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.


* 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?