Symi Pastels

Symi is famous for its beautiful neo-classical houses.  The pediments are adorned with all sorts of devices such as stars, crosses, concentric rings and, sometimes, faces.  I spotted this one recently in Chorio, near the windmills.

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Looking across to the old Kastro from Milos (windmill) ridge of Chorio.  The tree-topped hills on the right form the back of the famous amphitheatre harbour.  There is a narrow winding road along that crest, leading to the ancient monastery of Roukoniotis and the precipitous descent to Toli Bay.
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Another view from the same vantage point, showing the back of Yialos far below.  The diagonal row of houses visible just above the pergola in the right foreground are on the Kali Strata, the famous steps connecting Chorio with Yialos and Harani.  Symi is a very compact island, only 8 miles long and 5 miles wide at its broadest, and most habitation is clustered around this north-eastern group of hills.  Getting about, however, involves a great deal of legwork. Those tiers of pretty houses are connected by steps rather than roads.  The motor road that connects Yialos with Chorio is an incredible feat of engineering, sweeping far into the countryside and back again, to embrace the steep incline.
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Symi is famous for its beautiful neo-classical houses.  The pediments are adorned with all sorts of devices such as stars, crosses, concentric rings and, sometimes, faces.  I spotted this one recently in Chorio, near the windmills.
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When I first came to Symi in 1993 ochre and brown were the dominant colours.  Indeed these seemed to be the only colours stocked ready mixed by the local hardware store.  If you wanted anything else, you bought packets of pigment and mixed them into the whitewash yourself.  Gloss paint was limited to white, ochre and mid-brown – colours that are still common in some neighbourhoods.  Then along came acrylic paints and computer mixing and the fun began.  The archaeologia, the government department that looks after heritage sites such as Symi, still has final say on what colours are permitted but Symi’s palette has expanded in many directions.
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An immaculate house in a quiet lane below the windmills.
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Dragon’s breath has scorched the tender petals of roses and other flowers, turning them into pot pourri overnight.  Falling humidity and rising temperatures are taking their toll.
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This tottering three storey mansion house off the main square in Chorio has some delightful touches of whimsy.  A few months ago, when I was still writing on my original blog, I posted a photograph of the Greek flag held to the balcony railing by a yellow measuring tape.  Now the sun brings emphasis to an otherwise ugly electricity meter.
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Agia Trianda (Holy Trinity) is the last of the really big churches at the top of Chorio. There is the small church of Periotissa (Our Lady of Pireus) above it but that is little more than a chapel.  Those pink blobs on the slopes of the Vigla behind are oleander bushes flowering along the motor road that connects Yialos and Chorio with Panormitis monastery at the south western end of the island. The oleanders continue as far as the turn off to Xisos, Roukoniotis and Toli.
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The Markle Sparkle was felt even as far afield as Symi. This was the Olive Tree on Saturday. They were selling Royal Wedding themed elderflower cupcakes in aid of the local high school.  Further up the steps, at Lefteris Kafeneion, otherwise known as Bulmas, Pimms was being served with ever more fanciful garnishes as the island’s British expat community arrived, armed with plates of nibbles.
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A fallen bag of barley made a great breakfast for these two. They were both trailing loose tethers but showed no signs of going anywhere further than the bag of barley.  Ponies, donkeys and mules are still commonly used on Symi, particularly to take materials to building sites and to remove rubble.  Most places are just totally inaccessible to any other form of transport. Foals are taught the routes, following with the trains on the various jobs, so that by the time they are old enough and strong enough to carry loads, they know all the lanes and steps.

 

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May Postcards from Symi

Most of those package holiday companies have either dropped Symi from their listings as too expensive and awkward to get to (the shrinking ferry schedule is a self-fulfilling prophecy) or the companies themselves have disappeared, gobbled up in the eternal quest for ever cheaper ‘value for money’ deals that eventually became unsustainable. 

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May is a fragrant month on Symi.   Apart from the ubiquitous jasmine and the somewhat cloying Persian lilacs, many older gardens also have honeysuckle scrambling over fences and pergolas.  On Symi this usually flowers twice a year – in May and then again in September.
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Pomegranate flowers.  Pomegranate trees are quite small, more like big shrubs than proper trees.  As you can see, the flowers are quite solid with thick waxy petals.  The fruit is ready to pick in late September through October.
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The courgette glut is well underway.  New blossoms appear early every morning, shrivelling away in the heat of the day.  The fruits grow so fast they have to be picked daily, even if one does not intend to use them that day.  Today’s sweet tender courgette becomes tomorrow’s tough vegetable marrow if left a day too long.  Courgette fritters in all their incarnations are a taverna staple at this time of the year.  They can also be used instead of aubergines in the making of moussaka, sliced thinly lengthwise and grilled to eat with garlic sauce as a mezze, hollowed out or halved lengthwise and stuffed with rice or meat – in May and June every housewife on the island is working her way through kilos and kilos of fresh courgettes. 
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There are more yachts about now.  I caught this early morning departure from Pedi one clear morning last week. That scar on the hillside on the right is the foot path to St Nicholas beach, one of Symi’s most popular family beaches.
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A novel way to discourage cats from sauntering into a Chorio courtyard.  If you spot this place, take a quick peak over the wall. There are the remnants of an old and elaborate colonnade, a fragment of which you can just see on the left of the aperture.
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A last lingering poppy in Chorio.  As the earth behind the dry stone walls dries out, the plants shrivel away.  Symi’s secret stone gardens turn back into barren dry stone walls until the drought breaks in late October.
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This was the view from the terrace of Agios Thannasis church in Chorio one afternoon last week.   This was most probably a flotilla of charter yachts being delivered to their cruising base such as Kos or even a Turkish port such as Bodrum.

A band of thunder showers passed over Greece last week.  Symi got off lightly with a few muddy sprinkles and a general clearing of the air.  Rhodes and many parts of the Greek mainland as well as neighbouring Turkey had heavy downpours, enough, in some cases, to cause local flooding.  We are unlikely to see any significant rain now until late October or even November.  The Southern Aegean has one of the longest summer droughts in the Mediterranean.  The last time Symi had rain strong enough to set the gutters flowing to fill cisterns was the end of February.  It looks as though 2018 is going to be a very long hot dry summer.

The first Olympic Holiday people arrived on Symi last week, marking the beginning of the official tourist season.  25 years ago there were many package holiday companies servicing Symi, notable among them being Laskarina, Manos, Kosmar, Small World, Travel a la Carte and Hidden Greece.  Accommodation was a mixture of restored traditional local houses, privately owned small studio and apartment developments designed to look just like Symi’s traditional houses and small pensions.  The emphasis was on authentic island life, simple self-catering and lots of convivial dining in local tavernas.  Symi’s tourist businesses timed their openings to coincide with these arrivals, knowing that there would be enough visitors staying on the island to provide them with customers in bars, cafes, tavernas, excursions and the like.

Now that certainty has gone.  Most of those package holiday companies have either dropped Symi from their listings as too expensive and awkward to get to (the shrinking ferry schedule is a self-fulfilling prophecy) or the companies themselves have disappeared, gobbled up in the eternal quest for ever cheaper ‘value for money’ deals that eventually became unsustainable.

All inclusive packages to resort hotels in Rhodes are good for consumers who want to know exactly how much their holiday is going to cost and don’t really care if it is Greece, Spain, Egypt or Turkey as long as the sun shines, the pool is full and the food and drink bountiful and free.  Unfortunately these packages are death to local economies as holiday guests seldom venture forth into the community, prices are pared down to the last cent so wages in these complexes are often below the legal minimum and limited local resources are stretched to breaking point.

Last summer Rhodes found itself in the previously unheard of situation of running out of water.  So much water was being diverted to hotel complexes with their swimming pools, manicured lawns and unlimited showers that there was no water available for the locals.  Villages and towns found themselves without water for days on end. A situation with which Symiots are only too familiar – this is why we all have cisterns – but for which Rhodes is poorly equipped.

Ironically, high value property owners who had invested significant sums in purchasing holiday homes and villas on the island found themselves seriously inconvenienced for the benefit of low value all inclusive holidaymakers whose tourist spend largely stayed in the pockets of the international holiday companies hosting their holidays.  A state of affairs hardly likely to encourage further foreign investment.

That’s probably enough of the serious food for thought for today.  If you are still reading, have a good week!  Remember, you can always join in the discussion by commenting, or by emailing me here.

Regards,

Adriana

 

Living on the Edge in Yialos

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Shortly after 11 on Monday morning, once the day trippers from Rhodes have safely disembarked into the custody of assorted tour guides, I noticed activity at the stern of the Sea Dreams Symi.
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On closer inspection, this turned out to be a plank.
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Followed by a ladder.
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Don’t look down!
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I hope this takes my weight.
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No, I don’t need the ladder anymore.
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Can’t you see I am still putting the tape on?  I don’t need the paint just yet.
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Marking out the letters with masking tape.
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It looks better already.

Health and safety rules do exist in Greece.  I mean, once a year a road block is set up at the windmills above Yialos to check that people are using helmets when out on their motorbikes.  It is illegal to use mobile phones while driving but no one pays much attention to that one either. We have all seen such Greek island classics as a motorcyclist yakking on the phone while juggling a frappe cup and a cigarette and steering with his knees as he negotiates the waterfront bends in Yialos.

Painters totter at the top of extension ladders, the bottoms of which are balanced on steep steps or out in the street with no hazard signs.  Occasionally someone comes unstuck but this happens remarkably seldom.  This might be because in Greece, particularly in the islands, people grow up taking responsibility for their own actions and don’t count on someone else to look out for them.  If you have survived childhood sleeping on a moussandra loft with a 3 metre ladder to climb up from the stone floor below, the chances are good you have been living dangerously from the outset. Riding to school on a motorbike, clinging to dad’s back along with several other siblings, because there’s no money for a family car brings with it a confidence those of us from more sheltered backgrounds can only envy.

I watched the above sequence of events play out in Yialos yesterday morning.  Harbour balconies offer fascinating insights into island life and if you can handle the steps, it is well worth spending at least your first visit to Symi in one of the neo-classical houses that form the tiers of Symi’s famous amphitheatre harbour.  You may never leave your opera box vantage point for the duration of your stay.  For more mesmerising harbour view observations, visit James Collins’ blog over at Symi Dream – he has to try to work with that view from his desk!

Regards,

Adriana

Welcome to Adriana’s Symi

Welcome to my new Symi blog, Adriana’s Symi – the free range version!  In some respects it will be similar to my original one on the Symi Visitor website in that it will always contain photographs snapped on my travels around the island. 

 

Welcome to my new Symi blog, Adriana’s Symi – the free range version!  In some respects it will be similar to my original one on the Symi Visitor website in that it will always contain photographs snapped on my travels around the island.  There won’t be as many of the Kali Strata as my daily activities have changed with the closure of Symi Visitor Accommodation and there is no need for me to go down to the harbour with any frequency.

Where this blog will differ, however, is that as it won’t be tied to the specific business of promoting Symi as a holiday destination, I will have greater freedom in what I post and may on occasion venture to share an opinion with you.  I may go ‘off piste’ so to speak.

I wrote my first Symi diary listing for the Symi Visitor website back in March 2001.  Many of you reading this have probably been visiting Symi and reading my posts at least that far back.  It was Wendy’s idea as a way of building up a year-round resource of what life on Symi was like at different times of the year.  We hadn’t heard of blogging as a concept and there was no handy software to facilitate putting up posts.  It was a case of writing 3 paragraphs and emailing them to Mike Gadd, our webmaster in the UK, who would then paste them onto a webpage for me.  No digital images or fast internet connections in those days.

I seem to recall it was around 2005 when I got my first digital camera and started taking photographs to share with you all.  It was a very basic Kodak and didn’t have optical zoom.  It did, however, take great photographs and it fitted nicely in my pocket.  It was a sad day when it fell out of said pocket and the screen shattered.  Now, as I lug 600 grams of Nikon bridge camera round my neck, I rather miss the lightweight compacts of yore.  No, I don’t find taking photographs with my smartphone an adequate substitute for a compact – I have to change to my reading glasses to see the screen and find the settings to activate it.  By that time I will probably have been flattened by the Symi bus or fallen down the steps or the cat/goat/chicken will have moved on.

Thank you for your loyalty over the years.  The Symi adventure continues and I look forward to continuing to share Adriana’s Symi with you.

Regards,

Adriana