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.

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.

Symi Life in the Winter

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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.

 

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.

 

 

September Postcards from Symi

Agios Nikolaos
The Agios Nikolaos languishing alongside the new jetty in Pedi.  Once the pride and joy of George Kalodoukas and the venue for many a Laskarina welcome meeting, since George’s untimely death two years ago she has been lying forlorn in Pedi.  
Asymi residences St George
St George’s church, Pedi, as seen from ASymi Residences, the discreet and elegant new boutique hotel behind Apostoli’s boatyard and taverna.
Asymi residences
The exterior of the hotel.
bees in the tamarisks
The tamarisk trees are absolutely humming with bees at the moment. They love the sweet-scented blossom. There are a lot of hives on the hillsides above Pedi and in the terraces.
dolce vita
Dolce Vita was a people-trafficking boat impounded back in 2015 and still lying on the jetty in Pedi. The story is that the owners thought that they had got away with hoodwinking the coastguard but they made the mistake of bragging loudly about their exploits in a taverna.  The owners were arrested and the boat impounded.  
Early morning bathers
Early morning bathers in Pedi.
fish baskets
Fish baskets.  
Gone swimming
People staying at the Pedi Beach leave their flip flops on the side of the road when they go swimming.
Pedi beach 1
The anchorages in Pedi have been very full recently.  A few days of stormy weather, gusty winds and big swells have driven sailors to look for safe havens and coffee shops.
Pedi cats
A comfortable nest for some Symi cats.
smartcapture
Forget about popping down to the garden centre.  In Greece the plants and terracotta pots come to you on the back of gypsy trucks.
pomegranates
A bumper crop of pomegranates at the bottom of the steps leading to Villa Jasmine.
Shady sheep
Sheep enjoying a patch of shade in the shelter of an old dry stone wall.
Useful tree
A useful tree provides undercover parking for a bicycle and a baby buggy, a useful place to dry out the water toys, a handy branch for the family budgie and a shady table for baiting hooks.  In a place with a negligible crime rate a tree is as good as a garage.

Some Symi snapshots for you to enjoy.

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.

 

Greek Island Herbs

smartcapture
The butterflies are enjoying the thyme as much as the bees.

blog 16 June 2019 b

blog 16 June 2019 c
The path from Pedi to St Nicholas beach, fragrant with thyme, oregano and sage.
blog 16 June 2019 e
On a more prosaic note, the new recycling bins have appeared in various places around the island. These ones are in the commercial port in Yialos.
blog 16 June 2019 f
The Nissos Chios, the big car ferry that serves Symi on Wednesdays and Fridays during the summer.
blog 16 June 2019 g
The wall is old but the tree is older. As the tree grows the dry stone wall is adjusted and modified to accommodate its changing shape and dimensions.
blog 16 June 2019 h
Harani at dusk.

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.

Simples, as the meerkat says on the BBC!