From Athens to Symi
To ease us back into Symi-mode, here’s the (rather long) story of arriving back to Symi from Athens on the Blue Star ferry, the Patmos.
Athens airport to Piraeus
There are various ways to do this, taxi, train or bus. On our return journey, we took the bus. The Patmos left Piraeus at 3pm, giving us plenty of time to travel across and around the city to the port and, as we were staying at the airport Sofitel, it was easy. The bus stop is outside arrivals on the right (as you come out of the terminal). There’s a booth for tickets and info and the times are up on the electronic boards. We took the 12.15 bus (they were running every half-hour at quarter past and quarter two), and the cost was €6.00 each. The bus takes you down to the coast and along, and the journey took one hour and 45 minutes. It may be quicker at other times of the day and when there are no roadworks causing delays. The roadworks, by the way, had encountered what is a common problem in Greece: start your preparations and before you know it, you’ve hit an ancient monument no-one knew you had, and everything has to slow to a stop while that’s taken care of. So, we saw plenty of buried ruins on our way.
The other neat thing about the bus is that it stops at the correct pier for the Symi ferries. What’s more, it’s the last stop on the route so you can’t miss it. Another electronic board on the bus tells you where you are during the journey. We exchanged our pre-booked tickets at the office, had a leisurely chat with the lady there about Symi and then waddled across the concrete to the boat. You can board about two hours before departure, and there was plenty of time to find our cabin and organise ourselves in it.
Aboard the Blue Star Patmos
There are various kinds of cabins, but we had gone for the cheapest, a two-birth (bunk beds), internal, and the combined cost for us two was €170.00 for the 16.5-hour journey. Now then, had we gone by plane, the cost would have been about the same if not more. Plane tickets (€60.00 each including the tax and luggage etc.), transfer to a hotel in Rhodes (minimum €2.50 each, or a taxi for €25.00), an overnight there, (€25.00 to €90 depending on where you stay) and the boat across to Symi (€16.50 each) – I’m educated guessing at those prices and adding them up at the lowest price, you get to €183.00 – so that’s the money side of things taken care of. What about the boat?
We picked up our door key-cards at reception on the boat and trundled off up a level and along a corridor to the bows. Cabins are numbered by the deck they are on and then a room number, so we were 7220 – deck 7 room 220. There are a lot of cabins. The cabin was small, as you’d expect but it had what we needed. Two beds, a wardrobe, a small desk with phone, mirror, ladder for the upper bunk (once we worked out how to lower it; there’s a button you push), life jackets and a surprisingly roomy shower/bathroom. We did have to negotiate each other a bit and give advanced warning of leaving the bathroom so we didn’t hit the other in the face with the door. The luggage lid under the bunk, giving us more room, and Paddington, having claimed top bunk, was later relegated to the desk for the night, so we had more room.
Cabin sorted, we went to watch the ferry load from one of the stern decks. There are a couple of these, plenty of outside space and a bar. The boat left late due to the amount of loading going on, and we spent an entertaining two hours watching it all. We were in no hurry but, as it turned out, the boat made up the time, and we arrived on Symi on schedule. Well, it is all downhill. A very nice young chap from Rhodes offered to take our photo together, which you can see here among the many others, and it turns out his girlfriend is from Symi, but he was going straight on to Rhodes.
After some sunbathing as we left the mainland, we headed inside for a cup of coffee and investigated the a la carte dining room. No need to book, even though the boat was busy, and I mean, very busy. This was the Thursday sailing before the start of Great Week, and there were many young soldiers and some families aboard travelling, I assume back to their islands for Easter. Here’s a tip. If you don’t have a cabin and are doing an overnight (as you must from Athens to Symi) then grab your floor/deck/seat space early. There are aircraft seats upstairs, plenty of sofas and corners to crash out in later, but I’d recommend the cabins.
We treated ourselves to dinner in the a la carte later that evening; I’d always wanted to try it. The menu isn’t huge, of course, but it was good. The salads are massive, and the prices are no more than you would expect to pay in a classy taverna. Two starters, two mains, water, bread and a bottle of wine came to around €35.00 each, which is way more than we usually pay to eat out, but then we tend to eat at the cheaperies rather than the gastro eateries. We felt very First Class, all dressed up and using real linen napkins. Afterwards, we headed back outside for a post-dinner glass of wine and, without being funny about it, it was like that sequence in Titanic where Jack has dinner in 1st Class and then takes Rose to a real party in steerage. Some of the army boys struck up music on what looked like a dead goat, and we were treated to an hour or more of traditional Kalymnian folk music and singing.
Actually, the dead goat bagpipe is a dead goat bagpipe. “The Gaida is a bagpipe from the Balkans and Southeast Europe. Southeastern European bagpipes known as gaida include: Bulgarian and Macedonian гайда/гајда (gayda), the Greek γκάιντα, Albanian, Croatian and Serbian gajde and Slovak gajdy.”
Sleeping was not as difficult as I thought it would be, not after dinner, dancing and wine, but it did take some getting used to. We had set every alarm we had to make sure we didn’t sleep through our Symi arrival at 7.30 the next day and bunked down at around 11pm. I missed Kalymnos, slept right through it, so wasn’t up to wave farewell to the dead-goat boys, but I did get woken by Kos. It’s not so much the noise, as you become immune to the churn of the engines (which you can only hear when the boat is manoeuvring, not while it’s sailing), it was more the vibration and, when the ship turned, the gentle glide to one end of the bunk. There were also the announcements. I think there’s a way of turning these off, so you don’t get them in your cabin, but I never sussed it out. When we vibrated into Tilos, I was ready to get up and face the day, and I wanted to wave at Tilos as I’ve been there a couple of times.
More passengers got on, and, it seemed, only a few had left at Kalymnos and Kos, and I recognised one of them, making me feel incredibly multi-islander. The only other people we’d met on the boat that we knew were our Mayor, Lefteris, and his family. We bumped into him within an hour of boarding, and it was very kind of him to come all that way just to escort us home.
Which is where, after 16.5 hours and this long rambling blog, we arrived dead on time on the Friday morning. There was no need for the alarm clock. Reception calls you on your cabin phone about half an hour before you’re due to arrive at your destination; very organised.
So, we are home (we’ve been home for over two weeks now), and from tomorrow, the blogs will be back to their usual few lines when I don’t know what to talk about, or longer posts when I think I do, and there will be Symi photos, of course.