Strange Times

Today’s photograph is of the thermal beach on Kos.  If you dig a little pit in the sand it fills up with warm water from the thermal springs just below the surface.  Put it on your wishlist for when things return to normal.

A lot has happened since I last wrote.  Travel restrictions have been brought in to prevent passengers travelling on ferries to the islands unless they are actually permanent residents on the islands. This was brought in to stop Athenians and others from the mainland bringing the disease into the islands.  So far most confirmed cases are in Athens and northern Greece.  The only confirmed case in the Dodecanese, a health worker at a clinic in Karpathos, was traced back to a visitor from Athens.  As the islands don’t have serious medical facilities – on Symi for example we currently don’t even have a qualified doctor, only interns – it is important to maintain a cordon sanitaire.  When travelling you have to show your passport, your residence card and also your tax certificate as this shows your official place of domicile whereas the residence card simply shows that you are either a temporary or permanent resident of Greece and the EU.

Another big change is that with effect from 6 a.m. yesterday, 23 March, we cannot leave our homes without authorisation and that is for a very limited range of criteria.  The rest of the time we are to stay home.  If we do go out it is singly or in pairs with a distance of 2 metres between us.  When travelling by car only one passenger is permitted in addition to the driver.  People going to work have to complete Form A if self employed or get their employer to fill it in and stamp it if they are employees. This is a one off form to be carried at all times, along with ID or passport and residence permit.  Other activities fall under Form B which can be either a printed form, an SMS or a hand written piece of paper if there is no technology available and this has to be done for every single time one leaves the house.  More details on the official government website link.

 

The number of customers permitted in supermarkets has been further restricted to one every 15 square metres.  This doesn’t apply so much to Symi where the shops are small and people few but in Rhodes the big supermarkets have implemented a system using numbered cards.  Based on the square meterage of the shop they have calculated how many customers they may have in the store at any given time.  There is a staff member, suitably gloved and masked, at the door who hands out a card to each shopper until all the cards are gone.  As each shopper leaves again they hand back the card which is duly sanitised and handed to the next person in line. Simple but effective and nothing fancy required to set up.  Countries like the UK could implement this to reduce the locust-line stripping of supermarket shelves as well as reducing the progress of contagion.  Street markets which are a common shopping venue in Greece are limited to only sell foodstuffs and the stalls have to be 5 metres apart.

Apart from ferries, there have also been major changes to flights with drastic reductions in the number of domestic flights and even bigger ones between Greece and EU/International destinations.  Apart from repatriation flights and freight, there is little movement at the country’s airports.

On the home front, Symi is quieter even than it is in the depths of winter.  The lambs and kids continue to frolic in the daisies.  Solitary people walk their dogs as this is one of the approved activities.  Parents endeavour to home-school their children and various on line classes are streamed.  The churches are closed.  Tomorrow is Greek Independence Day as well as the Annunciation.  Normally this is marked by blazing braziers all round the harbour and leading up to Evangelismos church in Harani.  This year locals will mark the event by putting lanterns on their balconies in the harbour and hanging out flags as all parades are cancelled.

The sunny mild spring weather is expected to break on Wednesday evening as the cold front currently over the Ionian, the mainland and the northern Aegean heads our way.  We could be in for as much as four days of rain.  Psychologically it is much easier to be indoors when it is wet and miserable outside so as long as this is not accompanied by floods this rainy spell is welcomed.  Meanwhile we are all spending far too much time thinking about food. That is probably a universal thing as boredom drives us to the fridge.  Fortunately I have always been a keen reader and thanks to Kobo and Kindle these days one need never run out of books.  Apparently Netflix has reduced the resolution on its streaming service so that the European bandwidth does not collapse under the weight of so many subscribers.

Keep well, keep safe, keep sane and stay at home!

 

 

Life on Symi in Self-Isolation

Here we are on our little island, waist deep in daisies, chamomile fragrant under foot and the hillsides pungent with sage blossom.  When I first came here in the mid-90s March was already a fairly busy time, with walking groups, photographers and artists revelling in the spring spectacle.  This slowly faded away as the tourist season contracted and in recent years Symi has been quiet well into May.  In that sense things don’t feel too different to last year or the year before.  In others, however, the change is dramatic.  No more shopping trips to Rhodes.  No more sociable coffees in cafes.  The old boys can no longer hang out at the cafeneions.  They hang out in their vegetable gardens instead and if the tourist season fails totally a lot of people will be dependent on the family orchard and vegetable plot.  The hairdressers, hardware stores, builders’ merchants and other stores are all closed.  Only supermarkets, bakeries, pharmacies, the bank and the agricultural suppliers are allowed to remain open.

I was going to post yesterday but kept delaying as we were all waiting to find out if the speculation in the press that the international flights would be stopping with effect from Sunday would be confirmed. So far, however, this has not been made official.

What has been made official is that ALL hotels, not just the seasonal ones for tourists, have to close on Monday until at least the end of April. This was announced at the same time as a fiscal package to help the country get through the difficult times ahead.  Something else that is official is that anyone arriving into the country now has to go into enforced 14 day quarantine.  They have to fill in a form on arrival, detailing among other things where they will be staying and their phone number. Random checks and phone calls will then be made to ensure that they abide by the quarantine regulations.  If they are found to be out and about when they should be at home, the fine is 5000 euros.

Meanwhile more and more islands are requesting that ferry connections be limited to the transport of goods only, in an effort to prevent the import of the virus from the mainland and beyond. Many Athenians are fleeing the big city to head to their country homes in rural areas and in the islands, bringing the virus with them.  This appeal may be too late for the Dodecanese Island of Karpathos which reported its first case last night, a health worker at a clinic on the island.  It is not clear how she became infected as this is one of the most remote islands and the closest diagnosed case so far is in Crete.  Even Mount Athos, which is effectively a state within a state, is closing the gates to pilgrims.

The government is taking the self-isolation, quarantine and business closures very seriously and the police are arresting anyone violating the edicts.

Finally, some good news to come out of all this…  While the requirement for dinky little individual soaps for hotels has dropped, Papoutsanis, Greece’s oldest soap maker, has had to increase production to cope with demand.

Symi Spring in the time of Covid-19 continued

blog 17 March 2020 amphitheatre
Work on building an amphitheatre in the square in Yialos.
blog 17 March 2020 duck
Looking for a mate.
blog 17 March 2020 kids 1
Nanny goats and kids, ewes and lambs are everywhere at the moment, glorying in the spring abundance.
Blog 17 March 2020 Kos lift inside
The sign inside the lift of the hotel we stayed in in Kos.
blog 17 March 2020 Kos lift outside
The sign on the outside door of the same lift. There was just enough room for me and one suitcase. Nicholas took the stairs!

blog 17 March 2020 poppyCyclamen March 2020

It is the wise sailor who makes sure he is in port around the equinox.  Northerly gales up to Beaufort Force 9 are hammering Greece at the moment, disrupting ferry schedules and depositing fresh snow in the mountainous regions.  It is only 10 degrees centigrade on Symi today.  Pedi bay does not look anything like the photograph above which I took a few days ago.  Rolling white caps march past the entrance to the bay today and waves are breaking along the shore line.  The weather is not expected to improve until Thursday.

The newest directives coming through are that anyone coming into Greece from abroad must now go into quarantine for 14 days to limit any new infections arriving in the country.  You will note that the article makes specific mention of people coming in from the UK where little is being done to prevent the spread of contagion.  More shops and businesses are to be closed with effect from tomorrow. At the same time supermarket trading hours have been extended by two hours in the evening and supermarkets are allowed to trade on Sundays for the next 4 weekends. The idea behind this is to reduce crowding and make it easier for shops to enforce the spacing regulations.

More help is also being arranged for the elderly, including reallocating civil servants to helping the needy rather than working directly with the general public.  In the meantime the government has also succeeded in persuading the all-powerful Greek Orthodox Holy Synod to co-operate and reduce church services.

Reports are coming back that the on line tuition system is popular with the children and seems to be working. Early days yet but at least they got things rolling fairly quickly.

More tomorrow.  In journalistic speak, ‘as events unfold’.

Keep well and safe everybody.

Symi Spring in a time of Covid-19

Symi in particular and Greece in general has changed a lot in the last week or so.  On Tuesday afternoon I was at an elegant tea party in Chorio, nibbling crustless smoked salmon sandwiches and eyeing the dishes of whipped cream and strawberries when suddenly various phones around the table went ‘ping’.  All the mothers of school-age children discovered that the schools were closing down for a fortnight with immediate effect. That was the start.

The next day, when the WHO declared the pandemic, the messages on phones and in social media gained momentum.  Schools and universities closed, as well as clubs, indoor play grounds, kindergartens, art galleries, museums, archaeological sites, cafes, bars, restaurants, tavernas, department stores, shopping malls and, eventually also tourist hotels (shut until 30 April) and finally, last night, the borders with Albania and North Macedonia and the sea border with Italy.  Cruise ships, which had been using Rhodes as a kind of bolt hole after being turned away from Limassol in Cyprus and Haifa in Israel are now barred from stopping in Greece. The directive also includes sailing yachts so anyone who over winters their boat in the cheap marinas of nearby Turkey may have a problem if their paperwork expires before the ban is lifted.

We are all supposed to be self-isolating as much as possible, something which the state has been having difficulty in implementing, hence the increasingly draconian shut downs.  For example, Saturday was an unseasonably sunny spring day so all the bored Athenians who could not while away the time in their usual fashion, in cafes, galleries and the like, headed for the beach.  Understandable but when several thousand people head for the beach they are not exactly following the principles of isolation that were intended by the closures.  Hasty legislation followed, shutting down organised beaches as well as ski resorts.

The police are actively going round, ensuring that businesses that should be closed are doing so.  Only supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries, take aways and banks are allowed to be open at the moment and that is within certain parameters.  The number of people inside at any one time is limited and safe spacing must be maintained.  This morning legislation kicks in, limiting the number of people in supermarkets at any one time to 1 per every 10 square metres and they should maintain a distance of at least 2 meters apart in the check out queue.

Symi is very quiet.  The cafes and bars in Chorio and Yialos that are normally open all year round are sealed up with their chairs stacked on their tables.  Scena in Chorio and the International Taverna in Yialos which had been open through the winter are offering take away food and I have noticed on the Rhodian newsfeeds that many Rhodian restaurants are also announcing that they will be keeping their kitchens open for take aways and deliveries.  With the law coming through at such short notice they have perishable stock that needs using up and there is no knowing how long these closures will last. The fact that late Saturday night it was announced that tourist hotels and holiday accommodation were to remain closed until at least 30 April means that there won’t be much trade apart from locals.

I must get on now with sorting tins and bottles and making a shopping list in case we have to stay at home completely.  More tomorrow!

 

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