Symi Travel News

Latest Travel News for Visitors to Symi by Andy Ward

Symi Greece Travel blog

Posts tagged: Accommodation

The road to Rhodes

So,you’ve finally made it to Rhodes on your way to Symi as an independent traveller. You may have made the journey before on a package holiday, or it may be the first time. Let me help you through the airport, the transfer to Rhodes Town, and the ferry journey.

Rhodes airport is not large, though the terminal building doubled in size when the extension opened last year. In many ways it is a typical Mediterranean holiday airport – right on the coast, because that’s the only plece there was enough flat land to build it, and with no jetbridges to connect the planes to the terminal. There’s room for a couple of domestic flights to park in front of the terminal and allow their passengers to walk across to the arrivals doors, all other flights are parked too far away to walk, or where passengers would be at risk from moving planes or baggage trolleys, so you end up being taken a couple of hundred metres on a bus.As normal in Greece, if you arrive on a domestic flight or one from one of the Schengen Agreement countries you enter through the Schengen doors, otherwise use the Extra Schengen doors which will route  you past Passport Control. A word of warning here, if two Extra Schengen flights arrive in quick succession, especially if one is from outside the EU, this will swamp the police manning the immigration desks and you’ll end up queueing out into the sunshine. Have a hat handy!

There’s no point rushing if you have baggage to reclaim as the baggage hall is one of the unmodernised bits of the airport. There are four conveyors/carousels, and this year there are nice new screens which tell you which one the bags from your flight will appear on, but they don’t say when…. Domestic flights get preferential treatment and 10-15 minute waits are normal for them. Because most international flights are charters, or have large blocks of seats sold to tour operators, planes from different regional airports in the same country are timed to arrive within a few minutes of each other. This makes it easy to organise reps and transfer coaches, but it plays havoc with the airport infrastructure. Three ground handling companies share the work of baggage handling on international flights – Goldair (who also deal with Aegean domestics), Olympic, and Swissport, but with so many flights at once they are at full stretch. I’ve known it take up to 2 hours for the last bag to appear from a flight in peak season.
While you’re waiting for your bags, there are toilets near where you enter the baggage hall, and an ATM (cash machine) on the opposite wall.

If you do have a problem with damaged or missing baggage, the airport information point and the handling agents offices are in the checkin area nearby – walk out of the baggage hall, turn left and go past the car rental desks . The information point is under the spiral staircase, and the handling agents are on the far end wall.

Hopefully all is well and you can therefore walk straight ahead out of the baggage hall, past the meeters and greeters and reps, into the open air. Right in front of you across the drop off area (take care, there’s lots of traffic, it all comes from the left) are the taxis. Normally there are plenty and the fare to Rhodes Town is fixed – currently its 20 euros, though there can be extras (here is the official price list). Occasionally if there is a taxi shortage the drivers, or sometimes even the police, will fill up seats in taxis with other people going in the same direction, When this happens each person (or group) pays the official fare, rather than it being split between them. This is quite legal.

There is also a bus service to Rhodes Town. Now as you come out of the terminal you’ll see signs pointing to a bus stop, which is actually in front of a small planted area between the old and new bits of the terminal building. What isn’t clear is whether this is the stop for buses towards Rhodes Town or towards Paradissi and the other west coast villages.However if you walk up the airport exit road to the main road a few metres away, you should see a bus stop across the main road. This definitely serves Rhodes-bound buses!. The bus timetable is here. If anyone finds out which buses use the stop outside the terminal, please let me know.

Now if you have booked accommodation on Symi through Symi Visitor Accommodation and you are worried by the thought of sorting out taxis or catching the bus, you can pre-book their VIP service and you will be met at the airport and taken to the right place in Rhodes Town to catch your ferry.

This brings me to the next part of the blog, which will be the ferry crossing to Symi.
Incidentally, if you think there’s too much text and not enough pictures in this blog, I agree, and we’re trying to recover the pictures that illustrated the old blog. As they surface, I’ll add them into the posts.

Flying? No thanks!

For those that are concerned that the dreaded volcanic ash may disrupt their journey to Symi, I can assure you that it is possible to get there without catching a plane at all. I do sympathise with this approach having lost 4 days of my spring holiday on Symi to the ash clouds.

If you want to do the whole journey by public transport, which is quite possible as long as you are happy to let the journey itself be part of the holiday experience, the definitive guide is produced on-line by The Man In Seat 61. He shows you how to get to Athens by rail or rail and ferry from many parts of Europe, and the site is updated regularily. I can also recommend it as a resource for long distance rail travel throughout Europe.
Once in Athens, you can catch either ANEK’s Tuesday and Friday overnight departures from Piraeus Port which make their way to Symi lunchtime or early afternoon the following day,en route to Rhodes; or you can catch Blue Star’s much faster overnight service which runs daily and if on time, gets to Rhodes in time to catch the morning departures to Symi (though not on Saturday nights when it leaves later and arrives later). I say if on time because it is risky to assume that these ferries won’t get delayed loading and unloading vehicles at island stops along the way. Hellenic Seaways are also about to enter the Piraeus-Rhodes market with a newly-rebuilt ferry called the Nissos Rodos.

Both ANEK and Blue Star offer a variety of sizes of private or shared cabins, or reclining-seat lounges, or benches on deck. HSW are likely to do the same.

You can of course drive to one of the Italian ports (Venice, Ancona, Brindisi, or Bari) and take your car onboard the ferry to Patras in Greece, drive to Piraeus and catch the ferry to Symi, or Rhodes and then Symi. This is going to be expensive in ferry charges for the car, you’ll spend a lot of time making ferry bookings, and you are then left with the problem of parking it on Symi. If you look at the photos of Symi, you’ll see the problem. Houses climbing up very steep hillsides, with access designed for people and donkeys. This is what gives the place its beauty, but there are very few roads and even fewer parking places for tourists. Driving is really more for those who are seasonal residents of Symi and need to travel with several months worth of belongings, and often, family pets, who will be less stressed by being with “their” people the whole way instead of stuck in an aircraft hold.
To avoid potential problems with customs officers, it is better to stay wholly within the EU or EEA when making the journey (as this way you won’t meet any) – so try to avoid Albania/Bosnia/Croatia/Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia/Montenegro/Serbia unless you have plenty of time, no pets, and are travelling light. The scenery is spectacular, the people friendly, but until some of these countries join the EU (and they are applying) routes through Italy or Bulgaria have many advantages. Certainly ignore the results I got from my Satnav, which routed me from the UK to Turkey, over the Bosphorus Bridge, down to Marmaris, and then Rhodes to Symi, taking (allegedly) 42 hours, presumably not allowing for fuel stops, food stops, delays at borders, or sleep.

Change at Athens – part three – Lounging About

Ever wondered what goes on in those areas of airports called Lounges? Not the main departures area after boarding pass control which is often called the Departure Lounge, everyone who has a boarding pass goes there to get to the gate their plane leaves from, but the more discreet partitioned off areas.

There are VIP (Very Important Passengers) lounges and CIP (Commercially Important Passengers) lounges. I can’t tell you about the VIP ones because I’ve never been able to make my way into one – obviously I’m less important than I thought I was. CIP lounges are available in one way or another to everyone, though.

The most obvious is if you are travelling in First Class/Business Class/Club Class part of the benefit you get from the higher fare is the right to use a CIP lounge to wait in. If you are a very frequent traveller with one airline, or its alliance partners, and belong to its frequent flyers scheme, your membership is upgraded from the basic level (which just gives you points you can exchange for flights) to one of several higher levels which include amongst the privileges the right to use CIP lounges even if travelling in the cheapest seats at the back of the plane. Finally there are ways to buy your way in (legally, that is, bribing the staff might also work in some countries but I don’t suggest you try it in case you end up in the airport police station instead)

So why bother? Well the lounges offer at a minimum free good quality self-service hot and cold drinks, and nibbles such as crisps and biscuits, comfortable seating, a quiet environment to relax or work in, power points for laptops, often free wifi, or computers with internet access. There’s usually television, and magazines and newspapers to read. Lounges in Europe will also provide free alcoholic drinks, these may not be available in Moslem countries, and the US tends to charge extra for them. Some have showers you can use, and some also provide more substantial food at appropriate times of the day, though this is less common than it used to be. If you have two or three hours to kill they are a pleasant way of avoiding the rush and bustle of the main terminal areas.

At Athens there are CIP lounges in both Zone A and Zone B. Some are run by, or on behalf of, individual airlines, who may also accept passengers from other airlines by agreement (for example British Airways have a lounge in Zone A which is also used by passengers flying with Royal Jordanian). There are also lounges run by ground handling companies (these are the companies that contract with airlines to provide all sorts of services from baggage handling to checkin) which smaller airlines tend to use.

In Zone B there are airline lounges operated by Aegean, Alitalia, Lufthansa, and Olympic, and Goldair Handling also have a CIP lounge.

In Zone A British Airways and Olympic have airline lounges, and Swissport Handling also operate a CIP lounge.

The lounges are at the outer end of each zone, furthest from the boarding pass control points.

If you are a higher-grade member of a frequent flyer scheme, you’ll already know all about lounges and which ones you are entitled to use. If you are flying in business class to Rhodes you will be able to use the Aegean or Olympic lounges in Zone B, depending on which of the two you are flying with. On your return home in the same class, you should be told at checkin which lounge is available for you to use, or you should be able to look it up on the airline website.

So for the rest of us who can’t afford business class, what options are there? Well, you can buy access to some of the lounges in advance – the Olympic lounges in both zones, the Goldair lounge in Zone B, and the Swissport lounge in Zone A. If you look on the Internet you will find quite a few companies who will sell this to you, but they all seem to route through to a service called LoungePass (www.loungepass.com).

The fee entitles you to use the lounge you select (at the time you book) for up to 3 hours on the date you booked it for. They all provide snacks, tea, coffee, soft drinks, beers, wine, spirits, comfortable chairs, internet access (though not always wifi), decent airconditioning, televison, magazines or newspapers, and a relaxing atmosphere. The Olympic lounge in Zone B is reputed to have showers as well, but I’ve never checked this out personally.

If your wait at Athens is really long, there is an airport hotel, the Sofitel, literally opposite the terminal. It isn’t cheap, but is of a high standard. You could also get the KTEL bus from the bus stops on the arrivals level to Rafina, which is Athens’ second ferry port, much smaller and quieter than Piraeus, which has some less expensive hotels and what I’m told are very nice fish restaurants on the waterfront. Finally you could go into the city, but make sure you have enough time, and watch out for the heat in high summer.

Incidentally you could also look for pay-as-you-use CIP lounges at your departure airport, many have them. Rhodes, however does not, so you’re stuck with sitting in the main terminal area with the rest of us.

Change at Athens – part two

Continuing with our guide to Athens airport for connecting passengers.
There are two gaps in the line of checkin desks which allow access to the shopping and catering area behind them, and also to the actual departure gates. The central area is still landside (no boarding pass required). This is useful if you have a long connection, no boarding pass for your onward journey, and the checkin desk isn’t open yet – though this is more likely on your return journey where some airlines only open their checkin desks 2-3 hours before departure. Because Olympic and Aegean use single queuing systems, and allow on line checkin from Athens, you are likely to be able to offload your bag and /or pick up a boarding card easily on your way to Rhodes.
The landside area contains two coffee shops/sandwich bars/pastry shops – one Grigoris, one Everest, for connoisseurs of Greek food chains, on the wall behind the checkin, along with a newspaper/book shop, and various other shops. On the opposite area is a food court. To the right is the main entrance with counters supplying pizza, filled baguettes, pasta, Greek specialities, a self service salad bar, coffee machines etc. When you’ve made your choice carry on round to the tills to pay, and on to the seating area. This is shared with a cafe bar that you get to by taking the left hand entrance instead of the right hand one from the main hallway. On the same wall are more shops to either side of the food court, and to the left are lifts and escalators to a mezzanine floor. This has a waiter service restaurant (The Olive Tree – no connection with the Symi business of the same name) and a MacDonalds with a good view of the aircraft. The mezzanine extends across as a bridge over the checkin area creating space for a couple of museum displays, one of archaeological finds made during construction of the airport, and the other dedicated to the Greek statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, after whom the airport is named. Various temporary displays can also be found in this area, and there are stairs back to checkin as well.
Back at the landside area behind the checkin, walk left for access to the B gates, the domestic and intra-Schengen area. You will have to show your boarding pass to get into the area, but according to the airport authorities you can still access it with an A-gate boarding pass, to get to the shops, some of which are different to those in the A-gate area. I have managed to do this sometimes, other times security don’t seem to understand teh airport’s official policy. You can’t do the reverse, and enter the A-gate area ( to the right of the central landside area) after the boarding pass checkpoint, because you come up against the passport control booths almost immediately.
The B-zone airside (after boarding pass control) has more shops, including a better bookshop, the usual selection of Travel Value shops (no duty-free for journeys within the EU) and three cafes selling drinks of all kinds plus cheese pies etc. It also has a reasonable amount of seating, and five executive lounges (see Lounging About, the next post of this blog)
The A-zone is similar, with fewer shops. In theory you can leave the B-zone and return to the central area if you wish, and then enter again later. This doesn’t apply to the A-zone because you will have officially left the country.
Athens airport has the inevitable hand-baggage xray machines and walk-through metal detectors, like all European airports. Less usually, there are separate security checkpoints for each group of gates, and the enforcement of the rules on liquids is rigorous. You need to make sure you have enough time to pass through security and get to the gate before the time boarding is due to start. It can be a long walk to some of the gates as well. Low numbers are nearest the centre of the airport. A-gates numbered in the 30s are in the satellite, allow extra time to get there, and B-gates numbered in the 20s are down one floor and mean you will be taken to the aircraft by bus. This is common, but not universal, for flights to/from Rhodes.
When shopping, if you buy any alcohol or perfumes make sure they are packed in the special tamperproof bags with the receipt showing, or they will be confiscated at security. Bottled water will also be taken off you, along with coffees, frappes, soft drinks etc. I’d recommend also asking for the special bags if you buy soap or cheese, apparently these items look a lot like plastic explosive to the X-ray machine operators and you will get a hand search of your bag, which causes you delay. If you have anything in the special bags, including items bought at other EU airports, put them separately in the plastic trays, not inside other bags, to avoid this.
There are toilet facilities throughout the airport, even in the gate areas, kept very clean, as indeed is the whole terminal.
Once you’ve escaped from security, and put everything back where you want it to be, find the actual gate you want – remember that blocks of gates share security points. Find a seat, and wait for boarding to start. Of course you may be lucky, and find boarding is under way, but they aren’t yet screaming out for you. It is normal for the disabled and families with young children to be boarded first, or at least separately. For your journey to Rhodes you will have an assigned seat number, so there isn’t that much point in rushing to the front as soon as boarding starts anyway, especially if you are going by bus to the aircraft as the last on the bus may well be first off again. When returning home EasyJet, and probably some other low-cost carriers, don’t assign seat numbers, you have people who have paid for priority boarding, and then everyone else, maybe in order of when you checked in if you’re lucky.

Change at Athens – part one

I’ve mentioned connecting at Athens before, this and following posts are meant to be a survival guide to Athens Airport.

Athens airport is still one of the newest in the world. It was opened in 2001 to be ready for the 2004 Olympics and replaced the earlier airport at Hellenikon. I have mixed memories of the old airport – coming off the overnight EasyJet flight from Luton to be greeted by an outsize tabby cat asleep on top of a disused X-ray machine, and an overpowering smell of cigarette smoke – pure Greece. But there were also the days when every flight seemed to be delayed, there was no air conditioning, nowhere to sit, and minimal catering. If that’s what you remember too, have another try with the new airport.

It is designed for function rather than looks – 157 checkin desks in a straight line with just the information desk to break up the perspective looks pretty impressive, though.

There is one main terminal building, a satellite terminal connected to the main one by underground walkway, and a very large number of additional aircraft parking stands with bus transfers to the main terminal. Operationally the terminal is divided into Schengen and Non-Schengen areas. The Schengen area is used for flights to or from countries in the Schengen area, and for domestic flights, and has no immigration or customs control. The non-Schengen zone is for everywhere else, and includes the satellite terminal, it has immigration controls, and customs officers are around when flights arrive from outside the EU. There are separate baggage reclaim areas for the two zones. The remote parking stands can serve either zone, depending on which one the bus arrives at/departs from.

When you arrive in either zone you will spend a fair amount of time walking through passages and eventually arrive at one of the transfer desk areas. These are staffed only sporadically, and are meant to handle passengers connecting on through tickets who haven’t got the boarding pass for the next flight. If you have arrived on an Olympic or Aegean flight and are connecting onto another one, you’ll almost certainly have been given boarding passes for both flights at your original airport, but there are combinations of airlines where through tickets can be issued but the first airline can’t issue boarding passes for the second one. You’ll also need the transfer desk if you have a boarding pass but your arriving flight is so late you have missed the connection, and want them to put you on a later departure.

Otherwise, avoid the desk, but note the large display screens nearby which show the departure gate numbers for the next 30 or so flights, you can see where you need to make for. Gates prefixed A are in the Non-Schengen area, B-gates are Schengen/domestic. There are shortcut transfer routes from the transfer desk area that take you to the departures area bypassing the baggage reclaim area, but I find it easier to go straight ahead (through immigration in Zone A) to the baggage hall, even if I don’t have a bag to collect. If you’re in Zone A you’ll need to pass through immigration to officially enter Greece – there are desks on the bypass route too, but many more on the main route. Baggage return is pretty quick compared to many airports.

If you do have a problem the baggage enquiry desks are against the wall – just look for the one with the sign for the airline you’ve arrived on.

There are plenty of trolleys around, but you have to pay for using them, you’ll need Euro coins. As my bag has wheels I don’t know how much the trolley fee is.

Once you are ready to move on, the exit doors are opposite the baggage belts, not all the sets of doors will be available at quiet times in the Non-Schengen zone to economise on customs officers.

Leaving the baggage hall, you enter the public area of the terminal, and there will be the usual meeters and greeters. You are in a long passageway. Straight in front is the way out of the building to the bus stops, the taxi rank, and, by crossing the road, the railway/metro station.

Along the passageway are car rental desks, two banks with ATM cash machines, a Post Office, and various shops including a florists. At the extreme Zone A end is a left-luggage company which will store bags for you at a price. This could be useful if you have a really long connection and want to go into the city.

On the same side as the baggage hall you’ve just left there are several sets of lifts and escalators to the departures level. To get to the lifts you need to go through glass double doors into one of the lift lobbies. These look like you’re entering offices, which can put people off.

As you enter Departures you see the famous 157 checkin desks in front of you, with the main airport information counter in the centre. Aegean uses a block of desks to the left of the information counter, while Olympic are on the right. Both companies have separate desks for business class passengers, and others for economy passengers who have checked in on line and just need to hand over their baggage. The main economy checkin queue snakes through sets of moveable barriers to feed into several (up to 15 at busy times) desks which handle all flights. Now keen followers of this blog (are there any) may remember that last year I said there were 3 airlines operating between Athens and Rhodes – where is the third one? Well, at the time I wrote that Athens Airways flew twice a day to Rhodes, but a combination of having higher costs than the competition because of the type of aircraft they chose to use, and a desire to take part in the subsidised route scheme with guaranteed income, has caused their Rhodes service to disappear. As Aegean and Olympic manage 9 flights every day between them, this isn’t too much of a problem.