Autumn Postcards from Symi

News from Pedi

The ‘new marina’ in Pedi is slowly taking shape after over a decade in limbo. New lights and utility points have been installed along the quay and a crane is at work today, placing the concrete mooring blocks which have been cast on the shore over the past few weeks. The office and ablution block has been painted and a small posi-hut has been added.

Pedi has also had a power upgrade in recent weeks.

Rather them than me – upgrading the power that leads over to the marina side of the bay.
Installing a new transformer in the grounds of the Pedi Beach Hotel just before they opened. That is the dome of Agios Andreas church.

The new cafe on the corner by the jetty is not yet open although work continues steadily.

The taverna is open at Apostoli’s boatyard and the beach has been laid out for the summer.

St Nicholas beach is advertising a beach bar and disco on Friday and Saturday nights.

Agia Marina beach is now open.

Rumour has it that the Pedi Beach hotel will be opening its restaurant to the public during high season with Stavros of Mythos-fame as the chef.

Symi Unmasked!

At last we can take our masks off! Well, when we are out of doors and in uncrowded places at any rate. This comes as a huge relief as Greece bakes under a long heatwave with daytime temperatures sizzling over 40 degrees centigrade. Masks are still to be worn in shops and other enclosed spaces as well as on public transport. The curfew has also been lifted and permitted numbers for restaurant tables have been raised from 6 to 10. If you click on the link above you will find all the latest concessions as well as here.

Symi is still very quiet. June without British tourists makes for an empty island. Some British property owners and regulars to the island have come, regardless of Greece’s on-going ‘amber’ status, as they are fortunate to be able to be flexible about return dates and have been fully vaccinated but British tourists as such are conspicuous by their absence. Even among the other nationalities it is rare to see new faces.

For current information about travel to Greece, go to www.travel.gov.gr which is the official government website. Testing requirements for different countries are still variable but you can be assured that the system on Symi I referred to in my previous blog is working well.

The ferry situation, on the other hand, has never been better. The Blue Star now serves Symi on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (times and boats vary considerably. The Sebeco is running every day. Dodecanese Seaways comes through 3 or 4 times a week (Sundays are still variable) and the Stavros also comes through 4 times a week, twice in each direction. Greek Travel Pages is a good starting point for finding out what is going where when. Just type in your departure and arrival ports and the date you want to travel and it will give you a list of the options for that day.

Most of the beaches on Symi are now up and running or will be in a few days. Most of the hotels are now open, albeit with few guests. Right now not only do we have an abundance of ferries serving Symi but also a serious over-supply of accommodation of all kinds and a shortage of tourists to enjoy them.

Today’s Featured Image shows part of the spectacular view from the Constantinos View kantina, situated on the roadside on the way to Xisos and Panormitis. Open from midday until late with live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Deep Red Sends Symiots Early to Bed

The latest lockdown news from Symi as new restrictions are implemented.

Greece has been in a country wide lockdown since 7 November 2020 in an effort to control the spread of the ubiquitous Covid-19 virus. Every time it looks as though the situation is under control it surges again, particularly in Attica where the UK strain of the virus is gaining hold and ICU beds are full. Meanwhile the number of cases in Rhodes has risen sharply in the last two weeks, also causing concern. Yesterday afternoon the government announced that the whole country was going into a more restricted lockdown but areas designated Deep Red would have even stricter measures. As Symi falls under Rhodes, even though we have yet to have any cases on the island, we too are now Deep Red.

On Symi the main impacts are that the schools have closed again with effect for today and the curfew now starts at 19.00 instead of 21.00 and continues until 05.00. Shops are closed apart from food and essentials and this has to be done locally, with a time limit of 2 hours from getting the permission code. We are no longer allowed to drive to places to start our daily exercise but must do it entirely on foot or bicycle. No drives into the countryside to then walk to mountain monasteries. SMS code 4, to render assistance to the elderly and vulnerable, is to be more closely monitored and the police may actually accompany you to make sure that you are indeed taking essentials to someone in need and not using this as a cover for attending an illegal birthday party or other furtive social event. No doubt more information will emerge in the media in due course.

On the vaccination front, Symi town hall has just put out an announcement asking everyone over 60 to register for the vaccination. The over 80s and over 75s have been done, as have the front line medical workers. Apparently many of the locals are reluctant to be vaccinated, on the grounds that only tourists who have been vaccinated are likely to be allowed onto the island anyway so why should they? The expat community, on the other hand, remember how polio vaccinations – and others – changed lives and are not so flippant. When I went down to the town hall yesterday, the only people I saw registering were all British residents. Hopefully attitudes will change as results are seen in the rate of hospitalisations as otherwise it is going to be another very long year.

Sunday is 7 March, Dodecanese Day, the day when the Dodecanese Islands became part of the modern state of Greece in 1947. For the second year running there will be no parades or festivities. The 25 March should be an even bigger holiday in Greece this year, celebrating the bicentennary of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottomans but that too is being toned down.

The only thing running to plan at the moment is spring. The days are getting longer and warmer. The lambs are gambolling, the birds twittering, the flowers opening before our eyes. The air is scented with hawthorn, citrus blossom and wild cyclamens. The trees are humming with bees. We have not had any rain since 21 February and there is none showing up on the long range forecast.

A strong earthquake hit central Greece yesterday, causing widespread damage to buildings. You can read more about this here.

Dodecanese Seaways have launched a new service in conjunction with a supermarket chain on Rhodes, enabling people in Symi, Halki, Tilos and Nissyros to order their groceries on line and have them delivered to the boat. The boats are well equipped with freezer and fridge storage as they already bring perishable supplies to supermarkets and other businesses along their routes. Apparently on Symi the goods will then be delivered to home addresses. For the other three islands, customers will have to come down to the boat to fetch their shopping. It will be interesting to see how this works in practice and how many people will take it up. Looking at the website, there did not seem to be anything in particular listed that would be significantly cheaper than on Symi or not normally available here in some form or another but I know from visiting the other three islands, which have tiny populations, that they have very limited grocery shopping facilities. We shall see.

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