Travelling on impulse is a nightmare for some, impossible for others and for us an experiment and a night of fun. We’d heard that the Symi shrimp festival was taking place on Sunday night and decided to just go for it.
Doing some research before travelling is always a good idea, 2 days before we checked the ferry times. There’s two companies that service Symi Dodekanisos and Blue Star. For our trip we needed to leave late afternoon arrive in time for the festival then come back to Rhodes in the morning.
Going away on impulse is almost impossible with 3 cats and a dog we could only do it for a short overnight without needing to enlist anyone to help with the animals. Luckily Dodekanisos have a boat the Panagia Skiandeni that fitted our itinerary, leaving Rhodes at 7.15pm on Sunday and returning 7am Monday morning. We would arrive just after the start of the festival up in Chorio the main village above the harbour.
Unable to buy a ticket before the trip we didn’t decide until the last minute we were going. We drove 46km up to Rhodes main port in the hope that the ferry wouldn’t be fully booked. We arrived a hour before the ferry was due to depart, receiving service with a smile form the woman in the ticket office. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, this is Greece and the printer decided to play up but it was soon fixed and we were ready to go.
The ferry arrived on time, many others things in Greece may run at a relaxed pace but the ferries are run with precision and timing that even the German’s would admire. Now the disembarkation of passengers is a confused mess of madness as everyone and everything comes off at the same time and then seems to come to a stop and they all just stand around wondering what to do next. With cars and people all confused it’s amazing there isn’t an accident, but with a few people in uniforms waving arms within minutes they’ve all made their way and we can get on board.
The trip to Symi took an hour and a half, enough time for a frappe, sandwich or a gin and tonic the choice is yours. There was a little people watching too and the view of the Turkish coastline as we got nearer to Symi.
Arriving on time at 8.45 the harbour was bustling. There were people meeting friends and family waving frantically to each other. The reps from hotels with signs straining their necks to work out which passenger might be theirs. We picked our way through the taxi’s, mopeds and people pulling suitcases to see the harbour at night. All the shops and restaurants were lit up the owners looking at the new arrivals hoping for some passing trade. The harbour was lined with pretty yachts and expensive boats all lit up and looking magical.
We’d arrived but really had no plan about the evening. We knew the festival was in Chorio and had contacted some friends to try and meet up while we were there but that was it. We decided to stop at a bar for a gin & tonic watch the people walking around the harbour, text our friends and then decide how to proceed.
There are two ways to get to the Chorio you can walk up the Kali Strata a set up steps that meander their way up, though with allegedly over 300 hundred of them you might prefer to take the road. We decided on the bus it drops you off near the windmills at the top and then you walk along into Chorio coming out right near the square. It’s €1.50 each for the trip and much easier on the feet. If you don’t want to wait around there’s also a taxi rank.
As we walked into Chorio the festival music directed us in, turning the corner onto the Kali Strata the tavernas and bars was full of people. The place was alive with music, laughter, dancing and more people than we’d ever seen in one place in Symi.
The square was packed with chairs all full of a mixture of locals and holiday makers. A band were playing and there was lots of dancing. A couple of local dance groups were there in costume but mainly it was everyone joining in and having fun. We’d missed the shrimps as those were grilled before we got there. Though that didn’t really matter we were there for the atmosphere, the shrimps we could have another time.
For the next couple of hours we watched the dancing, met up with our friends James and Neil, were introduced to a few new people, had a couple of drinks and watched the festival go by.
It was close to midnight and we decided to try and get a bite to eat. Our friends needed to head home for the night as they had work in the morning. We headed to Georgio & Maria’s taverna in the hope that they were still cooking, we’d been before and knew the food was good. We greeted warming with assurances we could eat and by their very own little festival taking place inside. We took seats at the far end over looking the restaurant where we could watch the dancing and live music.
Considering it was midnight we were hoping to order a couple of mezes but were surprised by a wonderful meal. We started with their delicious homemade hummus and some bread followed by meat cooked slowly and to perfection, I had pork in mustard sauce and D had the goat.
An hour and a half later, people were starting to leave and the staff were trying to clear away. We paid our bill, I weaved through the dance floor and we went just up the hill for an after dinner coffee and ouzo at Lefteris’ kafenion where there were still a few customers.
It was 2am and we still had 5 hours before the ferry was due to leave, we’d been told there was a late night bar a little further up the hill on the right. We found Jean and Tonic bar was indeed open and it would have been wrong to go there and not have gin & tonic. We followed that with a frappe, our days of drinking until dawn were over when we left Dubai and we were slightly concerned about falling asleep somewhere and missing the ferry!
Not wanting to consume any more drink or food, we bought a couple of bottles of water and headed down to the harbour. This time we walked down the Kali Strata taking it slowly it was a good test of the old knees and happily one that they past! We were very glad of the small torch I always carry in my handbag. Around the villages we have very little street lights and I’ve learnt my lesson about holes in the road in the dark so always carry a torch. The steps down aren’t lit well and in places there’s no street lighting at all.
We eventually got down to the harbour and had been told there might be a bar open late. It was just closing up for the night but let us use the bathroom. Just as well as there are no public bathrooms in Symi. We then headed around to where the ferry was and found a bench to wait for dawn.
Morning soon arrived and the day slowly lightened from around 5.30 it was beautiful to see the harbour at the that time of day. A couple of yachts untied and headed out I imagined them heading off to somewhere interesting and out of the way. The sun was just coming over the hill as the ferry left for Rhodes.
It was a great evening, good to see the festival and catch up with friends. Very last minute and not something we do very often any more. Would we go again? Yes, why not, although maybe next time get someone to look after the animals and stay over properly. We can still do the all night thing but prefer the comfort of a bed and a good nights sleep!
Trying to find out when things like festivals happen on these islands is pot luck. We only found out about this one by accident. If you’re interested in knowing what’s happening in Symi keep an eye on Symi Visitor and Symi Dream both sites will post if and when they hear about things.