February Postcards from Symi

 

Symi is still deep in its winter sleep.  Down in Pedi random goats and sheep browse the verges and cats seek out the warm places. The weather is variable and forecasts frequently wrong.  Mild winds turn out to be gales and black clouds roll out from behind the Vigla on days that are supposed to be dry.  Airers laden with damp jeans and wet socks will be cluttering our homes for a while longer.  Temperatures can be anything from 6 to 16 degrees centigrade, depending on which way the wind is blowing.  Today’s Blue Star Chios ran on time but Dodecanese Seaways has cancelled due to strong north winds and a deteriorating forecast.

Behind closed doors some businesses are preparing for the season. The Pedi Beach Hotel is revamping all its rooms.  To Spitiko taverna in the harbour is also in the throes of a massive overhaul.  The new road which will connect the bend in the road above the harbour with the new commercial port is making progress.  This has been on the cards for some time and will facilitate the movement of heavy goods vehicles coming off the Blue Star up to the main road without going through Petalo.

The lease on the Nireus Hotel, which belongs to the Symi town hall, came up for auction at the beginning of the month as the original 25 year lease was up for review.  The Rhodian company that manages the Pedi Beach Hotel won.  So far there is a lot of gossip circulating as apparently this came as a surprise to the original lessees who had, it is said, assumed that this was merely a formality and that they would be rolled over for another 25.  The Rhodian company offered the town council a far higher rental, 200 000 euros per annum according to the local press, and is undertaking to raise the hotel to 4 star standard.  We are all waiting to see what happens this year as in theory the hotel should be opening for the season in April which is only weeks away.

Another piece of news that may have implications for Symi this summer is that the Dodecanese Seaways car ferry, the Panagia Skiadeni, has been sold.  Will the new owners be operating the existing Rhodes Symi route or will the boat be going elsewhere and if so, who will fill the gap?  As the Sebeco does  not take vehicles or goods this leaves a big hole in the island’s summer supply line.

Carnival is in the air.  Yesterday was Tsiknopempti – Smokey Thursday. The scheduled municipal BBQ event has been postponed to Sunday due to the wet and windy weather yesterday (surprise!).  If you are on Symi this weekend, the BBQ in the Chorio square is scheduled to start at 15.00, weather permitting of course!

So, as you can see, although it all seems very quiet on Symi at the moment, there’s really quite a lot going on.

A Winter Weekend in Patmos (Part 6)

Early on Sunday morning Nicholas set off for another run, this time in the fields along the north side of the island that we had driven past the previous day.  The pictures above tell their own story.

After breakfast at the hotel we set off to visit the Church of the Apocalypse, the place where St John wrote his Divine Revelations around 95 AD.  He lived in a cave which was turned into a church around 1000 years later and a monastery sprang up around it. We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside unfortunately.  The church was quite small and about a third of the space was actually the rock formation of the ‘cave’.  It must be merry hell in summer with the coach parties as I doubt there is space for more than 20 people at any given time, assuming that they are all standing up and facing the same way.  Considering all the talk about climate change and the end of the world etcetera, I am surprised that the place isn’t heaving all year round but perhaps people have forgotten that everything to do with the concept of the Apocalypse started in a small cave on a remote Greek island nearly 2 000 years ago.

This time we were accompanied by the janitor who was busy vacuuming, polishing and mopping which rather detracted from the spirituality of the place.  Not so much the odour of sanctity as the floral abundance of Fabuloso.  He asked us where we were from.  We told him we were from Symi and commented on the different way in which windows and shutters are handled between the two islands – on Symi shutters are outside and windows open inwards so the shutters have to be kept closed in the rain as otherwise they leak.  (Shums notice stuff like that.) In Patmos it is the other way round.  It turns out that the buildings in Patmos are so old that glass windows were added later – you only had shutters to keep out potential invaders or open spaces – which is why glass windows were added later, usually on the outside of the shutters which opened inwards, as in the photograph below.  When we mentioned the limitations of the archaeologia, the state body that controls what people do to buildings in places like Symi, Patmos and Rhodes Old Town, he rolled his eyes and said, “We also have UNESCO!”

 

After our chat with the janitor, who was careful to lock up after us so no sneaking back inside to take unauthorised pictures, we headed back up the hill to Chora for a final walk around.  Once again, we saw more companions with four legs than two.  This time we were taking on a guided walk by a small, friendly but independent-minded dog (no excessive demonstrations of affection, thank you).

We are not quite finished yet. There are still some more good photos left to share with you so watch out for the next instalment.

A Winter Weekend in Patmos (Part 5)

After visiting the Christodoulou monastery in Chora we hit the road in our hire car, heading north this time.  We had heard that there was a traditional wooden boat yard at the top of the island and boat yards are like catnip to us so off we went.  When we eventually reached the site of supposed boatyard it actually turned out to have been turned into a shooting range and all that was left was a large winch. For some reason, going back through our cameras, it seems that neither of us thought the place sufficiently photogenic to be worthy of immortalisation, unlike the goats who had taken over that end of the island.  They seemed to be fairly feral and we saw no signs of ear-tagging or other forms of flock marking.

Patmos has a lot of arable land in comparison to Symi, with generously sized terraced fields, threshing floors, wells and meadows.  Although there is quite a lot of tourist development it seems to be mainly low-rise and unintrusive, unlike the hotel complexes fringing Rhodes and Kos.  The island has a large reservoir, out of bounds to tourists, as well as two large – and functioning – wind turbines.

The third village on Patmos after the port of Skala and the old town, Chora, is called Kampos.  We stopped there for lunch on our way back.  The only taverna open was a real time capsule. The walls were lined with old black and white family photographs, venerable patriarchs and matrons and, somewhat surprisingly, a black and white cat, all looking straight ahead in the formal poses of the day.  The radiators were welcome against the chill.  We would have sat outside at a table in the sun but that was the smoking zone and already occupied by a young Greek couple, wreathed in clouds of roll-up tobacco.  The proprietor was busy loading massive skewers of whole chickens onto rotisseries over a bed of coals in the back kitchen for an event in the evening but he was happy to have a couple of lunch guests if we didn’t mind having something already prepared.  We had braised lamb shanks cooked with roasted red peppers and apricots and a stifado.  Both were delicious and we felt no need for a substantial meal in the evening.

By the time we got back to the hotel Skala was waking up from the brief winter siesta and we went for a stroll around the shops.  As the museum shop at the monastery was closed we went to see what the town had to offer by way of mementos.  One extremely dusty book shop yielded a copy of Cavafy to add to our collection but the souvenirs on offer were a bizarre mix of oriental bric a brac, discontinued Staffordshire pottery in a design that goes with nothing we already own, last year’s unsold Easter eggs and some very expensive icons.  We moved on to investigate the other two bookshops we had noticed the previous evening as well as the bio food shop and the newspaper shop.  In the newspaper shop we ran into the Croatian woman who was earnestly helping the young South Korean to select the best out of a bad collection of Patmos fridge magnets having resisted her exhortations to add an ungainly coffee mug to his suitcase.  The woman behind the counter was familiar – she had served us in Jumbo the previous evening (we bought a deliciously chintzy kitschy kitchen clock for a friend on Symi).  Even Patmos has job-sharing, it seems.

Supper that evening was a picnic in our room of hummous, pita and other bits and pieces from the AB supermarket down the road from the hotel while perusing the glossy picture books of Patmian icons and museum artefacts that the hotel keeps for the use of guests.

Sunday morning, before our departure, was set aside for a trip to the Church of the Apocalypse, the cave where St John the Divine had his famous revelations.  Of which more tomorrow.

shop 1
Hanging about hopefully outside one of several fishmongers
shop 2
Traditional supermarket. The window display is accessed by opening the windows from the street.
shop 3
Municipal buildings at the port.
shop 4
The Alpha Bank

A Winter Weekend in Patmos (Part 4)

 

The windmills at Chora on Patmos have been restored, initially by private initiative but now with some kind of grant.  One of them is fully functional and is, apparently, used to mill wheat in the summer.

The furthest one has a bronze Russian double-eagle over the door.  At first glance it looks like the Byzantine eagle used by the Greek Orthodox church in the Dodecanese but it differs in that it has a small crown above it, making it the emblem for the Russian royal family.  Interesting.

Apart from the Korean and Croatian tourists mentioned previously we did not see a soul on our walk from the monastery across to the windmills and back to the car park.  We did, however, see quite a few cats, of which more later.

Patmian architecture is very different to Symi’s.  The houses are flat-roofed stone structures with small windows and quirky doors within doors.  There are many tunnels across the lanes, supported by strong reeds and wooden beams to support the stone above.  The flat roofs are also made of reeds, wood and plaster which may be covered with gravel as insulation. Walls are painted white and woodwork is in muted shades of grey, eau de nil and verdigris. Very elegant.  I took more photographs on the Sunday morning so you still have those to look forward to.

After our morning explorations we then drove to the northern part of the island in search of a traditional wooden boat yard mentioned in a guidebook and met a lot of goats, but that is tomorrow’s instalment.

A Winter Weekend in Patmos (Part 3)

At first light on the Saturday morning Nicholas set off on an exploratory run, up the kalderimi (traditional stone-paved donkey path) through the trees to Chora on the hill top.  The path was well-maintained, although slippery with moss and weeds in places.  There is a policy in place to replace the fire-prone alien eucalyptus trees with indigenous conifers and in between the scorched trunks of eucalyptus there were new saplings, protected by mesh and connected to an irrigation network.  Once again, absolutely no litter, not even in the water courses.

After breakfast at the hotel we went up to Chora together.  The monastery gates open at 8.30 and we got there about an hour later.  There was not a soul to be seen but the door was open so we went in.  As we stood in the main courtyard, looking round, a chap of about 40 came up to us inquisitively.  It subsequently transpired that his name was Andoni, that he has learning difficulties of some sort and that he was in sole charge that day.  He was not expecting to see tourists and it was just as well that Nicholas speaks good Greek as he was slightly intimidating.  Eventually he left us alone to explore, only occasionally popping up from a random doorway or tunnel to check that we weren’t committing sacrilege.  One drawback of visiting in the winter is that the museum, treasury and museum shop are closed, although this is not mentioned in any of the guide books and the locals, when we asked later down in the harbour, seemed surprised.  A phone call from our hotelier established that these days there are so few tourists in the off season that it is no longer worth paying staff to open up these facilities between October and April.  Hence Andoni, no doubt.

An advantage, on the other hand, was that we could wander about and soak up the atmosphere without too many obvious 21st century intrusions.  Speaking of 21st century intrusions, the public toilets were open and immaculate, not just in the monastery but also the municipal facilities.  Symi, take note!

As you can see the views from the rooftops are fantastic.  In my next instalment I will share with you some photographs of the windmills as well as the lanes we walked through to reach them.

By the way, we weren’t the only foreign visitors on the island that weekend.  There was also a young man from South Korea and a middle-aged woman from Croatia.  More about them later!

 

 

 

 

A Winter Weekend in Patmos (Part 2)

Our visit to Patmos coincided with the January full moon, as you can see from the above photographs. The featured image at the top is the view from our hotel room.  Whatever time of the day I tried to photograph it, the light was in the wrong place but you get the general idea!

Although Patmos is very rugged and hilly it is no where near as steep and arid as Symi. There are many valleys and watercourses, some of which have formed lagoons.  Apparently in earlier times these lagoons were used for salt harvesting.  These days they are more likely to be used as beaches in the summer months, with tamarisk trees planted in rows along the sand bars.

The gentler gradients mean larger terraces and a lot more agricultural activity.  Unfortunately it has also encouraged much more building all over the island so there is very little untouched landscape. The rich and famous, including the Aga Khan, have big estates on the island.  There is none of the hedonistic party vibe associated with Mykonos and although Patmos has some pretty beaches and great sunsets they are not as photogenic as Santorini so the focal point of tourism on Patmos tends to be religious rather than the usual tourist scene. This means that the wealthy enjoy a degree of privacy and seclusion.

It also means that there are some very upmarket shops, spas and boutiques down in Skala as well as a branch of AB Supermarket, one of Greece’s oldest surviving supermarket chains.  There is also a tiny branch of Jumbo, the well-known Greek toy and housewares chain, every bit as cluttered as the diabolical maze of the Rhodes branch but on a much smaller scale.

Patmos has a permanent population of around 3000 so not dissimilar to Symi.  The island was spotlessly clean and there were recycling bins absolutely everywhere.  Wherever there were refuse bins there were recycling bins so locals did not have to go anywhere special or do anything inconvenient to participate.  On inspection we noticed that they were being used correctly and although we drove from one end of the island to the other, we did not see a single plastic bag stuck in a sage bush or a trail of litter marking the location of a landfill.  Another thing we noticed is that the power station, located on the waterfront in the bay we walked around on arrival, is practically silent and unobtrusive as it is seawater cooled.

recycling in the harbour

taking out the recycling
This lad is pedalling away on his bicycle, pulling a wheelie bin labelled aluminium.

A Winter Weekend in Patmos (Part 1)

Adriana with Skala and Chora in background 2beach umbrellascat and fish basket

dinner venue
We spotted this restaurant on our afternoon walk and came back to it later for dinner in the evening. Although it was a Friday night, we were the only diners.

little boatLouise boatNicholas on breakwaterrickety jetties

A vista from across the bay
Skala, the port of Patmos, with Chora, the old town, on the top of the hill.

This is the year we Shums turn 60. First Nicholas in January and then myself in June.  To celebrate this milestone we decided to play tourist and go to Patmos, an island that has been on our wish list for some time.  As luck would have it, the week of Nicholas’ birthday coincided with some seriously bad weather so our original plan, to go up on the Wednesday evening Blue Star and come back on the Sunday Dodecanese Seaways catamaran was thrown into disarray.  Instead we wound up taking the Friday morning Dodecanese Seaways up and coming back on the Sunday one, giving us effectively 48 hours on Patmos.

We stayed at the Villa Zacharo, one of the few places open on the island in the dead of winter.  The hotelier was happy to oblige our frequent changes of program and met us off the boat when we arrived in Skala, the only ferry port on Patmos.  The hotel was just up the drag, on the main road, if one can call it that, that connects Skala with Chora, the old fortified hilltop town around the Christodoulos monastery.  Probably a noisy location in the summer with the tourist buses rattling past but perfect in the winter.

We were given Room 1, which turned out to be a highly desirable corner room with views of Chora above and the hotel’s orchard and vegetable garden below.  As on Symi, we awoke to cockerels crowing!  As this hotel is open all year round they have proper central heating with radiators in all the rooms as well as wood panelling in the public areas.  A sign that winters last longer the further north you go!

To make the most of the remaining daylight on our arrival and to stretch our legs after the 4 hour ferry journey we walked around the bay from Skala to the opposite shore.  Unlike Pedi and Yialos, Patmos bay has a bit of a kink to it so it is not exposed to pounding seas in rough weather.  This means that all manner of rickety wooden jetties can survive, as you can see from the photographs.

After a late lunch of Patmos cheese pies and Choriatiki (Greek salad to the rest of the world), we picked up our hire car from Asterix car rentals opposite the hotel and went for a sunset drive down the southern end of the island.  I will share those photographs with you in part 2 🙂