Waiting for Zorba

The weather is turning early this year. The first part of this week shipping was disrupted by northerly gales in the Northern and Central Aegean caused by Storm Xenophon.  Now we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the optimistically named Medicane Zorbas.  This sounds like some sort of weird Greek pharmaceutical but it is actually a meteorological term for the Mediterranean version of a Category 1 Hurricane.

blog 28 Sep 2018 a
An old oven near the technical high school in Chorio.  There used to be a lot of these communal ovens in the residential areas of Symi but many have been demolished or have literally collapsed in recent years.  Symi houses are small and fuel is scarce.  The big cast iron range cookers that were fashionable in 19th century Europe never made it to Symi.  Instead there was an open hearth in the kitchen with wrought iron trivets for cooking over a small wood fire.  Once a week or so or on special occasions an outdoor oven such as this one would be used to bake bread, roast meat and prepare other specialities that required an oven.  When I first came here in the 1990s it was still common to see housewives carrying trays of food to the bakeries of Chorio to cook in the ovens as they cool in the afternoon.  Nowadays they have modern electric ovens like everyone else – and air conditioning to cool the house after a day’s cooking.
blog 28 Sep 2018 b
Most doors and windows on Symi are wood.  There are, however, quite a few steel courtyard doors around if one looks about.  This one is relatively recent in that it was welded rather than riveted.  The floral motif on this one caught my eye.
blog 28 Sep 2018 c
These days the bulls eye on the pediment is usually a solid motif but in the older houses this was an important part of ventilation for the house.  Heat rises and escapes from the roof space through the lacy ironwork.
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The Blue Star 1 powering past the entrance to Pedi, on her way to Rhodes. 
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Playtime in Pedi Bay.
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The monastery of Profiti Ilias (Prophet Elijah), perched on a crag overlooking the Pedi Valley.
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Sand and straw in a builder’s yard in the Pedi valley.
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Those brown bottles must have been there for a very long time, probably since long before I started work at the Valanidia on the Pedi road, yet I only noticed them this summer.  The labels have washed away and they are held in place by a bit of fencing.  They aren’t broken so it is possible that they were originally in boxes or some kind of packaging which has rotted away over the years, leaving the bottles to gently topple over against the pig wire.
blog 28 Sep 2018 i
Preparing for the rain in one of the walled gardens behind the beach in Pedi.
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Pomegranates ripening in a garden up at Megalo Sotiris.
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And down at sea level on the north shore of Pedi bay.  There is a bit of a cave in the hillside behind the tree which has been waterproofed with cement and secured with a door which you can just see on the right.  When houses are small, the occupants tend to spill out into their surroundings and before the advent of the ‘marina’ the north shore of Pedi bay was a picturesque row of outdoor kitchens and living spaces in the summer.
blog 28 Sep 2018 l
Doesn’t that sparkling water sing you siren songs?  Pedi bay last week.
blog 28 Sep 2018 m
A windy sky.  My pomegranate tree is never very productive. This year it is providing support to a random handful of ipomea (morning glory). Reach for the skies…

The weather is turning early this year. The first part of this week shipping was disrupted by northerly gales in the Northern and Central Aegean caused by Storm Xenophon.  Now we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the optimistically named Medicane Zorbas.  This sounds like some sort of weird Greek pharmaceutical but it is actually a meteorological term for the Mediterranean version of a Category 1 Hurricane.  The Mediterranean Sea is over-heating and feeding storms more commonly associated with the tropics.  Zorbas is currently revolving over the Ionian and South Peloponnese.  Crete is already feeling its effects in the form of storm surges and gale force winds.  It is moving slowly towards us and the various computer projections seem undecided as to when and where it will hit the Eastern Aegean and Dodecanese.  The bulletins are changing hourly, the shipping companies are struggling to keep up and travellers are worrying about planes, ferries, connections and insurance.  Somehow the last weekend in September is behaving like the last week in October.

I had to go down to the harbour this morning to see the dentist.  Symi may be a tiny island and somewhat inaccessible but we do have two excellent dentists and, despite the various ferry disruptions, my new bridge arrived in time to be fitted this morning.  The harbour, Yialos, was very busy as some late season fancy yachts had decided that retail therapy was the answer on a grey blustery day.  The water taxis and excursion boats aren’t running today due to the anticipated storms so late September visitors were also in the coffee shops and boutiques rather than sunning themselves outside the Pedi Beach Hotel.  Workmen were banging in battens and balancing on ladders, rigging the plastic ‘tents’ that provide protection against the elements for those hospitality venues that stay open through the winter.  This ritual is usually performed in late October or early November, not the last week in September.

It is by no means cold.  It is about 28 degrees today and very humid under a heavy blanket of cloud.  The day has been punctuated by intermittent showers and the wind is starting to rise, buffeting the yachts at anchor in Pedi bay.

Have a good weekend – and I will let you know if Zorba came to visit or passed us by.

Regards,

Adriana

 

 

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Sleepy September

blog 6 Sep 2018 k
You never know what you are going to spot, walking around Symi.  Anyone who knows where these are, please comment on this blog 🙂
blog 6 Sep 2018 j
Back in the 80s and 90s this was a tourist shop at the bottom of the Pedi road.  Now you have to go to Yialos to buy sunhats, sarongs and beach towels.
blog 6 Sep 2018 i
It may still be hot and the first rains are still about 6 weeks away but this local works on his garden every day.  I have noticed a big increase in agricultural activities on Symi in recent years.  The only way to survive on an austerity income is by living off the land as far as possible.
blog 6 Sep 2018 h
Tyres perish in the hot Symi sun.  It is not unusual to see various protective improvisations like this one.
blog 6 Sep 2018 g
If I had not heard the bleat I would never have noticed this nanny goat.  She looks almost as weather-beaten as her surroundings.
blog 6 Sep 2018 f
Beehives.  Symi honey is prized for its delicate herbal flavours from wild mountain thyme, sage and rigani.  You can find it for sale in limited quantities at several of the supermarkets, grocers and tourist shops.
blog 6 Sep 2018 e
August is definitely over.  There are very few yachts in Pedi now and they are of more modest proportions.  The rich and famous have gone to play somewhere else or are back in their counting houses, counting out their money.
blog 6 Sep 2018 c
The so-called marina in Pedi. As you can see, it is far too narrow to be a marina.  Only very small local boats can squeeze inside.  Apparently the plans did not take into account the widening of the waterfront between the time the original survey was done and construction actually started so the enclosed area is 4 metres narrower than originally intended.  No comments please!  Visiting yachts can tie up on the outside.  Unfortunately there are no actual amenities available so don’t expect shore power, laundry, wifi or hot showers.  It is, however, conveniently solid to tie up to if you are tired of rowing an inflatable full of shopping across the bay in a brisk catabatic.
blog 6 Sep 2018 b
Fishermen’s cottages on the northern Pedi waterfront, as seen from the head of the marina.
blog 6 Sep 2018 a
And finally, spotted in the Chorio car park… Cats don’t have the monopoly on cuteness around here.

August is over. The crowds have gone. The children are preparing for another school year. Next week the ferry schedules change as Blue Star reverts to smaller boats on the Symi route.  Good bye, Nissos Chios, Welcome Back, Patmos!

There is also far less traffic on the roads.  British tourists tend to be apprehensive about hiring cars and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. The holidaymakers from other parts of Greece and further afield who arrive with their cars on the Blue Star have also gone home again.  If you do visit Symi in September it is well worth hiring a car for a day or so to explore the interior of the island and visit Kokkimides monastery, Roukoniotis monastery and Toli Bay.  While there are organised mini-bus excursions if there are enough of you, having your own wheels gives you more freedom to stop and take photographs as well as linger at places that take your fancy.  On a clear day you can see as far as Kos on one side and Rhodes on the other with the islands of Halki, Tilos and Nissyros also visible.

As the continent of Europe starts to cool to the north of us, so has the breeze that blows down the Aegean, bringing welcome relief from the searing temperatures of the Symi summer.  It is still around 30 degrees at midday but after days in the forties, 30 seems quite mild.  Nights are cooling off too.  We plugged our boiler in for hot water yesterday for the first time since May.  Not quite time to dig out the duvet and woolly jumpers just yet though. That doesn’t happen until early November!

Have a good weekend.

Regards,

Adriana

 

August Postcards from Symi

blog 25 August 2018 a
The view from the top.  Pedi bay has been very full for the past couple of weeks.  Symi has always been a popular destination for Turkish yachtsmen and the recent Eid holiday brought lots of maritime visitors, despite the plunging value of the Turkish lira.
blog 25 August 2018 b
This opulent creeper caught my eye in Pedi recently.
blog 25 August 2018 c
The jetty in Pedi is not just for pleasure boats and water taxis.  Pedi is the port for the fuel tanker for the power station, water ships, small freighters and all sorts of random commercial traffic destined for the yards and warehouses that line the Pedi road.
blog 25 August 2018 d
A few of the houses along the seafront in Pedi have managed to hang onto some sort of water frontage and outdoor living space, unlike the ones along the north side who lost their frontage to a sea of concrete when the ill-thought out ‘marina’ was built.
blog 25 August 2018 e
The million dollar question is why the cat in the previous photograph is snoozing on a pallet when he would be so much more comfortable on the neighbours’ cushions.
blog 25 August 2018 f
Cockerels roosting in a tree in the valley.  Chickens are actually by nature woodland fowl and when they go feral this becomes quite obvious.  The hens may nest and lay eggs in shrubby places at ground level when they go broody but the rest of the time everyone prefers to roost as high up as they can get.
blog 25 August 2018 g
Some more Pedi seating.  That looks a bit like an old bench off the Symi I ferry.
blog 25 August 2018 h
The method of hauling boats out of the water hasn’t changed much since Homeric times.  ‘Greased ways’ are still used.  The local wooden boat designs haven’t changed their underwater profiles much since Homeric times either which is why these wooden skids still work. An advantage is they can be infinitely modified by whacking on extra bits of wood as required to keep the caique stable.
blog 25 August 2018 i
Something else that probably hasn’t changed much over the centuries either.
blog 25 August 2018 j
A recent view from Villa Jasmine in Pedi.
blog 25 August 2018 k
The view from my ironing board.  These days I spend much of my time down in Pedi, washing and ironing the sheets and towels for the houses I look after.  From where I stand I can look out of two windows and all sorts of interesting things happen if one looks carefully enough.  I saw vague movement on the hillside and the zoom lens of my camera revealed a local beekeeper, checking his hives.
blog 25 August 2018 l
The view from the front window alternates between very busy with the bus and taxis rattling past to very peaceful, depending on where we are in the hourly bus schedule and the harbour ferry movements.  About 15 minutes after a ferry comes into Yialos, a cavalcade of taxis and mini buses roars past, tooting on the blind bend. Then it is all over for another half an hour or so.
blog 25 August 2018 m
Garden furniture for sale.  The gypsy hawkers are an important part of island life, selling all sorts of items according to the season.  Right now it is garden furniture, clay pots, potting soil and the hardier drought resistant plants.  Next month they will be selling hunting clothes and carpets.  If you are patient, everything comes to you eventually on Symi, whether it be day old chicks, artisanal cheese, Chinese power tools, designer knock-offs or shag-pile carpets. This is how people on the smaller islands got their necessities before on line shopping, car ferries to Rhodes, IKEA deliveries and other modern conveniences.  There’s still some excitement in seeing just what trundles off the car ferries and there are bargains to be had if you aren’t too picky about designs and colour schemes.
blog 25 August 2018 n
We have an elegant new bus stop at the fork in the road in Pedi.  The local carpenter who made it specialises in ecclesiastical furniture for the island’s numerous chapels and churches, hence the delicate roof.  Whether it will survive the rigours of a Symi winter remains to be seen.  It had only been up a couple of days when I took this photograph.  A far cry from the robust corrugated iron bus stops immortalised in Will Travis’ famous book about Symi in the 1970s called ‘Bus Stop Symi. What made bus stops note worthy on Symi in the 60s and 70s was that the island had neither roads nor buses at the time!

Changing Seasons

These days I so seldom go down into the harbour, when I do it feels like a different island altogether.   They may be baling hay in the Pedi Valley but in Yialos they are selling sunhats to pink-faced tourists and cold beers go down like iced water in the desert.  The thermometer nudged forty degrees last week and rows of thunder storms are marching through Greece, from the Ionian, across the Aegean to Turkey and beyond.  The Mediterranean never really cooled down last winter and the rising temperatures are spawning lots of storm activity.  It is not usual for the Greek met office to be issuing severe weather warnings in June.

blog 16 June 2018 a
A chance seed scattering is turning into a jungle of morning glory.  As the island turns gold under the summer sun, puddles of green provide welcome relief to dazzled eyes.
blog 16 June 2018 b
Plumbago finds support in an olive tree.
blog 16 June 2018 c
Down on the Pedi road, the draught beer is ready to head out to bars and tavernas around the island.
blog 16 June 2018 e
Some things have changed – the old Symi Visitor office is now cherry red and a new Symi laundry has opened up in place of Wendy’s Sunflower laundry.  Other things will never change – like the town hall’s futile attempts to prevent people from parking along the front in the summer. The big red plastic bollards filled with water that were reasonably successful last summer have been deployed elsewhere, preventing motorists from going over various bits of road undercut or washed away in the November storm.
blog 16 June 2018 f
Yes, he is talking on a mobile phone and yes, that is a lavatory seat in the single-use blue plastic bag (I wonder if he was charged the obligatory 4 cents?).
blog 16 June 2018 g
The yachts are getting bigger and the harbour busier.

These days I so seldom go down into the harbour, when I do it feels like a different island altogether.   They may be baling hay in the Pedi Valley but in Yialos they are selling sunhats to pink-faced tourists and cold beers go down like iced water in the desert.  The thermometer nudged forty degrees last week and rows of thunder storms are marching through Greece, from the Ionian, across the Aegean to Turkey and beyond.  The Mediterranean never really cooled down last winter and the rising temperatures are spawning lots of storm activity.  It is not usual for the Greek met office to be issuing severe weather warnings in June.

As Sean Damer once observed, in his notorious Ethnography on Tourism on Symi, when we aren’t talking about the weather, we are talking about the ferries. Well, if you live on a small island without an airport and heavily dependent on tourism for survival, everything depends on both.  The Attica Group who own Superfast Ferries and Blue Star Ferries have now bought Hellenic Seaways. This has had some significant implications for Symi for the summer.  The Patmos has been moved to a different route and the Nissos Chios is now doing the Wednesday and Friday routes, with rather drastic changes in arrival and departure times.  For more information, please go to Andy’s excellent travel blog.  The other change is the return of the ANES Symi II to Symi waters.  This is to replace the Sea Dreams Symi which is now running the Skopelos route.  The Symi II does not have a ferry license and is only running excursions from Rhodes.  There are also photographs circulating on social media of a new shuttle boat built for ANES that is supposed to be serving the Rhodes Symi route on a passenger only basis. As this is still to complete sea trials and licensing procedures, there is no real information about when it will actually come into service and what the actual schedule will be.  As usual the only more or less consistent player in the field is Dodecanese Seaways.

Meanwhile, my new property management business now has a logo and business cards which should be ready next week.  My website needs a bit more tweaking.  I am still sorting out some logistical issues with my business premises in Pedi so I am currently still working from home. The people whose Symi holidays I managed to salvage seem very happy which can only be a Good Thing.  Various of the old Symi Visitor properties can now be found on AirBnB and other on line booking platforms.  If you can’t find the one you are looking for, please email me on symipropertyservices@gmail.com and I will put you in touch with the relevant person.

 

Symi Faces

A wide range of languages can be heard on the streets of Symi, including Mandarin and Hebrew in addition to the more usual Russian, French, Italian, German, Danish, Norwegian…

blog 2 June 2018 a_marked
Semi-detached Symi style.
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Generally speaking, Symiot village houses are not big – often just a kitchen downstairs with the rainwater cistern behind and then a salon above with a moussandra sleeping loft above that.  When flush loos and showers arrived in the 1970s, there was seldom space indoors for the plumbing arrangements so they were build on wherever they could fit.  It is not unusual to see facilities separate from the house or tagged on in the courtyard or even, in some cases, actually across the lane on a separate plot.
blog 2 June 2018 c_marked
Not quite en suite but it will do!
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The Harani area of the harbour has become very built up in recent years.  Quieter than the main harbour during the busy months of summer, it is also one of the very few places on the island where one can live within walking distance of a beach.
blog 2 June 2018 e_marked
This narrow concrete track was the original motor road connecting Yialos with Chorio.  Apparently it was built by the Italians with motorbikes in mind and the angles of the zigzags are acute to say the least.  Chopped off when the new two lane motor road out of the town was built in the 1980s, one can still see remnants of the stone foundations of this original road up by the windmills.
blog 2 June 2018 f_marked
Now abandoned, this intriguing house on the Pedi road probably has the most ornamental faces on the island.  The winged Hermes/Eros motif also appears on the dentist’s surgery at the bottom of the Kateraktis lane at the back of the harbour.  The grimacing man is also a central motif on a pediment near Kampos in Chorio and several other houses in the area.
blog 2 June 2018 g_marked
The faces even continue round the corner.
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A neighbour was not so extravagant.
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Stars and flowers above a door below the windmills.

 

June has arrived, hot and sticky with the rumble of far distant thunder storms over the embracing Turkish coast.  We actually had a couple of hours of steady light rain one evening earlier this week, enough to make the gutters drip and wash the dust off the citrus trees.  Every night we hear the desalination plant, squeaking away on the Pedi road as it frantically turns sea water into an approximation of the fresh stuff to keep our lavatories flushing and our showers running.  We had a lot of rain this winter but it came to an abrupt halt at the end of February and cisterns are emptying fast.

The water taxis are back in business. The beach tavernas are opening up, albeit with limited menus at the moment.  A wide range of languages can be heard on the streets of Symi, including Mandarin and Hebrew in addition to the more usual Russian, French, Italian, German, Danish, Norwegian…  There are still lots of British visitors around but they are no longer the dominant group they used to be.  June used to be referred to as ‘the English month’ on Symi.  Not any more. There’s a polyglot cosmopolitan vibe that used only to be in evidence in the high season months of July and August.

Have a good week.

Regards,

Adriana

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.

blog 19 May 2018 a
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.
blog 19 May 2018 b
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.
blog 19 May 2018 c
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.
blog 19 May 2018 d
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.
blog 19 May 2018 e
An immaculate house in a quiet lane below the windmills.
blog 19 May 2018 f
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.
blog 19 May 2018 g
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.
blog 19 May 2018 h
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.
blog 19 May 2018 i
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.
blog 19 May 2018 j
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.

 

Living on the Edge in Yialos

blog 8 May 2018 a_marked
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.
blog 8 May 2018 b_marked
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