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More Blue Stars, more same day journeys

More Blue Stars, more same day journeys

Symi Tours, the Blue Star Ferries main agent for Symi, has announced that from Monday 21 May onwards the giant ferry Blue Star 1 will call at Symi every Monday, using the new quay area. Well, she couldn’t use the old quays as she wouldn’t fit.
Blue Star 1 will leave Piraeus on Sunday evenings travelling overnight via Santorini and Kos, calling at Symi at 08:20 Monday on the way to Rhodes. She leaves Rhodes again at 16:00 Monday calling at Symi at around 17:15 before continuing to Kos, Santorini, and Piraeus.
At the time of writing these journeys have not yet appeared on Blue Star’s website or booking system, and the website also suggests that Piraeus-Santorini-Kos-Rhodes is operated by sister ship Blue Star 2. Hopefully this will be clarified during today.
Once bookings open, I’ll publish the updated combined ferry timetables, and also the updated Same Day to Symi table for those who really want to avoid spending the first night of their holiday in Rhodes.

The general rearrangement of ferries in Greece following the takeover of Hellenic Seaways by Attica Enterprises, the parent company of Blue Star Ferries, has started this weekend. The extra service to Symi on Mondays has been loaded into Blue Star’s on line booking system and will be operated by Blue Star 1 and Blue Star 2 on alternate weeks. Blue Stars 1 and 2 will together operate the fast overnight Piraeus-Rhodes services, and Superfast XII leaves the area this weekend.

Harbour extension officially opened

Harbour extension officially opened

Yesterday was a special day for Symi. Firstly, it was the 73rd anniversary of the surrender of German forces in the Dodecanese in 1945, signed on Symi, celebrated  by a parade of  local schoolchildren, organisations, and the local army garrison. Secondly, the extension of Yialos harbour into the district of Petalo beyond the petrol station was officially opened, after two years work.

This year the parade was graced by the presence of the President of Greece, resulting in a larger than usual turnout of senior military and police personnel, and he went on to perform the opening ceremony for the harbour works.

A special visit had been arranged of the Superfast XII, the largest ferry operating in the Dodecanese area, to demonstrate how the extension can cope with far larger vessels than the traditional “big ferry” berth at the Clock Tower. As a guide, Superfast XII is 200 metres long. The Blue Star Patmos, the regular twice weekly visitor to the clock tower berth, is 146 metres long and almost blocks the mouth of the traditional harbour.

I’ve  been asked whether all ferries will relocate to the new extension, and I think the answer is no. The main purposes of the work are: to attract more long-distance ferry calls by making Symi accessible to every size of ferry in Greece; to remove the traffic chaos from the narrow roads surrounding the existing harbour; and to attract calls from more cruise ships. The extension has plenty of room for side-loading cruise ships to moor, but only one ramped area that vehicle-carrying ferries could use.

At the moment, the north (Mavrovouni) side of the harbour becomes one way every Wednesday and Friday morning and evening, because the volume of traffic loading and unloading from the Blue Star Patmos makes two way traffic impossible. There isn’t enough roadway to properly marshal vehicles waiting to board. But this isn’t a problem with the Dodekanisos Express and Pride, which carry mainly people and a very few cars and bikes. The Symi and the Panagia Skiadeni again carry lots of people but also cars and trucks and remain in port for several hours so there is no conflict between vehicles disembarking and boarding.

So I’d expect the Blue Star Patmos to move to Petalo, plus a third Blue Star a week (either the Blue Star 2 or the Superfast XII which belongs to the same group), and everything else to stay put.

Another question is “how will articulated lorries turn left out of the port extension to go up the hill”? Here I think the answer is that they won’t. At the moment the Patmos carries several artic trailers to and from Symi on each trip. These are dragged on and off by a Symi-based tractor unit, parked on the quayside, and taken one by one round the harbour to the big bend  above the new extension. Here they are parked on the roadside and unloaded before being returned on the next ferry. The idea now is that trailers will be parked and unloaded by forklift in the extension area with the goods being distributed on smaller trucks as today. Artics rarely venture beyond the big bend anyway because some of the corners, and the junction with the Pedi road, are too tight for longer trailers.

The final question is “when does it really open”? Here I just don’t know. Really a ticket hut, basic shelter  for foot passengers, and a means of getting foot passengers to the main part  of Yialos are  still missing. Watch this space!

Superfast XII makes a special visit to Symi – 8 May 2018
Iris Jet

Iris Jet

Iris Jet at Kos. Photos by KosVoice

This high speed catamaran was built in France in 2000 (so claims that it is brand new are somewhat exaggerated).

Most unusually it is made from glass fibre reinforced plastic, and as a result has suffered longer periods out of service due to the usual bumps and scrapes than a metal shell would have done.

The Kos-based high speed craft is intended to do same-day excursions to islands that are otherwise just too far away from Kos to get worthwhile time there using conventional day excursion boats, and where the ferry timetables don’t work for day trips. In this, she’s replacing the hydrofoil that the Laumzis travel company used to operate. Among the possible destinations from Kos is Symi, probably combined with Rhodes, along with Leros, Lipsi, and Patmos on different days of the week. Actual excursions are expected to start from 1 June.

Now in days gone by, you could travel on the Laumzis hydrofoil as a one way passenger to or from Symi, if they had room, if there were enough passengers to justify running it, and if you knew which days it operated. I actually caught it once from Symi to Rhodes when I had missed the Symi I. But in those days the companies holding actual ferry licences weren’t especially combative, indeed they’ve all disappeared or relocated (Dodecanese Hydrofoils, DANE, GA Ferries, ANES). I suspect Dodekanisos Seaways and Blue Star will object strongly to anyone extra selling ferry-type tickets. They can’t object to day excursions. So far nobody has  applied for ferry route licences for Iris Jet, and given the time it takes to issue them, they are unlikely to get them for 1 June if they applied now.

My Laumzis journey was also before the great crack-down on ferries that brought about the national computerised booking system. You may ask what prevents someone buying a day excursion ticket and simply not showing up for the return journey. The answer of course is that there’s nothing to stop you doing this. However, the Coastguard/Port Police aren’t stupid. They supervise departures, and watch for people with baggage. Nobody takes a wheeled suitcase on a day trip, after all. Smallish backpacks on the other hand might pass un-noticed

There’s meant to be a trial trip to Symi in mid-May. Hopefully the additional day visitors she brings to Symi over the summer will help the island’s prosperity, but if you are looking for a ferry to/from Kos or Rhodes, well, we’ll see.

An update from Kos for travellers to/from Symi

An update from Kos for travellers to/from Symi

 

Kos Airport is due for complete reconstruction. How far this process has got I’m unsure as I’ve not been there this year. So this posting is based on 2017 airport information.
The airport is small, much too small for the volume of traffic that uses it. As a survival technique, the staff have developed a very slick baggage return system and travellers get their bags back surprisingly quickly. There’s no room in baggage reclaim for anything but the conveyor belts and a tiny customs area for non-EU flights, and as soon as you go through the exit door, you are standing outside the terminal.

From there, taxis are straight ahead, across the dropoff zone, and buses are to the left, using a very small bright orange bus shelter.
Taxis are reasonably plentiful, and in season there is a taxi controller on site, who can radio call for extra cars as needed. There are often more taxis parked round a corner out of sight, which move forward as necessary. Fare to Kos Town was €35-38 in 2017, depending on where you want to be dropped off. These taxis take up to 4 passengers.

Buses are not frequent, at least officially, the timetable shows up to 9 a day in absolute peak season. You’ll always see the current timetable at www.ktel-kos.gr and the single fare is €3. But there are two quirks of the Kos bus system that you need to be aware of. One is that the bus stop at the airport doesn’t just serve buses to Kos Town, but also those to Kardamena and Kefalos – so ask the driver! The other is that at busy periods, instead of increasing the frequency of the buses, several buses depart Kos Town on the same advertised departure time. At least one bus will follow the official route which is via Mastichari, others may go direct to the airport and points beyond via the main road to save time. These extra buses then need to return to Kos Town, and quite often they simply depart when ready, without waiting for one of the advertised times. So you’ll find not just the timetabled departures to Kos Town, but unscheduled extras as well. The buses take you to the Bus Station in Kleopatras Street, a few hundred metres inland from the harbour, far enough to be irritating if you have bags to carry.

Assuming your flight time gets you to Kos in time to catch one of the afternoon Dodekanisos Seaways sailings to Symi (check your date – these don’t go every day) or arrive very late on a Tuesday or Thursday so you can use the overnight Blue Star sailings which leave Kos in the early hours of Wednesdays and Fridays, you can go direct to the port. The ferries you want leave from a point alongside the castle. A taxi will take you directly there, if you are walking, simply walk up the left hand side of the castle, next to the harbour. Watch out for the uneven and cracked ground surfaces, caused by last year’s earthquake. You will pass the earthquake-damaged port terminal building, fenced off due to structural damage, then a set of temporary toilets, before coming to the replacement ticket hut. This is operated by Exas Travel, who are port agents for both Blue Star and Dodekanisos Seaways. You can purchase tickets for immediate travel, or collect tickets booked on line (bring your booking confirmation). Right next to the ticket hut is a cafe with a shaded outdoor seating area, and a large temporary building used as a waitig shelter for passengers. This has seating,and is airconditioned.
In fact these temporary facilities are rather better than the permanent ones they replace. The port terminal building had a cafe and toilets, there were ticket huts, but the waiting shelter was airconditioned only by having no sides…

For those who are island hopping or even countryhopping, ferries to and from Turkey now use facilities on the opposite (north) side of the harbour, by the Costa Palace Hotel. Walk along the harbour side keeping the Costa Palace hotel on your left, until you see a street on the left, the hotel frontage continues along this street. Follow it, and immediately before you arrive at the Achilleas Hotel on the right, also on the right is a car park entrance. Walk through it to reach the ticket booths for boats to Turkey, and Passport Control.

The Panagia Spiliani, which shuttles between Kos Town and Nissyros, and Kardamena and Nissyros, uses a mooring point directly outside the Costa Palace Hotel.

Kos’s fleet of day trip boats moor along the town side of the inner harbour. You’ll probably find that one of these will take you to Nissyros as well, but they only go if there are sufficient passengers, so can’t be relied on. Finally, there’s the new boy in town, the Iris Jet. On my visit to Kos yesterday, she was moored at the old hydrofoil pier, about 300 metres south of the castle, off the shore road.

Derelict Kos Sea Terminal building
Ticket office and cafe – Kos Port
Earthquake damage to Kos quayside
Symi Bus latest

Symi Bus latest

Lakis Travel have now added a later evening departure. 22:00 from Yialos, 22:30 from Pedi, as the timetable starts building up for summer

So buses leave Yialos every hour, on the hour, for Chorio and Pedi, (except 15:00) from 08:00 to 22:00, and leave Pedi every hour on the half hour,  for Chorio and Yialos (except 15:30) from 08:30 to 22:30. The fare continues to be €1.50 each way. Fare increased to €1.70 each way from 7 May 2018.

As the number of visitors increases, the mid-afternoon gap will get filled, and late evening journeys added.

Same Day to Symi

Same Day to Symi

Here’s another re-created post from the old blog. Updated 16/5/18 with Monday same day flights now there is a Monday afternoon ferry from Rhodes.

For many, having a night in Rhodes or Kos at the beginning of your holiday is an advantage, meaning you arrive on Symi the next day fully rested and ready to enjoy your stay. Others absolutely hate it, and begrudge every minute they’re in Greece but not on Symi.

For this second group, here is the “Same Day to Symi” guide to flights which reach Rhodes in time to catch the Wednesday or Friday evening ferries and so get you to Symi without an overnight in Rhodes

 

Airline Safety?

Airline Safety?

Ever totally ignored the safety briefing when travelling on an aircraft? Carried on talking to a companion, listened to music, or read something? Now there’s evidence that far too many people do this, then when a crisis happens, they do the wrong thing.

Very recently there was a serious incident on a SouthWest Airlines plane at Philadelphia, USA. One of the engines suffered a major failure of a very unusual kind. Now engines do fail in flight, and planes are designed to be flyable with one engine out until the Captain can land at a suitable airport. But the unusual feature of this flight was that something broke up within the engine (believed at the moment to be a fan blade)  and instead of remaining within the engine casing, it emerged and hit the side of the plane. This in turn broke a window, and as the plane was at altitude, there was a rapid reduction of cabin air pressure. Unfortunately a woman sitting next to the affected window was partly sucked out of the plane, and although fellow passengers pulled her back inside, her injuries proved fatal. Nervous flyers should realise that this is the first time in aviation history that a passenger has been killed or even injured as a result of such an incident. They are far more likely to get themselves killed or injured travelling by road to or from airports!.

The safety lesson  is this. One feature in common in all aircraft safety briefings is the line “in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop automatically from above your seats. Pull downwards to release the oxygen, fit the mask over your nose and mouth, and breathe normally. Fit your own mask before helping others.”

This is based on decades of flight operations,  both civilian and military, and ensures that the maximum  number of people (hopefully all) will survive the incident.

But on this occasion, many passengers didn’t place the masks over their noses and mouths, just their mouths, obviously oblivious to what they had been told before takeoff. We know this because others spent valuable seconds video recording the scene on their smartphones or tablets.

 

Getting to Symi -Rhodes Airport and the last lap

Getting to Symi -Rhodes Airport and the last lap

Although my last blog post covered getting to Symi overland, most visitors actually approach via Rhodes Airport, with a smaller number using Kos Airport. This post describes the arrival process  at Rhodes, getting to the port, and selecting and catching a ferry. Kos will be covered  in a  later blog.

When you arrive at Rhodes Airport you’ll notice that it has no airbridges, the links from plane to terminal. Instead you’ll get off using stairs (make a mental note of the name on the side of the stairs), and usually squeeze into a bus for the very short journey to the terminal, where you’ll be dropped at a ramp leading down into the building. The right hand set of doors at the end of the ramp are for passengers on flights from inside the Schengen Area (most of the EU and EEA countries except UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia), and the left hand set, which takes you through Immigration, for everyone else. Don’t use the wrong doors, at best you’ll get shouted at, at worst arrested.

Whichever set you use, you’ll eventually end up in Baggage Reclaim. There are four sets of conveyor belts, with screens to show you which belt your flight will use. Rhodes doesn’t have a good reputation for fast baggage return, due to package holiday airlines scheduling their arrivals too  close together, though in practice domestic flights are speedy enough. While you’re waiting you can use the toilets but there’s not much else to do. Hopefully your bag won’t take too long and you’ll soon be on your way. If it doesn’t appear or is damaged you need to speak to the handling agent (could be Goldair, Skyserv or Swissport) who deals with your airline before you leave the airport. You can tell which by the name on the stairs you used to leave the plane. Their offices are in the baggage reclaim area or in the departures area (gates 1-14 zone). Leave the baggage reclaim area by the doors at the far end. Customs officers appear if there are passengers who started their journey outside the EU, otherwise just walk straight through, into a zone full of tour operators reps and taxi drivers holding signs with peoples’ names on. Unless you arranged a taxi when you booked your accommodation on Symi, keep going through the next set of doors into the outside world.

Now you have a choice – straight ahead across the drop-off area you’ll find the taxi rank – be careful crossing, driving can be erratic and you may be tired. The fare to Rhodes Town, including the port, is fixed, not metered, and currently is €25.00 per trip – up to 4 people. There are usually plenty of taxis but at busy times solo travellers may be asked to share with others going in the same direction, if this happens the fare is €25 per person or group, this is quite legal and you aren’t being ripped off. If you are going straight to the port, tell the driver the name of the ship you want and he’ll get you to the right quayside as close to the ship as possible.

Alternatively there is a bus service, two or three buses an hour between 6am and midnight in summer. Turn left and walk along the side of the terminal past the first departures zone until you reach the bus shelter by a little seating area. Ideally you need to get tickets before the bus arrives as it is slightly dearer if you pay on board, the cafe-bar in the departures area (desks 15-36 zone, door near the bus shelter) sells them for €2.50 per person. If you intend to come back on the bus as well you can stock up on tickets as each ticket works for one journey in either direction, the driver cancels the ticket you use as you get on. Luggage accommodation is limited, and the buses stop along the way, but the service is much faster than it used to be, about 40 minutes on average to the terminus behind the Nea Agora building near Mandraki Harbour. You can also buy tickets from the driver at €2.60 per person (but you’ll probably need some Euro coins as change can be a problem).

Look for buses marked Rodos Center, some start at the airport and some start at points further west and call in on their way to Rhodes Town.The same bus stop is used for buses going to and from Rhodes Town so do make sure it is going in the right direction before you board. These are usually blue and white buses, but there are some in advertising liveries.

If you have decided to catch one of the high speed catamarans to Symi, these leave from Kolonna quay on the Rhodes waterfront. This is right by Rhodes Old Town walls (there’s a Kolonna Gate through the  wall) and is  an easy bag-trundle from the bus terminus at Averoff St. All other ferries to Symi leave from Akandia quay, which is  a long way further on.  I have walked it, but don’t intend to do it again on a hot day with baggage! If your ferry leaves from or arrives at Akandia, you are best advised to use a taxi. Akandia is served by Rhodes Town buses 6 and 12, but a peculiarity of the town service buses is that they have circular routes and only go one way round the circle. There is a flat fare regardless of distance, so going the long way round the circle isn’t any more expensive as long as you have 45 minutes to spare. If you still want to use these buses, the 12 runs hourly up to 3pm, and takes you to Akandia directly. The 6 runs hourly all day long and is a quick way from Akandia to the centre. These routes use a terminal on the seafront side of the road at Mandraki Harbour. Taxis can be picked up from the central taxi station at the Old Town end of the Nea Agora. A local journey to Akandia will be charged on the meter.

Ferry times for summer 2018 are detailed in other posts. The three operators are Dodekanisos  Seaways. Blue Star  and Sea Dreams. Advance booking is possible, and is a good idea for the catamarans, but totally unnecessary for the Rhodes to Symi journey on Blue Star’s vast 1400-person capacity ships. There are ticket offices (or in some cases huts) right next to the mooring point of each company, and you can collect prebooked tickets or buy them direct there. Despite appearances to the contrary, you don’t need to find the main port agency to do this.

Baggage reclaim at Rhodes Airport
Overland to Symi

Overland to Symi

Well of course Symi is an island, so there’s always an element of ferry travel involved, but people can and do get here from Northern and Western Europe by car or rail. I covered this before in a now-lost post, but the information is updated to this week. For the rail options I cannot do better than refer you to that excellent website operated by The Man in Seat 61. 

There were once several international rail routes into Greece, but now there are only a couple of trains a day, so the alternative is to travel by train to one of the Italian Adriatic ports, catch a ferry from there to the Greek ports of Patras or Igumenitsa, express bus to Piraeus, and ferry for the final leg.

For the road option, I acknowledge the help given by the trustees and volunteers of the charity Next Stop Symi, who make regular trips by van from the UK to Symi as part of their work in delivering aid supplies to refugees in Greece, and were on Symi in October 2017 collecting supplies from the depot on Symi for transfer to Rhodes and Athens.

Their preferred route again involves the Adriatic coast of Italy,which they find the quickest and easiest.While it is perfectly possible to drive through Bosnia/Serbia/Montenengro/Albania/FYROM on a variety of routes, as these countries are not EU members there can be customs and visa issues, there will certainly be border delays, and you need more expensive vehicle insurance.

Getting to the Adriatic coast does depend where you start from in Europe. All Alpine crossings are expensive to use, and both Austria and Switzerland require you to purchase and display a “vignette” showing you have paid local road taxes for your transit of each country.

Ports with frequent ferry links to Greece are: Venice; Ancona; Brindisi and Bari. It is a tradeoff between more time on the road and so more fuel used and road tolls incurred, and more time onboard ship and higher fares. The two main shipping lines are the ANEK/Superfast consortium and Minoan/Grimaldi, there are also some less reliable independents.

On the Greek side, some ferries use the port of Patras, some Igumenitsa, and some both. Igumenitsa offers a shorter sea crossing but a longer drive to get to your next stop (accompanied by more road tolls). You’re aiming for Piraeus, the port of Athens, which has daily sailings by Blue Star to Kos and Rhodes, two  or sometimes three a week of which call at Symi on the way.

Next Stop Symi offer two final invaluable tips: Always keep the ferry ticket stubs for your crossing from Italy. If you bring a motor vehicle into Greece for over 6 months, you must re-register it in Greece and pay import duty. The ticket stubs are your only proof of when your vehicle arrived, without them it may be impounded.

Oh, and have a teddy bear on board with you. The sight seems to make tollbooth operators and customs officers stop being officious and start laughing.

My plane is too hot or too cold!

My plane is too hot or too cold!

A very common complaint, and of course each person’s ideal air temperature is different so it is impossible to please everyone. Here is some background information.

Although the outside temperature at altitude is bitterly cold, the cabin air is taken from one of the stages of the jet engines (before combustion so it is still pure uncontaminated air) and at the point it is extracted it is at 200-250 degrees C. This is called bleed air. To make it usable in the cabin it has to be passed through airconditioning systems to reduce the temperature. This consumes energy, and in turn the engines use more fuel in producing the energy. So the airline itself always likes a warm cabin – because they spend less on fuel.

The cabin crew on shorter flights like a cool cabin, because they’re moving about a lot and don’t want to end up sweaty. On longer flights they prefer a warm cabin, because for much of the flight in between meal services they aren’t moving about much, and passengers who have had something to eat and drink are much more likely to go to sleep in a warm cabin and avoid pressing the call buttons,Apart from a couple of crew members patrolling the aisles, the rest of the crew can gather in the galleys and have a good chat, or take official rest periods. It is frequently alleged that crew members use the controls to raise the cabin temperature between meal services so they get fewer service requests.

The trouble is that even after all these years the design of airflow through aircraft cabins is not a precise science and there are persistent hot and cold spots on most designs. In addition stripping out panels to access fans, clean filters etc can only be done by ground engineers and is the sort of thing that gets deferred to the next major service check rather than being done in turnround between flights.