Symi Dream

Living on a Greek island

A Greek island blog from Symi in the Dodecanese islands of Greece. "James’s great talent lies in his careful observation of the absurd and the amusing, the dramas and the difficulties..." Anne Zouroudi.

Symi Dream - Living on a Greek island

One Photo per Day

One Photo per Day

Today, I have given myself the impossible task of choosing one photo per day from the 21-day trip we’ve all virtually just been on. You may have seen some on the posts, but others you won’t have seen. A lot of activities and people have been missed, but with over 1,000 images to choose from, that’s going to happen.

So, to round off the last three weeks travelling and before I return to the more usual Symi blog on Monday, here are 21 images that kind of represent the 21 days of the trip we started before the ‘thing’ took hold, and finished at five minutes before a national lockdown.

See you on Monday!

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Waved off by Jenine and Harry.

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Cafe life, Athens.

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Being a Greek lad.

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A morning in Athens.

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Autograph hunters, London – absolutely fabulous, sweetie.

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A night at the (phantom of the) opera.

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Back together after 40 years.

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Please look after this couple of old duffers trying to follow me.

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A family photo.

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Next stop Crewe.

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Not seen one yet.

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A night in Jasper.

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Climb every mountain, ford every stream.

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I’m not as daft as I look, you know.

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Vancouver.

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The next album cover.

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High flying adored.

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Homeward bound.

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Separate tables. (I’m sure that’s Elvis Costello)

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Masquerade.

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Just in time.

The end of the line

The end of the line
Holiday Day 21 (March 22nd) Piraeus to home with minutes to spare.

 

Piraeus

We really are on the very last leg of the journey now, as long as we can get onto the ferry with our pdf copies of our tax information now stored on our phones.
From our shared room to the intimacy of the lift and down to the dining area – where we had to sit at separate tables – the morning started well and, for the first time in days, with no stress. Apart from the nagging concern that our tax docs wouldn’t work, in which case I had the phone number of the British Consulate on speed dial. The ferry was at 15.00, and we booked a welcome pickup for 13.00 because you can board the ferry two hours before sailing. That’s a handy tip for if you ever make the trip from Piraeus to Symi.

The Blue Star leaves Piraeus at 15.00, and its dock is a long way from the harbour gates, about a 45-minute walk, so I’d take a taxi. Where there is a courtesy bus from ferry to gates when you arrive, there isn’t for when you leave. If you take the airport bus, you need the X96 which, last time we did it, cost €5.00 each and took one hour forty-five minutes. It should be slightly less time than that, but roadworks had uncovered a site of archaeological interest, and there was traffic congestion. Happens a lot in Athens as there’s so much history beneath your feet – see the airport museum for an example. The Blue Star for Symi leaves from Gate E1, about as far as you can get from the underground and main streets, but the X96 terminates there, so that’s easy enough.

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Anyway, if you arrive early, you can (usually) board early, and that’s handy because some of the ferries, like the Patmos, have dining rooms where you can sit down to lunch before departure and have a leisurely meal as you set sail. The Patmos dining room closes at 16.00 I think and reopens later for dinner, and it’s a grand experience. However, we were on the Chios which only has a canteen, self-service (still nice food though, and lots of it).

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Arriving early also gives you time to sort out your cabin and watch the loading going on at the stern; always a comedy show.

That’s for later. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, we had breakfast, hung about, packed and finally said our goodbyes to the helpful staff and wished them well, fully aware that we were their last guests to leave before the hotel shut for… who knew how long.

So, we’d closed London shows, cities, flights, bars and now hotels, it felt like, and with a national lockdown happening at six the next morning, we really did feel we were being chased, and the trap at the end of the game of ‘Mousetrap’ was about to fall.

The boys didn't care.

The boys didn’t care.

Aboard the last mode of transport

Taxi ride to boat, check, exchange paper for tickets, check, find tax details on phone… Find tax details on phone… I’ve found Neil’s so mine can’t be far away… Walk across to boat, show tickets and Neil’s tax details,… fine. Phew… Search for mine… ‘I have them here somewhere…’ They were right there, don’t say I deleted them. ‘Honest, guv, I’ve got them right here. Do you want to see my marriage license?’ Maybe it was my faffing, maybe it was because they were glad to have passengers at all, but, ‘That’s okay, I believe you,’ happened, and I got away with it. Only to find the document 30 seconds later and return to proudly wave my screen in the guy’s face. ‘I wasn’t making it up!’

Checking into your cabin on the Blue Star is a hotel reception kind of experience, and never a hassle as long as you’ve booked in advance. We found ours a deck up and to the front. Not the bow view we’d had on the way out, but a side view and a very nice cabin where the bears were able to watch the ships coming and going.

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That done, it was up top to watch the Harold Llyod meets Keystone Cops affair taking place at the loading ramp, where, I decided I would pop back and get my jacket as the weather was, for the first time in days, starting to cloud over and the temperature was dropping. So, back along the passage to the cabin, insert key, green light comes on… nothing happens. Try again… Nothing. Check door number with that written on the key card’s wallet. Correct. Try again, green light, handle moves, nothing. So, you do the whole process again just in case you hadn’t got it right the first or second time and still no joy. Back to reception to apologise (why?) for not being able to get in, and an escort back to the cabin by a man in overalls feeling like I’m suddenly in Prisoner Cell Block H.

This mechanic also went through the process several times before whipping a screwdriver out of nowhere and doing something to the lock before inserting a real key and letting me in. Phew! Back to reception, given another cabin, back to the first one, moved house, bears and all, and all wardrobes checked. New door and lock checked by me and man in overalls (and Paddington), and satisfied, I went back to the stern deck, got halfway there and realised I’d forgotten the jacket I went back for in the first place.

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17 hours at sea

The journey down to Symi takes around 17 hours, depending on the route, and we were due to arrive just before five the next morning. During the afternoon, we watched various grey islands go past, rain-spattered from the dull sky, took a turn on the boat deck, played quoits, took tea in the first-class Palm Court Tearoom, played cards with Lord Astor, had a guided tour with Thomas Andrews, counted the lifeboats, and generally filled in time with other fantasies.

We passed between Kea and Kinthos, by Siros, Mykonos and Naxos as the sun set, all the time heading south towards home.

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Back to my ‘not being able to sleep while on the move’ habit, I was up during the night to watch other islands pass and see their ports in the darkness.

I can’t remember what this one was, so if anyone recognises it…

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Being unable to sleep much, at least I was awake in time, so we didn’t miss our port of call. Actually, when you have a cabin, the receptionist rings you about 30-minutes before you are due to arrive, so in theory, you can’t sleep in. We didn’t and were glugging down coffee by three in the morning, bleary-eyed on the deserted stern deck. Only one café stays open 24/7, usually in the bow which means a long, meandering stagger with two cups of hot coffee. You do your best not to appear drunk as you weave from one side to the next past reception and sleeping passengers, but unless it’s a flat calm, it’s very hard to achieve any kind of dignified result.

Finally, at about 4.45, we rounded Nimos, and the pin-prick lights of Symi came into view. We collected our bags, double-checked the cabin and readied ourselves for departure.

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Although there was hardly anyone on the ferry, we still managed to distantly bump into a neighbour of twenty yards away from our house. He had enough luggage for the entire Von Trapp family to escape with, plus a yappy-dog, so we helped him down the steps to the unloading garage, ears splitting with the sound of the sirens when the boat is reversing. I don’t know if you ever saw that remarkable cultural event, ‘Starlight Express’, but if you did, think of the pre-race sequence when warning lights whirled, the barriers steamed into life and ascended from the set, and the siren screamed. It’s as noisy and dramatic as that but with added clunks from somewhere below. The drawbridge was lowered, and there was the sight of home for the first time in three weeks. Well, the sight of a concrete wall and the rockface above, but it was one we knew well.

Waiting to disembark.

Waiting to disembark.

The end of the adventure

We’d finally reached home after travelling 13,000 miles in three weeks, which is more than halfway around the circumference of the planet. It didn’t feel like it, but then it didn’t feel like three weeks either. It did feel a little bit like a race to the finish line as the 06.00 lockdown rapidly approached, but, I am pleased to say, we got in just under the wire at 5.55.

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So, folks, thank you for coming on the journey with us. I hope it’s kept you entertained through the first three weeks of our lockdown. Let’s face it, without it, I’d have been writing about nothing but the weather for the past three weeks, as that’s about all I’ve seen. There is some Symi news to catch up on though, and we’ll get back to that from Monday next week. Tomorrow, I will post some of my favourite phots from his last journey, possibly our last travelling for some time, years maybe, and after that, the normal Symi Dream blogging service will be resumed.

Mind you, our lockdown here in Greece may be extended beyond 7th, possibly to the 21st, so I might have to think of something else to talk about. Who knows? This could be the end of one adventure and the beginning of another.

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Passports, Tickets, Money, Marriage license…

Passports, Tickets, Money, Marriage license…
Holiday Day 20 (March 21st)

I’m still titling these posts ‘holiday’, but it turned into more of an adventure. When I left you yesterday, we had just taken off from Heathrow, and here we are, still flying, only now, we’re flying over Split, in Croatia where we went on our honeymoon a couple of years ago. You might notice that the clock on my phone (this is a screenshot) was two hours out. It had kept up with the time zone changes through Canada, but somewhere on the way back, started to do odd things. We weren’t flying over Croatia ten minutes after take-off; more like a couple of hours. Anyway, we were on our way to our next pitstop on the long journey home.

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Landing in Athens at some time in the early morning, and having collected our bags, we found our taxi driver and greeted him in the standard way, by touching elbows and tapping our shoes together, a tradition started back in the early days of the Masons, I believe. I told you about Welcome Pickups and the easy way they do things, but I might not have mentioned that they also supply their guests with maps of the city, talks about what to see (if you ask for them) and bottles of water. In this case, we were also supplied with a facemask and told we were required to wear it. This was the first time we’d had to adhere to a guideline rather than be politely asked to consider the option in that British way we’d seen on TV back in Heathrow. Apart from steaming up my glasses, it wasn’t an issue at all, but it did add to the unsettling dystopian feeling of it all.

Delivered safely to the hotel not far from the seafront in Piraeus, we checked in and crammed into the lift. It was one of those where, if you have more than two people in it, you’d better be married or be very liberal in your views, and clunked and clanked up to the second floor and our room.

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That’s not our room. It’s the reception/dining area.

There’s not a lot to tell you about most of this day, except things were still changing rapidly. Unable to sleep as it was, by now, breakfast time, we went downstairs for something to eat and discovered that although we had no choice but to be intimate in the lift, there was no chance of dining together.

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Our job for the day was to change boat tickets, and I set about the Blue Star website looking up the nearest boking office that was open and the sailing times, only to discover that the law had changed overnight. In order to return home, we needed to prove that we were tax resident on Symi. This measure was put in place pretty quickly and was designed to prevent people from the mainland fleeing to holiday homes on the islands and potentially spreading the virus. It was Saturday morning, we wanted to change the tickets asap, and of course, we weren’t travelling with our tax folders and paperwork. So… A quick think while standing on the balcony watching some kind of weird delivery to and from a bank across the road, and we contacted Jenine.

Being one of those semi-organised people, I knew exactly where our tax papers were, as in: which room, desk drawer, folder and under what other piles of other documents and Jenine volunteered to head down to our house, find them and send photos. Meanwhile, I also emailed our accountant, assuming I’d not hear anything because it was Saturday, but all the same, explained our predicament. Stelios replied almost immediately with a helpfully vague ‘Ok’, and with nothing else to do but our best, we set off to the port and the ticket office. At this point, you could still go outside without SMS permission, but there was queuing at supermarkets, everything else was shut, apart from the peripteron, and most people were masked. I say ‘most’, we saw about ten, whereas usually in Piraeus, you can hardly move no matter what time of day.

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A decent walk later, we found the Blue Star offices open and empty apart from two ladies behind the counter wearing masks, so we put ours on, and stood behind the tape that distanced us from the counter, where there was already a Perspex shield in place. (Very organised.) I know it sounds odd, but when we set off for this trip, I thought to bring documents with me that proved I lived in Greece. I was thinking of Brexshit at the time, not a pandemic. We both had our residency permits of course, and my Greek driving license and Neil had his Irish passport, and in the end, we didn’t need any of them to get into the country. But, what I also had just in case, was a copy of our civil partnership registration document from Symi Town Hall. We didn’t have our tax papers by then, but after an explanation to the lady behind the counter, I handed over the certificate to which she said, ‘Congratulations! But on Symi?’ as if we’d pulled off some impossible feat. Her colleague was equally as charming and enthusiastic about our marital status, and our tickets were changed. We would, however, still need our tax papers to actually step foot on the boat which was leaving the next day at 3pm.

Back to the hotel.

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Where we spent a very quiet afternoon in our room, reading, popping out once for a sandwich and some cream for Neil’s hands which, thanks to his allergies and various different hand-sans, were now blotched and itching. As were his legs and arms. The sedate raid on the bank opposite went on well into the afternoon and gave us something to watch while not reading, and later, we had dinner at the hotel – the only table – and noticed a new sign by the compact lift.

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We were leaving the next day, 22nd, so that wasn’t a problem for us, but it was sad. One of the very helpful and cheery young staff behind the counter had only just started working here, and her ambition was to work in hospitality. Hopefully, she, and the others, will be able to resume their dream soon. (I just looked on Booking.com, and the hotel appears to be open again, which is good news. It’s the Savoy Hotel on Iroon Polytechniou Avenue, if you are interested.)

Finally, later that evening, we got to bed and slept for the first time in I can’t remember how long, and by that time, both Jenine and Stelios had come up trumps with emailed tax documents, so we were all set for the journey home.

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A socially distanced dinner party.

I know that wasn’t an exciting post, but I didn’t want to leave the story hanging. Tomorrow, I’ll round things off by talking about the boat journey. I’ll finish today by saying that at some point over this weekend, while still on the move, we learnt that a national lockdown was due to start at 06.00 on Monday morning, one hour after our ferry was due to arrive at Symi.

To be continued… (And, thankfully, concluded.)