Ah, Symi – that last of the islands we’re visiting, and perhaps the most picturesque, particularly the harbor at Gialos, with its custard-colored neoclassical villas lining the hillside, and its stunning beaches with turquoise and emerald water set against dramatic cliffs. We took a water taxi to Agia Marina beach, which had water so crystal clear that I could see the ocean floor more than 10′ below me. Elise urged me to swim across to the tiny island with her, where she had a blast doing cannonballs off the pier.
Later, we visited Nanou Beach, which had tame goats and a dreamy, tree-shrouded beachside cafe. I floated endlessly in the emerald water, listening to the pebbles rolling over each other with each gentle wave (underwater, it sounded like the crushing of ice), while Elise developed her water ballet routine in honor of the Olympics.
In the evening, we passed Agios Georgios beach on the way back, where one last glorious sliver of light electrified the turqouise water.
Back in Gialos, we climbed the 500-step Kali Strata to reach a hillside restaurant. It’s not one monstrous staircase favored by fitness buffs like my sister Lisa Ollmann Mair, but a few steps followed by a stretch of flat road, followed by a few steps, and so on, so the guidebook’s description of it as “calf-crunching, knee-knobbling” made me assume the writer had never tackled the likes of the Samari Gorge trek – for which the description would have been much better suited. From the bay, the villas on the hillside look so tidy, but up close, many are windowless and roofless, with weeds as tall as me. I wish no hardship on anyone, but the photographer in me simply loved the decripitude.
Back down along the harbor, a lady selling all manner of sponges plunged a few into a bucket of water and then squeezed them dry so we could feel their texture. One’s apparently good for the face, another for skin conditions, another for “females” (she didn’t elaborate), and still another for household cleaning. I suppose I should have bought one, but when I learned from intrepid traveler James H. Bluck that their black exterior must first be broken off and their milky guts squeezed out to make them useable, I couldn’t really bring myself to buy one.