Today’s featured image may have you puzzled but yes, it is indeed on Symi, just underground! Symi’s caves are very fragile and dangerous to access so their locations are not publicised. If you want to see more extraordinary photographs of Symi’s ‘underworld’ go to Barry Hankey’s blog.
We haven’t had anymore rain and the forecast looks dry as far as the Panormitis Festival on 8 November. Tiny things are continuing to germinate and delicate miniscule narcissi and other small flowers are poking through. Mind where you step in the Pedi valley!
And in other news… There was a shipping strike in Greece on Tuesday which has deranged the Blue Star schedule for the entire week. Tomorrow is Ochi Day, a big public holiday in Greece with marching bands and fly overs. As it falls on a Friday this year Symi is likely to be quite busy with Rhodians coming over for the weekend.
The beaches are wrapping up now. The water taxis have finished, the excursion boats have put up their ‘thank you for a great season – see you next year’ notices. Many restaurants and tavernas are either already closed or will close after the long weekend. (Only a limited number of venues stay open in the winter, to cater to the needs of the locals.) Likewise many of the seasonal hotels have wished everyone a good winter and started plastic-wrapping the outside lights. Down in Pedi both hotels are now closed until the spring. Next week the focus will switch to Panormitis as the monastery gears up for the big festival of St Michael on 8 November. The market stalls and food outlets start to set up next week and the car ferries will bring a cavalcade of vans and trucks from Rhodes.
The Sebeco finishes its service for the year on Monday 31 October so there is no longer a daily shuttle between Rhodes and Symi. After that we will be dependent on the Blue Star three times a week, the Stavros whenever Symi occurs on its circuit (variable and much influenced by local weather conditions in various small island ports) and Dodecanese Seaways (mainly weekends).
Last weekend, on Saturday 15 October, Symi had the first rains that triggered the start of the island’s ‘second spring’. Heavy rain was forecast but fortunately missed us. Symi received about 15 mm over a 24 hour period, not a lot but enough to get things growing. Parts of Crete, on the other hand, received heavy down pours that triggered flash flooding with cars washed into the sea, significant damage to property and tragically the loss of two lives.
The combination of rain and sunshine has brought up the first flush of green. Seeds are germinating. The locals are digging over their vegetable gardens, ready for the first plantings of the new growing season.
Even the ants are busy, preparing for the winter ahead.
Symi is suddenly very quiet, particularly down in Pedi. In the evenings all we hear apart from the roar of the power station is the occasional cat fight and the hooting of owls. The marina is no longer party-central. ASymi Residences has put up the storm shutters for the winter and apart from a few dedicated sunworshippers the Pedi Beach Hotel seems to be winding down.
Agia Marina beach has already closed down and St Nicholas will soon be following – even if there were still lots of people around, Symi’s steep terrain throws most of the popular beaches into shadow for much of the day from now until April.
The weather is quite mild. Mid to low twenties most days, with the occasional 29 thrown in just to keep us on our toes. Evenings are cool. There have been some shipping disruptions due to gales in the Aegean. Rain and thundershowers may hit us this weekend, or they may pass us by and hit Rhodes and Turkey instead.
Here are some photographs I took with my old Nikon around 10.30 this morning. As you can see, my Huawei phone actually takes much better photos than my camera but I wanted to use the zoom.
Well, it has certainly been quite a summer here on Symi, ‘post Covid’. Not that it is really ‘post Covid’ – the platform for the next round of shots has opened for the over 60s and we will be reporting at the clinic on Wednesday for ours. What I really mean is that for the first time in years Symi has been open for business – and really busy – since April. This wasn’t just hitting 2019 levels but more like being back in the good old days before the economic crisis and the banking collapse. May and June were positively humming and people who have not been to Symi at that time for years made a point of being here. Fear that doors may close again as quickly as they opened may have been a driving force. Also frustrated travel-lust finally had free rein.
For the first time in three years we heard Australian accents in Yialos as Diaspora Greeks made the long journey from Oz to visit their ancestral homes in July and August. It is also ‘business as usual’ with our Turkish neighbours as far as yachting is concerned and many of the big shiny boats in Yialos and Pedi this summer have had either Turkish or tax-haven US Delaware registrations. (Delaware has particularly favourable yacht registration laws so many of the ‘US’ boats you see have never been further than 30 nautical miles from Bodrum!)
October looks to be a bit quieter. We are not seeing the ‘digital nomad’ phenomenon of 2020 and 2021, where people who were working on line anyway decided they might as well combine it with a few weeks in Greece as it didn’t matter where they were working from. This autumn most of the people I have spoken to have definitely been on holiday rather than riding out a lockdown at home in more congenial surroundings.
2022 has also seen the best ferry connections ever as the Blue Star has been through on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday during the peak weeks, the Sebeco has been providing a continuous daily shuttle from 7.45 a.m. to 6.50 p.m, the Sea Dreams King Saron has been shuttling between Symi, Rhodes and Marmaris, the SAOS Stavros has been chugging along, the Panagia Skiadeni has been in daily and we have had the Dodecanese Seaways catamarans over weekends. And if you feel exhausted reading that, that’s how we have all felt as tourists have arrived and departed at all hours of the day and cleaners have battled with fast changeovers between guests. The buffer imposed by Covid protocols has all but fallen away and incoming guests are coming off the boats before the outgoing ones have waved their farewells. If you ask anyone in the tourist accommodation business what their plans are for the winter, ‘sleep for a week’ is likely to be the reply!
The leaves are falling, the squills are poking their way through the hard-baked earth and there is an autumnal feel to the air. The angle of the sun is low and the shadows lengthening. We had a strange interlude of thundershowers on 24 and 25 August but no signs of rain since then. Temperatures are around 18 degrees at night and 24 at midday with a chill in the wind. Apparently it will be a bit warmer next week as the wind shifts to the south.
Who knows what October will bring?
Late in the afternoon of Monday 24 January 2022 the first snowflakes started to fall on Symi.
The next morning we awoke to this.
Well no, not really, but we were astonished when we were in Rhodes last week to see the Christmas decorations going up in My Way, a department store on the road to Faliraki that sells everything from power tools and solar water heaters to baby’s nappies and bread bins. Not even a token Halloween cobweb for old time’s sake.
Lidl, the German discount supermarket which has two branches on Rhodes is already selling chocolate Santas and frozen festive geese. What makes all this unusual and worthy of note is that it is most unGreek to be packing out the Christmas tat before the last summer charter flight has even left these shores. One of the joys of Greek holidays is their very lack of commercial pressure. There is no danger of being jingle-belled into submission by the first week of October in Greece. At least, that is how it used to be, so it was surprising to see the staff of My Way wrangling plastic trees on 13 October.
Perhaps last year’s lockdown Christmas has altered perspectives. Or perhaps the grid-locked container ships clogging ports around the world are forcing shop keepers to sell whatever is hanging about unsold from the lockdown days and it was a toss up between the Nutcracker and the Easter Bunny.
It has been a strange summer in a time of strange summers. Symi was exceptionally busy once the starting gates opened. Some businesses in the harbour even reported their best August in years. Certainly in terms of personal observation I got the impression that people were holidaying closer to home. Young people who might previously gone off to Thailand or Bali opted for parental summer homes on Greek islands and found it was more fun than they had expected. The fourth week of August, which is often a sort of no-mansland as the Athenians, French and Italians leave and the northern Europeans only arrive in the first week of September, was really busy as people extended their holidays and last minute AirBnB bookings filled gaps.
September also turned out to be a bumper month. Once it became (relatively) easier for British tourists to travel abroad there was no stopping Symi’s regular September visitors, plus many of those whose usual June plans had been scuppered by Uncle Boris’ traffic light system. There was a real celebratory hum around the island as happy reunions took place in favourite watering holes and those who were last here in 2019 revelled in the September sunshine.
This cheerful vibe has continued into October but it doesn’t look as though we will have many last lingering visitors into November as happened last year when those who were home-schooling and working on line decided they might as well do it on Symi as anywhere else and it was only the implementation of the sudden drastic second lockdown on 7 November that brought the island to a sudden grinding halt.
The winter rains have come early this year, with the first heavy rains reaching Symi on 12 October. This was the first named storm of the season, Storm Athena. This was followed by Storm Ballos a couple of days later which brought more heavy rain to Corfu, Cefalonia, fire-damaged Evia and, most noticably of all, Athens, where footage of children making bridges out of their desks to climb out of a flooded classroom and bus passengers forming a human chain to escape a flooded bus in an Athens underpass made the international news. Symi is turning green again after an incredibly long hot summer drought and temperatures have dropped into the low 20s.
There can be few readers unaware of the catastrophic fires in Greece and Turkey this summer. In the space of a week thousands of acres of woodland, farms, homes and countryside have been destroyed by wild fires in Southern Turkey, Rhodes and parts of mainland Greece. The fires in Turkey claimed at least 10 human lives but the animal and bird fatalities and injuries are much higher throughout the region. Vets and volunteers in both countries are gathering in the disaster zones to render first aid to traumatised and injured pets, farm animals and wild animals. The ostrich farm and petting zoo on Rhodes was completely destroyed. Although many animals were successfully evacuated to safety, others were either killed or injured in the blaze. What was astonishing was the speed with which the fire, which started in Soroni, the area near the Salakos power station on the north-west coast of Rhodes, spread right across into the middle of the island and even threatened the village of Kallitheas, above the east coast resort of Kallithea.
The loss of natural habitats will be an on-going problem, particularly if, as is so often the case in the situations, developers move into the aftermath and what was once natural woodland is reclaimed for ‘development’.
There is plenty of information and countless footage of the fires on YouTube and in the online media.
Whether the fires were started deliberately by those with criminal or malicious intent or thoughtless actions on the part of apiarists and farmers or by light reflecting off rubbish abandoned in the countryside and igniting tinder-dry vegetation in heatwave conditions or careless picknickers discarding cigarette butts and BBQ fires is for the experts to determine and will, no doubt, take a long time to unravel in both Greece and Turkey.
Here on Symi, with fires blazing all around us, the island has been wreathed in smoke for a week. Apocalyptic skies and drifting clouds of ash and soot settling on every surface have taken over from the usual sparkling blue summer skyscape. These photographs are just some random shots to give you an idea of what it is like here at the moment.
This is the third major – and enduring – heatwave to hit the region this summer. We have not had rain since the first week of March. We have had temperatures in the 40s for long periods of time in June, July and now August. It is not surprising that our phones bleeped with a Civil Defence Fire Warning yesterday morning. There are also requests for people to be frugal with their electricity usage and not run air conditioners at unsustainably low temperatures or inefficiently, with doors and windows open. This is to avoid over-loading the grid which, in some areas, is already damaged by the fires and overburdened. Power outages affect essential services and can also limit water pressure essential for fire fighting.
The first two weeks of August are traditionally the busiest period in Greece and usually Symi is full to capacity at this time. In reality we know that the Best Western Plaza in Rhodes, usually packed now, had spare capacity to offer evacuees and firefighters on Monday night and there is still quite a lot of accommodation available on Symi. Some French and Italian regulars to the island, who would normally be here for the whole of July and August, left early to avoid the stifling heat and smoke. When it is too hot for the beach, the cafes, the tavernas, then what is the point in being here?
As you can see from the photograph, the famous ‘new amphitheatre’ in Yialos is not really an ‘amphitheatre’. In fact, for it to function as a performance venue a wooden stage and gantry will have to be constructed and as the seating area does not really fulfil that function either, the old plastic chairs will have to be resurrected, assuming that any events take place in the foreseeable future. Although technically speaking open air events are permitted, as long as social distancing laws are obeyed, in reality there has been no mention of the Symi Festival at all and no talk of any of the traditional August celebrations either. Instead, nature has taken over in the form of the harbour children who, deprived of their playground and their basket ball pitch (which is being turned into some sort of tennis court) are making use of the gleaming white marble space to play football and ride their bicycles in the evenings. The unused blue sunken steel refuse bins that were part of the last town hall election campaign also seem to have been repurposed as platforms for basking cats.