“It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive” is an axiom, often repeated but first penned by Robert Louis Stevenson, which has become a cliché. The thought echoes and old Taoist saying that “the journey is the reward”. I read a slogan the other day to the effect that the true traveller doesn’t care about arriving. ‘Round objects’, as Churchill is reputed to have scribbled in the margin of a document he didn’t agree with.
My take on it is quite different. I travel because I want to be where I’m going, not because I want to be in the places in-between. If I wanted to be in those places I would plan to go there. The journey may be mildly diverting but as far as possible I deal with it by reading or dozing. I sometimes find myself half wishing that the emergencies which the flight crew prepare us for would happen just to add a little interest. If I could go into stasis and wake up at the destination, that would be fine by me, I would manage without the in-flight meal.
Airports and planes are ‘nowheres’, enclosed spaces with no view of the real world, divorced from reality. But they are necessary to get to where we want to be.
My flight was at 22.15, the journey a disaster waiting to happen in terms of timing. Arrive Athens 04.00; connecting flight 05.00; arrive Rhodes 06.00; ferry from the ‘Colonna’ harbour 08.30, arrive Symi 09.20. Plenty of opportunity for slippage and lost baggage there!
Apart from being misdirected to the connecting flight and doing a grand tour of Athens Venizelos Airport on 3 levels, it all went like clockwork. Arrived Rhodes on time, baggage on the carousel before we had strolled across the tarmac to the terminal building. Out of the door by 06.15
Chatting to people on the plane I found that there were a number of us going to Symi and therefore all heading for the harbour so we shared a taxi costing €6 each, arriving at the ferry only minutes ahead of another guy who caught the bus for €2.30 and with nearly an hour to kill before the ticket office opened and 2 hours before the ferry left.
I needed to put credit on my Greek mobile phone so I walked across the road from the harbour into the walled Old Town, built by the Crusaders centuries ago. In summer the place is heaving with people at virtually any time of day or night, restaurants and tavernas stationing fast-talking spiders who leap out to entice you into their web. When I arrive at the end of April last year I found he Old Town very quiet, few people around, and some businesses not yet open for the season. This year not a single place was open, shops, restaurants, tavernas, kiosks all shuttered. A few cars zoomed up and down the main pedestrianised street and a couple of guys getting ready to paint were the only signs that there was anyone still left on this bit of the planet.
As I arrived back at the harbour the sun was rising above the buildings on the quay opposite into a cloudless sky, adding warmth to the colour of the stone walls and glinting on the water and the sides of .the moored boats.
Dodecanese Seaways have two high speed catamarans which ply the Aegean, linking the Greek islands along the Turkish coast, north up to Patmos and then back every day. Having been enclosed in the cabin of a plane for four hours already I generally sit outside on the back of the boat, this early in the year a little chill in the wind but bearable in the sunshine.
After 30 minutes the coast of Rhodes is disappearing and we are running close along the eastern side of Symi, the first port of call. I stand at the rail and watch, remembering parts of the coastline I know from trekking the mountains, looking at possible routes up the cliffs which I keep intending to try. As we slow down to pull alongside the quay those travelling further, flock outside to take-in what is one of the most spectacular harbours in Greece if not all of Europe.
I’m met at the quayside and share a taxi up to the Horio, the old village on the hill above the harbour and then, dropped off at the closest point that we can get by car, walk the last 10 minutes to the house I’m renting on narrow, twisting, rough surfaced alleys which haven’t changed in centuries. Donkeys used to be used for this leg of the journey but the guy retired so now we carry our own burdens.