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September and October ferries

September and October ferries

We now have the timetables for sailings in September and October 2020. As expected September is much the same as August with just some minor tweaks in departure times for Blue Star and SAOS Ferries. After the first week in September Blue Star Chios is replaced by the Symi regular Blue Star Patmos.
Now October is frankly pretty sparse. If the Greek government is serious in wanting to extend the tourist season in order to make up for the earlier lost weeks, they will have to come up with some incentives to get the ferry companies to do better than this.
A new operator may appear – SYMI LINKS SHIPPING. They have a fast ferry, just overhauled and renamed Agia Sofia, and we are told it will be launched in mid-October. The trouble is that “launched” as translated from Greek, could mean either “put into the water” or “commence operations” . It certainly doesn’t mean launched in the sense of newbuilt as she was built in Sweden in 1992. It also could just be another daytrip boat – the King Saron’s season appears to end on 15 October, and there are various cross-shareholdings between Symi Links, Sea Dreams, Dodecanese Flying Dolphins and ANES. More will follow as I find out what is happening.

Update: it has been announced that Agia Sofia is a true ferry and will spend each night in Symi, she will also operate year round. All we need now is the timetable and the start date. I suspect that the operator is waiting for official approval, which may take longer than usual as the government minister concerned is self-isolating after coming into contact with a COVID-19 carrier.

September timetables

October timetables

Park and Rhodes

Park and Rhodes

The Rhodes-based newspaper Rodiaki has reported that the Municipality of Rhodes has started a park-and-ride service using parking space at Akandia with a shuttle bus taking people to Symi Square at the north end of the Old Town. This is the area you reach from the Mandraki area by crossing the stone bridge over the dry moat.

The bus will run between 9am and midnight, every 15 minutes. It occurs to me that it could be useful for people needing to get to Akandia for sailings departing late morning and afternoon/early evening. Unfortunately it doesn’t help those who stagger off the Blue Star at 6.20am, having arrived from Symi. It could help arriving passengers of the Stavros, though.
There is also an electric buggy service within the Old Town, using airport special assistance type vehicles.

Park and Ride bus at Akandia, photo by Rodiaki.

August Ferries updated! Now with added Sundays!

August Ferries updated! Now with added Sundays!

Dodekanisos Seaways has added sailings on Thursdays and Sundays in both directions between Rhodes and Symi, with extensions to/from Tilos. I’m not sure if they’ve won the tender for fast Rhodes-Symi-Tilos subsidised sailings (most likely) or if they have introduced these as a pre-emptive strike against a subsidised operator. These sailings will run until at least the end of September.
So the August timetable for all services is now as linked here
Before anyone else asks, the timetables for all ferries are subject to change at the moment, but I’d expect September to be much the same as August. We’re really waiting for SAOS Ferries to publish their September timetable, Dodekanisos Seaways and Blue Star already have.

Flying to Greece – PLFs and COVID tests…

Flying to Greece – PLFs and COVID tests…

Boeing 737-800. Photo credit: Ryanair
By now just about every country that is likely to be approved for direct flights to Greece this summer has resumed services, except Sweden which should be imminent. There are also countries on the approved list that never have direct flights, so people travelling from there need to connect along the way. It is important to understand that Greece isn’t too bothered about your nationality when it comes to COVID-19, it is where you are travelling from – in particular where you have been for the previous 14 days before starting your journey.

Everyone arriving in Greece by air (or by sea from Italy) has to fill out a PLF (Passenger Locator Form) on line at least 24 hours before departure. This is an official Greek Government form, accessible here. The weblink includes the official protocol for arriving passengers. Computers assess the risk level, and at midnight Greek time (so slightly earlier in countries to the west of Greece) you will be sent an email with a QR code (one of those barcode like items with squares instead of vertical lines) and a number. You must bring this with you, so you either need a smartphone or access to a printer before you leave. Airlines have been instructed to offload anyone who turns up at the airport without a PLF QR code.

On the plane, you will be expected to wear a facemask throughout (unless actually eating or drinking), and many countries will require you to wear one in the airport terminal (and on public transport heading to the terminal) before you leave. Keep the facemask on when you arrive at the Greek airport (unless Immigration need to compare your face to your passport photo). After immigration (if you need to go through it) staff will check your PLF QR code. A proportion of passengers will be routed straight to baggage reclaim, others will have to take a swab COVID test first. The rules about who gets tested are deeply obscure, the computer which produces the code calculates the risk of you being infectious based on where you live, where you are flying from, whether you’re in a group or on your own, and probably other factors too. If you are in a family or other group, they usually only test one of you. Test results are notified by phone or text only if you are positive, so no news is good news. You will hear within 24 hours if you are positive and will be moved to a quarantine hotel along with the rest of any group you are in. The hotel is paid for by the government. If you don’t need treatment, you’ll be allowed out after 14 days.

Travellers, whether tested or not, reclaim any checked baggage, and emerge into the open air. Don’t take your mask off yet, you’ll need to wear it on buses, transfer coaches, taxis etc, not to mention on board the ferry to Symi.
You also need to wear a mask in supermarkets, but not other shops (yet).

Ferry passengers should allow extra time before departure so they can fill in a paper form stating where they will be staying and how they can be contacted. This, like the PLF, is part of the Greek Track and Trace system so anyone who has come close to an active COVID-19 sufferer can be found and isolated.

As mentioned, the identical system applies to people using ferries from Italy to Greek ports. There are no ferries from Turkish ports at the moment, nor do I think there are likely to be this summer. Only one land crossing into Greece is open, that at Promachonas on the border with Bulgaria. All other land crossings are restricted to essential travellers only – no tourists allowed. People using this must have had a negative COVID-19 test not more than 3 days before crossing, and be able to prove it. For some reason, this has confused people, who think it applies to all arrivals in Greece, it doesn’t, only those who have come overland through Bulgaria.

So enjoy your time on Symi, but don’t forget, Greece isn’t the only country that uses PLFs, the UK does too, for example, so you must fill out any forms you need for your return journey, again on line. No form, no fly, to slightly twist the words of Captain Yiannis of the Poseidon day trip boat.

Post-lockdown flights to Greece

Post-lockdown flights to Greece

The situation is still moving fast, and some media outlets are not helping by posting speculation as fact. As of today, flights from the following countries will be allowed to operate to either Athens or (new) Thessaloniki, and passengers connect to domestic flights, ferries, or land transport, starting 15 June:
Albania, Australia, Austria, Northern Macedonia, Bulgaria, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Estonia, Japan, Israel, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Finland.
Nationality is irrelevant, it is departure point that matters. There will be no requirement for travellers to take a coronavirus test before leaving for Greece, or to quarantine on arrival in Greece. This list is based on the success these countries have had in minimising the rate of new infections. Additional countries may be added to the list in mid-June to take effect from July if their governments manage to get the virus situation under control by then.

Now this list is not as generous as it seems, not all these countries have ever had flights to Greece, and some still have a total international flight ban.

From 1 July flights from countries on the permitted list (including any that have been added by then) direct to airports such as Rhodes and Kos will start. But the chances of the flight programme originally announced for summer operating, even from the countries permitted, is small. Some airlines have closed down since the crisis started (for example Ryanair has just closed its subsidiary Laudamotion, based in Vienna). I’ll try and produce a new set of flight schedules as soon as things settle down – guess why I never finished this year to begin with!
Air passengers will be required to wear facemasks, and food and drink will not be served on board flights to/from Greece

Just to add a few updates – on Symi itself the bus services are back, ferry services are gradually increasing from next week (but you’ll need a face mask there too).
Two more Symi businesses that are sellng by mail order are Medusa (clothes, shoes etc) and Marcia Whitworth. You’ll need to contact them via Facebook.

The Symi Bus, May 2019

Will I get to Symi this year, and what will I find when I get there?

Will I get to Symi this year, and what will I find when I get there?

Quite a few people are asking me this. The problem in answering is that the situation changes almost daily, and the answer is different depending on which country you’re starting from. Then of course there’s the question of how much of the Symi you’re expecting (apart from the scenery and buildings) will be available.
Let’s tackle the last bit first the situation on Symi:
All year round hotels (which Symi doesn’t really have) will be able to open from 1 June. All hotels, and holiday apartments, will be able to open from 15 June.
All the shops on Symi are allowed to open now along with hair and beauty stylists, though not all have, because there are no tourists. Social distancing is required.
You are allowed to move about freely on the island, but should not form groups of more than 10 people, maintaining social distancing even then.
Serviced beaches will be allowed to open from 25 May. Again, how many actually do depends on the beach operator’s estimates of demand. Sunbeds/umbrellas must be spaced in line with social distancing rules, (no more than 2 to an umbrella, and umbrellas at a fixed distance)
Beachbars and cantinas must not offer service at the sunlounger, or sell alcohol, or anything eatable other than prepacked food. Now how this affects Symi isn’t clear in that some of the food/drink at beaches is provided by full-service tavernas (which are also allowed to open from 25 May)
Currently the bus services aren’t running, but probably will start fairly soon, a skeleton service is provided by a Lakis Travel hire car
The bus service has now restarted. Taxis exist, maximum 2 passengers.

The bit in between the airport and Symi:

Taxis follow the same rules on Rhodes as on Symi, and there are buses. This week ferries are not allowed to take you to Symi unless it is your permanent residence or you are on official business – and you’ll have to fill out forms before boarding, so allow extra time.
From next week people will be allowed to travel to islands from other islands or the mainland, again with health declarations and reduced ferry capacities. More ferry departures may start soon, very much on a week by week basis.
Will I be allowed into Greece from abroad?
If you have a Greek passport or permanent residence, yes, with tests and quarantine, right now. International flights will resume at the start of June, but until 1 July, the only entry point for travel by air will be Athens (UPDATE – plus Thessaloniki from 15 June) , and there will only be flights from countries considered low risk for COVID-19. From 1 July onwards there will be international flights into Rhodes, Kos and other airports, still subject to the low-risk assessment. Plans for quarantine on arrival, and for CV19 testing before departure, have been dropped as unworkable in practice. The Greek government has announced that they will not decide which countries’ flights to islands will be permitted until mid June.
Will my country let me leave for Greece, and/or let me come back without a fuss?
Who knows, this keeps changing too. At the moment for example, it is illegal to go from home to the airport for a leisure trip in the UK (though if stopped, just tell the police your name is Cummings), and travel to foreign countries is contrary to official advice, meaning that travel insurance is invalid, but you now can come back again without any hassle – it has been stated that returning travellers will face 2 weeks quarantine from a date yet to be announced, although some countries may or may not be exempt. Other countries appear to have more idea of what they are doing, but everything is subject to change if the infection rate rises or falls rapidly.
Will my flight even operate?
Some airlines have cut back flights drastically, some airports are closed indefinitely, there won’t be flights if people aren’t allowed to use them. Wait and see, I’m afraid.

But I really miss Symi

Well, some Symi businesses have started on-line retail operations, to salvage some of the otherwise missing trade, and will ship to your home. The first I know of is Panormitis Sponge Shop, which now has an online operation.
The website is well-designed, prices are much as I remember them from last year, and you can pay using Paypal. I placed an order this morning, easy to do, and the sponges etc have always been high quality. Expect more Symi retailers to do this. Please let me know if they do – it’s a way of making sure they’re still there to serve you in person when you finally do get to Symi.

New ferry line serving Symi

New ferry line serving Symi

Yesterday a SAOS Ferries ship called Stavros called at Symi on her way to Kos. This is a new route, opened at Government request and with heavy subsidy. The contract is for two sailings each way per week, routed Rhodes – Symi – Halki – Tilos – Nissyros – Kos and return. The Stavros is renamed from the SAOS II, and is a smallish, slowish, conventional vehicle and passenger ferry. The belief within the shipping community is that the subsidy is so large that the route will make money even if nobody uses it. Current plans are to operate Rhodes – Kos on Monday and Thursdays, returning on Tuesdays and Fridays. On other days there will be a Rhodes- Kastellorrizo round trip, operating twice a week, leaving one rest day. The subsidy level is such that Kastellorizo permanent residents (not visitors) have been offered free travel for the rest of the year between there and Rhodes and back. Unfortunately no such offer is available for residents of other islands.

SAOS Ferries have a certain reputation in the North Aegean, and it isn’t a good one. This is one reason for the ship being renamed, management would say it represents a new beginning, cynics that it is to try and bury the allegations of cancellations and delays in previous years.

Photos exist of Stavros mooring at Symi Clock Tower yesterday, but I understand that all future calls will be to the new quay area that Blue Star also use, and where the direct road link to the Chorio road is well under construction.

The blog will resume more frequent postings now that Greece is slowly emerging from lockdown – there was no point in reporting when only permanent residents of Symi were allowed to travel there, but this starts being relaxed during May. Before anyone asks, tourist accommodation will not be allowed to open before 1 July, and there is no information yet as to when international flights to Rhodes and Kos will be permitted, and under what conditions. It does seem likely that when they are permitted, not all countries will start on the same date, depending on the degree of progress in each country of combatting COVID-19.

Blue Star Summer

Blue Star Summer

The full summer service is now on offer from Blue Star, right up to the end of October. The old customer-friendly timetable has disappeared from their website and now you need to use the online booking tool to see when the ships sail. You do not have to actually book anything to use it!.
So the usual pattern of calls at Symi on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will continue this year – southbound to Rhodes in the morning, northbound to Kos and Piraeus in the evening. The actual times on those days vary according to the time of year, so you will need to use their website to check the date(s) you want. In terms of ships, the Monday sailings will be done by Blue Star 1 until late October, and the others will be Blue Star Chios until late April, then Diagoras (once the regular ship for Symi services) appears for a month, and finally in late May Blue Star Patmos reeturns for the rest of summer.
The swapping about of ships is to cover annual overhauls. The Blue Star Patmos is currently in the dockyard in Malta having exhaust gas scrubbers installed to reduce pollution, a fairly major job – the actual overhaul was carried out in Greece as usual.

Gerry Allen has kindly supplied a review of an overnight crossing from Piraeus to Symi on Blue Star Chios, which I’ve never done on this particular ship. “Patmos definitely better ship; Chios older cabin same size but en-suite much smaller; there is a vast amount of Airline style seats; public toilets not as good as Patmos; usual cafes and restaurant but no a-la-carte; ship was clean and tidy just older plenty of staff”
So everyone will be happy to see the Blue Star Patmos back in late May!

In other shipping news, Ostria (the old Symi I) has completed her annual overhaul and returned to Agios Nikolaos, Crete, which is her base for summer day excursions, and the Sebeco II (yes there are two of them) has secured a licence to operate between Kamiros Skala on Rhodes and Halki for the summer. So don’t think the original Sebeco has deserted the Symi-Rhodes route if you hear talk of a similar ship in Halki. What we don’t know of course is what timetable either Sebeco will operate yet. Once we have that for the Symi route, I’ll produce a combined timetable as usual.

Dodekanisos Seaways April to September, perhaps.

Dodekanisos Seaways April to September, perhaps.

Dodekanisos Seaways website has just been loaded with timetables for April and May 2020April to the beginning of October 2020. These are generally similar to 2019, allowing for the changing date of Easter, though the positioning sailings from Rhodes to Samos and return seem to have lost their calls at Symi. The sailings aren’t bookable yet, which may just be that they haven’t had enough time to load them yet, or may be due to the view circulating in Rhodes that the Panagia Skiadeni has been sold, and might be going elsewhere. If that happens, obviously the timetables will need to be changed.

Now Dodekanisos Seaways have had Panagia Skiadeni available for sale through shipbrokers for several years, but either there were no offers, or these were too low. The death of George Spanos, the chairman of Dodekanisos Seaways, during the winter may have caused a change of direction, but we don’t know who has bought the ship (if indeed she has actually been sold and this isn’t a false rumour) or what she might be used for.

Still waiting for Blue Star timetables, ANES timetables, and any possible fourth operator.

Ferries – Blue Star updates

Ferries – Blue Star updates

There are some changes in the Blue Star Ferries fleet: The Nissos Mykonos and Nissos Chios have been repainted into Blue Star fleet livery and renamed Blue Star Mykonos and Blue Star Chios. The Chios has been a Symi regular for part of each year recently, in Hellenic Seaways livery with a large “operated by Blue Star Ferries” sticker. Blue Star and Hellenic Seaways are sister companies and this represents a change to using the much stronger Blue Star brandname for conventional vehicle/passenger ferries. I don’t yet know if any internal changes are being made – she’s in annual overhaul at the moment but will take over from Blue Star Patmos on the Symi routes from Tuesday evening’s departure from Piraeus, which appears at Symi on Wednesday morning. Hopefully we’ll know then, and photos will soon surface.

While I’m on the subject of ferries, I seem to be seeing even more people asking about summer timetables than usual. I can see why people would want to know if they need to overnight on Rhodes or Kos before or after a Symi holiday, if they’re booking rooms too, but most Symi and Rhodes accommodation owners/hoteliers are reasonably flexible, they know what the issues can be.

For Brits, I’ll just point out that it is impossible to find accurate train or bus timetables more than 12 weeks in advance, even to prime tourist areas, so expecting Greek public transport to be different is illogical.

Nissos Chios before renaming and repainting as Blue Star Chios. Photo from Hellenic Seaways

This year the timetables are likely to be later being issued than last year. But the 2019 summer timetables were issued exceptionally early, and this year is getting closer to the norm. The problem in 2020 is that a lot of the ferry routes in the Dodecanese islands are subsidised. The contracts have to go out for tenders, as you’d expect, and the Greek Government has been late in calling for tenders, and in addition is trying to change the established service pattern for some islands. The tenders aren’t due back until 5 March, then they have to be reviewed and contracts signed. Only then can the ferry companies issue timetables, since they simply don’t know if they’ll get the contract or not. Often the same ship will operate subsidised and non-subsidised services on successive days, or even the same day – this affects both Blue Star and Dodekanisos Seaways. ANES don’t get a subsidy for Rhodes-Symi, but they have been bidding for other routes, and in any case they are always later than the other two companies.

Blue Star have however announced their summer Monday Symi service, operated by Blue Star 1, as none of Blue Star 1’s sailings are subsidised, and this is bookable, in the event that anyone is so obsessed with nailing down every detail that they want to make interest free loans to shipping lines. However, Greeks just seem amazed by the idea that anyone would want to book a ferry six months in advance, before they know what alternatives are available. Unless you want the most de-luxe cabin on the ship for a journey to/from Piraeus, in August, it really isn’t necessary to book far in advance, and if you’re travelling only to/from Rhodes, this is a huge ship and is never full over that section of route.

There’s no reason to suppose that there won’t be daily service to and from Rhodes this summer, the issue is only which ferry and at what time. If you want to travel elsewhere in the Dodecanese a little patience is going to be essential, I’m afraid.