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.
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!”
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.
Our visit to Patmos coincided with the January full moon, as you can see from the above photographs. The featured image at the top is the view from our hotel room. Whatever time of the day I tried to photograph it, the light was in the wrong place but you get the general idea!
Although Patmos is very rugged and hilly it is no where near as steep and arid as Symi. There are many valleys and watercourses, some of which have formed lagoons. Apparently in earlier times these lagoons were used for salt harvesting. These days they are more likely to be used as beaches in the summer months, with tamarisk trees planted in rows along the sand bars.
The gentler gradients mean larger terraces and a lot more agricultural activity. Unfortunately it has also encouraged much more building all over the island so there is very little untouched landscape. The rich and famous, including the Aga Khan, have big estates on the island. There is none of the hedonistic party vibe associated with Mykonos and although Patmos has some pretty beaches and great sunsets they are not as photogenic as Santorini so the focal point of tourism on Patmos tends to be religious rather than the usual tourist scene. This means that the wealthy enjoy a degree of privacy and seclusion.
It also means that there are some very upmarket shops, spas and boutiques down in Skala as well as a branch of AB Supermarket, one of Greece’s oldest surviving supermarket chains. There is also a tiny branch of Jumbo, the well-known Greek toy and housewares chain, every bit as cluttered as the diabolical maze of the Rhodes branch but on a much smaller scale.
Patmos has a permanent population of around 3000 so not dissimilar to Symi. The island was spotlessly clean and there were recycling bins absolutely everywhere. Wherever there were refuse bins there were recycling bins so locals did not have to go anywhere special or do anything inconvenient to participate. On inspection we noticed that they were being used correctly and although we drove from one end of the island to the other, we did not see a single plastic bag stuck in a sage bush or a trail of litter marking the location of a landfill. Another thing we noticed is that the power station, located on the waterfront in the bay we walked around on arrival, is practically silent and unobtrusive as it is seawater cooled.
This is the year we Shums turn 60. First Nicholas in January and then myself in June. To celebrate this milestone we decided to play tourist and go to Patmos, an island that has been on our wish list for some time. As luck would have it, the week of Nicholas’ birthday coincided with some seriously bad weather so our original plan, to go up on the Wednesday evening Blue Star and come back on the Sunday Dodecanese Seaways catamaran was thrown into disarray. Instead we wound up taking the Friday morning Dodecanese Seaways up and coming back on the Sunday one, giving us effectively 48 hours on Patmos.
We stayed at the Villa Zacharo, one of the few places open on the island in the dead of winter. The hotelier was happy to oblige our frequent changes of program and met us off the boat when we arrived in Skala, the only ferry port on Patmos. The hotel was just up the drag, on the main road, if one can call it that, that connects Skala with Chora, the old fortified hilltop town around the Christodoulos monastery. Probably a noisy location in the summer with the tourist buses rattling past but perfect in the winter.
We were given Room 1, which turned out to be a highly desirable corner room with views of Chora above and the hotel’s orchard and vegetable garden below. As on Symi, we awoke to cockerels crowing! As this hotel is open all year round they have proper central heating with radiators in all the rooms as well as wood panelling in the public areas. A sign that winters last longer the further north you go!
To make the most of the remaining daylight on our arrival and to stretch our legs after the 4 hour ferry journey we walked around the bay from Skala to the opposite shore. Unlike Pedi and Yialos, Patmos bay has a bit of a kink to it so it is not exposed to pounding seas in rough weather. This means that all manner of rickety wooden jetties can survive, as you can see from the photographs.
After a late lunch of Patmos cheese pies and Choriatiki (Greek salad to the rest of the world), we picked up our hire car from Asterix car rentals opposite the hotel and went for a sunset drive down the southern end of the island. I will share those photographs with you in part 2 🙂
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 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.