It was a great deal – the reason we went to Rhodes for two weeks rather than, one as the cost was little more. We didn’t question why, vaguely thinking it was due to the lateness of the season, a quieter interlude before ramping up again for Christmas.
During the first week we merely enjoyed being there. But then we began to hear stories from staff of the hotel closing down at the end of the month. End of the summer season they said. They talked of longed-for holidays after working hard all through the summer. After that they would work on the land, pick olives, see what else became available, spin their money out and hope they could find another job to see them through to May when the hotel opened again.
The sky was blue, the sun beat down, we couldn’t believe the hotel was closing. Surely it didn’t make economic sense. Turned out it wasn’t just our hotel that shut up shop for the winter. In Rhodes most hotels and businesses seemed to close.
Into the second week and there were decidedly less people in the hotel than the previous week. Each day saw busloads leave, and the number of tables used in the dining room reduced to a small section rather than two large areas. The entertainment staff left. For a few days little had been offered as insufficient visitors wanted to take part in the quizzes or bingo.
We watched from our balcony as the umbrellas and sunbeds on the beach were gathered together, and the makeshift huts from where sunbathers could buy water or soft drinks, or hire jet skis or arrange paragliding, were dismantled, their tables, chairs and paraphernalia loaded, after much discussion and extravagant hand gestures, onto a succession of cars, vans and trucks. Looked as if favours had been called in from friends to help move businesses to winter storage quarters.
With fewer and fewer people around the pool, stacks of sunbeds grew beside a fence bordering the road. Umbrellas stood together like stands of albino trees. The entertainment having finished, a crew of electricians sauntered in to dismantle the lights for the stage and the sound equipment. It all seemed quite surreal, watching the pack-up as we lounged in our chairs, wondering again what this did to the economy.
When we broached the subject we were told of much colder weather, bad storms when ferries didn’t run to other islands. One afternoon and evening we had experienced one of their thunderstorms, and yes the rain pelted down. But coming from Scotland where our weather year round is unpredictable, and where cold weather, rain, storms, frost, sleet and snow are normal for winter, we weren’t totally convinced by the arguments. If Scotland can have a vibrant winter programme of events with visitors flocking to see in the New Year in Edinburgh (75,000 visitors flew in this week) and other cities and towns, we thought perhaps Rhodes, the rest of Greece, might give it a whirl.
As we watched vans coming and going, delivering foodstuffs, cleaning materials, clean laundry, all the materials necessary for keeping a hotel for 800 people going, it brought home to us that not only would the hotel staff be jobless so would many of those working for those companies. One of the two supermarkets beside the hotel packed up and pulled down the shutters, as did the other businesses beside it.
Rhodes was saying goodbye to the world, closing down, wholesale, for six months, until the beginning of May. Tour operators withdraw, flights end, and the island economy must surely fall off a cliff. Shops in Rhodes old town close because they have no customers. The place must become a ghost town, returned to the Knights for their ghosts to roam the streets unhindered, pining for the good old days before they were kicked out and had to start anew in Malta.
None of this affected our enjoyment. For us and a handful of guests everything (bar the entertainment) went on as before. We rather enjoyed the peace of the place, the quietness without the screeches of water polo players, and the whoops of children as they jumped into the water. We watched mesmerised. The close down provided us with a different form of entertainment.
As no guests were coming in after us we were able to retain our room until we left at six in the evening. And as our bus drove off to the airport, the lights in the hotel’s reception went out.