“Now, immerse both your feet slowly into the tanks… You will feel a tickling sensation, like you have pins and needles…”, the long white-haired man said. As I followed his direction, I felt those little fish gather around and all over my feet, ready to binge on my skin cells, and my ticklish self was about to start laughing and twitching, but after a few instants I felt the tension of my body release, all of a sudden, and I dropped my shoulders. “Close your eyes, I want you to feel like you’re at home”.
I had never tried what they call a fish spa before. I was wandering in the Old Town of Rhodes and two friends suggested me to try this little place, where the old owner (he must have been a hippy, a backpacking adventurer, or simply somebody who knew a lot and learnt how to read people very well) would combine the exfoliating fish experience with an amazing foot massage, for just 10 euro.
“Keep your eyes closed, you don’t have to feel any hurry or pressure…”. As my breath eased and became deeper, I started flicking through my memories of Rhodes. It was my last day on that island and in that moment I realised how much of my personal story was associated with that place. The first time I went to Rhodes I was escaping. It was seven years ago, on a summer, I had just left an important relationship behind and I was dragging myself from a gig to another of a theatrical play I was in, without really being there mentally… I needed to clear my mind about a lot of things, but in order to do that I needed to take some distance from everything and everybody, so one day I impulsively stepped into a travel agency and asked what was their best suggestion for a short holiday by the sea for a solo traveller. “A Greek island”, the lady answered.
I’ve spent a week by myself enjoying metallic blue seascapes, beautiful beaches and clear waters… Kalithea is a small rocky bay, famous because of some magnificent Baths built by Italians and no longer active, with a restaurant and stylish rattan and wrought-iron sunbeds (be careful because the armrests can become easily incandescent in the sun, branding your forearm for life. Joking, only for a few days). Faliraki is a more commercial and young-vibey beach, it extends for more than five kilometres and it’s full of bars (with very affordable and good cocktails!) and clubs, with a vibrant night life. Basically if you want to find Faliraki just follow the yelling of drunk groups of Germans or Brits, you can’t go wrong. (Yes, ok, we Italians are loud too. But we go to Mikonos mainly). A great option is to opt for a boat cruise from the port of Mandraki to have a glimpse of all the best beaches that this island has to offer (including the lovely Anthony Quinn’s Bay , named after the actor starred in The Guns of Navarone, shot right on location), and if you have an extra day you can even consider a boat trip to the lovely Marmaris (Turkey).
While my mind was lost in the memory of swimming (well, “smimming”… more floating and splashing around with the grace of a baby hippo) in Greek clear waters, the relaxing feeling of those little fish had irradiated from my feet up my legs and I was experiencing a lightness I hadn’t felt in a while. “Now we take the feet out of the tanks and rest for a minute… then we can put them in again”, the man instructed me and guided my movement, drying my feet with a robust paper towel. There was such mastery in all that ritual… My mind went back in time again.
The second time I have been in Rhodes was on my seven month contract as singer on board Costa Victoria in 2011. We used to dock in Mandraki regularly every Friday and that was when I got familiar with the suggestive old part of the city, enclosed in medieval walls. The cobbled streets, the Palace of the Knights, the hundreds restaurants and cafes where to lunch al fresco under lavish pergolas, the shops selling handcrafted creations, olivewood utensils (there’s a weird trend of penis shaped bottle-openers, in various sizes and designs) and local natural products (don’t miss almonds and pistachios in honey or the little wicker bowls with a selection of spices to recreate the delicious Greek cuisine at home… and stock on olive oil soap bars, especially the ones with mint and argan oil, so nice and gentle on your skin and a convenient idea for small presents!). Walking through the Old Town of Rhodes you will find a little square with some sort of well in the middle, where you can take a picture of yourself with two big and colourful parrots. Don’t do it if you’re wearing a hoodie though, because those two little buggers would start munching on the straps of your jumper destroying them in a couple of milliseconds.
Another great memory of that time was when, with my friends Giangi and Vittoria, we rented a car to go and visit Lindos. Lindos is a village perched on a hill, where the typical Greek whitewashed houses alternate with cobbles and terracotta brick walls, with a lot of cute photo spots, and if you climb up to the top you will find the perfectly preserved ruins of the Acropolis and the archeological site, that shimmer like gold in the blinding sun. One of the options to reach the acropolis is riding one of the local donkeys available at the foot of the hill, but I honestly don’t endorse this practice, mainly because the conditions in which these poor animals have to live and work don’t seem to be very healthy. So no donkey, just move your bumcheeks and carry a bottle of water at all times. Hiring a car (or a quad bike!) is probably the best way to enjoy the island thoroughly, not only cruising along the coast but visiting the inside to get in contact with the local life and traditions.
I cherish a huge amount of memories from that season in Rhodes but a lot of them are very personal and I don’t want to sound too cheesy and romantic. I’ll just say that if you happen to be at the beach in Mandraki near the Casino, and you take a long walk on the shore you can reach the top point of the island… well, on that triangular stripe of pebble beach surrounded by the sea, somewhere there should be a piece of my heart I left while I was living one of the best moments of my life. (Ok, now we can play any random 90’s boyband tune you like.)
The white haired man finished my foot massage and used a warm towel to remove the excess of cream, suggesting me to use cotton socks more often instead of sporty acrylic ones, and to always make sure that my feet are perfectly dry even if I’m on a rush after a quick shower before work. I was feeling completely relaxed, like I was floating on air. He then added: “These are complicated times for everybody. It’s perfectly natural to worry about money, about the job, about the future… what is not natural is to let all these things affect us on a daily basis. As human beings we have a great power that we often don’t realise. We can always reach a mental state of peace and lucidity, we can always find our relaxation even in stressful times. We just have to connect with ourselves, we have to find time for ourselves. We have to listen to ourselves more.”
Sometimes life puts on our path random people that we probably won’t see ever again but they manage to say the words we needed to hear or make the perfect action to help us in that particular moment. That’s what I thought while I was walking back to the ship, giving one last look at the medieval walls of the Old Town, with the smile of the new beginnings finally back on my face.
(It’s hard to locate places in the Old Town, most streets don’t even have a name, but if you want to find the fish spa of that old wise man I can try and give you some directions: once you reach the square with the parrots keep on walking and turn right; you’ll see shops that sell leather bags on the left and watches on the right… a few meters onwards, on the right corner, you will find the place.)