Summer, but not as we know it.

“It is like winter, only with better weather,”  a recently-arrived friend observed to me a few days ago.  The days are long and hot and there isn’t much happening.  Anyone visiting Symi for the first time probably won’t notice much difference as Symi has reverted to the sleepy charm of the 1970s and 80s.  The gulets and yachts that normally fill the harbour in the summer months are conspicuous by their absence and apart from a few Greek flagged sailing boats visiting from Rhodes and Kos, the anchorages are empty.   Until the sea borders can safely open up with testing procedures in place at a greater number of ports, this is unlikely to change.  The sea border between Greece and Turkey is still firmly closed so there are no ferry connections between the two countries either.

Most of the cafes and bars in the harbour are now open, as are the two pizzerias, the gyros and grill houses and several restaurants and tavernas.  We were invited to dinner at Tholos in Harani on Saturday night.  The number of tables has been reduced by about a third so that they are more widely spaced. The staff all wear masks.  Sanitiser is brought to the table so you can clean your hands, particularly after handling the menu.  As this was the only restaurant open in the Harani area they were full, mainly with Greek tourists.  The food was excellent, as always, and they have not succumbed to the temptation to make up the shortfall in income by hiking prices.

Water taxis have resumed operation on a limited scale along the lines of one trip out in the morning and another back in the afternoon.  The Poseidon goes out 4 times a week. The Maria is also advertising day trips.  The ferry schedules are still a bit skimpy.  Dodecanese Seaways is not operating the Panagia Skiadeni and their official on line schedule shows no service to Symi on Sundays.  Sunday is actually marketed as a Facebook ‘event’ for a day excursion from Rhodes to Panormitis and once they know they have a good expression of interest, then it goes live.  The Sea Dreams website is advertising the King Saron for a daily route to Symi, starting from tomorrow, 15 July, and they are selling one way tickets.  Although this shows as running every day, this will be subject to demand but they have made their booking conditions very flexible.  As only 80 of the 450 hotels on Rhodes are actually open at the moment, and they are by no means full, it will be a while before there are enough tourists to fill day boats on a regular basis.  The Blue Star comes through 3 times a week.  There is still no evening boat from Rhodes to Symi apart from the Blue Star on Wednesdays at 18.30 (Mondays and Fridays, the Blue Star currently leaves Rhodes at 16.00). The Stavros seems to be more reliable than initially anticipated.

Direct flights from the UK commence from tomorrow, 15 July.  Direct flights from Sweden from 22 July and there is the possibility of direct flights being allowed from certain parts of the USA at the end of the month, depending on infection rates and so on.  Everyone has to fill in a PLF on line 24 hours before travelling and they are then issued with a QR code on their smart phones which they must show in order to travel.  This code determines whether one will have a mandatory Covid-19 check or a random one and the contact details provided are so that you can be notified of your test results and also, should anyone you have travelled with and been in close contact with, test positive, you can be informed.  Stricter controls are now being implemented at the land borders due to a recent increase in the number of people arrived from the Balkans who have tested positive.  You can find all the information you need about travelling to Greece on a new government website.

This is all as up-to-date as it can be, but it could all be totally different tomorrow!

 

Symi Summertime Blues

Well, here we are in July. The days are long, the sun is hot, the sea is warm. Normally this is high season and the bay is full of yachts swinging at anchor and Yialos full of gulets and gleaming megayachts. This year both are empty.  There are still restrictions in place regarding yachting movements, many cruising yachtsmen are in the vulnerable over 70s demographic so reluctant to travel, flights have to be booked, anti-fouling applied, boats launched – it will take a while for the summer time parade of visiting yachts and gulets to appear, if it ever does this year.  At the moment, due to Covid-19 testing protocols, Symi is not a port of entry for non-Greek yachts so even if sailing between Greece and Turkey were to resume, it would have to be through Rhodes.

Katsaras in Pedi has been open for a while, as you will have gathered from previous blog posts, and the sunbeds are also out at St Nicholas, even though the water taxi is not running as yet.  Apostoli’s is now making the transition from boatyard to waterfront taverna.  The last of the caiques is in the water and the bobcat is landscaping the beach.  The chairs and tables are getting a lick of paint and the sunbeds are ready to roll.

The Pedi Beach hotel is still pretty much deserted although I saw a pink bathing costume hanging out to dry from one of the umbrellas (sorry, no photo, my batteries were flat).

The general trend at the moment is that the old people head for the sea early – 7 a.m. or thereabouts – and time their walk back up the hill before the heat nails them to the tarmac.  From about 4 p.m. on wards the younger locals make for the water – parents with small children, groups of teenagers, local teachers and so on.  In the middle of the day it is just far too hot at the moment for anyone to move.  Temperatures are in the 40s and only the cicadas are busy.

There is some anxiety on the island at the moment.  In the usual state of Covid-induced paranoia, the news that two Greek-Americans who managed to get to Karpathos in June became ill with Covid-19 after their arrival, infected several relatives before they themselves were isolated in hospital in Crete and resulted in an entire village being put into lockdown has not gone down well.  This was followed a few days later by the news that of the 9 new cases of Covid-19 announced yesterday, 7 of them were tourist arrivals from abroad, and the land border with Serbia has been closed due to an increase of cases there.

Meanwhile, as I write this, my laptop has just pinged a notification that will bring joy to the hearts of any readers from the UK who have flights booked for this month.

Good luck!  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

A Waiting Game

Symi is very quiet.  A few Greek tourists.  A handful of foreigners from ‘safe’ low risk destinations.  Bored local teenagers whizzing up and down the road, sound systems blaring.  Pensioners watering their vegetable plots and grandmothers taking an early morning swim.  The temperature continues to rise and every afternoon there is a gentle migration to the sea to cool off.  Locals play at being tourists as they have little or no work and nothing much to do.  Very few places are open, and those that are, are generally empty.  The cicadas chirp on regardless.

The harbour is devoid of day-trippers.  There are no water taxis bustling in and out of Yialos.  All dressed up and no where to go.

The Greek domestic airports opened to direct flights from other EU destinations and 13 third-party ones yesterday. This comes with all sorts of provisos and restrictions which you can find here.  As you probably know, direct flights from the UK, the USA and Sweden are still forbidden due to the very high levels of infection in those countries.  They may be major contributors to Greece’s usual annual tourist income, but the risks outweigh any possible benefit, particularly as a number of recent cases have been linked to people coming in from the USA and UK via various roundabout routes.

What seems to be more of a problem is that would be travellers from countries that ARE on the approved list are being messed about by various airlines.  For instance, Danes booking with Spies for holidays in September, which is two months away, are having their flights cancelled on the grounds that there is insufficient demand.  Well, if they still have two months in which to sell tickets and people are only just starting to make plans, why cancel flights now?  That only creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fear of making plans and then having them cancelled, often at short notice (vis a vis those who were booked on flights from London for 1 July who were only informed on 30 June that they were cancelled) and fighting to redeem vouchers and refunds from flights cancelled earlier in the year are certainly putting people off travelling, even if they have already had – and recovered from – the dreaded virus.

The Greek government has put all sorts of measures in place to make travel as safe as possible.  Everyone travelling to Greece has to complete an on line Passenger Locator Form 48 hours before travelling, answering a lot of questions regarding where they have been for the past fortnight and who they have met as well as providing accurate details of where they will be staying on arrival in Greece.  Based on this information they are issued with a QR code to present on landing.  This determines whether they will be tested or not.  Other passengers will be subject to random testing.  There is more information about this on the links above.  By the way, the penalties for providing incorrect information are hefty and if you haven’t completed the form and received the QR code, you aren’t allowed to fly anyway.

Quarantine hotels have been established in various towns around the country so anyone, whether Greek or foreign tourist, can be isolated if not sufficiently ill to require hospitalisation.  On Symi the Chorio clinic is designated an isolation unit and anyone who falls ill with the virus will be helicoptered to Rhodes. (Apologies for the Facebook link, unfortunately this video was not uploaded onto the more widely accessible YouTube.)

Unfortunately the dearth of tourists on Symi has severe implications for the Symiots themselves.  Apart from pensioners and those in the merchant navy or working for the banks, power station and so on, everyone else is dependent on tourist revenues of one sort or another to pay the bills and put food on the table.  Whether it is foreign property owners or tourists staying in hotels and short stay accommodation, it is the money coming in from outside that keeps the island’s economy moving.  Greece does not have a well-developed welfare state to help people over the hard times – historically the solution has been mass migration rather than state intervention – and the Covid-19 crisis has lasted far longer than the government had initially anticipated.  If you are able to travel to Symi this year, even if it is for a few weeks much later in the year, please do.  It is going to be a long wait for those who have had no income since October 2019 if they have to wait until the spring of 2021 before they start earning again and by that time many of your favourite haunts may well have shut down permanently.

 

 

Coming Out of Quarantine

On Monday 4 May the first steps began to ease up on the measures first implemented on 29 February to contain the spread of Covid-19 in Greece.  We no longer have to send an SMS or carry a permit to be allowed out of our homes – unless we have just returned from somewhere else in which case the strict 14 day police-controlled quarantine still applies, in which event no amount of paperwork allows you out until the days are done.  Smaller shops where numbers can be easily controlled have been allowed to re-open. This includes bookshops, electronics shops, hardware shops, shoe shops and clothing shops.  In the case of the latter, strict regulations are in force to prevent clothes from being contaminated and you really need to know your size as trying things on is not allowed at this point.  More shops will be allowed to open on 11 May.

Masks must be worn in enclosed places including public transport such as buses, trains, the metro and so on.  This last isn’t much of an issue on Symi.  The bus has been mothballed for the duration and Lakis is using one of his hire cars – with one passenger at a time, travelling on the back seat.  Unnecessary journeys are still frowned upon and it is not permitted to travel between islands or outside ones prefecture for the time being.  Drivers are now allowed to have two passengers in their vehicles now, instead of one.  Gatherings are still limited to a maximum of 10 people and are generally still discouraged.  We can go swimming but not at organised beaches and not in large groups.  There are still restrictions in place regarding private boats and amateur fishing as the authorities don’t want anyone sneaking off to other islands or travelling illegally between the mainland and the islands, potentially taking the virus with them.

15 May is the day when it will be decided how the country goes forward as by that point it will be clear if there has been an up-tick in infections as a result of increased mobility and social interaction.

Restaurants and cafes may be allowed to open on 1 June, if all goes well. This would be with reduced clientele, greater spacing between tables and strict hygiene measures in place.

As things stand at the moment, all-year-round hotels should be allowed to reopen on 15 June and international hotels on 1 July.  These dates, however, have not been confirmed and are dependent on how the figures run.  There are also no firm dates for when international tourism will resume.  Although tourism is responsible for about 20% of Greece’s economy and, in the islands, practically the only significant source of revenue, re-opening the doors to foreign visitors also brings with it the potential threat of a ‘second wave’ of infection which could be much harder to control.  The quality of the tourist product also has to be considered – would people still come if they can’t go clubbing in crowded Mykonos nightspots or line up like sardines in a row on organised beaches?  Perhaps this will be the year the tide turns back to the things that are uniquely Greek – history, culture, archaeology, museums – things which cannot be found elsewhere and which can, actually, be easier to make safe for visitors and locals alike. Only time will tell.

If you look carefully at the photograph, there is a cat, suspended in a special cat bed so that it can look out at the passing parade.  At the moment I think many of us feel like that cat.  Watching to see what happens next before we venture back out into a world that is likely to be very different to the one we saw in on 1 January 2020.

Symi April Blues

 

Human tourists might be unable to travel but the migratory birds have no such problems.  The barn swallows are nesting in quiet corners of Pedi and every evening we hear the owls calling across the valley.

As 1 May is a big holiday in Greece and falls on a Friday this year, once again a strict vehicle curfew will be in place for that weekend to prevent people leaving the cities to head for country houses and islands.  Effectively the lock down definitely remains in place until at least 4 May for this reason.  We are, however, expecting an announcement, either this evening or tomorrow, outlining the proposed stages for re-opening the country. Starting with easily controllable businesses such as bookshops and hair dressers and, eventually, seasonal hotels.

We have already been told that the most we can hope for is a 3 month tourist season, from 1 July to 30 September, with various restrictions in place concerning which country nationals will be allowed in and what measures will be taken to ensure the safety of both the tourists and the locals. This is all being hammered out with the EU as a whole to make a co-ordinated plan.  Proposals including opening up the larger hotels first but reducing the number of rooms occupied as it is easier to impose social distancing in larger premises, replacing buffets with table service, changing bars so that drinkers sit at spaced tables with table service and so on.

It will be interesting to see how the airlines tackle the issues of social distancing, disinfection and hygiene and still keep their planes in the air.  We saw huge changes in the travel industry after September 11 but this is going to be even more momentous.  Even if people like Mike O’Leary of Ryan Air complain about the costs involved and refuse to fly within the limitations unless the state picks up the shortfall, the reality is that airlines are going to have a hard time persuading people to travel on their planes unless they feel safe.  With awareness of the importance of hygiene at an all time high, the average person is more likely to be conscious of just what might be lurking on armrests, tray tables, back rests, upholstery and the like, not to mention plastic bins at security checks, airport seating and so on.  It is not just the recycled air which people have been complaining about for years.  Now the threat is not just catching a cold or flu. Unlike trains, buses and other forms of public transport which are a daily necessity for many people to get to and from work, it is rare for flying to be essential so consumers have the luxury of the last word.

We shall see what tomorrow brings.

Adriana

 

 

Not Much Happening on Symi this Spring

Well, here we are.  Keeping track of the passage of time is easier by looking at the changing vegetation in the valley than by any variations in the day’s routines.  The clocks have changed and the days grow longer.  Trees unfurl their spring greenery and the goats and sheep gorge themselves on a banquet of corona daisies (yes, that really is their name) and purple-blue lupins.  The air smells faintly of sun-warmed chamomile blossom and wild sage.

I don’t know what it is like in the harbour or Chorio as I have not been to either for a fortnight but down in Pedi we have random police patrols to check that everyone is behaving.  The old boys still tend their fields and flocks – farmers, smallholders and apiarists are part of the essential workers and if this year’s tourist season is a total write-off they may be crucial to putting food on the table for many families.  Permits have been devised to allow them to continue to function.  There is also a special permit that allows legitimate animal welfare organisations throughout Greece to continue with animal feeding schemes.

Preventing people from wandering off to do their own thing is, however, proving to be more of a challenge.  As the weather warms up a new prohibition has been brought in, preventing swimming, spear fishing, kayaking and various other water sports. This is not because the government is a bunch of spoilsports.  It is because it is difficult enough to police the streets to restrict unnecessary journeys as it is without having to try to keep an eye on what people are up to along Greece’s incredibly convoluted shoreline and most of these activities are non-essential and tend to attract the company of others.  Only commercial fishing boats are allowed to operate.

A third case of Covid-19 has been diagnosed in Rhodes – a young woman returning to her home on the island from the UK.  Fortunately she was maintaining the required 14 days quarantine when she became ill.

The government is hinting at further movement restrictions and expanding on the SMS system so that it shows the time one returns, not just the time one sets off, for any one of the approved reasons for movement and limiting the number of times any one person may leave home in a day.  This is likely to replace the Document B which those who don’t have Greek mobile phones tend to use.  The SMS system does not work with foreign sim cards, as many expats who have not bothered to buy Greek sims are finding out.

Several villages around Kozani on the mainland have been put under severe quarantine restrictions due to an abnormally high level of contagion in the area and the local power station there has been closed down temporarily to protect the health of workers.

Keep safe, keep indoors – and keep out of the cookie jar!

 

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.