I usually visit Symi in October for one of my annual fixes of island life. This year was no exception, but to prove the point I’ve made several times in previous versions of this blog, you do not need to use the same airline in both directions. In fact you don’t even need to use the same airport, but that’s a topic for another time.
So this year I caught the 05:30 easyJet flight from London Gatwick to Rhodes – on Wednesdays and Fridays (and Mondays in high summer) this allows a same-day ferry connection to Symi. Combined with their night-before baggage drop-off facility and a night in a local hotel, the early start isn’t so fearsome. Despite the use of the dreaded 100-series departure gates (a lengthy hike down windowless corridors, up an endless escalator, on travelators along a high bridge over taxiways, and back down the other side) the plane departed on time, and arrived 20 minutes early into Rhodes. Immigration was fast, baggage reclaim quite reasonable, and I was soon walking through the scrum outside the arrivals doors, out of the terminal, and across the road into one of the large number of waiting taxis.
An unusual route, to avoid roadworks, saw the taxi using the cross-island road through Maritsa to join the main East Coast road, and approach Rhodes Town from the south-east. As there were several hours to wait before the Blue Star Paros was due to leave from the Akandia area of Rhodes Town’s port, I asked to be dropped off at the Mouragio taverna opposite the quay entrance. Here you can have anything from a drink to a full meal, and prices are reasonable.
Around an hour before ferry departure time, I trundled my bag across the road and along the newly built walkway into Akandia port complex. The Blue Star ferries are very large and clearly visible. Their ticket office is sensibly placed just before you reach the actual ferry berth. There’s no need and no point to prebook on Blue Star (though possibly on some other shipping lines) from Rhodes to Symi, their ships hold between 1400 and 2000 people, and at this point in the journey never have more than 300-400 on board. Buy your ticket when you reach the ticket office, they’ll ask for your passport or ID card to make sure they spell your name correctly on the ticket. Walk to the ship (make sure it’s the right ship, the names are in very large letters, and they won’t let you on the wrong one). One of the crew will probably intercept you, ask you your destination and either stow your bag for you in racks labelled with the destination, or show you where the rack is, depending on how many other passengers arrive at the same time. Then show your ticket, they’ll tear off two sections, leaving you with one. Up the escalator, and you’re on the main deck. These ships have lots of decks, including open areas for seaviews, sunshine and smoking. There are cafe-bars both waiter service and counter-service, and either a fast-food outlet or a self service restaurant, depending on which ship is in use.
In an hour and a half, you’ll be in Symi. There are announcements, make your way back down to the entrance, pick up your bag from the racks, and prepare to disembark. This is a mad rush as a couple of hundred people, several motorbikes, cars and trucks, all try to get off as fast as possible, and the crew try to stop them colliding or falling overboard. But very soon you’re on dry land and can relax. In my case, I was greeted by Wendy of Symi Visitor Accommodation, and was immediately on Symi time.
Unfortunately, two weeks later, and I had to leave again. My return flight was booked with British Airways (Club Class, no less) and was in the evening. This allowed me to leave on the afternoon Dodekanisos Seaways Panagia Skiadeni ferry. It is important to allow at least 3 hours between scheduled ferry arrival in Rhodes and scheduled plane departure, preferably more. I had 2 hours 55 minutes, but then I’ve done it so many times before.
Here I did book the ferry a couple of days before with Symi Tours, the local agents, to make sure it wasn’t completely filled with returning day trippers from Rhodes. Same procedure with the bags as on Blue Star, both boarding and alighting. Here with my relatively tight timing I made sure I was right at the front of the mob waiting to get off, because although there are plenty of taxis meeting the arrival, I couldn’t afford to wait for extras to arrive if the ones there all filled up. Yet another roadworks-avoiding route, this time up Monte Smith past the Acropolis and down again to the coast at Ixia. As torrential rain started, the driver was forced to go slower than he probably wished to, but still I got to the airport 2 hours before scheduled departure.
Unusually for a Wednesday or Saturday evening, the airport was merely busy rather than horribly overcrowded. Flight departed on time and arrived into London Gatwick 25 minutes early. In a truly spectacular performance Gatwick got me through UK immigration, and baggage reclaim, into an airport hotel, checked in, and into my bedroom within those 25 minutes, so all settled before I should even have arrived.