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The Editor’s Desk: The armchair traveller

Thanks to technology, the world and its wonders are available at the click of a few buttons
Prasonisi on the island of Rhodes, where you can stand with one foot in the Mediterranean (on the left) and one foot in the Aegean. (Photo credit: Google street view)

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper caught my eye, headlined “Rhodes less travelled: Finding peace on the Greek island”. It was accompanied by a gorgeous photograph that I recognized immediately as being of Lindos, which is familiar to many as the site of some of the filming of the 1961 movie The Guns of Navarone.

In the article, author Annabelle Thorpe talks about renting a car and touring the picturesque island, thus managing to avoid some of the more touristy spots. It brought an immediate flashback to 1996, when I was holidaying on Rhodes and we (my husband, mother, father, brother, a family friend, and I) rented a car and did the exact same thing.

We weren’t staying in a particularly touristy spot: the tiny village of Gennadi on the southeast coast of Rhodes is (or at least was then) relatively unspoiled. A large hotel just outside town on the beach catered to the bulk of the tourists (mainly German) who came to the spot; we opted to stay in a small apartment building in the centre of the town, about 10-minutes’ walk from the Mediterranean Sea. We were also there at the very end of the season, which meant that when we walked anywhere we mostly saw locals: women shopping, children playing soccer, black-robed priests looking somber.

Still, we wanted to see a bit more, and having taken bus tours to Rhodes town and Lindos already we decided to rent a car for the day and meander around the interior of the island, stopping whenever we saw something we fancied. How far out of season were we? When we stopped at the ruins of an ancient village, they were completely out of English brochures, so we all took German ones and did our best.

All these years later I have an impression of blue water and bluer sky, stark white buildings, olive groves, dry grass, and a heavy stillness in the afternoon heat that was still fairly intense. I also remember driving to the very tip of the island, at Prasonisi, and straddling a small piece of land where I had one foot in the Mediterranean Sea and one foot in the Aegean Sea. (I also recall that we had to drive — legally, I hasten to add — through a military rifle-training range to get there, which added a certain frisson of excitement to the venture.)

Thorpe’s article brought all these memories and more flooding back on a grey, dreary, damp February day that made Rhodes seem even more appealing. The memories were bittersweet, because I know that while I was fortunate to visit there, I shall never return to that faraway island. Not in body, at least, but thanks to the internet I can “visit” it whenever I like, in ways that would have been impossible 27 years ago, when I was actually there.

Thanks to the internet, I can go to a map and virtually replicate that long-ago drive. I can watch videos and documentaries about Rhodes whenever and wherever I like. And it’s not just Rhodes that I can visit: there is no corner of the world, no destination, no treasure of antiquity that is forever closed to me, the stuff only of travellers’ tales and books and etchings and poorly-reproduced photographs. Agatha Christie wrote that one of the highlights of her life was visiting the city of Petra in Jordan. I will never go there in person, but I can visit it — and I have — courtesy of technology.

Turner Classic Movies occasionally runs travelogues from the 1930s and 1940s; fascinating period pieces, usually filmed in colour, which would have given moviegoers of the day a tantalizing glimpse of the sights and sounds of other places, the illusion — for a few minutes — of being travellers. We can all be travellers now, going to any location that takes our fancy. There is an old saying to the effect of “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” Courtesy of modern technology, we never have to arrive; or, when we do, we can begin our hopeful travels all over again.

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