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 The usual Monday and Wednesday routes have been replaced by Sunday and Tuesday for the two holiday weeks.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.
The photograph at the top of the page shows fragments of heart-shaped confetti on the sand the morning after a big wedding at the Pedi Beach Hotel recently. A few hours later it was all gone, washed away by the wake of passing water taxis and ferry boats.
Symi has turned into a garden this year. Those long soaking rains for months on end during the winter gave us a spectacular spring and the mountain herbs are putting on a show for far longer this year. Even people who usually come in June are commenting on how bright the thyme flowers are this year. While other countries may be worrying about their bee populations, Symi’s bees are absolutely wallowing in thyme pollen at the moment and the hills are humming.
Recycling has been a big topic for all parties involved in the recent elections. In reality, the bins have obviously been in the pipeline for a while regardless. Rhodes has had them for some time and this is not the first time we have seen bins for collecting aluminium cans on Symi – we covered the same story in the days of the Symi Visitor newspaper, more than a decade ago. The crucial thing is not so much encouraging the locals and tourists to use them but that the contents are then actually taken away and recycled in a sustainable way. Greece has very few recycling facilities and they are all on the mainland, a 17 hour ferry journey away. Rubbish, whatever it is, tends to be high volume, so a cost effective way of transporting paper, bottles, cans, plastic and so on has to be provided to form the next link in the chain. Otherwise we will see yet another recycling initiative fall by the wayside as the contents wind up in a landfill somewhere. In the long term the real solution lies with the packaging industry finding better alternatives that are still effective for their purpose but without the negative environmental implications.
As many of you probably know, I look after holiday homes for various people and provide the services they need to keep them running smoothly. Recently I received a consignment of all the sheets and towels necessary for one particular house. Three sets of everything. They were ordered from an on line source by the owner of the property and arrived in big boxes by courier. Every single individual item, whether it be a sheet or a pillow case or a towel, was folded around a piece of cardboard to give it a neat shape. It was then encased in a printed paper sleeve, giving details of the item. Each of these was then in a separate resealable plastic envelope. That means that for each item of bedding or towels there were 3 items of packaging. What kind of madness is this? Even if those separate pieces of packaging are recyclable, in a place where those particular materials can be recycled, bearing in mind that facilities are not universally available, is it really necessary to fold a pillowcase round a piece of cardboard, wrap it in a piece of printed paper and then put it in a plastic bag? Many of us are old enough to remember when someone would have counted out the appropriate number of items. Laid them on a sheet of brown paper, wrapped it up into a parcel with tape or string and that would have been that.
The Symi summer season starts later than it used to as fewer tourists come to Symi for Easter and spring break. With little pressure, businesses now unfurl from the winter hibernation at a more leisurely pace and most set their targets for the end of May rather than the beginning.
Every day brings more changes, particularly in the harbour where the day boats from Rhodes provide more of an incentive for shops and cafes to open up but here in Pedi things are still very quiet. The first Saga Holidays people have arrived at the Pedi Beach Hotel and the last bus is now at 9.30 p.m. from Pedi. We had supper with friends at the newly re-opened Katsaras Taverna in Pedi and we were the only diners.
The weather is still unsettled, with random red rain showers, occasional blustery days and temperatures ranging from 16 degrees to 25 degrees. Even on the hazy days of Saharan dust it can be very bright and the sun cream days are definitely with us. Over the weekend there were countrywide ferry and flight disruptions due to strong winds.
Tomorrow is VE Day and a local holiday. German General Wagener surrendered the Dodecanese to the Allies at the building on the waterfront in Yialos that now houses LOS club (previously Katerinettes pension and taverna). There is still a big parade here on Symi every year. When I first came to Symi, nearly 30 years ago, veterans and their families would make a point of coming to Symi to attend the parade. Now they are long gone and very few of the people taking part or watching have any real first hand connection with the event. It is still, however, an important part of Symi’s recent history and a reminder that tiny islands are not immune to the ripples of world events.
On the ferry front, ANES released a schedule for the Sebeco that covered the Easter and May Day holidays and runs out tomorrow, 8 May, so we still don’t know which evenings, if any, there may be boats from Rhodes to Symi or which mornings there will be boats from Symi to Rhodes. The promised extra Blue Star Sunday routes also don’t appear on any schedule. The Blue Star 2 made a diversion through Symi this Sunday past in order to pick up morning passengers from the Sebeco who would otherwise have been stranded as the wind was too strong for the Sebeco to run. Generally speaking, if you are making plans, it is probably best to stick with what is on the Dodecanese Seaways and Blue Star websites and regard anything else as a bonus!