When I First Came to Symi

I apologise for the lateness of this Symi report. On Monday afternoon, as I was answering the last of the emails, before settling down to write my blog, it came to my attention that all was not as it should be in the email department. Although my emails were being sent out they weren’t being cleared from the Outbox with the result that the recipients were receiving multiple copies. Sorting that out took much of the afternoon and I am still not entirely sure which of the several stabbings in the dark was the one that actually cleared the problem. This led me to thinking about how things have changed in the years I have lived here on Symi.

When I first came to Symi back in 1993 the island was still dependent on an undersea cable to Rhodes for its telephone communications. Even faxes were fairly unreliable due to the poor quality of the line and it was not unusual for the island to be cut off from Rhodes telephonically if anything disturbed the cable. The only place where one could pick up a mobile phone signal was Megalo Sotiris, if one aimed the phone at Rhodes. The first public card telephones on the island were installed that year and the satellite telephone station up on the mountain became operational a year or so later. Nowadays Symi has internet cafes, there are three computer shops on the island and everyone has a mobile phone that works. People who used to come here on holiday to get away from it all, secure in the knowledge that the boss could not contact them without great difficulty, now spend their days answering emails on their smartphones and skyping the office. Modern working habits are invading paradise.

Water, in those days, was something that households received in measured doses one day a week and Water Day involved frantic filling of containers and frenzied laundry during the hour or so that the water was ‘on’. Employers fitted their employee’s working hours around ‘Water Day’. The standard Symi washing machine in those days was a stainless steel drum with an agitator in the bottom. The same water could be used to wash several batches of clothes, starting with the cleanest, before finally being tipped onto the geraniums. Now we expect to have a continuous water supply and it is extremely inconvenient when it goes off without warning because householders no longer have the backup supplies that they used to depend on and tourists have come to expect a 24 hour water supply. The infrastructure of cisterns and Water Days has fallen away but its replacement, the desalination plant, is not yet quite up to meeting the island’s demands. It will, undoubtedly, eventually achieve its aim. After all, look at how far we have come in 17 years.

Very few houses had air conditioning and it was not uncommon for people to set up beds and mattresses outside their houses on hot summer nights. In the winter everyone had gas lanterns at the ready because power cuts were a fact of life, particularly after the first rains shorted out every cable damaged in the course of the long dry summer. Now air conditioning is regarded as a basic need and the humble fan is becoming an endangered species. The power station on the Pedi road has more generators outside than in and roars away on hot summer nights to contend with the increasing demand for these power hungry appliances. We have sacrificed peace and quiet for an ambient temperature of 25 degrees centigrade in August.

Symi has entered the 21st century and has many of the amenities of the modern world but it is still fundamentally a nineteenth century neo-classical gem with beautiful but quirky architecture and far more steps than it will ever have roads. Visitors and residents alike need to remember that this is what makes Symi special. There are plenty of Greek island resorts and artificially created Greek-style complexes for tourists, but Symi is unique. Not just because it has some of the finest authentic neo-classical architecture for a small island in Greece but also because visitors actually get to live in and experience this way of life at first hand. Visitors to Symi share the same trials and tribulations as the local residents because they are staying in the same houses, dining in the same tavernas, shopping in the same supermarkets and travelling on the same bus. This is not a luxury resort where visitors are isolated from their hosts, this is a place where visitors become part of the community for the duration of their stay. Which may go some way to explain why so many people return to Symi year after year, enjoying the island’s progress but also catching up on old friends and savouring a way of life that is slipping away elsewhere, a life where people know their neighbours and children have an unprecedented amount of freedom.

Have a good week.



Arne Thomsen –   – (Tuesday, July 20, 2010)  

Dear Adriana.

Your "When I first came to Symi" is really touching my heart, and it also nearly describes the same that has happened to me during all these years, where I again and again - every year - came back to Symi.
And why?
I do not have the precise answer, but I do know that my heart belongs to Symi, to the people of Symi, to the symiotic culture, to the civilizations in Yialos, ChoriĆ³ and Panormitis - and to the original nature inside the island, where I meet so many orthodox Icons and get so much inspiration.

Thank you for yur writings and my best greetings Arne.

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About this Blog

I sailed into Panormitis Bay, Symi, by chance one windy July day in 1993 and have been here ever since. The locals tell me that this is one of the miracles of St Michael of Panormitis. A BA graduate with majors in English, Philosophy and Classical Civilisation, the idea of living in what is to all intents and purposes an archaeological site appeals to me. Not as small as Kastellorizo, not as touristy as Rhodes, Symi is just the right size. I live on a small holding which my husband and I have reclaimed from a ruin of over-grazing and neglect and turned into a small oasis over the course of the past 22 years. I also work part-time for Symi Visitor Accommodation, helping independent travellers discover and enjoy Symi's simple pleasures for themselves.

This page is kindly sponsored by Wendy Wilcox, Symi Visitor Accommodation.

Adriana Shum

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