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