Luck in the Corinth Canal

Planning your journey through the Corinth Canal can induce a fair amount of anxiety. If you are assigned behind a large ship, the Canal controllers are very demanding that your yacht get as close as possible to the ship’s whirlpool wake. In fact, they often give the command “full power” and “close the gap” and many different types of hurry ups. There is quite a bit of current in the canal to deal with and shallows on both sides.

Corinth Canal
Corinth Canal

 

We were keen to make Monday’s crossing early to ensure the lightest breezes,Tuesdays are usually closed for repairs in the canal.  We all smiled in relief when we saw we were the first boat waiting. No ships in sight, so that meant we would be first in the canal. As we waited, another yacht approached under spinnaker in the distance.

James, Leanne and Cam
James steering , Leanne and Cam

 

The Canal Controller was very happy that Mercier was there, “standing by”, sails stowed and ready to proceed. Yachts were in the canal coming from the east, so they proceed through and we enter the canal. Nautico*, the yacht behind us was not up to the Controller’s standards and several barks came over the radio to hurry up. As we passed, we could see the auto traffic waiting for the bridge to be raised so they could get across.

The canal’s first spade of dirt was dug by Nero, but even an excess of slave labour could not manage to dig the canal. It took gunpowder to manage that. Wikipedia has the story, so I won’t repeat it here. Interesting reading not only for the history but because of the curses that seem to befall anyone who wanted to build the canal.

*name changed

Cam and Leanne enjoying the view
Cam and Leanne enjoying the view

Olympia – a Sanctuary

As you leave Pyrgos and wind up the hill to Olympia, it is easy to understand why this is thought  to be the playground of the gods. From ten kilometres out, the air gets clearer and all the vegetation seems more lush and fragrant. There is a zephyr breeze and the temperature is perfect.

A clear day at Olympia
A clear day at Olympia

We first visited the Olympia Archaeological Museum. It covers the history of the site beginning with prehistoric artifacts until the Sanctuary’s demise under Theodosius ll.

One of two beautiful pediments recovered from Zeus' temple.
One of two beautiful pediments recovered from Zeus’ temple.

James and I watched many videos of Greece recently and now we wonder why we had never seen an aerial of the site as a whole. Olympia is remarkable. Imagine kicking a goal in your city’s biggest stadium and then imagine winning a race under the gaze of the gods and your country’s stadium. The games were “a pole of attraction for Hellenism”*

Meanwhile, it was a men’s only event. Women, particularly married women could not view the athletes compete. Not gods, kings nor husbands want to suffer by comparison with the strapping young nude athletes.

The Phillippeion, a monument to Alexander the Great and his father, Phillip ll
The Phillippeion, a monument to Alexander the Great and his father, Phillip ll

There are 23 separate monuments, including temples on the site.  We wished we could see more and next time we would consider finding a guide.  To this day, we are inspired by the passion and commitment it takes to take part in the Olympics.

 

 

 

 

*Olympic site brochure

Patras to Olympia

Patras is a very commercial port and we have had heard mixed reports.  We feel that although it isn’t a garden spot, the city is re-beautifying itself and there are some beautiful spots, but not close to the marina. There is a great ship chandler though and a few good restaurants nearby, there are plenty of cafe bars right at the marina.

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There were two delightful spaces near the marina, a small green dog park with some great dogs visiting every day and a small amphitheater,  which features dance classes in the evening with a view out to the mainland.

Patras dance class
Patras dance class

After much research, we decided to take a Ktel Bus from Patras to Pyrgos, a deluxe coach, for a circuitous trip of 1.5- 2 hours.  You get to see other sites on the way, but it isn’t a tourist bus.  You alight at a great bus terminal in Pyrgos and switch to a city bus to Olympia, the express bus goes in a slightly straighter line but takes almost as long as it seems to stop more often for passengers. Really cost effective, as a taxi would have cost about Euro125-150. The train does not seem to go into Olympia any longer and if you are going from Athens, it would be worthwhile to join a tour.  It is about four hours from Athens to Olympia.  It is beautiful and a worthwhile trip, with many rewards for those who visit. Next time I visit, I would like to spend the night

James at the Archaeological Museum, Olympia. A must see
James at the Archaeological Museum, Olympia. A must see

 

My expectations for Olympia were quite different.  It was a Sanctuary and there were many resplendent buildings.  Here are some photos and we have more for tomorrow.

Temple of Zeus
Temple of Zeus
Hermes holding baby
Hermes holding baby
James at the Stadium
James at the Stadium

 

From Zeus and Hera and all the gods and goddesses we visited at Olympia, we have birthday wishes to my sister, Linda Doubek.  James and I hope your day is wonderful.

More to come.

Anthony and Cleopatra

On Friday, we found ourselves motoring to the mainland port of Preveza. This is a non-tourist town for the most part, a working city of Greece. For us it was the right place to purchase a new Manson Supreme anchor. For other sailors, we are finding the Ionian Islands to be a well spring of ship chandlers. We were able to moor alongside the Town Quay and easily lift the anchor onto the boat.

a beautiful Lefkada bridge
a beautiful Lefkada bridge

Back to Anthony and Cleopatra, about 64 BC, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra came to these isles to fight Octavian Caesar and Agrippa in battle. Despairing of defeat, Anthony and Cleopatra lost their nerve and raced back to Egypt, ultimately to commit suicide. Caesar commemorated his win by building a fortress, Nikopolis about six miles from Preveza. Aptly, the largest marina in the Preveza area is the Cleopatra marina in Aktion across the harbour from the Town Quay.

Earthquake proof Clock Towner
Earthquake-proof Clock Tower

Lefkada is an unusual ‘island’. It is surrounded by canals, which separate it from the mainland and nearby salt marshes. There are a surfeit of bridges, some are artistic and others look very industrial.

Lefkada is like other Ionian cities and towns with small lane ways and alleys even in the newer areas. Housing is remarkably different in Lefkada. In 1953 there was a huge earthquake, many towns in the area were leveled. Here in Lefkada, they continue to build the first floor of houses in stone or brick but all of the second stories are built using corrugated iron. There is even an earthquake safe town clock. Between rust, a myriad of colours and graffiti, Levkada certainly has its own style.

Corrugated iron house
Corrugated iron house

Yesterday found us motoring over to Lefkada in almost no breeze. We had to arrive at the canal which separates Lefkada from the mainland, in time for the opening of the “floating bridge” coming past ruins of castles and shallow silt dredged canals. We were very happy for the lack of the wind in these shallows, we had all sails stowed before we attempted to file into the ‘waiting room’ of yachts.

Castle at Lefkada canal entrance
St Maura Fortress at Lefkada canal  Northern entrance

This canal was begun by the Corinthians in the 7th Century BC, according to Heikell. Augustus improved it during the Roman occupation, the Turks and Venetians added a bridge and its ruins are nearby.  To draw breath here in the Ionians is to absorb history.

Plenty of colour
Plenty of colour

Hvar Harbour, Vela Luka

Yesterday we headed over to Hvar Harbour. Even in mid September Hvar was busy, so we weren’t able to pick up a mooring. While we waited to see if one would come available, we took a few photos. Hvar was a major port for Venetians on their way to Istanbul and they have left their imprint on this beautiful city.

Hvar Town from the bay
Hvar Town from the bay

You can see that it was a blue sky, azure sea day, we aren’t that far north of Dubrovnik. Still in Dubrovnik yesterday, it rained so hard that it flooded and man-hole covers floated off their manholes and down the road.  Weather in the Adriatic is not easy to follow.

We had a nice evening in Vis, which was too quiet as our favourite bar had closed for the summer. In the morning, we had the same beautiful weather and headed over to Vela Luka on the Island of Korcula.  Vela Luka simply means big harbour and it is a commanding harbour, quite long and today stunningly blue.

Island at the entrance to Vela Luka Harbour
Island at the entrance to Vela Luka Harbour

Vela Luka is a working town with many new buildings under construction.  There are some beautiful old churches and galleries in town as well as the museum called Center for Culture. Vela Luka has an average of 2500 hours of sunshine each year.

Promenade Vela Luka
Promenade Vela Luka with its perfect palms
Smallest church we have seen - circa 1589
Smallest church we have seen – circa 1589

Happy Birthday to Suse King, hope you are spoiled all weekend.  It’s now possible to follow the blog, just fill in the follow sign on the right hand column.

Zadar, Biograd and Murter

Zadar is a remarkable town with wonderful public places. The Forum is a public square which presents the Roman town layout with artifacts of its Roman ancestry.  Columns and capitols sit on the paving, evoking the lives of people 2500 hundred years ago.

The Forum of Zadar, with St Donati's Church
The Forum of Zadar, with St Mary’s Church

The alleys offer shade in the hot Croatian summer sun and the Trqs or Squares offer a sunny seat on winter days. There are gardens and small harbours just outside the old town which sits on a small elongated penisula.

Town Square Zadar
Town Square Zadar – notice Roman column near cafe
Venetian Town Gate
Venetian Town Gate

Sadly after a few good days in Zadar, Lesley left us for better gelato in Ancona and a beautiful Umbrian Hill town, Gubbio, for  truffle laden delicacies.  Jealous much?  We are already plotting to get Lesley back next year, such a excellent traveller and great friend.

Our crew size hasn’t diminished, Claire Frost has joined Mercier for a bit of island hopping.  going south back down towards Dubrovnik.  We will be visiting Murter, Brac and Hvar while Claire is with us.

Claire and Gaila in Murter
Claire and Gaila in Murter

We had a good evening in Biograd, which is fairly resorty. It has been stormy & raining in Murter but we are cozy in Marina Hramina, which is a very nice marina.

Cafe in Biograd
Cafe in Biograd

Happy Birthday to my cousin, Sandra Riner.  Hope you have a lovely day!

Ancient Glass Museum - Zadar
Ancient Glass Museum – Zadar

Sali – Vodenjak – Zadar

We left Sali after a beautiful dawn and we thought we would go to Iz.  No not Oz, IZ.

Sali - early morning light
Sali – early morning light

We thought we might get a swim in on our way and we sailed into a beautiful uninhabited bay, called Vodenjak.  There are moorings, the water is so deep, but we can see the block of concrete and unchafed lines. Perfect.  We have lunch and a swim and we read about Iz, which sounds very nice but Vodenak is perfect at the moment.

There are a few boats on moorings but many smaller boats are leaving, the perfect little bay is getting quieter and more wonderful by the minute.  A quick vote, Vodenjak – 3, Iz – 0.

Vodenjak
Vodenjak – photo by L. Sommerville

The water was clear.  The clarity was such that you could see sea cucumbers inching around on the bottom 4 metres down.  Lesley had brought some ingredients for Thai Green curry sauce, so we made a wonderful dinner and enjoyed the stars.

The next morning, we motored over to Zadar, through the Prolaz Veliz Drela passage.  It was very calm and there was just a bit of current.

We sailed into Zadar and we were met by the ferries going in and out and by the traditional ferry man of Zadar.

Traditional boat man of Zadar.  Photo by L. Sommerville
Traditional boat man of Zadar. Photo by L. Sommerville

Alex Crevar, in the NYTimes, has a great headliner, “After 2000 years, a Croatian Port Town Still Seduces” and he has some great facts.  There are Roman ruins, the main being a large area called the Forum and various columns throughout the town,  Zadar is home to the  oldest university in Southeast Europe – over 600 hundred years old.

Probably the bit we enjoyed most was the Sea Organ and Salute to the Sun, both designed by Nikola Basic.  Wikipedia describes the Sea Organ, as an architectural object located in Zadar, which uses the sea waves entering tubes underneath the large marble steps creating a  musical instrument played by the wind and sea.  The music was sonorous and clearly made children happy.  Dogs weren’t as lucky, many dogs were clearly unhappy with some of the sounds.

Greetings to the sunset
Greetings to the sunset

While parents are happy to sit and stare off into a sunset, children aren’t always happy to be so still.  With Basic’s Greetings to the Sun, children and adults were interacting with the sunset and then dancing on the photovoltaic solar modules with no need to stop moving.

Greetings to the Sun
Greetings to the Sun

More on Zadar tomorrow, Alex Crevar picked the right title, Zadar does still seduce.

Sheltered Bay of Milna, Split and Trogrir

There has been a change in Croatia; the weather is changeable and the crowds seem to be diminishing as well.

Its been busy, Milna was very quiet but enjoyable, but we were too lazy to blog.  Split was busy and our friend, Lesley joined us for the next sector of Mercier’s Voyage.

Milna Town Quay
Milna Town Quay

In Milna, we stayed at Marina Vlaska which is at the mouth of the harbour going into Milna.  There were several benefits to staying here.  Great showers, beautiful swimming beach right around the corner ( there could be no swimming in Milna Bay, too dirty) and the Illyrian Restaurant, which along with Croatian food, did a great Thai Curry and Sate. We did walk into Milna town, with its great chill out bars, but Marina Vlaska was the place to be.

Lovely Marina Vlaska
Lovely Marina Vlaska

 

From here it was an easy trip up to Split, which was a busy town but not as busy as the week earlier. Italian schools went back on Monday and we haven’t heard nearly as many Italian accents since then.

Palace of Diocletian

 

Temple of Venus with Actors
Temple of Venus with Actors
James welcoming Lesley with Aperol Spritz
James welcoming Lesley with Aperol Spritz
The School at Trogir
The School at Trogir
Trogir from Kamerlengo Castle
Trogir from Kamerlengo Castle

Moreska Korcula

Korcula is a lovely island northwest of Dubrovnik, with a walled city fortress and history going back hundreds of years.  Francesco Da Mosto did a documentary (Francesco’s Mediterranean Voyage Ep.3) including the Moreska Korcula or the traditional sword dance of Korcula. In this land narrated by its history of invaders, this story is about a lovely girl who is captured by the Black Prince and saved by the Korculean prince.

We were in Korcula on the night the Moreska was playing and had a most interesting evening. First people watching as every seat was taken in the ‘theatre’ space, the welcome by  a CJ Craig* look alike MC in five languages, traditional songs sung acapella by the Korcula equivalent to the Circular Quay chorus and finally the  Moreska itself. Here are a few photos.

Moreska Pageantry
Moreska Pageantry
The Black Prince taunting the Korculeans
The Black Prince taunting the Korculeans
Face Off with the Princess in the background
Face Off with the Princess in the background
The Korculean Prince is winning!
The Korculean Prince is winning!

Sparks fly off the swords, the good guys win but the interesting fact is that this is a family tradition. These men are following in the footsteps of their fathers, grandfathers and other ancestors.   Croatia is a land of tradition and new beginnings.

* CJ Craig of West Wing, played by Alison Janney.

 

Polace (Mljet) – Korcula

Polace (Mljet) is a lovely harbour on a very very long island. Mljet is about 388 sq miles, comprised mostly of pine forests and a large national park.

In Polace, we went to Joseph’s Restaurant and tied stern to, we buy dinner and the mooring is free.  In this case, the restaurant reminds me of a Mexican Cantina, the decor is rough and ready but the service is friendly and food is fresh and simply cooked. We can easily walk all of Polace which is in a national park and has its own Roman ruins of an ancient Palazzo.

Polace, Mljet
Polace, Mljet

We were moored next to a large gullet and it was amazing to see this ship ‘park’ next to us, with apparent ease.

Badjia, a small island off Korcula
Badjia, a small island off Korcula.  The gullet is the timber boat on the left.

We left the next morning and only motored for about 40 minutes, when we pulled into a protected bay almost enclosed by islands.  It was too deep to anchor but we could have a swim because Mercier just drifted quietly. Refreshed, we proceed on to Korcula.

Otok Korcula is the island of Korcula and there is also an ancient fortress town of Korcula, smaller than Dubrovnik but still formidable.

City Steps into Korcula
City Steps into Korcula, note the Venetian crest in the wall

You can look over the walls and see yachts, fishing boats, para-sailing, wind surfers, swimmers and divers. Lovely restaurants have a line of tables against the bastion wall, so you can look out to the island of Badjia and other towns on the coast.

It is now high season, Korcula is bustling, a veritable hive of activity. We walk the Bastion walk and it’s impossible to walk together, there are so many other tourists. We hear languages from dozens of countries, including quite a few Americans and Australians.

Many young tourists, almost in uniform.
Many young tourists, almost in uniform.