With sick cat enjoying a period of stability, we thought we could risk leaving him in the cattery attached to our vets (after giving the cattery nurses a whole page of detailed instructions as if they don’t know how to look after cats). So now all that is left is to pack for our first holiday abroad for ages…
Now the whole premise of this blog is that I love travelling but also have a compulsive need to know things such as where the nearest toilet is. My anxiety isn’t limited to lavatorial locations however. I am also driven to prepare obsessively for every trip or holiday so that I can cope with any possible eventuality (foreseen or unforeseen).
I write lists: of things to do, what to pack, when to do it. I write so many lists of such length that they are useless, impenetrable. It can take me hours to locate the right list, or the location of the objects on my list.
I spend weeks before any holiday searching and planning, collecting sheaves of paper so thick that I can never hope to find what I need. Although I know it’s there somewhere as I never throw anything away.
The purpose of all this activity is always to plan, always to prepare but never to achieve your aims. If you are in a constant state of warding off the unexpected, those terrible things that might happen will never happen.
We know, of course, that it doesn’t work. As someone who found out the hard way said ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’. Rationally, I know only too well that it’s better to live in the moment, to enjoy life while it happens, but can I do that?
Maybe, once the packing is finished, once I’m on that plane, once I realise that, whatever I’ve left behind/forgotten to do/done wrong, there is no longer anything I can do about all that. The only thing I can do then is sit down and enjoy the holiday…
Our destination is Symi, in the Dodecanese islands, four miles away from Turkey but definitely in Greece. It is the island where, in 1944, the Germans signed their surrender on their retreat from the Dodecanese and, since we first visited in 2006, it has been my little oasis of calm, a place where I can leave all my anxieties behind.
The island has three main things to recommend it; its climate and scenery, the friendliness of the people and the food. It is the only place we know, within a five hour flight of the U.K., where you can stay in a beautiful location and, by foot, and without excessive exertion of any description, you can eat in as many exceptional restaurants as you please for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.
My favourite restaurant is Tholos, at the far end of Harani harbour. I should explain the geography; Symi town has the most beautiful harbour in all of the Greek islands (yes, I’m biased but I still think I’m right). When you arrive on the ferry (there are no direct flights) you sail into a fairytale. Pastel coloured houses cling to the hillside and one of these is our villa. I’m not telling you which as I would like to keep it to myself… We could sit on our terrace all week and not be bored. It looks out over the harbour at the ships and boats and harbour staff who dance around each other, finding moorings, upping anchors or simply manoeuvring into position, all day long. We look out at the main harbour (known as Yialos), across the bay to the clock tower and one of the main hotels, The Nireus. Behind the clock tower, across Harani harbour, is Tholos. It’s location is the best of any restaurant I know, right on the water’s edge, looking out to sea, to Symi town and, beyond, to Turkey. At night, ghostly sailing ships appear in your eyeline as you eat, and the sea laps below your feet. The food isn’t bad, either. My meat eating spouse will vouch for the tenderness of the lamb and the Symi Goat but I love the walnut, blue cheese and apple salad, the baked vegetables and the lemony potatoes with fennel. At the end of the meal, we ask for our bill, knowing that we will be presented with a delicious complimentary dessert. On our first night, it was a beautiful ice cream with chocolate but, on another night, it was candied carrot with yoghurt – surprisingly scrumptious.
Other restaurants worth a mention are The Trawler in Yialos, great for vegetable dishes and an excellent people watching location, To Spitiko, good for salads and courgettes, and Mythos, a nice posh restaurant very close to the villa where we ate on our last evening. No wonder Rick Stein used the island as a base for his recent TV series (and we also think we spotted one of the hairy bikers in Tholos a few years ago), it’s the go-to place for gourmet chefs!
All of the above restaurants are within easy walking distance of our villa on the harbour. However, many of Symi’s loyal holiday makers (some come back year after year and spend far, far longer than our seven days’ holiday) prefer to stay uphill in the part of Symi town known as Horio (or the Village). From the harbour Horio can be reached by the 300 or so steps of the Kali Strata. At the top of the steps you will find three excellent restaurants: the Olive Tree, Giorgio y Maria’s and Zoe’s, all with terraces affording views from Horio to the next ‘town’ along, Pedi on the bay.
One of the reasons we keep coming back to Symi are the other holiday makers. There are a number of them who return year after year and we have met one couple who make Symi their home for the whole summer, every year. The island seems to attract a slightly more eccentric crowd than, say, Faliraki. And it does your heart good to be with interesting people. For the last couple of years we have been lucky enough to have been invited by our very kind, helpful and welcoming tour guide, Frances, from Kaladoukas Holidays (http://www.kalodoukas.gr) and friends to walk from Horio to Toli in the west of the island. The walk takes about 2 hours each way and, in the heat, is not always for the faint hearted. It is certainly worth the effort for views such as this;
and for the dip in the sea followed by lunch at the taverna at Toli at the end of the walk.
There are numerous other walks to take on Symi. Our friends were walking to Nanou bay this weekend, a mere four hours each way. Because of the temperatures (about 28C most of the days last week) they plan to start at 7am. But you don’t have to walk great distances. One of our favourite walks is the Pedi Valley walk from Horio to Pedi, across terraced land and past an archeological site, which takes about an hour. This walk can be extended from Pedi, across a headland dotted with oregano and thyme, the signature scent of the island, to St Nicolas Bay, a good swimming and snorkelling bay with a decent taverna. Or there is the 45 minute stroll over the hill at the back of Yialos towards Nimborio, another good swimming bay with an excellent taverna.
But I will leave you with my favourite picture. If I had to pick one thing about Symi which placed it above the vast majority of holiday destinations I would say this; it is a wonderful place to do nothing, to simply sit and contemplate the beauty of nature and the wonders of the world. I leave you with the view from our terrace;
I couldn’t go without mentioning the lavatories.
I was on the transfer coach from the airport on an Air Tours package
holiday years ago with four of my friends and family when the tour guide informed the
coach party that, in Greece, you cannot put toilet paper down the pan. Well, my
auntie, who was perhaps best described as not suffering fools gladly, almost
picked up her suitcase and went home. It was not the best holiday for her. I
think, however, that, once you get used to it it is just as hygienic as flushing paper
away. If you don’t dispose of the paper properly, then you run the risk of having no toilet at all and that would be much worse.