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 The usual Monday and Wednesday routes have been replaced by Sunday and Tuesday for the two holiday weeks.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.
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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

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

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The path from Pedi to St Nicholas beach, fragrant with thyme, oregano and sage.
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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.
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The Nissos Chios, the big car ferry that serves Symi on Wednesdays and Fridays during the summer.
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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.
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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!

 

 

May Postcards from Symi

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Symmetry
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The waterfront in Pedi bay is slipping into summer mode.
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Waiting for parasols
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The tiny church dedicated to St Thomas celebrated its name day this week.

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This stone wall next to Apostoli’s is turning into a work of art as the fishermen clean their paintbrushes on it and test that they have the colours for their boats mixed just right.
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Essential supplies – cases of beer and bottled water, waiting to be loaded onto a boat to be taken to one of the beach tavernas. The water taxis are still in the boatyards in Harani and Pedi so opening is a while off yet but it takes time to get stock out to places that can only be accessed by sea.
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Roses flourish in sheltered gardens around Pedi and Chorio.
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Windows
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In need of a little TLC.
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The view from Evangelismos church in Harani, looking across the entrance to Yialos.  The Nireus and Aliki hotels are along the waterfront and the Merchant House is one tier up, above the Aliki. The green hills in the background are the south wall of the Pedi valley with the Vigla, the highest point on Symi, on the right.  
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Outside bathroom
Eilish and Allen petunias
Pedi petunias

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!

April Postcards from Symi

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Having a little Cape Town moment, the Vigla sports a rare ‘tablecloth’.
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A goat on a mission.
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She went over the old call box, along the colonnade, hopped over the wall and disappeared up the alley.
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Feline supervision is essential to ensure that all is perfect for the new season.
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Yum. Broadbeans.
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A mother and child moment.
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A tranquil Pedi – before the sunbeds and parasols are packed out for the summer.
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The ghost of a cake shop long gone.
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Poppies on the Pedi road.
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Free range, Symi style.
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Symi colours.
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Apostoli’s taverna, still in boatyard mode.
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There’s wild chamomile everywhere down in Pedi at the moment. The smell is like Golden Delicious apples.
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Cock of the walk.
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A sledge, waiting for a boat.
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Wheel barrow hitching a ride on a quad bike.
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There has to be a logical explanation for three taverna chairs balancing on a boat in a yard in the Pedi valley, but I really don’t know what it is.
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All tied up.

Pedi in the Poppy Season

blog 3 April 2019 a
Even churches need spring cleaning. St George’s church in Pedi.
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Designer flocks with ear tags take the place of lawnmowers round here. Well, why waste good food?
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An orderly view.
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A disorderly view.
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The end of the road.
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Villa Jasmine, the house with the blue shutters, was a popular Symi Visitor property. You can now book through AirBnB.
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Pedi bay
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Wet lands in Pedi.
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This seasonal pond in Pedi is swarming with tadpoles. We hope that they reach maturity before the pond evaporates completely.
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Reflections
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This was supposed to be a marina in Pedi but something went a bit wrong with the dimensions so it is a haven for small boats instead. Yachts can moor on the outside. Unfortunately there are no actual shoreside facilities available as yet.
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Checking out the food chain. Pedi cats are generally very well fed, even in the winter months.