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An end to 2020

An end to 2020

I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers. 2020 has been a terrible year for so many, and a nightmare for travellers and transport operators.

People may wonder why there are no details of 2021 flights here yet – simply because I don’t believe that many of those flights advertised are actually going to operate, and if they do, that everyone who wants to fly will be allowed to do so. As more certainty, and more vaccinations, arrives, I’ll start listing the flights.

As far as ferries are concerned, about now is when the first details of summer sailings usually begin to appear. but not this time. Again when the details emerge you’ll see them here almost immediately. At the moment, with Greece in national lockdown, it is difficult for ferry companies to plan timetables and for government to grant approval.

So here’s to a successful summer season for Symi, and lots of happy virus free tourists.

SAOS in November

SAOS in November

In a very late addition to the winter ferries serving Symi, SAOS Ferries ship Stavros will continue on her October timetable until at least the end of November. This means the combined November timetable, even after the Panormitis celebrations are over, will be better than that operating during much of the tourist season (9 sailings each way a week on the Rhodes-Symi- Kos main line spread between 3 ferry companies, compared to 7 for part of the summer). Typically, SAOS have failed to update their website to show November sailings – they obviously don’t regard the website as any kind of selling tool, since although they advertise online booking on it, this has never been possible for Dodecanese routes.

Winter ferries

Winter ferries

The first details of the winter ferry services are beginning to appear. Dodekanisos Seaways have released timetables up to the end of the year. but these may be subject to alteration as they are only bookable up to 8 November. Basically the normal 4 sailings a week winter timetable reappears once the celebrations at Panormitis are over. This provides sailings on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays leaving Rhodes for Symi and points north in the morning, returning through Symi in late afternoon. The main change is where the sailings go to once north of Kos, all the usual places get a boat, but not necessarily on the same day they did last year.UPDATE: following the national lockdown in Greece, this service is reduced to just Saturdays and Mondays for the rest of the year, we don’t know what will happen in January yet.

Blue Star will continue with the timetable that is currently operating (calling at Symi on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in both directions)

No word yet on whether SAOS Ferries have a winter timetable, and if so, what it is. UPDATE – appears to be the same as the summer./autumn timetable, sailings from Rhodes to Symi and beyond on Mondays and Thursdays, southbound on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Watch out in the period either side of Christmas – there may be extra sailings, altered days of operation, etc, and no sailings on Christmas Day.

Symi – what’s happening?

Symi – what’s happening?

And the answer to the question in the post title is – not a lot. As is always the case at this time of year, tourist – related activity is slowing down and some places are packing up for the winter. Of course in this COVID year a few never opened, though most did. Adriana’s blog lists several places as closing for the winter this week, while some others (Taverna Dafni at Toli) intend to carry on longer if they can as they have local trade as well as tourists.
Today is the last 2020 trip of the Poseidon, and taxi-boats are unlikely to continue past the weekend, with the beaches at Nanou and Marathounda having already shut. But the bus services are still running to a late – season timetable. Confusingly neither of the regular buses are running the services though – The Yialos-Chorio-Pedi bus is currently a white Lakis Travel minibus, and the Yialos -Panormitis turquoise bus went off to Rhodes on Tuesday,with a silver Panormitis Travel minibus standing in for it.

Symi City Bus standin

Day trippers are getting fewer, and I haven’t seen the train running round the harbour. Correction it was running today. No shortage of taxis, yet though.
Dodekanisos Seaways have released their timetable for early November, covering the period of the Panormitis festival, the other ferry operators have not,though Blue Star, at least, probably won’t change much from this month. Rumour has it that the festival will be almost entirely religious this year,the market and fairground type activities being cut right back on public health grounds.

Symi at last

Symi at last

I finally reached Symi this year on Wednesday 7 October, just 5 months later than I had planned.Not the most straightforward journey – Easyjet flight from an almost deserted London Gatwick Airport into Rhodes.Plane arrived early, despite having 184 passengers on a 186 seat plane – no social distancing possibilities there!
Assuming you’re allowed to travel at all, you now need to complete an on-line Passenger Locator Form at least 24 hours before departure. You get a response from Greece at midnight Greek time, with a scannable QR code and a number. No code, no flight (unless your flight is overnight when there are other arrangements made) On arrival in Greece, the number is checked. People with numbers beginning with an even digit (2,4,6,or 8) go to baggage reclaim. An odd first digit (1,3,5.7.9) means you have to take a COVID test, at which point they scan the QR code,and then take a throat swab, after which you can carry on and collect your bags. Guess whose number began with 7! It didn’t cause any delay, my bag still wasn’t on the belt. Some things never change.
If you are tested, you are free to go on your way (using commonsense) for up to 24 hours. Then, people who tested positive are taken away to special quarantine centres for 14 days (at Greek government expense). If you hear nothing, you’re in the clear – and Greek track and trace actually works. Still an anxious 24 hours. So I was COVID-less and caught the Blue Star Patmos to Symi. I can’t claim to have deliberately planned the 24 hours in Rhodes as a break point to keep Symi COVID-free, but it did help.

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