Tholos restaurant, Symi, Greece.
Waiting for good friends to join me for dinner.
A glass of wine and the evening traffic keep me entertained.
I’ve written about this restaurant before.
My three days on Symi are nearing an end, so I’m back at Elpida’s for ship’s biscuit – my boat sails in four hours and this time I’m going to be prepared. I’ve been able to keep my room until I leave for Rhodes, as usual. An Italian couple, who were supposed to take it today, took one look at it when they arrived on the morning boat and fled, making horrified noises. Truly, I did nothing to occasion this reaction. Really, truly.
It’s been a good, long weekend. When I arrived, it was on choppy seas so decided to spend the day in the harbour area, swim from the steps below the room, and relax. Just after settling down outside the room to read in the shade, two people (one man, one woman) ran past me at high speed. Given the afternoon temperature of 35 degrees (Celsius, US readers) and that I was perched at the top of one flight of vertiginous steps, with another two flights to clear to reach the top road, I was very impressed at their haste.
The need for speed was explained when an overweight man in yellow polo shirt (sartorial mistake), with two black pouch bags slung around him, appeared, far less swiftly, at the bottom of the steps. He whispered at me and gesticulated. I thought ‘weirdo alert’ and studiously ignored him. This did not work. He came up another two steps and said, louder and slowly: ‘Where. Are. You. From?’ I replied by pointing in the direction of Rhodes. Encouraged by this, he then said: ‘Do. Not. Worry. I. Am. Tax. Man’. Why Marvel comics did not feature this character became apparent when he puffed his way level with me and pointed in the direction of the long gone runners. I am told that arrests were made and that ‘Tax. Man’ and his colleagues have now left The Rock. In any case, yesterday still had to happen – so it did.
Saturday night, I’d spent time with friends discussing ‘What-do-we-do-if-it’s-still-choppy-out-there-tomorrow?’ I wondered if it was going to be another day swimming from the steps with ‘Tax. Man’ haunting the streets, while listening to Man U supporters sobbing into their beer. As it turned out, Sunday was plain sailing, so I headed to Agia Marina with two friends and we had a splendid time – catching the last boat back as the sun set behind The Rock. We did get soaked in the boat. We did not sing sea shanties (I was restrained).
In the evening, I ate late at Tholos – once again trying to be the last to order and once again being beat by a Greek couple. Close to midnight, a helicopter entered the harbour area and went straight to the landing pad – it emerged that a local restaurateur had suffered a heart attack and needed to be taken to hospital urgently. Luckily, he had received emergency medical attention on The Rock and the helicopter arrived in time to make a difference. I heard today that the patient is in a stable condition in hospital in Rhodes and that he may be moved to Athens for further treatment. Another reminder of the fragility of living on The Rock and the need for speed.
I wrote this for axrhodes on 02/09/2013
Yes, it’s not hot enough for me in Rhodes Old Town, so I’ve swapped cobblestones for steps and am spending the weekend on Symi. My feet are happy, my calf and thigh muscles in shock. There’s no special occasion, it was simply high time I took the trip – so I did. This report is coming to you from Εlpida’s cafe – from her front row seats for the few super yachts which can squeeze into the harbour – in a rare space of peace and relative quiet (no shouting, yet).
My Symi weekends start on Saturday night and end on Monday afternoon – thanks to Dodecanese Seaways’ current schedule. I leave Rhodes on Saturday at 19.00 and am usually in Symi by 19.50. Although this weekend there was a switch of boat and harbour and arrival time to 20.45, this still will impress those of you reading who remember the halcyon days of the Symi I (more than two hours, even with a following wind, and seamanship to rival Captain Pugwash – enough said). I return on the 17.00 boat – back in Rhodes by 18.30 on Monday. These days, two nights every few weeks is just about right for me.
When the boat pulls into the harbour, I still get a buzz from the view on deck. It’s one of those skylines in the world which never tires, for me, along with (say) London from the air, Colchester from the train and San Francisco from the sea. What gives me an even greater boost is knowing that my room is only five minutes’ walk from where the boat docks and, even better, there are few steps to reach it. I stay in the butcher’s wife’s rooms – Stamatia’s place.
My room has a view – all of Stamatia’s rooms have a view. It is of the sea and yachts and Turkey and my favourite restaurant (more on that later). It is set back a little from the main drag and attracts photo-hungry tourists. I’m not sure why, but it does mean that I have to be careful when going outside to remember that it’s not secluded or private (nowhere on Symi is private) and to make sure I’m decent (well, as close as, for an Essex girl).
Saturday night I’m a latchkey kid – the key is left in the door for me, I see myself in, wash, change clothes and head out. I say hello, take in some of the sights and sounds, block out some of the others, smile broadly at anyone on an expensive yacht who looks remotely sentient and go to the Vapori for a drink – I just have one for the road back round the harbour before yachties and ‘regular visitors’ arrive.
‘Regular visitors’ are a type of tourist who eschew that term – Symi and Lindos in this region, in particular, attract them. You know, they’re the ones who’ve been here 394 times (not counting that first time they came on a daytrip from Rhodes – a place they now claim to loathe) and are best friends with simply all the people who matter (but still can’t understand or use the language their best friends speak).
On Sunday (that’s today), I head out to a beach on a boat. Recently, I’ve developed a serious Agia Marina habit. That doesn’t look like it’s going to change today and I’ll probably take the 11.00 boat. Sometimes I have company, sometimes I don’t – either way it works – today, I’m waiting for a call to find out whether a friend will join me on the beach or if we’ll just meet for dinner tonight.
Monday, the furthest I’ll go is Pedi or Nimborios – push comes to shove, I can walk back from both even when the heat is blistering; because I have a boat to catch and can’t be too careful. In the morning, I walk round the harbour to have a final catch up, before heading to the butcher’s to pay. Now, here’s the thing – I could leave the money in my room, I could hand the money to Stamatia when I see her in the harbour, I could leave the money with a friend to pay when they go to buy meat, but I don’t. I really enjoy going into the butcher’s to pay the money over the blood and carcasses. It gives me a buzz – money, blood and meat. Something visceral about it. Maybe I spent too long in Sicily?
Anyway, back to dinner, my favourite restaurant, there’s another thing. After my one drink at the Vapori, I walk right the way back round the harbour, past my room, through the boatyard and on to Tholos. That is where I eat. Yes, there are loads of other restaurants to choose from – up hill and down dale, prices to suit all budgets, food to suit most tastes – but Tholos is the only place, for me. If someone asked me to describe my perfect place to eat, I would describe Tholos. Here’s why.
Location, location, location – it’s on the point at the far end of the harbour, bringing breeze and (some) peace away from the main drag. It is on the water’s edge – your dinner may be swimming at your feet and you may feed your dinner to someone else’s (future)dinner. Style – less is more. There’s no music; you can hear the sea, the wind and each other when you speak. Plain white table linen and crockery and simple, effective lighting – no walls, it’s all outside, so the decoration is the view (from all sides). Service – polite, discreet, effective, unobtrusive. Food – cooked on site, from fresh – understood and treated (as are those who eat it) with respect. I never look at the menu – food is suggested, I agree. And it’s a family affair.
I am always happy when I’m there – if I could choose where I had my last meal on this earth, that’s where it would be. I’d die smiling and haunt for second helpings.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the noise levels and heat have increased here at the cafe and I have a boat to catch.
First published on axrhodes on 21/07/2013
My favourite Agia Marina is still the small bay on Symi – there the blues are as blue as they could be. Over ten years ago, the land there was bought by an Italian woman and her husband and they set about developing it at great personal cost (in many ways). What they created, and now lease to others who have added their own touches, is a great place to relax, eat, and play sport – as well as swim, of course.
I visited several times last year and plan to do so again soon, in time for the name day of Agia Marina on 17 July, but the visit I remember most fondly is one in September on the weekend of the blue moon. I went with a friend and her son and it was such a perfect day I doubt anything could have been added to improve it. It’s possible to walk to the bay, but the boat trip is part of the whole experience and means you can arrive feeling fresh and having seen those blues up close already. So, we went by boat.
We took beds and a parasol under the trees at the far end of the beach. Then we swam – I like to swim to the small islet in the middle of the bay and go for a walk there. This time I swam there with my friend’s son. Almost at the islet, wordlessly, we both stopped to tread water and look around. We could smell the dry herbs from the bay behind us and see the small chapel on the islet, but what had stopped us were the blues.
Such blues. He had plans to study abroad and I was about to leave for California. However, right there, right then, those blues we agreed were unique and would stay with us – to join whatever colour palette we put together on our travels. He swam back to the beach and I carried on to the islet, had my walk and swam back around the yachts, through the sea clear as glass.
We then ate food I still can’t quite believe I had – it was so good. The way it looked on the plate, the tastes (expected and unexpected – all a joy) and the smells. Luckily, my friend took pictures or I’d still believe I’d dreamt it. Then it was off to dodge hornets while playing table tennis – personally, I think my game improved as a result (fear of being stung, maybe). All the time, there was a soundtrack of light jazz, people chatting and children playing. Eventually, I caught as late a boat back to the main harbour as I dared, leaving just enough time to catch the night boat back to Rhodes.
This was first posted on axrhodes on 17/07/2013