Symi Travel News

Latest Travel News for Visitors to Symi by Andy Ward

Symi Greece Travel blog

Posts tagged: Symi

“Symi” ferry confusion and breakdown continues.

"Symi" on a day when she was in working order. The Nikolaos X is making a rare visit to the South side of the harbour.

Sea Dreams have now issued another new timetable which says that the Symi ferry is out of service until 23 June 18 June, along with a reprint of the “normal” timetable which says it starts on 23 June18 June. So is it running on 18 June 23 June or not? The booking system suggests it is not.

And the reprinted bit hasn’t corrected any of the mistakes. So a ferry leaves Rhodes at 19:00 on a Saturday night, arrives at Symi at 21:00 and stays over night. Mysteriously we find it next at Rhodes on Sunday morning. On a Monday morning a sailing departs Symi at 06:30 for Rhodes, but on Sundays the sailings finish up at Rhodes overnight. So my advice remains – make no arrangements involving travelling on the “Symi” until she returns to service, and the errors in the timetable are sorted out. You can’t book anything but the regular Rhodes-Symi-Panormitis-Rhodes sailings anyway, though these (from 19 June onwards) are bookable as day return, one way, or open return.

UPDATE 10/6/17 – the return to service date is now 24 June, according to their online booking system.

Cheap breaks to Symi

The boss of Symi Visitor Accommodation, Wendy Wilcox, has asked me to suggest a few cheap flights that might help people to spend a few days in Symi this October.
Of course Wendy or Adriana are the go-to people to discuss somewhere to stay when you get there, but then you wouldn’t have found the blog without knowing that!

So from the UK, Thomson Airways are offering flights to Rhodes and back for under £200:
14 nights away from London Stansted from £109, departing 1 October;
11 nights from London Luton for £115, same date;
14 nights from East Midlands for £179, departing 4 October

These prices are obviously the last few unsold seats, and are the base prices, you’ll need to look up the baggage charges and any seat reservation costs you may need.

Thomas Cook don’t have the same cheap flight finding tool,
but you can for instance find flights from Manchester to Rhodes for 14 nights departing 4 October from £209; and London Gatwick to Rhodes for 14 nights departing 2 October from £161.

It is mainly the airlines who are part of the package tour industry that sell off seats cheaply near the departure date, those that aren’t see a gradual increase in the fares available until close to departure, when the fare shoots up.
That said, Aegean Airlines can find you flights from Heathrow to Rhodes and back for £210 for 12 nights leaving on 10 October connecting in Athens, and they still supply passengers with food and drink included in the fare.
Same general warning about baggage charges applies to Thomas Cook and Aegean as do to Thomson.

What about the “Low Cost” airlines? Well their prices go up closer to departure too. It’s easy to find outbound flights from the UK to Rhodes for £50, but the journey back is more like £160 (because people who have been in the Dodecanese all summer are now returning).

So why not spend a few minutes checking airline websites (don’t use on-line travel agents, quite often the prices you see are already sold out, and they don’t tell you until after you’ve paid!) and see if like me you can get to Symi in October.

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.