A Symi Holiday: Day 10

In brief: Day 10 was all about a boat trip, with several snorkelling stops and a barbecue. I took pictures of cats. And got sunburned. And then learned more geocache locations on Symi!

This had been the first time since arriving on Symi, 9 days ago, that I had dragged myself out of bed before 8.30am. I was on holiday after all. Having done my pre-spider checks that I’d developed out of fear (tip toe out of bed, turn on all the lights, check every wall and surface, thoroughly check the loo), I showered and decided a hearty breakfast was in order before any form of ventures. Of course I ended up at The Olive Tree. Janine and Tina were surprised to see me. I had left a “many thanks” comment on their website on Tuesday night, so they were under the impression I had left the island without saying goodbye. Not so! Breakfast consisted of an award-winning Olive Tree Breakfast and views of the island. Before I left I bumped into Neil from Symi Dream who had closed down for the season. Knowing I’d unlikely see him again we shook hands, and I was recommended to come back. Something I will likely do. If you are ever in Symi and have ventured up the Kali Strata steps, you’ll find the Symi Dream shop in the same place as The Olive Tree and Georgios. Neil has wonderful photos and prints from around Symi and also organises photography hikes. Well worth the visit.

On Wednesday when I booked the boat trip, the excursion bloke said “be at the harbour for 1029am, the boat leaves at 1030”. When I got there the captain was waving people onboard Poseidon. More people had turned up than I expected. A german family were up on the roof, another older german couple were up front playing Jack and Rose (one of them had an amazing moustache), a dutch couple, a single female who took more photos than I did (I’m very competitive), and a group from canada whom I ended up chatting with along the way.

The itinerary was simple; we go all the way around the island of Symi, we stop at five different places to swim and snorkel, we have a barbecue lunch at one of the beaches before heading home. It would be an all-day excursion taking several hours.

The clock tower of Symi struck half past ten and the boat left Yialos, heading straight out to sea. Thankfully having been on a tall ship only a few weeks back, my body already had an understanding of the random swaying that was likely to occur throughout a day on the sea. No sea sickness for me!

About 40 minutes later, we slowed down and anchored. The first stop was a cave quite far around the island:

Snorkelling cave
Click the image to go to my Flickr site and see a map of where this is!

The cheerful captain suggested the cave was great for snorkelling and that we would stop for half an hour. “No swim, no ouzo!” he proclaimed. With that, I joined the queue of germans at the ladder and plunged in.

Now, I haven’t been in the sea for a long time. Swimming in a pool is fine where it isn’t too deep and the edges are within reach. This was the opposite of claustrophobia! Below me wasn’t too far away. Though a fellow passenger suggested that when looking down, “it’s deeper than you think”. It was rock face on one side and the Aegean sea everywhere else. There was no way I was going to swim to the cave. I didn’t feel strong enough, and I didn’t have any snorkelling gear. I had jumped in without actually checking with the captain, who said he’d have spare kit onboard. After a brief liaison with the sea people started climbing back on the boat. Seasoned snorkelers were deep in the cave, whilst others skirted the bottom and along the rock face for signs of life. The cold of the water had dissipated quite quickly but for the sake of my own health, and sanity, I climbed back onboard. The german kids on the other hand were bombing (not the best word to use) and diving into the water from a platform on the top of the boat. They were loving it! Onboard, the ouzo was served up alongside a brief snack consisting of olives, cucumber slices and apples coated in cinnamon. I rediscovered I still didn’t like ouzo. Or olives.

Bang on 30 minutes later we set off again. This time was a longer jaunt, but the strong sun was beaming down and everyone was soaking up the atmosphere. We navigated through tiny rock formations that rose from the sea millions of years ago. They looked like they were made yesterday. Being a film buff and working in studios where sets are built, these places could easily be locations for any science fiction movie. Desolate and raw.

In the waters ahead of us, flying fish leapt up and flew across the surface in every direction. I’d never seen flying fish before, so it was a bit of a novelty for me to try and capture a photo. Needless to say, I failed. Even with the camera set to Sports mode for fast moving action I didn’t capture anything good enough to publish. The shame!

After standing in the sun, rotating myself like a doner kebab meat stick, one of the crew headed to the front of the boat to anchor. I’d watched this technique when I was shooting some time lapse stills up on the Pontikokastro hill, where they anchor the front of the boat and reverse into where they want to be. It gives the captain more control.

Agios Vasilios
Click the image for a 360-degree view of Agios Vasilios!

There was a wonderful shingle beach about 20 feet away, and some folks had made the swim over for a little sunbathe and walk around. Others snorkelled the base of the bay whilst the kids took to the great leap off the roof. If I’d had one of those water tight bags that you roll your stuff in I’d have swam over to the shore with my camera for some photos. It’s a great location!

In the waters below, shoals of not-so-flying fish were visible. They seemed happy enough drifting from one side of the boat to the other, passing directly underneath us. These ones didn’t feel threatened enough to leap from the sea.

An hour later we ventured further away from Symi and toward another island. It was lunch time and the captain had scheduled in a stop on Sesklio. This island is much smaller than Symi, so much so I struggled to find any information or history to do with it. Facebook didn’t recognise it as a place when I uploaded and tagged my photos!

Sesklio Island
Click the image for an interactive 360-degree view of this image of Sesklio Island!

When we arrived we were greeted by a dozen cats. Something I’d come to get used to around there. It was lunch time and the crew started a fire on shore, just by the dock, and barbecued the meat. The cats kept an eye on them, making sure they were doing it properly. The captain suggested it was an hour to lunch so we could swim or hike the island. I took to walking, but got as far as a tiny whitewashed church about 200m from where we were docked. There was a huge flat area that was fenced off and a cement bunker way up on the other side of the mountain. If anything, it looked like a test area for something. Hopefully nothing nuclear!

After a few photos I headed back. Lunch was amazing. The food was on par with some of the better places I’ve eaten. Ever. Chicken, lamb, beetroot, rice, green beans, feta, potato salad. All of it was full of flavour and succulent. Lunch alone was worth the cost of the trip. It appeared the captain had a long standing bargain with these cats; stay off the boat, you’ll get the bones at the end. As we departed, a plate of scraps were left on the dock. True to the captains word.

Sesklio island cats

The boat carved through the waters, hugging the island on our left before heading back towards Symi island. We had one more stop left. The sun was still as strong as before, this time on our left. With lunch settling in our stomachs and a lack of energy through swimming, people started to lay down. Some read books, others use the quiet time to snooze. I just stood in the sun and watched our beautiful world go by.

The last stop was perfectly timed. The sun was sinking to the west behind the high peaks as we headed into the last cove. The difference in temperature between sunlight and shade was quite noticeable. But the captain was a sun-chaser. He took us right up to the rock face where the last pool of sun lit up the sea floor. There were colours down there I’d never seen before. Purples and greens, aqua and turquoise. Even black wasn’t the black I knew. It was more tranquil around here, and obviously more popular. A stretch of shingle beach had tavernas and a small building where someone’s set up shop for tourists. There was also a small dock where a yacht was already tied up. This sun trap area looked like the sort of day-trip location a lot of these boats would likely go for swimmers and snorkelers.

Cove

The shadows grew longer and the mountain took the last of the suns rays away from us. One by one we climbed back onto the boat for coffee and biscuits. And bloody good coffee it was too. A perfect end to a perfect trip.

Back in Yialos, after narrowly avoiding the Blue Star Diagoras ferry, the boat docked and each person shook hands with the captain as they took to the gangplank. With a firm grip he thanked us for travelling with him and suggested we try other trips. It was already the end of the season and many others had closed down. If I had more time and had come earlier, I’d probably have booked something else.

Blue Star Diagoras departs Symi

Back to the normality I’d adjusted to on Symi, it was back to those stairs. I’m pleased to say I never once took the bus to Chorio, only ever opting to walk the 360+ steps up the Kali Strata. An unconscious decision to keeping fit whilst on holiday. And saving myself one euro fifty cents. It wasn’t till I got home and the backpack was off that I looked at myself in the mirror. I was red. Quite red. Somehow, after applying “factor 30” lotion every day, I had managed to get sunburn. Although the lotion was the sports type, it appeared it wasn’t as water proof as the label had suggested. Mind you, I’d had worse sunburn.

Whilst downloading all my photos I did a quick geocahe check (as you do), seeking out the two other locations I had planned to find before departing on Monday. Turned out there were dozens of cache locations on Symi. Dunno how I got that wrong. And one of them was on a beach in one of the coves we had just visited. In dramatic fashion, I’m comparing it to the Apollo 13 astronauts who got right up to the moon, but never made it down. So close, yet so far. And with that news, tired and weathered, Wednesday was an early night!

Here’s todays entries for Cat(s) Of The Day:

Cat Of The Day 171012 1

Cats Of The Day 171012 2

Cat Of The Day 171012 3

A Symi Holiday: Day 6

On this day I was held hostage by a spider, rescued by The Saviour, laughed at by some ex-pats, made a time lapse video showing the Milky Way and spent the evening taking photos of the stars…

As nice as it was to capture photos of the sunset yesterday, I hadn’t planned on seeing sunrise today. My alarm was set for near enough the afternoon. But something happened through the night that caused me to be awake. Very awake. At about 3am as I flipped on the side lamp to swipe away yet another mosquito that had been harassing me, something caught my eye across the other side of the room. On the roof. Now I’m no fan of spiders, so seeing this was less than enchanting. There was an actual, real life, wild tarantula in my holiday apartment. Quite a large one too. I won’t post a picture of it on the blog as, if like me you have “the fear”, rest assured it won’t help you sleep. If you really want to see a photo (there was nothing else to do!), click here. Or alternatively for a wee video of it crawling along the wall, click here.

Hours passed with me standing in the middle of the room., just staring at it. Putting it mildly, the sunrise could go screw itself. I wasn’t taking my eyes off this thing till… well, till it wasn’t in the apartment anymore. But then, how did it get in? I didn’t give it a key, and given its size it sure as hell would have had to use the door. Maybe it had been here all along. But where? Every shadow made me jump. Every tickle on an arm or a leg. I was literally shaking with fear. All the stress I had relieved so far on this holiday came back in one massive attack, just as the sun started to come up.

Ironically I found mosquito spray whilst looking for something I could capture the spider with. I thought I could scare it, at least make it move from where it had moved and perched itself (above the beds, of course). I tried spraying deodorant in it’s general direction. The Lynx effect. It didn’t work. Aptly, in Greece Lynx deodorant is called Axe. I could have done with one of those too. I tried waving at it with the Accommodation Welcome Pack folder. That didn’t help either. It had probably already read through it when it came in. Smug spider. And now it smelled good too…

Lynx deodorant in Greece

I had a look online to see how to catch them but didn’t get very far. Apparently they’re fragile and cannot kill humans, unless you are allergic to their bite, which is similar to being allergic to a bee sting. They can also fire barbs from their back legs if threatened.

More hours passed as I stared at it with both eyes, it staring back with eight. Now it was getting silly. In the end, during normal office hours, I called the holiday folks. And who should arrive? None other than Ian the walking guide from Symi Visitor. From hereon in I shall refer to him simply as “The Saviour”. Borrowing a long broom from the neighbour, The Saviour took a swipe at it. This caused it to fall like an eight-legged rag doll onto the beds and scamper off. I shuddered slightly. On hands and knees he then casually looked under the bed. Remember in the movie Aliens, in the MedLab, when the facehugger jumps out? Yea. Exactly…

It was between the pillows and the headboard. Another swipe later and it flew, literally, across the room behind the wardrobe. I ducked. I may have shrieked like a little girl too… I’m not sure… *cough*… moving on… The Saviour then cornered it, before inching it out of the apartment dangling from the end of the broom, holding it aloft over the wall. And with a thud it was gone, having fallen some distance further down the valley and back to nature. In an instant, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Like a burst water dam of sleep depravation, the tiredness that I had been holding back rushed forth as I took the first breaths of freedom. Dramatic, I know. But you get the idea that I really don’t like spiders. And with that The Saviour was gone, riding off down the rickety street on his scooter. No doubt off to rescue another foreigner. His last words to me were “if it happens again, stop reading on the internet how they can kill you”. Wise words from The Saviour.

It was now 11am. Tired, and with a jelly brain, I headed to The Olive Tree and ordered their Special breakfast; fruit salad starter with orange juice followed by scrambled eggs, bacon and mushrooms on toast with a mug of tea. I deserved it. If you’re ever in Symi, I implore you order one. It was utterly delicious, and the perfect way to reset my mood. The girls in The Olive Tree had a good laugh with me about the whole arachnid experience, as did a few of their customers. “Buy a spare mop. They’ll cling to it, then you can just chuck the whole thing out”. Even more wise words.

After a brief and paranoid siesta I decided tonight was the night to do some time lapse photography. My intention was to capture sunset, by walking up to one of the churches with a good view of the harbour and try catch the boats coming in to berth. The church I originally planned on going to was being used for a celebration so I headed to the back-up church. (Note to all: always have a back-up church).

Here’s me looking ever professional, showing the locals that I know what I’m doing. Sort of:

Mercian Media at Symi

There’s dozens of options and settings when doing time lapse photography. And there’s no hard and fast rule to setting up. Not to mention I’d only tried it a few times before. Time was critical as the sun was sinking further westwards towards the mountains so I took a few test shots, including the often forgotten white balance, and got on with it. I wanted to get some soft blur into each image, to give the final video a bit more smoothness to it. Most time lapse videos are quite choppy. I tried fitting a variable ND filter, which is effectively putting sunglasses on your camera lens. It allows you to take longer exposures in bright daylight, which can allow moving objects to blur.

Symi panoramic

If you haven’t tried it already, click the image above and another window will open. It’s an interactive 360-degree view from where the time lapse was shot, up at the church. I quite like making these as it allows you to stand in my shoes and see what I saw when I was there.

When I figured it was dark enough I stopped the camera and reset for a new angle, pointing down toward the main street and harbour. With little to no action going on down there I wanted to try something different… so I looked upwards. It had become easy to see the stars. They just popped out of the blackness as soon as the mountains hid the sun. The shape and colour of our Milky Way galaxy was clearly visible. It really is a magnificent sight. So I carried on with a few photos. I tried a couple of High Dynamic Range photos (HDR). This is where you take 3 photos of different intensities of the same thing and merge them together. But it was far too dark and they didn’t come out. On to another time lapse. This time, the Milky Way itself. I just knew capturing this as it moved (or we moved) would be spectacular.

Here’s the overall video from this days’ venture. Not perfect, but still beautiful all the same. I need more time in the day, and effectively more battery power. I’m a fool to not realise I had left my spare at home. Practice makes perfect!

A Symi Holiday: Day 4 – Part One

NOTE: There’s a second page to this blog which I wrote late in the evening with some lovely long exposure night time photographs!

Lazy Days Indeed.

It’s clear to me now that my non-existant level of fitness alongside the heat of Greece has culminated in me becoming a lazy bugger. With full intentions I had an early night on Wednesday, set my alarm for 6am Thursday morning with the knowledge that I would attempt an early morning hike back up to the highest Church for some sunrise snaps of the harbour. This failed in dramatic fashion. I got out of bed at 1pm. In my defence, I had climbed those 358 steps* many times in the last couple of days. My legs have developed muscles I didn’t even know existed.

Part of me blames myself for my lack of a regular exercise regime at home and therefore being constantly nackered. The other part of me blames the folks down in the valley who’s renditions of Black Betty, Daddy Cool and Rivers Of Babylon into the early hours amplified it’s way up the hills towards the rest of us and therefore kept me awake.

Alongside the soundtrack to my holiday, at around 2am I also had the fortune to play two exciting games: Fly Swatter (towel edition) and Mosquito Chop. It might be obvious to some that leaving your doors and windows open during the day gives flies the impression they are welcome to your abode. Similarly, leaving them open at night gives mosquitos the same impression. It wasn’t that obvious to me. Both games were played simultaneously for around an hour. I seemed to win better at Fly Swatter (towel edition) mainly due to bigger and louder targets. Having said that I did start to doze off during the third round of Mosquito Chop, drifting into bizarre dreams where the high pitched buzzing was actually fairies on tiny mopeds alongside minuscule nymphs with chainsaws. I promise I only had one glass of white wine before bed.

So, the day officially started similarly to yesterdays, with a quick tiptoe around the sleeping ambush kittens followed by breakfast lunch at The Olive Tree, where sitting in the sunshine pondering the world was fast becoming a regular pastime.

The sleeping ambush kittens of Symi

After my stunning baked potato with cream cheese and vegetables I took the opportunity to buy two slices of cake (another pastime of mine) for my journey around around the village, otherwise it would be back to the Dolphin for pizza at lunchtime. I’m pretty sure they are in no need of sponsorship on my behalf.

I made the decision today of taking all my photographs with a 50mm prime lens. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a photography lens that isn’t very wide so you have to take a few steps back occasionally to get your subjects to fit the frame or your camera. The lens is also f1.8 which means it can capture a lot of light even when it’s very dark, and also means you have the option of your photos being incredibly in focus for a tiny part of the image whereas the foreground and background can be very soft and blurry (just like those kittens up there). For these reasons it’s a lens used regularly for portraits.

One thing I did want to capture today was the statue in the harbour of a boy pointing out to sea known as “little Michael”, the fisher boy. As welcoming as the statue is to those docking this side of the harbour, the story behind Michalaki is less enchanting. It’s said that during World War II when Symi was taken over by the Nazi’s, anything the locals caught at sea was to be turned over to the Germans on the island, with anyone caught keeping food for themselves being executed. The locals sent their children out to sea, believing the Germans wouldn’t execute any kids. The statue of little Michael, standing on a mountain of skulls, is their memorial to the children who’s lives were taken by Nazi execution.

The Little Fisher Boy of Symi

Further around the island is a fascinating section of shipyard, officially called Harani Boat Yard. Dilapidation rules amongst the discarded, awaiting rescue and recovery from some new loving owner. The area is rich in texture and faded colours, much to my delight. I knew I would end up photographing this area when I walked passed it on Tuesday, given the characters that screamed from this location. The decline in shipbuilding trade in Symi had left a lot of these wonderful and personal items to decay. More noticeable, due to her size, was the Lazy Days cruise ship which was allegedly confiscated, though at present time I don’t know why or from whom.

Lazy Days cruise ship

I didn’t want to venture too close as I had spotted a rather savage looking dog on Tuesday, chained to a stretch of rope that ran the length of the shipyard. The very thought of a yard with a guard dog reminded me of the movie Stand By Me with Chopper the guard dog… “Now he said ‘Sic ’em boy!’, but what I heard was ‘Chopper, sic balls!'”.

It appears I fell for the myth of a vicious dog when I noticed this little relationship on my walk back:

Shipyard Dog

So Lazy Days summed up the afternoon of Thursday (or Thor’s day), though my love of photography has sparked many an idea in my head. I plan on going back to the shipyard during the day** with a wider lens to capture more images, and try my hand at HDR photography; a technique that brings out detail and colour not normally seen in standard photos by merging several images of different intensities into one image. Interesting.

I also want to try some infrared photography around Symi. But I’ll leave that to next week.

UPDATES:

* I counted the steps of Kali Strata again, because I’m a bit like that. This time 387. That’s 29 steps more than last time. Not sure how that happened.

** Whilst looking for the answer as to why Lazy Days has been left to its demise, I’ve come across several award winning shots of the ship. Some of which are exactly the same composition as mine. Here’s hoping I can try something different with the HDR and IR shots to get something different. Maybe some night time shots?