Next Stop Symi: From Suffolk to Symi
By Peter Vidal, of Next Stop Symi
Following successful trial runs in a van from the small village of Hoxne in Suffolk during January 2016 the UK registered charity Next Stop Symi was formed. A further run in April 2016 was undertaken with Charlemagne the bear as a mascot.
Charlemagne hoping to get a lift back to Symi
During the first few weeks of this year, we obtained a list of items that would be useful for refugees stranded in Kos and Rhodes. Our helpers in the UK rallied around, and we were given plenty of stock to transport. These items were checked for suitability, making sure they were complete and clean. Everything was sorted and boxed up (and a few bags) ready for the run.
Loading the van took some time ensuring there was no wasted space and we could easily get at the boxes needed at each stop.
Helpers from Lichfield with some of their collections
The back of the full van
28 March – 444 miles
Left Hoxne at about 8.30am.Trouble free run down to the Channel Tunnel. Arrived a bit earlier than expected, so they let me on an earlier than planned train. The van was one of the last on, parked up behind a British registered Aston Martin on a French Trailer!
There were some heavy showers on the way to Luxembourg through the Ardennes, otherwise, a very uneventful drive arriving at the hotel at about 6pm.
Trauma Bears from North Wales
29 March – 356 miles
A need for fuel meant upsetting the satnav while finding a petrol station in Luxembourg (diesel less than €1 per litre). Once full with fuel the drive was a pleasant combination of motorway and some other main roads to Karlsruhe. Around Karlsruhe, the traffic was at a standstill at times, just because of the amount of vehicles on the road.
Hotel Car Park in Germany
Once past Karlsruhe and then Stuttgart the roads were virtually empty. There was hardly any delay as I passed one accident site with the police present and the Autobahn down to one lane. Even with a couple of stops it only took 6 hours to make it to a small town near the German/Austrian border.
The evening was spent in the town enjoying a beer and a meal. The town was just like Symi after the end of the season as most places were closed because the skiing season had finished.
Coffee break on the Fern Pass
30 March – 296 miles
The first part of the day’s drive was across the Fern Pass in Austria. I had a quick coffee break at one of the rest areas. The peaks of the Alps were still covered in snow. As I climbed up the Brenner Pass, there were still people on some of the ski runs (one of which goes under the motorway). The drive through Italy to Modena was simple and stress-free.
That evening while having a beer a group of French people who were on a course asked me about the signs on the van, proving there’s genuine interest and support for what we’re doing. They invited me to join them at the restaurant where they served excellent Pizzas.
31 March – 168 miles
After a moderately early breakfast, I was quickly on the way to catch the ferry across the Adriatic Sea. I had to pick up the tickets at the ferry terminal before making my way to the Ferry (Superfast XII) that leaves at 1.30. Loading was relatively painless. The van being slightly over 2m high had to be parked alongside the big trucks, and was dwarfed.
The ferry crossing was very smooth and uneventful.
Dwarfed by the big trucks on the ferry
1 April – 108 Miles
The ferry docked a few minutes late. But after 24 hours on the ferry it was pleasant to be back on land. The new road from Patras to Corinth is not fully open yet with just a few places where there is still a lot of work to do. However much of the drive was on the new road and very much better than the old road it replaces.
This was a day of leisure because the ferry I had planned on catching from Ancona was full so I had to travel a day earlier. I spent the day in the village that has sprung up around the ruins of Ancient Corinth. The Archaeological site is beautiful and remarkably well preserved. The museum, although small is worth a visit.
3 April – 68 miles
The run to Piraeus was uneventful with the satnav guiding me to the right gate at the docks without any hiccups. The gates for the Dodecanese ferries are a long walk from the main area of Piraeus, but there is a free bus that goes around the port regularly.
I had to wait about two hours before managing to get on the ferry (Superfast XII again). I soon settled in. One of the stewards recognised me from the trip to Patras, and we had a bit of a laugh about this.
I had been allocated a berth in a shared cabin. Sleep was rather fitful, but somehow I managed to be up ready for arrival at Kos at 6.30am.
Unloading in Kos
After breakfast, I met up with representatives of Kos Kindness delivering about 65 boxes of clothing and other items that they needed. They also had some surplus items that they knew would be better used in Rhodes, so these were loaded on the van for delivery the next day. Five boxes out, one box in. Every inch put to good use.
In early April Kos Town was very quiet with very few of the usual tourist restaurants and bars open
The ferry I was booked on (Blue Star 2) was timetabled to arrive at 4.35, so I woke at about 4 am. After a quick check to make sure I had everything during a short walk to the van I was staggered to see the ferry was docking some 20 minutes earlier than expected. A quick dash through the deserted streets of Kos got me there in about 10 minutes. I had to wait for another 20 minutes before I was on the ferry!
After arriving at Rhodes at around 7.30, I had a little bit of time for shopping before arriving at the makeshift camp. Although the manager did not arrive until later we quickly unloaded the van of all the items (T-shirts, rolls of fabric, children’s and baby clothing, plastic crates for Storage and some small toys) for Rhodes.
When I caught up with the manager later, he was distributing everything. The staff and refugees were absolutely over the moon with everything as it was just what they needed.
Boarding the ferry (Patmos) for Symi was smooth, and I was so glad to get back home.
The next day I delivered some items to the Medical Centre on Symi who again were very grateful to the original donors in the UK. The last delivery followed with boxes of Educational materials to be distributed by Solidarity Symi.
So after nearly nine days on the road (and ferry), my journey was complete and my cargo of helpful and useful items delivered to the local organisations which would make sure they reached the people who needed them most. There was a great sense of job done.
So I checked my diary and started counting down the days to the Next Stop Symi delivery.
Some of the Trustees of NSS after loading the van
Next Stop Symi would like to make special mention of the generous support given by the ferry companies- Anek, Superfast and Blue Star
Web page- Next Stop Symi
Donations can be made through My Donate
Blue Star Ferries
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