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

Symi Life in the Winter

DSCN5572OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSCN5557

December in Greece is a merry go round of storms rolling in from the west, interrupted by incredible calms and fantastic visibility.  So far this winter the neighbouring island of Rhodes has taken the brunt of the weather in the region with destructive downpours, gale force winds and hail. Symi has got off lightly so far with little significant damage.  Long may it last. The next round is expected to reach us on Sunday evening with a southerly gale and 100% chance of rain, turning into a strong northerly wind and showers for Christmas day.  Temperatures are expected to fall dramatically and there may be overnight ice at high altitudes.

Temperatures at the moment are in the low teens.  It feels colder as there is heavy drenching dew every night and the houses are also dripping condensation inside, particularly the newer ones with cement and brick construction rather than thick stone walls.  Peeling whitewash is still a more picturesque look than acrylic emulsion covered in black mould…

The schedule for the Blue Star Patmos has been rearranged to take into account the Christmas Day and New Year’s Day holidays. The usual Monday and Wednesday routes have been replaced by Sunday and Tuesday for the two holiday weeks.  As the main shops are open for Sunday trading on the Sundays before Christmas and New Year, Symiots can take their chances with the weather for a spot of Sunday shopping at Lidl, M&S and Jumbo.  The Dodecanese Seaways schedule is unaffected except possibly by the wind.

The municipality put up the official Christmas decorations a couple of weeks ago. I will post photos separately of the town nativity scene at the War Memorial.  By and large Christmas is not the big commercial extravaganza that it has become in the west and the shops on Symi are fairly low key in comparison to what you may be used to.  Big centres like Rhodes put on more of a show and Athens is like any other major European city over the festive season.  On Symi a few imported chocolate Santa Clauses and boxes of Panetonne share supermarket shelf space with boxes of melamakaronia (honey and walnut cookies) and kourabiedes (Greek shortbread).  Vassilopita, a kind of round cake with the date of the new year embossed on it and a coin hidden in it for luck, is traditionally cut on 1 January, St Basil’s Day.  There is no traditional Christmas dinner menu here although turkeys have become available in recent years and the expat population  has had sufficient influence to ensure the availability of fresh parsnips and Brussels sprouts in a couple of local grocers.  The locals are more likely to tuck into pork for their Christmas meal and roast suckling pig has been the midwinter feast meat for generations in this part of the world.

A team of professional tree-fellers is working around Chorio and Pedi at the moment, lopping the many eucalyptus trees that line the roads.  Planted mostly during the Italian occupation between the two World Wars, eucalyptus are not indigenous to the region and although fast growing cause a lot of problems with their brittle branches and loose bark.  They have to be cut back to avoid branches falling on the power lines and roads in the winter storms. There is a program of planned tree planting going on in various areas including Pedi and around the Kastro, putting in slower growing native species that are better suited to the climate and terrain.

The bus is switching to its winter schedule with no evening service and a limited service on Sundays. There are very few people wanting to go anywhere as there is not much open and it is not unusual for the bus to be replaced by one of the hire cars if too few people turn up at the stop to make it worth running the big yellow bus.

Have a good weekend and I will put up some photographs of Symi Christmas decorations next week.

 

November Postcards from Symi

Goat snacks

Katsaras 7 November 2019 last beach goers
A few late sunbathers on 7 November 2019.
Katsaras 7 November 2019 saving sand 2
Nikos Katsaras supervises the winterisation of his beach.
Katsaras 7 November 2019 saving sand
The sand is heaped up at the back of the beach and then protected with sandbag defences so that as little as possible washes away in the winter storms.  You can see those last sunbathers in the background.
Katsaras closed for Panormitis
Closed for Panormitis Day. Where else in the world could you get away with draping your stock with cloths to signify that you are shut?
Katsaras umbrella stand
A simple but effective way of preventing the umbrella bases from filling up with sand and stones during the winter.  Each pipe has an upturned water bottle jammed in it.
Panormitis Wed 6 Nov 2019 a
The Wednesday of the Panormitis festival.  The grandiose confectionery palace in my featured image at the start of this post is on the left of this photograph.
Pedi Beach Hotel 1
Just checking that the last guests have left the Pedi Beach Hotel.
Pedi Beach Hotel 2
The sunbeds, parasols and patio tables have all gone.  
Pedi cats in the sun
The day after Panormitis, the only sunbathers left in Pedi were the four-footed variety.

The Panormitis Festival is now a week-long affair of stalls and fast-food outlets.  Thousands of visitors came from Rhodes and further afield and apart from the Blue Star which is too big, all the other ferries serving Symi operated in and out of Panormitis for the duration.  The actual religious event was Thursday evening and Friday morning but the quest for 1 euro squeezy dinosaurs and gold plastic tablecloths knows no such boundaries.  Amidst the designer-rip-off handbags and the global Chinese tat there were also monks from Mount Athos selling blessed crucifixes on bits of cord, a stall selling some wonderful artisanal cooking tools including big terracotta casserole dishes and another selling some charming wooden gifts, handmade by a local carpenter and his wife.  It would be lovely to see more of the latter and rather less of the former.  In the interests of commerce part of the monastery garden has been concreted over to provide extra space for the food vendors and a large formal car park has been built at the head of the bay, before the entrance.  A security firm directs the traffic into the car park.  If you are catching a ferry and have to off-load luggage, you hand your driver’s license to the guard at the gate and he only gives it back to you when you leave. The carpet sellers and basket makers who used to be a feature of the entrance road have all disappeared – presumably no longer allowed as they would not have been paying ground rent being outside the gates.  Apart from the Panorama cantina and the souvlaki stall manned by the Symi high school pupils, all the other food outlets were from Rhodes, including the Diva pancake, doughnut and ice cream bar.

The last boat leaves Panormitis today 12 November and from here on we are on the winter ferry time table for both the Blue Star and Dodecanese Seaways.  I am leaving myself on the Dodecanese Pride this afternoon for a short trip to the UK.  The Panagia Skiadeni has been moth-balled for the winter

After some glorious autumn weather more rain is on the cards, starting on Wednesday this week with a cycle of thunderstorms, showers, rainy days and occasional downpours.  Let us not forget that it was on 13 November 2017 that Symi was hit by a cataclysmic weather event that changed the landscape in many places and caused hundreds of thousands of euros worth of damage.  These days everyone is a bit twitchy when the long range forecast shows stormy weather ahead.

Down in Pedi both tavernas are now closed for the winter.  Costas Mavroukos has closed his mini-market on the seafront and has moved around the corner into his old kiosk for the duration.  The Katsaras mini-market stays open through the winter and sells hot coffee to the odd walker and fisherman.  The bus service has scaled down considerably too.  We won’t see much life down here again until April at the earliest.  Time to hibernate!

 

 

 

 

October Postcards from Symi

St Nicholas, Symi
The sunbeds and umbrellas have been packed away at St Nicholas beach in Pedi. They won’t need them to celebrate the Feast of St Nicholas at the tiny chapel on 6 December.
balcony
The salt-laden sea air is nibbling away at the terrace of this neglected Art Deco waterfront property in Pedi.
bird on a wall
Invisible bird.
bougainvillea with butterfly 30 Oct 2019
Butterfly and bougainvillea.
Camo cats
Camo cats.
classic yacht
 This elegant Canadian beauty was anchored in Pedi for several days last week.

Crocuses 2

crocuses
The squill flowers have faded away, replaced by ghostly drifts of pale autumn crocuses and other tiny plants.
Elegant lady
Another classic, this one with a Maltese flag.
fan
There has to a story behind this carefully placed ceiling fan blade, resting among the herb bushes in the Pedi valley.  Look at how green the sage bushes are after just a little rain.
from beach to boatyard
Apostoli is switching from beach mode to boatyard mode.  The sledges and skids are being positioned to start hauling out boats.
Gone fishing
The fishing season has started.  This small trawler will be away for days at a time, if not weeks.
kamares
That fragment of shadow is cast by the meander-pattern railing of the Art Deco house you saw earlier.  This dilapidated colonnade was once the Kamares taverna in Pedi.  
mimosa
Mimosa
misty morning
A misty morning in the valley.  The yellow nets on the left are to protect vegetable seed beds from birds and cats.
new green
We have only had two rainy days so far but they were enough to wash the dust from the trees and set the grass growing again.
On the skids
This method of hauling boats up the beaches for the winter dates back to Homeric times.  In Greece there is a strong sense of continuity. Why change something if it still works? The underwater profiles of the boats haven’t changed much over the centuries either and they are still built the old-fashioned way at the Haskas boatyard in Pedi, wielding an adze to shape the wood into ribs and frames.
Pedi beach hotel
The last guests have left the Pedi Beach Hotel and the staff are systematically packing everything away for the winter.
Reeds
If you look about you, there are a lot of reed beds down in Pedi, despite recent developments in the area.  Unfortunately on an island that is more vertical than horizontal, level building ground is in short supply and Symi’s precious wet lands are under threat. That’s the road to Panormitis zigzagging up the hill in the distance.
Road access
By Symi standards, this counts as ‘has convenient road access’.  Mind the step!
sage
Sage, oregano and thyme – the Symi trinity that scents the island’s hillsides every summer.
solar power
Solar power.