was recognised in 1830, although most Dodecanese still considered themselves Greek, the islands were not included in the new country.
After the outbreak of the Italian-Turkish war over Libya the islands declared themselves an independent state, in 1912 becoming the Federation of the Dodecanese Islands. That was when Italy invaded, its eyes fixed on the fortress of Rhodes to control communications between Turkey and Libya.
After the First World War Italy formally annexed the Dodecanese with Mussolini embarking on a programme of Italianisation. Roads, schools and hospitals were constructed, and the Castle of the Grand Master was rebuilt. Mussolini is said to have stayed there, many of the pieces of furniture and light fittings having an Italian feel to their design.
During World War 2 the strategic positions of the islands saw the Dodecanese being used as bases by both sides of the conflict. However, in the aftermath they became a British military protectorate before being formally united with Greece in 1947, less than seventy years ago.
No doubt the reason why a fellow visitor emphatically informed me that the Dodecanese are not Greece, certainly not typical of Greece. I can understand that, for although we may think of them as Greek, thousands of years of cultures created and pieced together by different regimes have left a multi-faceted historical mosaic fascinating in its intricacy.
So while we enjoyed sitting reading by the pool and stuffing ourselves with Greek salads, feta cheese and olives washed down by local wines and brandy, we also took in some of the sights that peeled away the idols of modern day tourism to expose the jigsawed inputs of eras, regimes and customs that have shaped the Dodecanese into what they are today.