The Greek Islands and Athens

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Symi, situated within sight of the Turkish coast, is a rocky and barren island. It can be reached by boat from the Greek island of Rhodes. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Symi, with a population of 30,000, was the capital 0f the Dodecanese, and was home to the worlds largest sponge-fishing fleet. With the decline in both the sponge-fishing, and the local boat building industries, the population has shrunk nearer to 2500.  But due to the growth in tourism, the population is starting to slowly rise again.

Symi

Symi 2The habour area of Symi town, known as Yialos must be rated as one of the most beautiful sights in the whole of Greece. The port has been an architecturally protected area since the early 1970s. Symi is really two places in one. The first, from late morning to mid afternoon, is a harbour thronging with hundreds of day trippers brought over in large excursion boats from the island of Rhodes.

Symi 3When all the day visitors have gone, the atmosphere in the town tends to relax, the hustle and bustle gives way to a much more laid back approach to life, with both the locals and those holiday makers lucky enough to be staying, on the island, coming out for an early evening stroll around the waterfront, then settling down for a quiet, pre dinner drink, and to enjoy the entertainment of watching the yacht flotillas that start to arrive at about this time, attempting to dock for the night.

The waterfront is home to the souvenir shops with the usual displays of T-shirts, suntan lotion, and Greek art. There are a couple of shops that specialize in a wide range of dried herbs.  This is also the area where most of the islands tavernas can be found. Generally the food is OK. but it may also be worth seeking out some of the good tavernas further up in the high town.

Symi 5Villa Pitse, perched high up in old town of Chorio (pronounced Horio), with stunning views overlooking Yialos below.  The hills surrounding the harbour form an almost amphitheater effect, so that on calm days, with the breeze blowing in the right direction, it is just possible to make out individual conversations being carried out way down by the waterside.  Villa Pitse is only one of the many interesting buildings to be found, they range from large, lavishly decorated mansions, to much smaller houses, but each one seems to have a character of its own.

Symi 6The main road that runs up from the waterfront to the high town is not for the faint hearted. Named the Kali Strata, it consists of 500 wide steps. Both sides of the road are lined with fine, old neo-classical style houses, some with doorways leading to secluded flowered courtyards. There has been a great deal of building restoration done throughout the town to repair damage caused by the bombing and burning of the town during the second world war. Many of the day trippers from Rhodes tend to take one look at all the steps and decide to to stay in Yialos.  But it is possible to catch a small bus whose route runs from along side the waterfront, up around the back to the top of the town. If you do take the bus or brave the steps, then you are rewarded with some of the best views to be found in all the Greek islands.

San Emilianos, with its whitewashed church is a popular destination for beach barbeques. It is a small islet connected the main island by a narrow causeway. Picturesque it may be, but the beach is pebbly and spotted with oil, and the rocks below the waterline are home for hundreds of sea urchins.

Set in an enclosed bay on the southwest point of the island, sits Panormitis. This is the second most important monastery in the whole of the Dodecanese after the monastery of St John on the island of Patmos. Panormitis is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of seafarers, and so is a place of pilgrimage for Greek sailors throughout the world.

A nave was built on the remains of a Byzantine chapel, also dedicated to St Michael, in 1783. Since those days the monastery has expanded enormously, so much so that its guesthouse can accommodate up to 500  people.  The harbour is dominated by a highly decorated, mock-Baroque belltower that was built in 1905 and is a copy of the belltower of Agia Foteini at Izmir in Turkey. There is a taverna and a bakery that bakes excellent bread. There is also a small beach.  The excursion boats from Rhodes, usually make Panormitis their first port of call before moving on to the main town, so if you wish to try the bread from the bakery you will have to be early, for when the boats arrive they tend to sell out very quickly. As the boats only stay for a very short time, you may think it wise to plan your visit for late morning, early afternoon, so avoiding the crowds.

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