Last weekend, on Saturday 15 October, Symi had the first rains that triggered the start of the island’s ‘second spring’. Heavy rain was forecast but fortunately missed us. Symi received about 15 mm over a 24 hour period, not a lot but enough to get things growing. Parts of Crete, on the other hand, received heavy down pours that triggered flash flooding with cars washed into the sea, significant damage to property and tragically the loss of two lives.
The combination of rain and sunshine has brought up the first flush of green. Seeds are germinating. The locals are digging over their vegetable gardens, ready for the first plantings of the new growing season.
Even the ants are busy, preparing for the winter ahead.
Symi is suddenly very quiet, particularly down in Pedi. In the evenings all we hear apart from the roar of the power station is the occasional cat fight and the hooting of owls. The marina is no longer party-central. ASymi Residences has put up the storm shutters for the winter and apart from a few dedicated sunworshippers the Pedi Beach Hotel seems to be winding down.
Agia Marina beach has already closed down and St Nicholas will soon be following – even if there were still lots of people around, Symi’s steep terrain throws most of the popular beaches into shadow for much of the day from now until April.
The weather is quite mild. Mid to low twenties most days, with the occasional 29 thrown in just to keep us on our toes. Evenings are cool. There have been some shipping disruptions due to gales in the Aegean. Rain and thundershowers may hit us this weekend, or they may pass us by and hit Rhodes and Turkey instead.
Here are some photographs I took with my old Nikon around 10.30 this morning. As you can see, my Huawei phone actually takes much better photos than my camera but I wanted to use the zoom.
Late in the afternoon of Monday 24 January 2022 the first snowflakes started to fall on Symi.
The next morning we awoke to this.
Well no, not really, but we were astonished when we were in Rhodes last week to see the Christmas decorations going up in My Way, a department store on the road to Faliraki that sells everything from power tools and solar water heaters to baby’s nappies and bread bins. Not even a token Halloween cobweb for old time’s sake.
Lidl, the German discount supermarket which has two branches on Rhodes is already selling chocolate Santas and frozen festive geese. What makes all this unusual and worthy of note is that it is most unGreek to be packing out the Christmas tat before the last summer charter flight has even left these shores. One of the joys of Greek holidays is their very lack of commercial pressure. There is no danger of being jingle-belled into submission by the first week of October in Greece. At least, that is how it used to be, so it was surprising to see the staff of My Way wrangling plastic trees on 13 October.
Perhaps last year’s lockdown Christmas has altered perspectives. Or perhaps the grid-locked container ships clogging ports around the world are forcing shop keepers to sell whatever is hanging about unsold from the lockdown days and it was a toss up between the Nutcracker and the Easter Bunny.
It has been a strange summer in a time of strange summers. Symi was exceptionally busy once the starting gates opened. Some businesses in the harbour even reported their best August in years. Certainly in terms of personal observation I got the impression that people were holidaying closer to home. Young people who might previously gone off to Thailand or Bali opted for parental summer homes on Greek islands and found it was more fun than they had expected. The fourth week of August, which is often a sort of no-mansland as the Athenians, French and Italians leave and the northern Europeans only arrive in the first week of September, was really busy as people extended their holidays and last minute AirBnB bookings filled gaps.
September also turned out to be a bumper month. Once it became (relatively) easier for British tourists to travel abroad there was no stopping Symi’s regular September visitors, plus many of those whose usual June plans had been scuppered by Uncle Boris’ traffic light system. There was a real celebratory hum around the island as happy reunions took place in favourite watering holes and those who were last here in 2019 revelled in the September sunshine.
This cheerful vibe has continued into October but it doesn’t look as though we will have many last lingering visitors into November as happened last year when those who were home-schooling and working on line decided they might as well do it on Symi as anywhere else and it was only the implementation of the sudden drastic second lockdown on 7 November that brought the island to a sudden grinding halt.
The winter rains have come early this year, with the first heavy rains reaching Symi on 12 October. This was the first named storm of the season, Storm Athena. This was followed by Storm Ballos a couple of days later which brought more heavy rain to Corfu, Cefalonia, fire-damaged Evia and, most noticably of all, Athens, where footage of children making bridges out of their desks to climb out of a flooded classroom and bus passengers forming a human chain to escape a flooded bus in an Athens underpass made the international news. Symi is turning green again after an incredibly long hot summer drought and temperatures have dropped into the low 20s.
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.
Storm Circe is approaching and this is likely to be the last calm day for a while. The storm is expected to reach Symi tomorrow afternoon or evening, leading on to at least a week of unsettled weather. The clouds are already thickening and the sky is the pinkish grey that portends red rain.
Tomorrow, 28 October, is also Ochi Day, a public holiday and national day in Greece. Usually celebrated with parades around the country, this year the parades have been cancelled and the wreath-laying will be low-key. The last tavernas remaining open are expecting good lunch time trade tomorrow, if the weather holds, as families often eat out on this day. This year they will be skipping the parade and moving straight onto the lunch! Social distancing still applies, with an official limit of 6 to a table.
Dodecanese Seaways ferries have started laying on more routes to bring people from Rhodes and other islands to Panormitis monastery in the run-up to the Feast of St Michael on 8 November. Allowing groups to visit the monastery over a longer period of time makes sense in these days of social distancing, particularly as there is a limit on how many passengers ferries are allowed to carry at the moment.
Speaking of limits, the last bus out of Yialos is now 9 p.m. and on Saturday evening by 10 p.m. there was not a taxi to be found, even though there were quite a few people around. Understandable, really, as the last few times I have caught the bus at various times of the day or evening I have often been the only person or one of only a handful of passengers.
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!
Winter in the Mediterranean may conjure up visions of mild temperatures, sunny days and pavement cafes. This can happen, if you are lucky, but most of the time, particularly in January and February, it can be very wet, extremely windy and, on occasion, even snowy.
This year the snow even crept to sea level in places like Corfu, Skopelos and Thessalonica. Rhodes had heavy snowfalls on the mountain tops and the Evzones found themselves strutting their stuff outside Syntagma, Athens, surrounded by the white stuff.
We have had ferry disruptions of one sort or another every week since December and the Best Western Plaza hotel in Rhodes is offering special rates for Symiots hanging about, waiting for boats and doctor’s appointments.
On a personal note, I have been out of circulation for many weeks, due to severe back problems. A strict regime of bed rest, exercises and medication under the supervision of an orthopaedic specialist in Rhodes seems to be working but I have to be very careful about how much time I spend sitting at the computer and have only recently been able to go for short walks, with the help of a stick. It is unfortunate that the Symi bus is out of circulation so I cannot venture further afield. At the moment my perambulations are strictly local but I can at least provide you with some photographs to give you an idea of what Pedi looks like in January.