Efcharisto (Thank You) Greece! Buongiorno, Italia!

We had our last night in Greece in the small harbour Ormous Ammou on the Nisos Othoni.  There on this small outer island, north of Corfu, one would have found a Venetian lighthouse and medieval fortress, with views over to Albania. We had two days on Corfu with Ric and Sandy, what was one highlight you ask? The boys might say it was watching Lateen rigged boats sail on Corfu harbour. Once the sail was in they rowed. How would Davo go with all that weight?

Lateen Rigged Boat - Corfu Harbour
Lateen Rigged Boats – Corfu Harbour

We had time to sit on board and think about how much we enjoyed Greece, how hospitable the people were, how beautiful the harbors and bays are.   Its history is the history of Western democracies. I feel the connection all the way back to Athena and Aphrodite and the Virgin Mary. The food is superb and fresh fruits and veggies are so ripe and wonderful.

North Corfu beaches
North Corfu beaches

All through this trip, we have wondered if there would be trouble travelling in Greece, with the IMF and Angela breathing down Greek’s neck. We haven’t had one difficulty, not with diesel or ATM’s or any of the myriad problems that travel agents in Europe had been forecasting like ancient Jocastas.

Sail past Albania
Sail past Albania

 

So my take is: visit Greece, it is inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe, it has something for everyone and it is beautiful.  The food is wonderful and so are the people.

leaving Greece at daybreak
leaving Greece at daybreak

 

Today we have sailed across to Santa Maria di Leuca, Italia. Usually we are on the lookout for ships, lobster pots and dolphins, but today we narrowly missed hitting a tree.  Ok, afterwards we reassessed “tree” and think maybe it was a big shrub, but it seemed to pop up as we glided right by it. It was quite strange but we think a storm might have taken it off a cliff and it was floating just below the surface until we went by.  Soon after, beautiful dolphins did come and play with us jumping up two by two for several minutes.  We think they were saying “Buongiorno”.

Spanakopita

If you send Sandy and Gaila off to get a loaf of bread; you will find a loaf of bread, apple tarts and spanakopita for lunch in the bag. Add a few cucumbers, tomatoes and tzatziki and you have a wonderful lunch.

The food here in Greece has been great, although you have to be lucky with tavernas. The food has ranged from average to excellent, but we are winning. Everything is so inexpensive and the fruit and tomatoes are exquisite in flavor. The nascent wine industry is getting better and we have tried Greek bottles of wine that were surprisingly drinkable.

Sandy and Ric on the bridge at Lefkas
Sandy and Ric on the bridge at Lefkas

We haven’t seen a dolphin but we have had some great sunsets, thunderheads and we did see a double rainbow. The double rainbow which is a lovely omen as our time draws to a close in Greece. Ric and Sandy are planning to go to experience the magic of Meterora before heading back to Sydney’s chilly climes. They will probably bring the warm weather back with them.

Sunny warm Greece
Sunny warm Greece

We have sailed through salt flats at Lefkas, past Cleopatra’s ignominious retreat at Preveza, had a swim at Paxos walked through alleys and into churches.

Sunset
Sunset

Now we are at Corfu and soon we have to leave Greece. Now there is a sad thought, where can we get Spanakopita in Sydney?

Paxos garden
Paxos garden note the barnacle covered airplane propeller

Happy Birthday to my sister, Linda. Enjoy!

Zakynthos with Friends

One morning in April, we were having coffee with Sandy and Ric Lawson at the Careening Cove room. They had met fellow Squadron members and Mediterranean sailors, Arti and Dimitri (Artemis V) at a RSYS Cruising Experience meeting and invited us to meet them for a coffee. This turned out to be a great plan.

If you like cruising, hearing about other cruisers’ experiences can be beneficial in so many ways. You can learn about the best ports and anchorages, how to avoid a pitfall, new equipment and even which is the good restaurant or supermarket. Talking over coffee or wine about a shared passion is a veritable icebreaker. Let me assure you, sailing in the Mediterranean is a true passion and yesterday proves how effective a meeting over coffee can be.

Shipwreck Bay
Shipwreck Bay

Just let me go back a few days, Ric and Sandy met James and I in the Peloponnese harbour of Katakolon. The next morning we motored over to Zakynthos and made plans to meet Arti and Dimitri the next day, upon their arrival from Cephalonia in the afternoon.

Zankynthos is a beautiful island, so we hired a car and drove north. First we drove over hairpin turns to Kampi, which overlooks Schiza Bay, for a coffee. We saw a sign pointing us to Mycenaean tombs, which were carved out of rock on a hillside overlooking a verdant valley.

We continued up to the lookout of Shipwreck Bay. Here the limestone cliffs fall down to aqua milky water and a beach the colour of cream below. It is a place of incredible beauty, which always leaves me full of joy.

James on edge,
James on edge,

In the afternoon, back in Zante town, we see that Artemis is tied to the town quay and we go and say hello and make plans for dinner. Drinks on Mercier, Giostra di Zante – a local festival of Aeolian and Ionian dancers and then dinner.

Guistra di Zante
Giostra di Zante –

Take it from me there is nothing better than Greek friends taking you to a Greek restaurant. We had local food: wild greens, briam, melanese, rabbit,beef, cockerel and pork. This was Yiayia’s cooking.

James, Gaila, Arti, Dimitri, Sandy and Ric
James, Gaila, Arti, Dimitri, Ric & Sandy

We had local music too and before they turned the lights out the ladies were being shown how to dance – in a Greek style. We might just have to find a Greek restaurant in Sydney.

Greek Dance lessons
Greek Dance lessons

Fair winds and good sailing to Artemis V. Arti and Dimitri, we think you should have joined us.

Kalamata, Mystra and the Mani

We sailed from Porto Kayio to Kalamata on Friday to Kalamata Marina, the first marina we had seen since Agio Nikolas in Crete.  It is wonderful, with a wonderful taverna and the best AB supermarket we have seen.

Kalamata is in the Mani, a ‘state or province’ in the Peloponnesse. The Mani is abundantly beautiful, with Mountains creating a ridge down the spine. Mount Taygetos is about 7800 feet, so comparable with Aspen and the drive from Kalamata to Mystra brings to my imagination what the Leadville Road out of Aspen circa 1950, would be like. Hairpin turns, sheer cliffs, boulders fallen onto the road the size of bowling balls.

Road to Mystra
Road to Mystra

So yes, I am turning into my Mother, James’ Mother and mothers everywhere, when I tell you there was a dent in the floor where my brakes would be. Sheer fright! No photos because I was too busy holding on and there was no where to pull over.

I am not familiar with this area of Greece, but I am enchanted with it. So you can learn along with me.  Visit http://www.maniguide.info/  and read about this incredible hidden peninsula. Google: Mani.

Mystra
Mystra

We drove to Mystra to visit its Byzantine fortress and monasteries. This is the Sparta you may not have heard about. Medieval intrigue and the Crusades meant a fortress was needed but in this case, it wasn’t the Venetians but the Franks. There still seems to be some nuns here in one of the Monasteries and the buildings were beautiful.

Mystra
Mystra

We left after hours of walking. Even with tour buses full of people, the site is so vast that you are virtually walking by yourself only occasionally passing another person.

Fresco
Fresco

We decided to drive back to Kalamata by way of Gythion, a lovely harbour, where they are building a much larger breakwater and then to Diros.  This followed the same route we had sailed up so we could visit Aghia Nikolas, Stoupa and many other small villages.  The views from the escarpments were superb.

View of Mani Coastline
View of Mani Coastline

 

 

Kythera, Porto Kayio and Eleafonisos

From the Roman times and perhaps earlier, sailing from Crete to Kythera and the Peloponnese has been fraught with gusty winds and wild waves.  We left Crete a day early and early in the morning to beat the encroaching low weather system to Kythera.

It was an ten hour sail to Avelomona, southern Kythera but there were local boats in the small, crowded harbour. We decided as it was getting windy to press on to Dhiakofti. As we approached the ferry harbour of Dhiakofti, we saw the wreck of a cargo ship implanted on the side of an islet.  We were feeling very sensible about getting there in good weather.

wreck off the entrance to Dhiakofti
Wreck off the entrance to Dhiakofti

There is a ferry wharf at Dhiakofti and there was a space for us to tie up. There are stores and rent a cars there too, but they only open when the ferry comes in. Within thirty minutes of mooring, the winds were coming in at over 25-30 knots. We were happy to be tied up in the quiet harbour. The next day, James rode the bike into town and as it was Wednesday, every business was closed for the day. No taverna or mini-mart, no hotel or cafe, no one walking around or working in their gardens, it was incredibly quiet.

We departed on a grey Thursday morning for the lovely island of Elafonisos. A small harbour and a glorious beach, but the water temperature was only 20 degrees, a bit chilly on this early morning.

Elafonisos beautiful beaches
Elafonisos beautiful beaches

Given the weather, we pressed on to Porto Kayio, a small, snug harbour in the Peloponnese, the taverna here was open with two other boats from Australia, two from Germany and one each from Sweden, France and England.

Porto Kayio
Porto Kayio

Today we sailed up the coast to Kalamata, after sailing past the cape Ak Tainaron. In ancient times, it was called Tenaron, the entrance to the Underworld.Barren and empty,we were more taken with the mountains behind the hilly, green coastline.

Verdant Pelonpponese
Verdant Pelonpponese

I can see why Nero wanted to build the Corinth Canal. In the future, we will sail through the canal and visit these harbours on ferries. It is definitely worth visiting but it is a tough sail.

Chilling in Chania

Sometimes it takes a combination of elements to bring out the best in a place, a person or a task.

Cania seems to bring the three elements of Greek: Xania, Ottoman Turkish: Hanya and Venetian: Canea to create the superb town of Chania.

We ate in wonderful restaurants, walked Venetian fortresses, visited the mosques and the churches.  One Venetian palazzo was roofless but housed a quirky restaurant with trees growing in the midst of the tables.  The streets are narrow and winding, reminding us that a narrow windy path is easier to defend against pirates.  Pirates like the dreaded Barbarossa had a cave full of followers and ships not far away.

narrow lanes, Old Town Chania
Narrow lanes, Old Town Chania

We walked the Venetian Breakwater, that was full of fisherman, families taking walks out to the lighthouse and a film crew filming a soap opera or ad.

Barbara watching the fishermen on Venetian breakwater.
Barbara watching the fishermen on Venetian breakwater.

The town was so beautiful that we weren’t without cameras in our hands.

photogenic Chania
photogenic Chania

Barbara, wisely, decided to return home from Chania rather than sail to Kythera with us. So far we haven’t seen a ferry.  We had a wonderful dinner one street back from the waterfront.

Restaurants and bars are great in Chania,
Restaurants and bars are great in Chania, Barbara’s farewell dinner

The sunset was wonderful and James left the boat to go and take this photo of the Venetian Lighthouse.

Chania Twilight
Chania Twilight

Chania gave us a warm welcome and I can forsee a visit to Crete without a yacht to walks its gorges and canyons and see the middle and southern part of the island.

Rethymnon and the Venetian Fortress

In his book, Crete – A Notebook, Richard Clark, talks about Rethymnon being the Serene City.  Certainly, after the busyness of Irakleion, it is delightful.

Here is a city where the Venetian and Turkish heritage and architecture are still standing. You can see the old buildings and the narrow streets and walk thru Il Fortezza.  You can see the wooden balconies of Turkish and imagine the women of the harem, looking down on city streets through the shutters and feeling part of the life of the city.

Fortezza Venetian fortress c1573, architect Pallavicini
Fortezza Venetian fortress c1573, architect Pallavicini

The town began in the Mycenanean era and went into a decline. In the early 13th century, The Venetians, in their usual style, found a harbour and built a town around it. They had an uncanny sense of good harbours that could be protected and defended. Their colonies seemed to be bring prosperity to the locals and Venetians alike. The Fortezza was built as a fortress against pirates, like Barbarossa.

The city finally fell to the Turks in 1646 and they built a wonderful mosque on the site of the church Ayios Nikolas.

Barbara in the Sultan Ibrahim Han
Barbara in the Sultan Ibrahim Han mosque
James in the Complex of Magazines, which was a large storage area at the Fortezza
James in the Complex of Magazines, which was a large storage area at the Fortezza

In the tiny streets we came across a wonderful bakery Michalis Spanoudakis’s offered a fairy land of baked bread in the shape of animals.  The dolphins is my favourite.

 Michalis Spanoudakis's bakery
Michalis Spanoudakis’s bakery

Our verdict: Rethymno is a charming town.

Our journey so far:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zkkfRzDGj2mE.kO4m-3hTL-cs

Knossos – home of the Minotaur

Do you remember the myth of Theseus slaying the Minotaur? The Minotaur was half bull – half man and liked to feast on the children of Greece. The children who were good gymnasts could stay alive by leaping over the bulls back, but in the end Theseus slayed the Minotaur and escaped the Labyrinth. There is conjecture that the Palace of Knossos was the labyrinth because it was so large and had so many rooms and corridors.

The frescoes are painted in rich, vibrant colours.  They are so large and bright, their effect is visceral. The buildings are almost modern in construction. Here are some photos.

The Throne Room at Knossos
The Throne Room at Knossos

 

Charging bull fresco shows the building shape
Charging bull fresco shows the building’s modern shape
Olive groves flourish in the volcanic soil
Olive groves flourish in the volcanic soil
Minoan Crete fresco, circa 1700 bc
Minoan Crete fresco, circa 1700 bc
The Charging Bull fresco
The Charging Bull fresco

One’s eyes are drawn to the green in the distance and then to the bright, intense colour of the frescoes surrounded by cream stone buildings.

Kalki, Karpathos and Sitia

We motor sailed south from Symi to Kalki. We pulled into the small but colorful harbour about lunch time, tying up to the ferry wharf. That gave us four hours to explore the village before the ferry docked and we retreated to anchor.

Kalki Harbour, amazing clear water
Kalki Harbour, amazing clear water

We went for a walk in the village, Kalki used to be a sponge diver’s island but then the sponges died out and many people from Kalki migrated away.
Tourism seems to be the new economy for Kalki. There are colorful B and B’s and apartments for rent. Tavernas line the harbour shore. It is quiet and lovely with sandy beaches.

Kalki Taverna
Kalki Taverna

The next morning we were met by dolphins, they were so petite and friendly.  We were on our way to Karpathos, then Kasos in an area Heikell calls sea-swept.  They are the two most southerly islands of the Dodocanese, in a very angry sea.  Heikell certainly called it right, confused seas were the order of the day. Predicted wind was 15 knots but we had almost 20 knots as we got close to Karpathos. We went into a narrow opening between high hills of rocks, to the abandoned village of Tristoma.  The wind howled all night and my active imagination thought of what would happen if a rock tumbled in behind us and we were captured in the inlet.  There was no phone service, not even an SOS service.

We left at first light the next day, with the wind on our nose on the course for Kasos. A decision was made, it was a longer trip but a tight reach to go straight to Sitia, Crete. By this time, we weren’t surprised with our 25 knot breeze and waves slapping Mercier from every angle. Things were a bit wet in the cockpit, even wet down below. We were thrilled  being greeted by dolphins on our way into Sitia Harbour, a day early but safe and sound. James’ sister, Barbara, flew in almost simultaneously.

James and sister Babara
James and sister Babara

Sitia is a quiet town and we ambled up to the Venetian Castle, had baklava for afternoon tea, a reward for doing the laundry by hand. The three of us wandered around people watching at the tavernas. Backgammon and cards were being played at many tables. We enjoyed the respite from the drenching waves and prepared for our next adventure.

Taverna Time
Taverna Time

 

Farewell Turkey, hello Greece

Richard Niebuhr said “Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.” James and I discuss what it means to leave Turkey, which we are very fond of, which we enjoy and its history we are amazed by. But the farewell is tinged with only a small feeling of sadness, because we hope to come back again. When sailing, we are almost by definition looking forward.
The planning, down to hours and days that one requires to sail, adds to the feelings one experiences in the new port. We pray for good weather and we wait for it. Wednesday”s five hours of sailing with fluky winds, is like a penance we do to get to a prize.

Thank you, Turkey.  We have had a great time
Thank you, Turkey. We have had a great time

Wednesday’s prize is Symi. Here is an island of Neoclassical houses, stacked up the hills surrounding the bays of the islands. It is an island where oregano runs wild by the road. Churches have pride of place and wonderful views. Another penance is walking up hills to get to the views and Symi affords plenty of hills.  Symi is a jewel, with wonderful tavernas, shops and cafes and beautiful churches.

Symi - a beautiful town
Symi – a beautiful Neoclassical  town

We hike up to the Chora and stop for a coffee at the Olive Tree, while waiting for our coffee, a pack train of horses bring building materials up the hill.

Hill town deliveries
Hill town deliveries

After our quiet respite in the Marmaris Yacht marina, we were back on a town quay in Symi. We had forgotten about the duf duf music and parties on nearby yachts. There would have been 20 people on the 70 foot yacht next to us, singing, dancing and partying until 5:00am. No amount of earplugs blocked their good-humored noise. Ah yes, now we remember. Amazingly, they left before the rosy fingers of dawn on to their next destination.  Thursday’s excitement was watching new arrivals collecting other yachts anchors. This is a game where the goal is for a boat to manage to keep its anchor ensconced in the mud, while other boats see their anchors come unstuck.  Our new arrivals brought our neighbour’s anchor up to the surface interlocked with their own. Excitement.

Symi, looking from the top of the island
Symi, looking from the top of the island

This morning we are on our way to Kalki, heading southwest and saying Hello Greece.

The journey so far:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zkkfRzDGj2mE.kO4m-3hTL-cs