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 – After Dark

I thought I had blogged enough for the fourth day. Alas, come nightfall I ventured out again with my camera for some night time photography!

As the golden sky evaporated at sunset to a moody purple and black, I headed back down the long steps once more. Only now do I realise why my feet hurt so much. This time I was armed with a tripod and a wide angle lens. I’d seen some lovely night time shots of Symi on the internet, and it was my time to try snap a few.

Several times I heard foreign tongues mention the word “fotografia” as my larger-than-average camera tripod towered out of my backpack and above my head as I trundled by the many restaurants still open late. I’d been the only person I’d seen carrying a tripod on Symi. #Fact. Definitely the only one out with one at 11pm. Still, I’m not convinced bringing a rucksack just to ship the tripod over in was worthwhile.

Out along the harbour I snapped a few here and there, trying different exposure lengths to get the look of sheet glass along the water. Of course, the longer your exposure, the more blurry the yachts are in the bobbing waves.

Symi by night

I travelled back along the roads I’ve come to know reasonably well, towards the shipyard containing the derelict Lazy Days cruise ship. Out  away from the harbour was a beautiful tall ship, which reminded me of one I had travelled and stayed aboard just a few weeks back. We too had anchored in the middle of a location away from marine traffic and lit ourselves up for everyone to see. I just had to take a snap against the starry sky. The brightest dot to the right is in fact the planet Jupiter, with the Pleiades star cluster in the top right corner. I didn’t catch the name of the ship, mainly because I couldn’t see it.

Symi tall ship by night

Low and behold, at the shipyard, known as Harani Boat Yard, Lazy Days by night was as spectacular as she is by day. Lit only by a single street lamp and the surrounding natural reflecting light, the wasting ship still stands out against the darkness. Chopper, the non-fictional guard dog with fictional ferocity, lay with one eye open monitoring my labour, barking only once when I accidentally hit a wheelie bin with a leg of the tripod…

Lazy Days, By Night

Lazy Days Starlight

Bear in mind, these photos were taken with very little light around. Yet they look almost staged. This is something I crave almost daily, seeing things in a less-than-ordinary way (hence the infrared photography in the coming days).

Being out on your own carrying expensive equipment and having a long walk back to where you stay is perhaps not the best situation to put yourself in. My sixth sense was always telling me to keep an eye out for anything or anyone unusual who may be part of some ploy to chuck me in the harbour and dash off with my stuff. Therefore I didn’t spend too long on the dimly lit streets of Symi. It was a case of ‘get there, get them, get out’.

Oddly, this is the same way I do clothes shopping.

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?

A Symi Holiday: Day 3

These Boots were Not Made for Walking

No sooner had I closed the lid on my laptop from yesterdays blog, it started. I believed it to be a rooster, welcoming in the sunrise. But this rooster clearly had mental health problems. Certainly no sense of time. It was 3am and not 7.30am. Not only that, it had less of a “cock-a-doodle-doo” and more of a “caroo goo AAARGHH CACKOO”. I can only compare it to the likely sound of a practicing trombone player slowly garotted. Other roosters down the hill seemed equally confused, replying with “cock-a-doodle… eh?”.

A few hours later something more troubling startled me awake. Initially it sounded like a mobile phone vibrating on a table. A deep moaning hum shook the windows. It was a ship in the harbour, hooting with almighty power. Enough to shake the window panes, perhaps long enough to tear the space time continuum itself. When it stopped what seemed like minutes later, bells started to ring. A trio of chimes rang out near me, followed by another trio further down, then above, then more and more. These chimes went on for half an hour. At present I don’t know the significance of a Wednesday in Symi or in Greece overall, but it felt like they had some significance*. Oddly, the guy further up the hill from me was chiming four times. Perhaps he was the one with the rooster.

Today was meant to be a photography day. I stuffed my day pack as lightly as possible (camera, gorilla tripod, 50mm prime, 18-135mm, 75-300mm, 11-16mm, spare t-shirt, wireless trigger, IR filter, ND filter, 2 bottles of water). Unfortunately it was overcast from morning till late afternoon. The drop in temperature meant I could wear jeans and there was less chance of me being fatally killed by dehydration on the walk back up all the stairs**, like yesterday. Not swayed by the lack of sunshine I headed towards the stairway; Kali Strata.

My escapades late yesterday evening on the Kali Strata where upon I dived into the fridge for water at the nearest cafe led me back to The Olive Tree, ran by Jenine and Tina. I re-introduced myself as “that bedraggled fool from yesterday”. They knew who I was. As a token of my appreciation I ordered a BLT breakfast and a coffee to start the day, making sure I left a tip.

The sun just didn’t want to shine, nor the clouds want to move but blue sky could be seen in every direction other the perfect island-sized cloud overhead. And the winds had picked up. In case you’d forgotten Kali Strata is a walkway up the side of a hill from the harbour up to the ‘old town’. Another description would be wind tunnel. Even Jenine and Tina were concerned when a particularly large gust blew something over, causing glass to smash. It turned out to be the the scooter belonging to the recycling guy who collects the (staggering amount of) empty beer bottles.

Not distracted by the winds nor the cloud I set off down the steps where several angles and interesting scenes presented themselves. Brand spanking newly decorated houses stood beside ancient ruins and crumbling walls, graffiti spray painted onto old buildings, stairway after stairway of contrasting life and culture. For a change I decided against taking lots of photos, instead opting for sunlit versions perhaps the next day or later in the week. Today went from being a photography day to more of a location-scouting day.

And so I just kept walking. I got to the harbour and crossed the Kantirimi bridge, walking past the many sponge shops. Interestingly, Ian informed us on the walk yesterday that although the ancient trades of Symi were sponge diving and boat building, neither exist today. All of the sponges sold on Symi likely came from Florida. Which is a sham(e). Carrying on past the clock tower (every village needs a clock tower) I followed the road along the coastline, passing the relatively empty shingle beach and kept walking. I was told there was another small village called Emporios with a beach much further round the island, and with my feet set on walking I was determined to try and get there.

Symi Panoramic

Once out passed the shingle beach of Symi there isn’t much to see. On your right is a sheer drop down into the clear blue sea, and to the left is a desolate scene of red and silver rock taken straight out of any documentary about the Moon or Mars. I felt like the only person on the island the further round I walked, meeting hardly a soul along the way (apart from the old guy driving the colourful tourist toy train who drove past twice, waving toward me like I was some fairground attraction).

An eternity later it became apparent that walking further was almost pointless. I had reached a turning point. A literal one at that. Cars, busses, and tiny toy trains must circle in this vast concrete area before heading back along the desolate road. I could see sugar cube dwellings dotted along the cove at the next turning at Emporios, but by that point nothing inside me felt the need to see them up close. By day three on Symi, if you’ve seen one dwelling you’ve seen them all. Beach or otherwise, I wasn’t prepared to venture further by foot. Not to mention my feet had managed to push the insoles of my boots up my ankles.

Before heading back I took the opportunity to snap this JCB perched by the edge of the cliff, set against the lunar landscape. Random indeed.

Lunar JCB

Before I knew it, several hours had passed by whilst walking. It was 3pm and a lot of the shops and restaurants back in Symi were closing. I continued back and popped in to the Dolphin, a pizza place I ate at yesterday (sucker). The trustworthy owner took my order and closed up shop around me. Other customers were turned away, whereas I was left to dine alone in his empty establishment. Strange but true.

And that was pretty much the end of the day! The setting sun turned the clouds pink and purple at around 6.30pm. Unfortunately the sun sets on the other side of the island, so there won’t be any spectacular sunset photos from me. On the other hand, sunrise is sure to be mind blowing. I plan on spending a late evening in the harbour so I can get some night shots of the area.

Having checked the weather (wifi suddenly appeared in the apartment!) it was due to be overcast today with 80% chance of thunder. The rest of the week supposed to be high’s of 26 degrees with little cloud.

We didn’t have thunder, but around 8pm we definitely had beautiful pink lightning to the North every few minutes:

Symi Lightning

This was a long exposure shot taken in complete darkness to try and capture a lightning bolt. Took me a few attempts to get the lightning!


* A fellow visitor in the apartment above told me the early morning hooting was likely from a large ferry from Athens that rarely visits Symi. The huge one I saw had “Blue Star” written on it. The bell tolls were likely linked to the arrival and departure of the ferry as they rang out again at 4pm.

** Also, I counted the steps I took from the marina to the apartment. 358, +/-20 for my photography distractions.