Cyclades – Part 2, Easter, amazing culture and film location

After checking weather forecasts and ‘The Lonely Planet’ and conversations with Mike and Claire we agreed that we’d spend Easter at Naousa on Nisos Paros. Easter is a massive party throughout Greece. We’d read about the traditions and the party that took place on Easter Sunday, with spit roast lamb forming the centrepiece.

We left Despotiko on the 27th April for the short motor between the islands of Paros and Antiparos.

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Despotiko to Naousa

At it’s narrowest point the passage is pretty narrow and only 4m deep which is quite disconcerting. There are also a lot of rocks well offshore around the main port of Parikia and we had to change course on numerous occasions to avoid them. We initially anchored in a bay to the west of the harbour at Naousa. Mike and Claire anchored off the beach next to the harbour and called up on the VHF to say there was lots of room so we raised our anchor and went over to join them.

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Anchored outside the harbour at Naousa

We went ashore in the dinghies for a walk through the town and around the picturesque harbour. Naousa is a very popular and chic (expensive) tourist resort and one of the top destinations for the in crowd at Easter.

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Naousa fishing boat harbour

The area around the harbour was getting ready for the evening meal trade, there was hardly anywhere to get passed. We chose our restaurant for a meal later on. We didn’t order the speciality though.

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A leg each for a family of eight

The meal was so good that we decided to reserve a table for the Easter meal.

At the end of the breakwater there is an old fort.

The fort was built in the 13th century on a flat reef.

We also walked up to the church at the top of the village.

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Naousa Church (one of many)

That night we joined hundreds of people at the midnight service. This was Saturday night before Easter Sunday. The service started at 11pm with one of the priests bringing a lit candle out from the church. Almost everyone had brought a candle and the glow spread as firstly people lit their candles from the priests candle and then other people lit theirs candles from them.

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Lighting candles

The service continued until midnight when the priest call out ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ has arisen) which everyone replied ‘Alithos Anesti’ (Truly He has arisen)

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The congregation with their candles

This prompted a firework display and everyone headed to the bars to celebrate, the 4 of us included.

We went ashore on Easter Sunday to enjoy the meal and we were greeted with the delicious smell of roasting lamb.

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Delicious roast lamb

We took our table at about 1:30pm and were served delicious lamb and potatoes with Greek salad and various other appetisers. We also had the first of several ‘misó kiló krasí’ (half kilo of wine) of the red and white varieties. Pretty soon the music started and Gill and Claire joined in the dancing.

Gill resplendent in the commemorative t-shirt that she’d blagged for us all from the neighbouring restaurant.

By now the party was in full swing with dancing on the tables. In Greece when you book a table it’s yours for the day / evening. There’s no expectation that you will leave and so it was for us with us staying into the night.

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The Easter party in full swing

On Easter Monday we took the bus to the capital of Paros – Parikia. it was a busy town with huge ferries returning partying Athenians and other holiday makers back home after the festivities. We walked up through the old town to the church…

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Another church

…and the Frankish castle which was built in 1260AD  incorporating pieces of the temple of Athena and other ancient buildings on the site, talk about re-use!

Walking back through the streets lined with designer shops I came across a stand with shoes with my name on them – unfortunately the prices were a little more than I’d usually pay.

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I wouldn’t have to write my name on them 🙂

We then wandered through town to the church (yes another one) named Panagia Ekatontapiliani (literally the church with 100 doors).

It is a complex of several churches in an ornate courtyard with doors lying off all the way round. It’s easy to see how it got it’s name, even though it isn’t accurate.

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Panagia Ekatontapiliani

This was our last day here on this visit to Naousa, we had intended to sail to the neighbouring island of Naxos but on reaching the channel we were met with strong winds and rough seas so we returned and anchored in a delightful bay on the north of Paros.

From that bay we sailed north 17 miles to the island of Rineia so that we could visit the amazing island of Delos.

It is possible to anchor off Delos through the day but it is forbidden to anchor overnight. The Rineia anchorage is beautiful and large. We anchored with Owl and Pussycat in a bay to ourselves in 10m of crystal clear water.  The charts aren’t overly accurate for this bay as according to the chart we were in 1m. We had a walk ashore and a dinghy ride to some of the other anchorages before joining Mike and Claire for sundowners.

The next morning we took the dinghies over to Delos, arriving around 10:00am. We’d just timed it wrong as the tripper boats from nearby Mykonos had just discharged their passengers. We took our place at the back of the queue. To be fair it only took around 30 minutes to get in.

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Poor timing

As we’d approached the dock in the dinghies we’d seen this statue which looked familiar.

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I’d seen something similar to the statue in the water

And as we approached the payment kiosk it became apparent why we recognised it.

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We’d arrived on the opening day of the exhibition

Sir Antony Gormley is famous for ‘The Angel of the North’ and ‘Another Place’ which is the sculpture that the figure standing in the water reminded us of.

We paid the entrance fee and walked towards the famous archaeological site, passing one of the many sculptures that had been erected amongst the ancient ruins of Delos.

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The first sculpture in the site

This was an incredible bonus. I’d have been very happy to pay the entry fee to see an installation of his sculptures but in this setting it was outstanding.

Delos was originally a holy sanctuary, having been inhabited since at least 3000 BC and peaking between 900 BC and 100 AD . In Greek mythology it was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, the twin offspring of Zeus by Leto. When Leto was discovered to be pregnant, Zeus’ jealous wife Hera banished her from the earth, but Poseidon took pity on her and provided Delos as a place for her to give birth in peace.

Much later it was ordered that no one should be allowed to either die or give birth on the island due to its sacred importance and to preserve its neutrality in commerce, since no one could then claim ownership through inheritance.

In 166 BC the Romans declared Delos to be a free port and it then became the most important trading post in the Mediterranean. This is amazing when you consider that the island is pretty small at only 1.3 square miles. The less savoury fact is that the most traded ‘item’ was slaves.

The site is one of the largest and most extensively excavated in Greece. The scale of it is such that the visitors are lost in it. At its’ height around 100 BC the city had a population of some 30,000. A far cry from the current population of 14.

Our route around the site started at the Agora and Temple of the Delians

And then to the Lions of the Naxians. There is some argument over whether there were 9 or 19 lions originally. They were placed on a natural embankment on the route between the port and the sanctuary. It is said that they were incredible to the pilgrims as most had never seen a lion.

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The Lions of the Naxians

These are replicas, the originals are in the museum.

From here we made our way over to the gymnasium with its views over to Mykonos.

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Looking over the gymnasium towards Mykonos

We retraced our steps and visited the small museum.

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Model of the site in the museum

and then headed through the ruins to the temple of Zeus and Athena on the top of Kinthos hill.

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Looking towards the temple of Isis and Kinthos hill
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The temple of Isis

As we approached the temple we saw a film crew interviewing someone. We assumed that it was a Greek reporter filming the opening of the exhibition. They finished filming and walked down passed us. The person who they had been interviewing said ‘hello’ in an English accent as he passed. We didn’t think much of it until 5 minutes later (and a quick google search) we realised that it was Sir Antony Gormley who was being interviewed, a fantastic autograph opportunity missed.

As thousands of visitors had done over the millenniums, we climbed the stairway up to the temple.

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Climbing the well worn stairway

We were greeted at the top of the stairs by probably my favourite sculpture from the site – In can’t help but think of the film I Robot when I see it.

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‘I Robot’ anyone?

There isn’t a lot left of the temple on the hill but we sat down to a picnic taking in the fantastic views.

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Panarama looking over Delos to Rineia, Tinos and Mykonos
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Looking over the ruins towards Rineia where we were anchored. Tinos in the distance.

After our lunch we made our way back towards the port, passing the theatre.

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Theatre – note another sculpture

And on through the theatre district. This was where the rich lived. The houses had columns at the entrances and mosaic floors.

We walked back down passed the Stoibadeion,  a temple to Dionysos. with its’ ‘interesting’ statues

From here it was time to return to the dinghies and make our way back to the yachts. Anyone in the area must visit Delos.

Our next sail was quite a short one across to an anchorage just south of Mykonos town.

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Sail from Riniea, to the north of Delos and to Mykonos

We went ashore and crossed over to the beach where the film Shirley Valentine was set. Claire will probably never forgive me as the ‘shortest’ route according to google ended up taking us through fields of sharp thorns.

The film was shot at Agios Ioannis. In the film there was one hotel at the bottom of a dirt track and a taverna on the beach.

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Shirley Valentine.

The hotel and taverna are still there but have changed beyond all recognition. They are completely surrounded by very upmarket hotels and villas.

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The taverna as it is now
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And the hotel
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No airport holiday coach transfers at this hotel

We only stayed the one night on Mykonos because the wind was forecast to increase substantially in the next couple of days. We decided to head back to the very secure anchorage at Naousa on Paros.

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Heading back to Naousa

Here we joined several other boats also taking shelter.

Coriander was completely unscathed and the anchor held fine as the wind gusted over 50 kts. The same couldn’t be said for our Greek courtesy flag though. Luckily there is a chandler in Naousa where we could get a replacement (we actually bought 2 just in case).

Once the wind and seas eased we had a great sail between Naxos and Paros to the island of Schinousa. Our first choice of anchorage wasn’t tenable due to the swell rolling in so we anchored instead in a gorgeous bay called Spiaggia di Livadi

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Naousa to Livadi, Schinousa

Mike and Claire had intended going to Iraklia but again the swell would have made that anchorage uncomfortable so they came over and anchored beside us.

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Livadi anchorage – Note the ruined underwater quay at the north of the anchorage.

From here we motored all of 2.4 miles to Livadi on Iraklia.

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All of 2.4 miles

We anchored well to the south of the bay because the chart had underwater electric cables in the centre of the bay. We went ashore and walked over the hill to the main town of  Ag Georgios and had a superb meal at Submarine restaurant. The walk back offered great views of the boats anchored and Schinousa in the background.

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Coriander and Owl and Pussycat at Iraklia

The taverna at the beach had yet to open for the season but that didn’t stop us getting supplied from the boats for sundowners on the beach.

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Sundowners 🙂

 

From Iraklia we sailed to the anchorage between the small island of Nikouria and Amorgas.

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Iraklia to Amorgas

This was a beautiful and very sheltered anchorage, apart from when the ferry between the main towns set up a huge roll caused by the wash. The beach was deserted and we all decided to head ashore for a fantatsic sunset BBQ.

We enjoyed a delicious meal while we watching the sun set over our boats at anchor.

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Coriander at anchor

Our final ‘Cyclades’ town was Katapola on Amorgas

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Katapola

The anchorage here appears huge, however a ferry comes in most nights at 2am in the morning and leaves at around 6am. The ferry is huge and it stern moors to the quay. In order to do this it drops an anchor just off the beach and reverses to the quay. This restricts anchoring to a thin strip roughly one boat wide along the beach. We anchored in around 3m of water with as little chain out as we dared so that if we swung towards the beach we would still be in 2m of water (Coriander draws 1.8m). When the ferry comes in the noise of the anchor dropping just a few metres away is terrifying.

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Anchored just off the beach
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Looking by Owl and Pussycat. The small ferry is docked at the town

The town is typical of the towns we’d seen in many of the islands. Very picturesque but built way before motorised transport. While ashore we saw building materials being delivered by mule.

There was a nice walk along the shore to a church on the headland with great views back to the town.

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Looking back to Katapola.

We returned to Coriander and had a final drink in the Cyclades.

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Cheers!

Next stop the Dodecanese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyclades – Part 1, here we come

We’d spent quite a while longer at Kalamata than we’d intended when we’d arrived there in 2018. There were 2 things which caused the delay. The first was the uncertainty caused by the Brexit fiasco.  For reasons I won’t go into here it was necessary that we were able to prove where we were on Brexit day. The easiest way to do this was to be in a marina with a receipt to show where we were and date stamped photographs of Coriander on her berth. In the end this issue was delayed. The second was the implementation of the Greek cruising tax. This was on, off and on again from December to March. The means of paying it also changed from having to visit the port police to being able to pay online. This was finally settled in March with the option of paying online implemented. This meant that we could leave.

We were desperate to leave by this time – not that we hadn’t enjoyed Kalamata but we wanted to go sailing. We left on the 10th of April – a month later than we’d planned. We said our goodbye’s to friends we’d made and the marinaros and motored out. When we were well clear of the town we decided to run the watermaker and fill the tanks. The water in Kalamata was fine for drinking but it was very hard and the watermaker by contrast produces pretty much pure water. We noticed straight away that, although it was making all of the right noises, it wasn’t producing water. I opened the locker where it ‘lives’ and found it spraying salt water under pressure. I tracked the leak to one of the high pressure hoses and tried to fix it with tape and jubilee clips but they didn’t hold due to the pressures involved. 

We knew that we’d need spare parts and Kalamata is a large town with good road links and was our best bet for being able to get what we needed. We were only 9 miles out by this time and we made the reluctant decision to return.

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First attempt at leaving Kalamata

Although not an essential piece of equipment, indeed many boats don’t have one, the watermaker gives us much more freedom and comfort. We don’t have to visits marinas anywhere near as often, we don’t need to worry about the quality or availability of the water supply at the quays and we don’t have to conserve water by not having showers or not running the washing machine.

I contacted the Schenker Watermaker rep in the UK – Jim at Mactra Marine. He was, as we’ve always found, incredibly helpful. He arranged for the necessary pipe to be express couriered from Italy under warranty. I’d contacted him on the Thursday and the pipe was delivered, fitted and tested on the Saturday. Note to self – test it a couple of weeks before we leave next year.

We finally got away on Saturday the 13th April at 13:01. We’d said all along that our first sail would be a short one – definitely not an overnighter the first time. We headed for Koroni, an achorage we’d wanted to go to the previous year. Mike and Claire had headed out at 09:00 that morning intending to go to Porto Kagio. We messaged them to say that we’d fitted the pipe and got away and would probably see them in Porto Kagio next day. They came back and said they’d got a fantastic forecast to head straight out to the island of Milos so were ‘going for it’. I downloaded the latest weather and plotted the route on the weather routing app I use for longer sails – ‘Weather 4D’ and saw that it should be a good sail pretty much all of the way.

So much for a short, easy sail – we altered course and with the wind on the beam we followed suit.

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Our first ‘proper’ sail on the year – Kalamata to Milos

It was a great first sail all of the way to the notorious headland of Maleas. The weather gods were with us and the wind dropped so we motored through the busy shipping lanes and then sailed again for much of the crossing to Milos. Around dawn the wind dropped once more and we started the engine. We spotted Mike and Claire on Owl and Pussycat who’d done a fantastic job hand steering overnight after the ram on their autopilot failed. We motored into the huge anchorage on Milos and, with the wind from the south, we anchored off Agios Dimitrios at 11:42 on the 14th. We’d done just over 150 miles at an average of 6.7kts. Not to bad for a first sail. We’d arrived in the Cyclades.

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Anchored with ‘Owl and Pussycat’ off Agios Dimitrios , Milos

A small aside, the Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean sea. They are named after the Greek for cyclic and refer to the islands ‘around’ the island of Delos which was the most important trading hub in the Mediterranean around 150BC.

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Islands of the Cyclades
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Islands numbered

It’s a bit of a stretch to say they’re around Delos because Delos is a tiny island where the number 13 is on the map.

Anyway, back to Milos….

We went ashore to walk on the island – something that became a bit of a tradition over our time in the Aegean – we hadn’t ‘been there’ unless we’d set foot on the island, even if only for a minute or so. There were caves to explore and the old loading dock from mining operations. The water was crystal clear and very inviting but still too cold for swimming.

The next morning the southerly wind had eased and was forecast to turn northerly so we moved 2 miles across the bay to the anchorage off the main town of Adamas.

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Adamas on Milos

It was still quite early in the sailing season but one of the things we loved about the anchorages was how uncrowded they were. A very pleasant change from the Ionian and Saronic.

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Fantastic roomy anchorage at Adamas

The small town of Adamas lies under the Chora of Plaka. This is a pattern that’s repeated all over Greece and especially on the islands. The port town is relatively small and used to be sparsely inhabited. The main town would be inland and usually at the top of a hill. This was a defence against pirates.

The town and marina at Adamas are pretty. There is a good range of bars, restaurants and shops, including a well stocked chandlers.

Mike and Claire had concluded that their autopilot ram wasn’t repairable so arranged for the Raymarine dealer in Athens to send a new one to Milos via air. This would take about a week so we had plenty of time to explore.

Milos is a volcanic island, like many in the region. The anchorage is in the flooded crater of the volcano. In previous times, the island prospered through mining and was famous for its’ obsidian, a volcanic glass, among other minerals. We visited the excellent mining museum and I’d recommend it other visitors.

We took the bus up to the Chora of Plaka. On the advice of the bus driver we got off to walk part way down a hill to visit the catacombs. This is a vast underground network that was used for storage and refuge. Unfortunately we got there just as it closed for the day.

 

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The walk down to the catacombs and picturesque fishing village

We were glad we’d done it though because we’d seen a signpost to the ancient theatre and decided to go and take a look. On the track we came upon a relatively obscure sign which told the story of the discovery of one of the most famous statues in the world which was discovered in the field we were crossing  – The Venus de Milo which is now in the Louvre.

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Venus de Milos information notice

Folklore has it that the arms were lost when the French decided to take the statue back to France. The main part of the statue was loaded onto one ship and the arms were being taken aboard a smaller ship which sank.

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View of Plaka from the field where the Venus de Milo is thought to have been found

I don’t know why I hadn’t made the connection between the Island and the statue but I’m pleased we came this way. The theatre wasn’t the most impressive we’ve seen but was worth the walk

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Ancient theatre

When we’d sailed in through the entrance to the anchorage we’d seen a row of windmills on the horizon. We started a quest which would continue for the rest of the year – if we saw a windmill, we’d walk to find it.

It took us ages, the windmills always seemed to be one street above the one we were on. Undaunted though we persevered until we came across them.

They’ve now been converted into luxurious and very expensive holiday apartments. At least they haven’t been left to fall into ruin.

We headed back towards the road that the bus had come up with the intention of walking back down the hill to the port. On the way we met some fellow cruisers that we knew from Kalamata. They’d walked up to a fort even higher up that we’d said we give a miss to. They persuaded us that it would be worth climbing through the village and up the steps for the view. I don’t suppose we had any real choice after that.

We walked through the old town with ornate painted doorway entrances.

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Not a bad way to mark your door.

After a pretty strenuous walk and climb we got to the fort. The views over Milos and across to the surrounding islands was well worth the effort. We could look across to the islands that we planned on visiting over the coming week or two.

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Panarama of the surrounding islands (top) and Milos anchorage.

We’d had a bit of a joke pointing out the next anchorages, this one, that one and the one over there being one of the phrases of the year.

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Pointing out ‘this one, that one and the one over there’

We then had the long (approx 10k) walk back down the hill and on to the port. We had great views over Coriander and Owl and Pussycat in the anchorage on the way.

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Coriander and Owl and Pussycat just visible

Of course, when we got back to the port we had to have a well earned refreshment.

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Replenishing lost fluids

And later on we looked back to were we’d walked from the deck of Coriander

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Adamas and the hill with the Chora and fort highlighted

Mike and Claire’s autopilot ram was going to be delayed for a few more days so Gill and I went to explore a couple of other anchorages while Mike and Claire waited on the part they needed.

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Our sail to Kimolos (‘That one’)

We had a wonderful sail over to Sikia on the nearby island of Kimolos, taking care not to anchor anywhere near the charted archaeological site. We were joined by one other yacht in the bay. There were fantastic rock formations formed by the wind and waves surrounding the bay and we had to take the dinghy to look them over.

The sailing directions said that you shouldn’t stay overnight near the archeological site so we upped anchor and sailed over to another delightful anchorage on Polyaigos (‘The one over there’)

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Kimolos to Monolonisi, Nisos Polyaigos

We joined 3 other boats anchored on both sides of this island. It was a beautiful anchorage but it was a fairly roly night even though it should have been sheltered from the swell.

We got a message from Mike and Claire to say that their part had arrived and been fitted and tested. We arranged to sail to Vathy on the island of Sifnos.

IMG_1063 It was only 11 miles and the forecast was for light easterly winds. We had a great sail most of the way but as we approached Sifnos the wind picked up to in excess of 25kts.

We were in the lee of the island so it was flat water and we were soon anchored in the sheltered bay. Mike and Claire didn’t have it quite so easy as the were a little later than us and, coming from Milos, they had a long beat into 30kt winds. Hats off to them for coming over.

Vathy anchorage was a very sheltered horseshoe shaped bay. We went ashore for a walk and an Ouzo and were given a complimentary octopus salad meze, quite pleasant but not to everyone’s taste.

The next morning we took the bus to the Chora on Sifnos, Apollonia. It is quite a spread out town along a mountain ridge with typical narrow streets with whitewashed houses and churches.

We found (and walked to) the windmill.

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Spotting the windmill. At least it wasn’t uphill

before going for lunch at a gyros taverna with my name on it 🙂

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The taverna called out to me 🙂

All too soon it was time to get the bus back to Vathy. We had a great view of the boats at anchor in the bay.

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Coriander with Owl and Pussycat at anchor

When I’d been looking through the pilot book over the winter there were some anchorages that really stood out and I was very keen to go there. One of my favourites had been Despotiko anchorage between Nisos Despotiko and Nisos Antiparos. This was on our way to where we’d decided to spend Easter so it was pretty much a no-brainer to there next.

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Vathy to Despotiko

The sail over was wonderful with a moderate breeze on the beam all of the way. The anchorage is huge, protected on all sides and an ideal anchoring depth of 4-6m over pretty much all of it. There was only one other yacht in the anchorage.

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In Despotiko anchorage looking to the tavernas ashore.

After putting the sails away and having some lunch we joined Mike and Claire ashore for an ouzo or 2 at one of the 3 tavernas.

The next morning Gill and I took the dinghy ashore on Despotiko to look over some ruins that were being excavated. The number of archaeological sits in Greece is astounding and, given the financial constraints Greece finds itself in, it’s not too surprising that many of the excavations have been halted for the time being.

I’m going to leave this blog here. In the next one I’ll describe our fabulous Easter and some of the best ‘culture’ I’ve ever seen.

‘Til next time.

Winter in Kalamata 2018 – Brief forays to the UK and Germany via Athens

Our first trip was back to the UK to visit family for Christmas. We were flying from Athens to London Stanstead where we had a hire car waiting. We took the 8am express coach from Kalamata to Athens and from there a taxi to our hotel – the Plaka Hotel in central Athens.

Our flight to the UK was at 4pm and we were unsure whether the coach would get us to Athens in time for us to get to the airport in time for the flight so we booked an overnight stay. As it happens a coach / airport bus combination would have got us there with time to spare – we’d know another time.

The Plaka Hotel was in a fantastic location for access to the tourist areas and had a fantastic view of the Acropolis. We had a walk around the famous (and very touristy) market before walking up to Parliament Square as darkness began to fall.

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Christmas ‘tree’ in front of the Parliament building.

The locals had joined the tourists for some Christmas shopping, eating and drinking in the many crowded restaurants.

We had a fantastically cheap meal of 2 x pork pita gyros, fries, beer and 1/2 litre of wine for the princely sum of €12 at a restaurant near Monastiraki.

We then headed back to the hotel and went up to the rooftop bar – it was pretty cold as it was the 13th of December. The view of the Acropolis at night made the cold well worth it.

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The Acropolis from the rooftop bar

We had a morning walk from the hotel to the Ancient Agora the next morning before getting the taxi to the airport at 12:00.

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It looked better than the photograph

After landing in Stanstead, we picked up the hire car and headed for Doncaster. Anyone who’s been abroad for a significant period of time will understand that there are certain things that you start to crave. For us it’s real ‘chippy’ fish and chips.

There is a superb chippy just minutes from my mum’s house and we calculated that we’d get there with about an hour to spare before it closed. That was before the traffic jams caused by 3 accidents on the M11 got in the way. We missed the chippy by 5 minutes and had to ‘make do’ with a take out Chinese meal instead. The chippy had to wait for the next day.

We had 2 weeks in the UK where we visited family around Doncaster and Forres (26 miles east of Inverness). It was fantastic to see everyone again and although we are in regular phone contact, it doesn’t make up for seeing them in person. The problem with them living almost 400 miles apart is that we lose 2 days travelling and we aren’t able to see them for as long as we’d like.

We returned to Kalamata on the 30th December to spend our first new year in Greece, described in our Kalamata blog.

Our second ‘foreign’ trip (via Athens) was a visit to my brother in Germany. Chris and Liba live near Mainz so we flew to Frankfurt where Liba kindly met us.

We’d been to visit Chris many times over the years and that’s my excuse for not taking pictures around Mainz. I suppose that being based in Greece makes us notice things but Greece has definitely had an influence in Germany. It’s slightly annoying that the Ouzo was cheaper than we pay for it in Greece :

 

While in Germany we took the train to Frankfurt. I’d visited Frankfurt for business many times but this was my first visit as a tourist. We went to the old town.

 

The business area of Frankfurt is nicknamed ‘Mainhatten’, located as it is on the banks of the Main – the river that runs through the centre of Frankfurt.

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Looking towards ‘Mainhatten”

The bridges over the Main are now festooned with padlocks, a craze we’ve noticed all over mainland Europe.

 

After a delicious meal in Frankfurt it was time to head back to Mainz and then for Chris and Liba to fly back to Greece with us for a 4 day mini break in Athens.

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Lunch in Frankfurt

We’d booked an Airbnb 10 minutes walk from the tourist area. We arrived at 11:30pm but undaunted headed out for a drink before getting some rest.

The next morning (Friday 22nd February) was warm and sunny. I went to the local supermarket for provisions and after a leisurely breakfast we took an open top bus tour of the city to get our bearings and decide what we wanted to see. We were sat on the top deck in t-shirts.

Of course the first stop had to be the Acropolis. Gill and I had last been there in 2003 when the temperatures were over 40 degrees. This time it was a much more pleasant 24.

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I’ll shout ‘smile’ next time

We spent a couple of hours looking round the Acropolis and the various temples are incredible….

 

but my lasting memory is the size of Athens and the views over the city from the Acropolis.

 

We went for lunch and a drink next to the rock outcrop with stunning Acropolis views.

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Acropolis from Areopagus hill

The next day the temperatures dropped 20 degrees overnight and a strong wind came up. We ventured out to walk around some of the other sites –  well wrapped up this time.

 

By now the cold had started to be too much so we took refuge in the Benaki museum. This is a privately run museum and is one of the best in Athens. Well worth a visit and in my opinion rivalled only by the Acropolis museum.

We walked to town for pre-dinner drinks.

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When in ‘Rome’ – Ouzo all round

The next day was still cold but, along with lots of other tourists, we braved it to watch the changing of the guard.

 

This was amazing –  the control they had when slow marching and parading has to be seen. The guard changes every day however it is only on a Sunday that the band and marching soldiers take part.

This concluded our short visit. Chris and Liba had to return to Germany and we re-joined Coriander in Kalamata. The photograph below was taken on the coach trip back – a little different to the summer photographs.

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On the coach back to Kalamata

Winter in Kalamata 2018 – Trips in Greece

In the previous post I described our winter in the city of Kalamata. We didn’t spend our time exclusively there and we took the opportunity to hire a car and visit some of the sights around this amazing place. I’m going to describe our Athens trip as part of ‘Trips Abroad’ in another blog because our visits there was as an ‘add on’ to travelling from Athens Airport.

Diros Caves

On our way to Kalamata in 2018 we’d anchored just off the caves before sailing 36 miles to Kalamata. This time we’d drive there with Mike and Claire and 2 of their visitors – Dave and Maggie.

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Our route

We put our destination into google and checked the directions. To be fair we only really needed the directions to get out of Kalamata as once on the coast road down the Mani peninsula we just had to keep going until we arrived at the caves.

The scenery along the road was fantastic as the road followed the coast, often up the side of the mountain, all of the way.

The small villages that we went through were very picturesque, many being small beach resorts.

We broke our journey for coffee at Kardamili, enjoying cappuccino at Roses Cafe. After a walk through the town and a look at the beach it was time to head to the caves.

The caves are actually made up of 2 caves split by a rock fall. They are  Alepotripa and Vlychada. They were  explored by the geologists Ioannis and Anna Petrochilos. In the course of the late Neolithic period (4000 – 3000 BC), the caves were extensively used as shelter, dwelling, workshop, storage place for goods, cemetery and a place of worship.

The Alepotripa cave is blocked off by a recent rockfall however the larger Vlychada cave is open to visitors and is why we were there.

We paid our €15 entry fee and made our way down to the car park which overlooked where we had anchored the previous year.

The cave of Vlychada covers an area of 16,700 m2. The tour is along a 2.5-km-long winding passageway. Luckily it consists of a 40-min boat trip through the flooded caverns with a short walk at the end.

We were given lifejackets and we made our way down some steep steps to the awaiting boats.

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Joining the boats

The guide expertly manoeuvred the boat through the stunning underground labyrinth. Stalagmites and stalagtites in fantastic formations greeted us at every turn, all expertly lit.

My only, very slight, criticism was that there was no commentary. Some may disagree and would argue that the caves speak for themselves but some dialogue or information regarding the caves would have been good. We were visiting in the off season and it was only the caves that were open. There is a museum on the site which houses some of the artefacts that were discovered and it is likely that there is more information on the caves history there but as it was closed it wasn’t an option for us. Having said that, if anyone is in the area – Go To The Caves.

On our way back to Kalamata we decided to stop for something to eat at Areopoli. We parked outside a taverna that looked ok. It turned out to be closed but that was lucky for us as it meant we had to look for somewhere else and we stumbled upon a gorgeous old town.

It was totally hidden from the road and we may never have seen this hidden gem of a place. It was bedecked with flags from the celebration of the fact that the Greek war of Independence started here on March 17th. We’d missed the celebration this year but made a note in our diaries to be there in 2020.

Sparta and Mystras

Gill and I took a road trip to Sparta by ourselves, Mike and Claire having been previously. There are 3 ways to get there by road – The 2 fastest are via the excellent motorways. We chose the shortest and slowest on the B road over the mountains, and boy are we glad we did.

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Mountain route to Sparta

We said ‘wow’ at almost every turn as the views opened up before us.

From Kalamata the road climbed higher into the mountains up the side of a gorge that I wouldn’t have believed a road could go up. This was March and before long we were approaching the snowline.

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The road approaching the snowline
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Reminiscent of the Alps

After an hour the road started to descend. The road was burrowed through the mountain in places.

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The road snaking literally through the mountain

Suddenly the plain opened up over the series of hairpin bends that we’d be going down.

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Descending towards Sparta (Sparti)

Sparta is in the middle of a fertile plain surrounded by high mountains.  Sparta was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece. In antiquity, the city-state was known as Lacedaemon, while the name Sparta referred to its main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

We’ve all heard of the city and the famous Spartan warriors through history books and films such as 300. I’d expected there to be more made of the history of the town and while there were shops selling replica helmets and the like, it didn’t have the touristy feel. It was a beautiful town in a fantastic setting.

The main boulevard has palm trees along the central reservation and the walkways are lined with orange trees.

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Statue of Leonidas with snow capped mountains

Leonidas is the ‘hero’ of the 300 film and was the king who led a small Greek force to meet the Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae. Leonidas’s force consisted of 1,200 men,  900 helots (soldiers from areas under Sparta’s control) and 300 Spartan hoplites (soldiers of Sparta) along with around 5800 other Greek soldiers. They held off a Persian force, described in Greek history, of 2 million men though it is now estimated to be around 300,000 men. For 2 days Leonidas and his fellow Greeks fought off waves of attacks killing over 10,000 Persians. On the third day, Leonidas was betrayed by a Greek  traitor named Ephialtes  who led the Persian general Hydarnes by a mountain track to the rear of the Greeks. Leonidas sent away all Greek troops and remained in the pass with his 300 Spartans, 900 helots, 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians. All were killed in the ensuing battle except for the 400 Thebans who surrendered without a fight.

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Leonidas

“ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” (“Come and take them”), which was Leonidas’s reply when Xerxes offered to spare the lives of the Spartans if they gave up their arms.

We tried to visit the site of Ancient Sparta but unfortunately it was closed on the day of our visit. We’ve since discovered that many Greeks sites, monuments and museums close on a Tuesday.

Just off the main boulevard is the town square. It has restaurants and coffee shops on 3 sides and has many statues in it. A wonderful place to sit in the sun and watch the world go round.

We loved Sparta – the town is vibrant and cosmopolitan, I’ll definitely go back.

From Sparta we drove the 6 miles to the ancient site of Mystras. This consists of a fort, churches and dwellings set on a hill at the foot of the mountains.

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Mystras with the fort at the top of the hill and ruins stretching down it.
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Looking back to Sparta from Mystras

After looking at the site we went to the village of Mystras for a meal before returning to Kalamata on the same road we’d come in on. Again the views didn’t disappoint.

Ancient Olympia

No visit to this area of Greece would be complete without a visit to Ancient Olympia – the origin of the modern Olympic games.Olympia

Our route took us across the plains behind Kalamata where there are acre upon acre of Olive Groves for which Kalamata is rightly Famous. and then up the coast with views across to Zakynthos.

For such a famous site, the access roads are tiny – we were convinced we were going the wrong way or Mr Google was having a laugh.

Finally however we arrived at the car park, paid our fee and entered the site.

The first games are thought to have been held in 776BC and continued through to 394AD when the Roman emperor Theodosius 1 banned them as a Pagan festival. The games started as a celebration of and for the god Zeus. The site therefore has a temple dedicated to him. The sculptor Pheidias created a statue of the god made of gold and ivory. It stood 42 feet tall. It was placed on a throne in the temple. The statue became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world

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The view as you enter the site

There is little left of the grandeur that it once was. Here are some of the highlights of our walk around the site.

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Hera’s Alter

The Olympic flame of the modern-day Olympic Games is lit by reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror in front of the Temple of Hera and then transported by a torch to the place where the Games are held. In case of there being no sun, a flame that has been lit here is kept burning.

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Bases of Zanes

The Zanes were bronze statues of Zeus (Zanes being the pural form of Zeus). The statues were erected with the fines imposed upon any athlete caught cheating. The bases had the name of the athlete, the offence and the fine imposed inscribed on them. The gate at the end of them is the entrance to the stadium through which all athletes had to pass and they served as a warning to them.

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Through to the stadium

At the time the passage was covered over and made a grand entrance.

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The original Olympic Stadium

The track measures roughly 192 x 23m between the start and finish lines. The entrance is bottom right on the photograph. The small stone platform to the left of the track is where the judges sat and is the only seating. It is estimated that 45,000 people stood on the embankments to watch the action.

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The Philippeion

The Philippeion was an Ionic circular memorial in limestone and marble, a tholos, which contained ivory and gold statues of Philip’s family; himself, Alexander the Great, Olympias, Amyntas III and Eurydice I. It was made by the Athenian sculptor Leochares in celebration of Philip’s victory at the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC). It was the only structure inside Olympia dedicated to a human.

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The Palaestra

The Palaestra formed part of the gymnasium at the sanctuary. It is a sixty-six metre by sixty-six metre square building that dates to the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 2nd century BC. It was devoted to the training of wrestlers and other athletes.

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The Palaestra

All of the site was covered by a fantastic carpet of wild flowers. We were there on the 20th March.

After spending a couple of hours walking round the site we went to the museum where many artefacts found at the site are on show.

The statue of Zeus must have been fantastic. It’s shown in a painting in the museum.

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The statue

The statue was 41 feet tall and made of Ivory and Gold panels on a wooden framework. As said, it was considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

Some of the artefacts were a little more mundane such as the bronze basin handle

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Some basin handle!

While the marble pediments from the temple of Zeus were amazing.

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The West Pediment of the temple of Zeus

We’d had a fantastic day out and all too soon it was time to head back to the boat.

Hiking from Vytina to Nymphasia, part of the Menalon Trail.

Hike

Dave and Maggie – Mike and Claire’s visitors at the time are keen walkers and were looking to do a short hike in the hills. After some research it was decided that we tackle section 5 of the 75 k Menalon trail, the ‘moderate’ 5.6km expected to take 2 hours.

We drove the 1 1/2 hours to Vytina and parked at the start of this section of the trail.

Ensuring that we had water and other provisions in our rucksacks we set off to complete the said 5.6km

 

The trail started pretty well on a wide dirt track.

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Easy walking

Before descending to the valley floor and a much smaller track along the river.

Of course, having descended to the river, we had to climb back up – so much for a gentle walk.

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Feeling like a mountain goat.

The trail was well marked though – see the green square on the tree. Eventually, after 2 pretty strenuous hours the end was in sight.

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Nymphasia coming into view

We’d hoped to get something to eat and drink when we got to Nymphasia however everywhere was closed. I’m not that surprised as we hadn’t seen anyone else while we were walking.

Luckily Mr Google showed us a route back along farm tracks that were a level 2.9km and we ended up eating toasties and drinking a well earned beer back at Vytina. Exercise done!

(Ancient) Messene

We almost didn’t go here. It’s the nearest ‘major’ archaeological site to Kalamata but none of us had really heard of it. On the penultimate day of us having the hire car we decided to go for a run out and  by fluke decided to head to Messene.

Messene

 

As you can see on the map it’s only 20 miles from Kalamata on a picturesque drive through the hills and through some very interesting villages on the way.

We followed a tour bus for the last few miles which was very interesting given how narrow the streets are through the villages. I’m pleased we weren’t going the other way.

The coach stopped at a taverna overlooking the ancient site which suited us as we wouldn’t have to queue behind a coach full of tourists. We arrived at the car park and wandered to the entry to pay our €2 entrance fee.

Talk about saving the best until last. Messene is a must do. In my opinion it eclipsed Ancient Olympia.

What is now the site of Messene was built around 370BC. There is a surrounding defensive wall that is 9km long and between 7 and 9m tall. It had 30 guard towers along its length.

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Plan of the site. Entrance is by the red dot

We pretty much toured the site in number order. I don’t know if it was the setting, nestled in a valley with impressive hills around and views toward the sea, or the well kept site but it is a superb place.

We started at the theatre. It measures 98m wide with an orchestra width of almost 24m.

To the north of the theatre is the Arsinoe fountain

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Arsinoe fountain

The fountain is named after the daughter of the mythical king of Messenia. It formed part of the bathing house adjacent to the Agora.

An Agora was a central public space in ancient Greek city-states.  The literal meaning of the word is “gathering place” or “assembly”. It is usual for Stoa (covered  walkways) to be on one or more sides. Merchants would set up shops and stalls in the Stoa.

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Looking along the Agora with the columns that supported the roof of the Stoa

At the rear of the Stoa were ‘standards’ and measuring cavities which were used to measure the capacity of the containers that the merchants used.

Our next visit was to the Asclepeion.

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The Asclepeion

The sanctuary of Asclepios functioned as the religious and political centre of the city. It was surrounded by Stoa covering 140 bronze statues. The central courtyard had benches for meeting, a small theatre and public meeting rooms.

From here we went to see a covered area where mosaic flooring had been discovered in what is thought to be a roman villa. The detail was amazing, as was the fact that they were thousands of years old.

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Mosaic floor

Next on the agenda was the star of the show – the stadium.

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Messene Stadium and Gymnasium

The Stadium is surrounded by Doric columns which once supported the roof of a Stoa.

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Gill showing the height of a column.

With extensive seating with views down the valley and to the sea.

There is a rare example of a grave monument that used to house 8 members of Messenian nobility.

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Grave monument

From here we made our way back to the car and visited the tiny museum dedicated to the site.

To be honest there is very  little in it as many of the artefacts have been taken away. One which caught our attention was a statue of “Isis Pelagia”, protector of sailors. The goddess is standing on the prow of a boat. She was holding with both hands the sail of the boat.

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Isis Pelagia

The ladies were drawn to the statue of Hermes, the god who guides the souls of the dead to the underworld.

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Hermes, God of the Underworld

That concluded our visit to Messene. We then had the second piece of fantastic fortune that day, going to Messene being the first.

We avoided the touristy taverna in the village of Messene where the coach had stopped and chose instead to stop in the village of Arsinoi at a small taverna run out of a room in a small house.

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‘To Tiganaki Tis Xristitsas’ at Arsinoi

There was the usual Greek fare of Gyros, Souvlaki, Soutsoukakia and various salads advertised upon a board at the entrance but the owner wanted to describe what he had as a special. His English was none existent (and why not) and our Greek was limited – thank goodness we had Claire. We understood pork but not the rest of his words. He then did an elaborate mime of sighting over a rifle and shouting ‘Bang’ ‘Bang’. We finally understood that he’d been hunting wild boar and had oven cooked the boar he’d shot. We had to have some of that. It came served in small frying pans, accompanied by potatoes which had been roast with it, and was the tenderest pork with the best crackling we’d had in all of our travels. That meal has henceforth been known as Bang Bang Pork and we talk of it still.

Messene was our last trip from Kalamata. The next blog will be based in Athens, the UK and Germany – our trips away from Greece.

Til next time.

Kalamata, Our winter base 2018

We arrived in Kalamata on Wednesday the 31st October 2018, Halloween though you wouldn’t know it as it isn’t the commercial festival that it’s now turned into in the UK. The marinaros helped us tie up and settle into our winter berth and I went to the marina office to see Dimitra, the office manager who I’d exchanged numerous emails with. Papers checked, photocopied and in order and berthing fees paid we set about exploring our home for the winter.

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View from Coriander on her winter berth in Kalamata Marina

When choosing our winter base there are several things that we take into consideration:

  • Location – quite obvious really, it needs to be conveniently located where we want to finish our cruising season and a good base from which to start the next season. Kalamata is a day sail from the Argolic Gulf where we knew we’d finish 2018 and within 24 hours of the Greek islands which we intended to explore in 2019.
  • Safety – We needed somewhere that was safe to moor Coriander for the winter from a weather perspective. Kalamata has a good reputation and is in a good location at the head of the Messenian Gulf. This was proven during the medicane when, despite gale force southerly winds, no boats in Kalamata were damaged.
  • Liveabord community – We’d be there for the winter and, although Mike and Claire would also be there, it’s good if there are other cruisers to meet up with and would be there all winter.
  • Open town – We wanted somewhere that was more than just a tourist resort which closed down for the winter. Kalamata is the second largest town in the Peloponnese and while there are tourist facilities it is primarily a large Greek town which would be vibrant all year round.
  • Transport links – Kalamata has an international airport but unfortunately the international flights are seasonal. It does however have superb coach and car links to Athens. It’s a motorway the entire way and is just over 2 1/2 hours on the express coach.
  • Price – Kalamata marina is very reasonably priced with water and electricity included in the price after the €8 connection fee.
  • Services – Kalamata has numerous chandlers and engineers who can fix pretty much any boat related problem. The marina has a 60 ton travel hoist and hard standing. We found that Ioanni (Yani) one of the security guards could get or organise pretty much anything at all – so much so we nicknamed him Del after ‘only fools and horses’
  • Supplies – As befitting a large town, Kalamata has multiple supermarkets and shops of every kind as well as a superb market.

We were greeted on arrival by Mike and Claire, who’d arrived about 4 days before us, and other cruisers who’d be there for all or the majority of the winter. There was a Sunday BBQ organised,  much like Cartagena, which was a great place to meet our winter companions.

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Some of our fellow cruisers enjoying the Sunday BBQ

Marc organised a mailing and contact list of the liveaboard cruisers which was emailed to everyone making it simple to organise events, ask for help and sell or swap items. There were around 30 boats so approx 60 people who’s be here over the winter. Most people went home or on road trips at some point during the time but there was always plenty of company.

Aside from the BBQ, the other catchup was in Skippers Bar at 5pm every Wednesday.

The marina is surrounded by tavernas, most of which stay open all year round. They mostly serve traditional Greek food though there are also 2 pizza restaurants. In total we had 15 tavernas less than 5 minutes walk from the boat, with the nearest being 20 metres away. This is in addition to the many restaurants and bars in the main part of the town.

The Marina is located to the west of the town. Going east there is the large commercial harbour and then a beachfront and promenade lined with shops and tavernas.

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Kalamata seafront with the marina bottom left.

The beach was used all year round with people swimming most days even if it was a little cool for us.

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Kalamata beach looking to Mt Kalathi. A Paraglider takeoff is at 940m, the summit is 1300m ASL
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Looking back towards the harbour

From the marina it’s about a 20 minute walk to the town centre.

On leaving the marina complex we were slightly disappointed as the buildings next to the commercial harbour are very run down.

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Not the best first impression

However just past the commercial harbour you get to the Railway Park – a park based around the old railway station which is now a cafe. 

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Railway Park – Kalamata old station

The park has a number of old trains and carriages which children love playing on.

 

Emerging from the far end of the park you enter the start to the town centre.

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Emerging from the Railway Park and into town.

There is a main thoroughfare from the park through the town and ending at the market.I see the thoroughfare as being in  parts. The first has a wide walkway with seating for the cafes across the road and a cycle track set separately to the road and walkway.

 

This gives way to shops on both sides of the road

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More shops with a marked cycle path on the causeway

This opens up to the main town square with the large shopping chains that you’d expect in a major town.

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Kalamata main square

There are numerous sculptures and fountains throughout the square. It is also where many of the towns events take place.

The square gives was to a  pedestrian zone lined with modern shops, bars and restaurants.

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Pedestrian zone

Continuing north you then cross into the old town with it’s quaint shops, bars and restaurants. Special mention goes to the spice shop and the rock bar on ‘bar street’.

This area also contains 23rd March square (named after the date of Greece’s independence).

At the top of the old town is the market, open on Wednesdays and Saturdays with meat, fish, fruit and vegetables of exceptional quality, freshness and price. Many of you may have heard of Kalamata olives which are famous here. In November and early December the market is packed with stalls selling newly harvested olives for people to press themselves or preserve in their favourite recipes. Mike and Claire had an exceptional selection.

Just behind, and above the market is Kalamata castle. It’s well worth the visit and €2 entry fee for the views of the city.

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Kalamata old town and castle

Kalamata has a micro climate due to having mountains on 3 sides. It isn’t uncommon to watch thunderstorms in the surrounding mountains while Kalamata stays dry and often sunny. The mountains are in excess of 1000m in height and from late December until March it’s usual for them to have a covering of snow while the daytime temperatures in Kalamata, at sea level, remain in the high teens to low twenties centigrade.

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Snow on the mountains behind the marina

We went back to the UK for Christmas 2018. We booked to fly to London Stanstead and assumed that flight time meant we’d have to stay overnight in Athens. As it turned out the bus from Kalamata and a taxi from the coach station would have got us to our flight in plenty of time. We chose instead to have an overnight stay in Athens. This comes under the category of road or air trip – I’ll tell you about these in a separate blog.

Kalamata as a town didn’t go overboard on the Christmas lights but what they had was good.

They also had a small Christmas market.

One of the shops in town ‘Jumbo’ had masses of Christmas items from mid November. It must be the most popular store in town and every day in the run up to Christmas the locals were coming out with trolley loads of decorations.

Although we missed it, the marina community had a Christmas BBQ and all met up in Skippers bar on Christmas day.

We arrived back on New Years eve and intended going to a restaurant that we’d been impressed with just outside the marina entrance. Unfortunately when we arrived we found it had to be booked. Undaunted we returned to the marina and found a table in one of the tavernas. Around 11pm a group of fellow cruisers who’d gone to the old town arrived – It seems that, like Scotland, the Greeks celebrate the new year at home with family.

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Our New Year meal

In line with many Christian countries, Greece celebrates Epiphany to a greater extent than Christmas Day. We knew that the main event would be at the commercial harbour at 11am. We’d been warned to arrive by 10:30 at the latest otherwise we wouldn’t get a view. Mike and I went for takeaway coffee while the girls saved a place for us in the gathering crowds

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Joining the crowds for Epiphany

In Kalamata it started with a religious procession from the cathedral to the commercial harbour. Once there 5 priests gave a sermon for 30 minutes or so before boarding a boat and moving out to the centre of the harbour.

 

Once moored the priests bless a wooden cross before throwing it into the harbour. This is a signal for the young men to brave the cold and dive in and race to retrieve the cross.

 

This is a scene that’s repeated in fishing towns throughout Greece. The ceremony is to bless the waters and the vessels that ply them. After the cross has been retrieved the priests bless the fishing boats.

On the 14th of January we’d arranged for Coriander to come out of the water for a new thru-hull and seacock to be fitted. We also took the opportunity to antifoul, replace the anodes and polish the hull.

Peter the hoist operator did a fantastic job of lifting Coriander out, jetwashing the hull and chocking her up. The care and attention to detail was excellent.

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Coriander in the hoist. Much easier than it had been in Ardrossan

Coriander wasn’t too bad considering she’d been in the water for over 2 years. There was a layer of slime that came off in no time.

 

The same couldn’t be said for the propeller. I set about cleaning it up using a scraper and emery paper as I’d done in the UK. Dean, one of the engineers, saw what I was doing and gave me a container with hydrochloric acid in it and told me to paint it on. 20 minutes later the prop, rope cutter and propshaft were like new, needing only a polish. Why don’t they do that in the UK?

 

Ioannis of Messinian Yacht Services arranged for Dean and Michael to replace the thru-hull and seacock. Dean also antifouled and polished Coriander for less than it cost me to antifoul her in the UK and that included the antifoul and materials. I’d highly recommend them.

In all Coriander was out for almost 2 weeks and we’re incredibly grateful to Mike and Claire for letting us stay on Owl and Pussycat for this time, even when they were on a road trip for 10 of those days. Thanks again.

While we were out of the water we had quite a strong storm. There was lots of hail and rain together with strong winds and waves crashing over the harbour wall. Kalamata has a river coming out next to the marina. It’s dry most of the time but it turned into a torrent washing trees and branches into the sea which were then washed into the marina by the wind and waves. It turned into quite a cleaning up exercise.

 

All of the boats in the marina escaped without any damage but unfortunately one of the boats in the commercial harbour succumbed and had to be salvaged.

The Virgin Mary is the patron saint of Kalamata and her ‘day’ is celebrated on the 2nd of February each year with a public holiday and a procession  which starts and ends at the church of Ypapanti (The presentation of Christ)

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The church of Ypapanti (The presentation of Christ)

The Holy icon of the Virgin Mary (Ypapanti) is located here. The icon is said to date from 672 AD and was found in stables during Ottoman rule after one of the city’s noblemen saw it in a vision. Having survived a fire, the back of the icon has been burned but the front is intact. After its discovery the icon found its home in a small church with the name Ypapanti built where it had been found.

Of course we had to go into town and join the crowds to watch the procession.

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The icon of the Virgin Mary

Other procession photographs and the icon being returned to the church.

 

And after that heading to 23rd of March Square for some roast pork.

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Delicious 🙂

The 28th of February marked the start of a 2 week carnival at Kalamata. We missed the first week as we were visiting my brother in Germany. We’d been told that the second week was the main week and we were back for that.

The full program is quite extensive with a pamphlet published describing the events and timetable. The timetable is also posted in the main square.

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Some of the Carnival events

The main events were 2 parades, one on the Saturday evening and one on Sunday afternoon. Of course we had to go up into town to watch them. After the parade everyone ended up in town, most on ‘Bar Street’. We ended up in the rock bar yet again. Most of the footage I got on Saturday night was video so apologies for the poor screen grabs.

Kalamata carnival (or Karnival) is put on by local groups and isn’t as polished or extravagant as the ones we’d seen in Spain. It’s put on by the locals for the locals with lots of school groups and clubs making up the participants.

It seemed like the whole town turned out to watch the Sunday parade, the whole thing finishing with an excellent rock concert in the square.

The three weeks of Carnival in Greece are, in order, “Prophoni” (Προφωνή -Preannouncement Week), “Kreatini” (Κρεατινή -Meatfare Week),[1] and “Tyrofagou” (Τυροφάγου -Cheesefare Week). Tsiknopempti is the Thursday of the 2nd week of Kreatini, during which large amounts of meat are traditionally consumed prior to the arrival of Lent, the fasting season leading up to Easter. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, fasting on Wednesday and Friday is important, therefore Thursday is the best day for Tsiknopempti. Tsiknopempti is celebrated 11 days before Clean Monday or Ash Monday.

Tsiknopempti or meat Thursday is celebrated in style in Kalamata with BBQ’s all along the streets, the restaurants only serving grilled and spit roasted meats and the squares taken over by people doing traditional Greek dances. This is not a day for being vegetarian. Claire wouldn’t be stopped from joining in and at one point was offered the yellow handkerchief signifying the lead dancer.

All that dancing, or watching it worked up our appetites so we queued for gyros at the best gyros kiosk in Kalamata (in our experience)

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Mike and Claire at the gyros kiosk

11 days after this was Clean Monday. The term, “Clean Monday”, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. In Greece the day is celebrated with the baking of a special bread called ‘Lagana’ which is only baked on this day which is a real pity because it’s delicious.

Mike went to the bakers for our loaf.

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The delicious Lagana

Families traditionally go for a picnic and fly kites in celebration, competing for who can get the kite the highest. The kites had been on sale for much of the previous week. We took our bread and a kite I’d brought from the UK to the beach to join in.

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Flying kites on Clean Monday

By the end of the day there was hardly a tree without a kite stuck in it.

The Liberation of Kalamata took place on 23 March 1821 when Greek irregular revolutionary forces took control of the city after the surrender of the Ottoman garrison. It was one of the first events of the Greek War of Independence.

Kalamata became the first major town to be liberated.

Naturally on the 23rd March Kalamata hosts a re-enactment of the battle. The re-enactment takes place along 23rd March Street, concluding at 23rd March Square.

The entire town is decked out in the blue and white of the Greek flag.

It starts with a religious and military ceremony with the handing over of a Greek flag which is raised.

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Handing over the flag

When that is concluded the silence is shattered by the sound of gunshots and horses racing along the street and into the square. Celebrations ensue with everyone dancing in the streets.

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Actors dancing on the raised podium

This pretty much marked the end of our winter in Kalamata. We had to stock up on essentials prior to leaving.

and have a last meal at Kalamata with Mike and Claire – a fabulous home made and decorated rabbit pie, a joint effort by Mike and Claire.

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The amazing ‘Elmer Fudd’ pie

We originally left Kalamata on the 10th April 2019. We turned the watermaker on to fill the water tanks only to find it leaking water everywhere. I traced the fault to a split hose and attempted to repair it. Unfortunately the pressure was way too much – roughly 800 PSI and the repairs failed. We reluctantly made the decision to return to Kalamata to get it fixed. The service from Jim from Schenker watermakers was superb. I emailed him regarding the problem and within 2 days he’d arranged for a new hose to be couriered to us from Italy.

After fitting the replacement hose and testing to ensure no further leaks we left Kalamata on the 13th April.

We’d had such a fantastic time here that we booked to stay again for the 2019/20 winter.

The next posts will describe the trips we made away from Kalamata.

999 Steps and Other Adventures

This blog covers our time in the Argolic Gulf and the sail to Kalamata where we were staying for the winter. Our (very) approximate route is in red on the chart below. As mentioned in an earlier blog, we went back to the Saronic Gulf part way through the trip to pick up my brother at Aegina before returning with him and Liba.

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Our approximate route

The Argolic Gulf holds fanstastic memories for Gill and I because it’s where Gill had her first real yachting holiday and fell in love with sailing. We re-traced the route we’d done in 2003 having kept the log book from that time and brought it with us.

We described our time in Porto Cheli in the previous post. From there our first stop was Koiladhia.

Koiladhia

The first time we visited we anchored just outside the bay off a nice swimming beach looking across at the private island which provides great shelter to the main Koiladhia anchorage. The second time we anchored in the main bay and took advantage of the shelter as the wind blew up to 35kts.

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Chartlet showing our 2 anchoring spots

Mike came over in his dinghy and took us ashore to visit the Franchthi Cave which were now a bit of a tourist attraction.

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Franchthi Cave. I forgot my camera, this shot is from a sailing holidays brochure

There is an excellent information kiosk at the entrance to the cave which details its’ occupation and use. The cave was extensively studied between 1967 and 1976. I was blown away to find out that the Cave had been occupied from around 40,000 BC until around 3,000 BC. When it was originally occupied the sea level was around 120m lower than current day and the shore was around 7km away. The flat plain gave good hunting and foraging.

Around 8,000-7,000 years BC, there was a permanent settlement which stretched out in front of the cave entrance down below current sea level.

The cave now has walkways and information points throughout and a reconstruction of part of the settlement.

On our second visit to Koiladhia we headed ashore to the town to explore. When we visited in 2003 my lasting memory is of a bustling town tavernas along the seafront all serving spit-roast lamb and having a drink at one of the tavernas and being attacked by wasps.

This time it was the end of the season so the town was pretty much deserted. Aside from that though it was exactly as we remembered it.

Khaidiri or Vivari

Our next port of call was the town with 2 names – Khaidiri and Vivari. I’m not sure if it is known by both names or changes name half way through the village.

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Chart of the Vivari/Khaidhari anchorage

On our 2003 visit we managed to get 11 yachts on the town pier by putting 6 of them stern to the quay med moored and then inserting the other 5 bow forward between the bows of the med moored yachts. That is no longer possible as the pier is entirely taken up with work boats that support the fish farms. This time we joined the other yachts anchored off.

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Vivari Anchorage

We went ashore and ate at the same taverna that we’d eaten at in 2003 when I distinctly remember ordering a potato salad as a starter and laughing as I was served a plate of chips (french fries). This time we opted for gigantes (broad beans in a tomato sauce), zucchini balls and a tomato and cucumber salad.

The following day we went for a walk inland to the nearest town where there were larger shops on the hunt for a butcher to get some chicken livers to make pate.

That evening we ate at a taverna with tables on the beach. It was great at the time but the sand flies had their feast on our ankles as I found out later.

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The taverna on the beach, with sand flies

As we left the following day we passed some impressive old rowing boats that we later found out were to take part in a race.

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Old racing rowing boat

Tolon

Our next stop, all of 4 miles from Vivari was the resort town of Tolon. We anchored just east of the submarine cable to the small island.

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Tolon Anchorage

This was our first time here although we’d anchor here a month or so later with our guests Chris and Liba.

The resort front is lined with tavernas. We took the dinghies to a pier and one on the restaurant waiters came over to take our lines. He advised that there was strong winds due and to move them further down the pier. We repaid his kindness by eating at his restaurant.

The next morning we dinghy’d over to the island to climb the steps to the church and look back at Owl and Pussycat anchored next to Coriander.

After going to the church we returned to our boats for the 6 mile motor to Navplion.

Navplion

At this point in time, this was our second favourite town in Greece. We’d visited with the flotilla. A few memories of that visit was the Hagen Daz shop in the square, the impromptu disco on the quayside which started at 2am and continued all night and the smell of sewage. The town itself was modern, touristy and in an impressive setting under the fort on the hill.

We sailed up from Tolon, past the church on the peninsula that the town sits on and the fort guarding the entrance to the harbour.

On our first visit in 2018 we berthed stern to on the town quay, on our second visit with Chris and Liba we went alongside at the visitor end of the commercial quay. As we’ve found throughout Greece the rates are very reasonable. We paid €10 per night for our 15m yacht. There is a very reasonable 25% surcharge for going alongside.

It was good to see that the quay is now fenced off with security gates at each end and port police offices. We wouldn’t have the disco at 2am this time 🙂

Exploring the town Gill was saddened that the Hagen Daz shop was no longer there so we had to have an ice cream from allegedly the oldest gelataria in town – delicious. the streets of the old town are narrow and packed with restaurants and tourist shops. On both of our visits the town was busy as befits what was once the capital of Greece (from 1821 to 1834).

Having chosen where we would eat that night we came across a bar selling local craft beers and a wide selection of ouzo. There was only one thing for it, Mike and I worked our way through the beer menu while Gill and Claire tried to do the same with the ouzos and retsina.

Of course while consuming alcohol we hatched the cunning plan to climb the steps up to Palamidi fort which overlooks the town. It’s possible to get a tour bus up and that’s what we did with Chris but on this occasion we decided that we’d st off at 8:30am while it was still cool and the 999 steps would be in the shade.

At 8:30 Mike, Claire, Fiona, Gill and I set off, passing the cafe at the foot of the steps

We started the climb up the very warn, steep and precarious steps (no H&S in Greece, slippery warn steps up a steep hill with a drop off to the side and no guardrail / wall for the first half of the climb). I don’t feel comfortable with heights but Mike is worse so he opted to wait at the bar at the bottom while the 4 of use tackled the ‘999’ steps (OK there are actually 913 steps but you climb a hill to reach them). We were pleased to reach the entrance to the fort after about 30 minutes after the guide book advised allowing over an hour.

The views as we climbed got better and we stopped frequently to admire them, not for a rest of course.

Palamidi castle / fort is made up of 8 bastions which were built during the Venetian rule of Nafplion between 1686 and 1715. On our first visit we explored 7 of them and finally Chris and I went to the 8th on our subsequent visit.

Throughout the castle there are information points giving the history each part. At the main entrance there is an overview:

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Description enlarged

The castle is well worth the visit, some areas are very well preserved whilst others aren’t quite as good. It’s easy to spend several hours exploring it all and the views of the Argolic gulf from the vantage point are stunning.

Views from the castle

I mentioned earlier that we hadn’t visited the 8th bastion on our first visit. The reason was that we hadn’t found out how to get there. On the second visit Chris and I found the path which was about 3 feet wide and was cut into the cliff with a 216m drop to the sea. I’m pleased to have done it but won’t be going back.

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Path to the 8th bastion

After exploring the castle we descended the steps to join Mike and Andrea at the cafe.

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Flip side of the cafe billboard

We spent the remaining time of our visits looking round the town and on a bus trip to visit Argos (not the store but a major town in the region).

Apart from it being a great place to visit, Nafplion has a good bus service to Athens and Andrea and Fiona left form here and at the end of the sailing part of the holiday Chris and Liba left from here.

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From Navplion we continued on our re-visit of the towns and anchorages from our flotilla holiday.

Astros

Astros was where Gill had her first ever gyros back in 2003. A ‘pita gyros’ is a Greek kebab consisting of pork, fries, tomato, onion and tsatsiki in a folded pita bread. It may sound like a turkish kebab that you get in the UK but the fresh pork in a pita gyros bears no comparison with the manufactured meat in the UK version.

We moored stern to the quay next to Owl and Pussycat.

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Coriander and Owl and Pussycat

The quay has been improved considerably since our previous visit. At that time the quay was a rough wall and there were rocks at various points which stopped yachts mooring there. The new quay has been built out to provide a smooth surface and ample depths of water for yachts.

Astros, like many Greek coastal towns has built out under the protection of a fort on a hill.

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Astros fort

Followers of the blog will not be surprised that we had to walk up to the fort to take a look. The path took us through a charming garden with a small church which, as always, was open.

The views from the top were great however the fort wasn’t in as good a condition as appeared from the town. We’ve seen this many times now with the outward appearance being very different when viewed from up close.

The views were well worth the walk.

On our walk back down from the fort we came across people decorating a church for a wedding.

It was time for us to move on from Astros, leave the mermaid and head to Tyros.

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Astros Mermaid

Tyros

Tyros was our final port in the Argolic Gulf proper. It is very much a holiday resort along a long beach. It was pretty much closed as we were there towards the end of September.

The harbour is well sheltered though small. I’d definitely visit here again but maybe when more was open.

On to Kalamata – Our winter home

The above hasn’t all been in chronological order. After we dropped Chris and Liba off at Nafplion on the 28th of October, we headed to Porto Cheli for the night. We were booked in to Kalamata from November so had mo move quite quickly. The weather had been unseasonably good but was starting to change. We left Porto Cheli and motored south for 36 miles to Ieraica, a very sheltered dog leg just north on Monemvasia.

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The sheltered anchorage at Ieraika

We arrived at 2pm and anchored off the town. We took the dinghy into the lagoon to have a look and then went ashore for a drink at one of the tavernas. We didn’t know at the time but this is the birthplace to Telly Savalas of Kojak fame.

We left Ieraika at 0630 the next morning intending to go to a harbour that read well in the pilot book – Palaiokastro but when we got there we found the quay to be full of rafted work boats and the harbour bottom where we should have been able to anchor littered with debris.

The wind and swell were southerly so the anchorages on Elafonisos would have to wait for another year. We bit the bullet and motorsailed 68 miles to Porto Kayio.

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Porto Kayio anchorage

There are a couple of tavernas ashore but on this occasion we were tired after arriving at dusk after a long day and a swell was working into the bay making the option of a dinghy ride unattractive.

We left Kayio for the 26 mile motor in no wind to the anchorage at Diros. We wanted to be close enough to Kalamata to get there around mid-day the next day and Diros would give us 36 miles.

The anchorage at Diros is superb. The water clear and the bottom sand. Diros is famous for its’ flooded caves and we’d visit by car over the winter. I went for the last swim of the year in the still warm water before settling down for our last night on anchor in 2018.

We left Diros at 0730 the next morning for our final motor to Kalamata.

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Motoring to Kalamata

We called up 10 minutes out on VHF channel 69 and were given permission to enter. We went stern to on D pontoon where Owl and Pussycat was already moored and Mike and Claire took our lines.

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Med moored in our 2018 winter home

We’d had a fantastic sailing season in 2018 – now for the winter.