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

Trying to get through the Old Town

Trying to get through the Old Town

Yesterday continued…
The slow walk from Mandraki to the Old Town took us past the taxi rank on the seafront, past the artists selling portraits, and the craft stalls, over the moat bridge and into Symi Square with the art gallery to the right, and then up to join Socrates Street. We were leapt upon by a leather salesman because we ricked examining a leather bag, and then explained that we had one each already, but he wasn’t even satisfied that we’d bought one of them from him last year (it might have been a different shop, but they look the same after a while). We pressed on…

Here's a Caesar salad and chips to keep you going

Here’s a Caesar salad and chips to keep you going

Down to the main square with the fountain, and bar-boys doing their kamaki business, shouting greetings in various languages until they have your attention and then telling you theirs is the best café, coffee, steak, octopus etc., and trying to drag you in. That’s something which immediately puts me off, so if you have a shop or a bar and you see me heading your way, leave me alone if you want my custom… And on past the jewellery shop where we bought our wedding rings and Sam’s new chain for his baptism cross (receiving a friendly wave through the window, recognised after all this time), and to ‘Parrot Square.’ I can’t remember its real name, but we have taken to stopping there at ‘Mike’s Café,’ because he was one of the only ones to ignore me when I walked past a few years ago. Again, we were welcomed like long-lost relatives. I’m only there once or twice per year but am remembered, ‘How’s Symi?’ and so on. I still don’t know how people do this; I can’t remember names and faces from one day to the next. There, we sat for a drink, moving onto something more fortifying now that it was later in the afternoon and all our tests had been done. In Rhodes, and other places, you can find beer in a boot or wine in a fishbowl, it seems.

Just a small one then

Just a small one then

While we were at Mike’s (it’s actually Michaelis, and it’s a place used by locals all year round, so there were waves and greetings from others as well as the guys who work there), we fell in with a couple from the yUK who had just finished a rather wet and wild week in Rhodes. Committed Greekophiles, they had been to several islands including a day trip to Symi one year, and, yes, they asked, ‘Are your brothers?’ I said, ‘No. It’s just that master and dog thing where one ends up looking like the other after a few years,’ and the conversation moved on. We entertained them, and they us until a second bowl arrived. We finally left there with an hour to reach the boat and made it as far as Akandia Gate before…

Nimmos, just inside Akandia Gate, Rhodes

Nimmos, just inside Akandia Gate, Rhodes

… We passed by Nimmos, a Symi-family run taverna only 15 minutes from the boat. Handshakes and greetings ensued, the family came out, and we were pressed into chairs and to a glass of ouzo while we caught up on news. The boys are now men and tall, the taverna is doing well (I hope), and it’s already open for the season. It’s a handy stop-off on your way to the boat, and we left with 30 minutes to go before departure and were on board by quarter-to bearing our bags, new clothes and two pillows we’d been carrying since before lunch.

Our ride home

Our ride home

The boat left dead on time as usual, and the crossing back was steady and relaxing. Neil had done some wheeling and dealing and arranged a taxi for us which we shared with others up to the village where we tried to slip past the Rainbow Bar unnoticed. Unsuccessful of course and a final glass of wine (not bowl this time though still pretty much a vat) was thrust upon us. The rest is a bit of a blurred history, but I did wake up to new pillows the next morning, so we must have got something right.

7pm departure

7pm departure

Rhodes continued

Rhodes continued

Yesterday, I was talking about the technical side of our Friday trip. Today it’s more general. We caught the Blue Star Patmos, the inter-island ferry, which was due in (and arrived at) 7.30 for a departure at 7.45. You can book ferry tickets online and collect them from an authorized pick-up point before you board, or you can buy them from one of the island’s travel agencies. I’ve done both, but prefer to have them in advance, so I bought them from Symi Tours. €8.00 per person each way, or €7.00 if you have a Sea Smiles loyalty card, which we both have. The only downer about our morning’s tests and things was not being able to eat until after we’d done the blood tests and I was, as usual, awake by 4.30. I had a couple of green teas and lots of water to keep me going. On the other hand, one of the good things about going for the boat is seeing who and what is coming on and off. On Friday, it was the usual smattering of soldiers, residents, vans, deliveries, the post, trucks, usually at least one donkey and a few visitors. There was a huge pile of luggage delivered to the quay as well, but that was still there when we left, so I wasn’t sure where that was going. Or not.

Waiting for the morning boat

Waiting for the morning boat

The journey takes about an hour-twenty, and this boat arrives at Akandia harbour. That’s about a 40-minute walk around to Mandraki, or you can usually find a taxi if you’re quick, and buses stop just outside the port. We had a lift, went to Euromedica and were back in Mandraki just after 11.00 – see yesterday’s post. Hungry, having not eaten since five the evening before, we had brunch on a bench. We bought a pie each from ‘Tasty Corner’ a kiosk/shop next door to H&M – where we called in after to admire the ancient ruins in the basement, if not the clothes. Then an orange juice in the street of new café’s behind the old fish market, before some other window shopping and a wander, ending up at the Plaza Hotel for lunch. A La Carte meals are served just about all day, and non-residents can have breakfast, lunch or/and a buffet or menu dinner and use the bar, pool and facilities. While we were there, we met our local Symi-hero, Michaelis, who was running in the Rhodes marathon on Sunday. (He’s also the guy who reads our water meter.)

grilled halumi and mint pesto at the Plaza

grilled halumi and mint pesto starter at the Plaza

Having wished him luck, we dragged ourselves out for a slow walk through the Old Town towards Akandia for the 19.00 boat. We were both a bit knackered after the early start and lack of food and, tempting though it was to return to the bench for a kip, we soldiered on and made it as far as the old fish market before we stopped to have a drink with Irini at the Symi Café. Catching up on news, we fell in with a group of locals, had  a good chat and ended up talking to someone who was born 14 miles away from me who later lived in the same small town in Wiltshire as I did – though I was there around the time he was being born, so we hadn’t known each other. The thing with many of the cafes in that area is that they don’t have WC facilities, but there’s a very nice public one beneath the ‘bandstand’ in the centre of the market. It’s not a bandstand, it’s the slabs where fish were sold, but it looks a bit like one. For €0.50c you have cared-for facilities where, for the men at least, you can stand and watch YouTube ‘fail’ videos while you do your business.

View from the Symi cafe (YouTube can be found just over there on the left)

View from the Symi cafe (YouTube can be found just over there on the left)

The point of mentioning that is to not only be helpful but because we had one of ‘those things’ happen to us. The group at the café asked us if we were brothers; a common question these days. ‘It’s the glasses,’ they said, mildly shocked when we said we were married and explained that no, we weren’t brothers. Preparing to leave and move on, Neil popped across the path to the public conveniences to ‘spend a penny’ (the cost of a wee in London in 1851 at the Great Exhibition if you were wondering where the expression came from). That done, it was my turn. I put my money in the slot to gain access, and the two ladies on duty looked at me in surprise. ‘Back again already?’ one asked. When she saw my look of confusion, she realised her own. ‘Oh! You are twins?’ she spluttered, realising I wasn’t Neil back for another round of YouTube. I explained, again, that we weren’t, and spent a happy few minutes watching people fall off skateboards and being hit in the face by footballs.

At the Symi Cafe, Mandraki

At the Symi Cafe, Mandraki

That done, we headed off into the Old Town to continue the slow walk to Akandia, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Health Insurance

Health Insurance

Now I’m back, I can start to fill you in on the great adventure which was a day in Rhodes. The reason for the trip was to have our annual health checks under the private insurance policy we have. Mine is a full policy. As I no longer work for someone else, I need to have health insurance – for my own peace of mind rather than for a requirement of law or residency (at the moment). I’ve had it for nearly four years now, and as an add-on, I have these annual check-ups. Neil, in the state system generally, also opted to buy this add-on as its own policy. I can’t remember the exact cost, around €200.00 each, I think. We have it with Axa, but there are other insurance companies around who you can approach.

Leaving Symi for a day trip in April

Leaving Symi for a day trip in April

You’ll be thinking, ‘that sounds expensive’, but let me explain. Before having this arrangement, we used to go to Rhodes each spring for a general check-up with private doctors that we paid for as we went along. One of the many good things about living in Greece is the abundance of private doctors and the way you can phone for an appointment and see a specialist that day if necessary, or very soon after. Yes, you have to pay, but a consolation is usually only around €50.00, with many doctors also taking IKA patients (public health insurance if you like) on certain days. We used to see three different doctors in three different places, and one of the would usually call for blood tests, which we would need to get done anyway. The last time I went down this ‘see to it yourself’ route, I would pay roughly €180 for the specialists and then the blood tests would be around €120. When I was also on IKA, the state would pay something like 75% of the costs for the tests, but not the consultations.

Euromedica

Euromedica

So, what used to cost me around €300 for annual peace of mind and, more importantly, early diagnosis of anything I was unaware of, now costs me €200.00, so that’s a good starting place. And then there’s the convenience. Our agent makes the arrangements, she even picks us up from the boat, as she did last Friday, welcomes us like family and drives us to Euromedica, the private hospital on Rhodes. We arrived there on Friday at 9.35 and were seen to and dealt with by 10.54. We were back in Mandraki by 11.10 with the rest of the day ‘at leisure’ until the boat at 19:00. Back at the hospital, our ‘day’ of check-ups included having our blood taken and tested for everything from PSA to sugar levels, a chest X-ray and a check from a cardiologist, wired to the machines, a chat, a physical and so on. The cardio results are done there and then (all fine, clear and healthy for us both), and the x-ray and blood results come back next week. Our agent will collect them for us, or I can go and get them, and if anything shows up, the doctor will ask to see us. Or, we can take our results to the local general practitioner and have them interpreted there.

Outside Euromedica waiting for the taxi the receptionist arranged for us. You can't quite see, but there were two horses in the field opposite.

Outside Euromedica waiting for the taxi the receptionist arranged for us. You can’t quite see, but there were two horses in the field opposite.

There’s a lot of uncertainty around this harmful Brexit mess and where us non-Greek immigrants will stand if the yUK kills off its future by leaving the EU. Private medical cover is one of the things you will need to have, and show to have, if you are not in the IKA or another state system. If you think you will need private health cover, my advice would be to start it now. The older the client, the more the insurance will cost, and some things are not covered for the first one, two or three years until full coverage kicks in (things like undetectable hereditary diseases and knee replacements), but after that, full cover is in place. There is a range of cover-options, so if it gets too costly you can opt for less of a package, but of course, that means less cover. I started mine off aged 53, and it came in at around €90.00 per month. That was about the same as Symi Dream used to pay each month for my IKA. I also went for the full cover, so now I have everything covered from being airlifted off the island and taken to Athens, Crete or wherever (hopefully that won’t ever be necessary), a private double room at a private hospital with Neil housed and paid to give me pastoral care, or I can have private nurses on top of the medical nurses already covered), and I can choose where I have any work or care seen to. If I opt for state hospitals, I pay no excess. I’m also covered for travel insurance medically, and if I want, I can have treatment in just about any country in the world, though I would have to pay 10% or 20% of that bill.

Anyway… People often ask about health cover, and as it was the purpose of our trip last week, I thought I’d mention it here. If you want to look into it and find out if you are eligible (not everyone is, it depends on existing conditions which is why I say get in early) then I suggest you search around for your local companies. I, as I said, use AXA.

Bang on time

Bang on time

That’s the Friday morning seen to. I’ll tell you more about the other, more exciting adventures of the trip tomorrow.