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The Gulf of Amvrakia (Amvrakikos Kolpos)

On the 12th July we made our second (and this time successful) attempt to head through the Lefkas canal and head to Preveza, the main town in the gulf.

We left the Lygia anchorage at 10:00am to go for the 11:00 Lefkas ‘bridge’ opening. There should be a floating bridge that swings to one side every hour, the bridge has to be towed by a tugboat for maintenance in Preveza each year and it is normally done in the quiet winter period. This year, however, because of the lockdown they weren’t able to tow the bridge until the end of April when some firms were able to re-open. While the bridge is away it is replaced by a RORO ferry which wedges itself across the channel and because it takes longer to move it only opens every 2 hours, making it all the more important to get the timing right.

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First in line approaching the Ferry (bridge)

We made it to the marina and town quay just before the bridge in plenty of time. There was a bit of an issue when one of the yachts that had moored stern to the town quay got their anchor caught in the anchor chains of other yachts and were stuck in the middle of the channel but we were able to get passed them. They didn’t make this opening though.

Once through it was an hours motor to the dredged channel that you have to follow to get into the gulf.

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The dredged channel into the gulf and Preveza anchorage

The Gulf of Ambrakia, also known as the Gulf of Arta or the Gulf of Actium (or in Greek: Αμβρακικός κόλπος, Amvrakikos kolpos), is a gulf of the Ionian Sea. About 40 km (25 mi) long and 15 km (9 mi) wide, it is one of the largest enclosed gulfs in Greece, and due to its ecological importance is one of the National Parks of Greece. The main towns are Preveza, Amphilochia (formerly Karvassaras), and Vonitsa.

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The Gulf, the yellow line is our route

The gulf takes its name from the ancient city of Ambracia located near it’s shores. It’s alternative name comes from the medieval (and modern) city of Arta, located in the same place as ancient Ambracia.

The entrance to the gulf is through a 700 m (2,297 ft)-wide channel between Aktio (ancient Actium) on the south and Preveza on the north; a recent road tunnel connects the two. The gulf is quite shallow, and it’s shore is broken by numerous marshes, large parts of which form an estuary system. The Louros and Arachthos (or Arta) rivers drain into it; for this reason it is warmer and less salty than the Ionian, and a current flows from the gulf into the sea. It is rich in grey mullet, sole, and eel, and is also very famous for shrimps. Sea turtles and dolphins regularly make an appearance, while it contains lagoons very important for birds.

The Ambracian Gulf was the site of the Battle of Actium, in which Augustus’ forces defeated those of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. From Greek independence (Treaty of Constantinople, 1832) until the Second Balkan War (Treaty of Bucharest, 1913), the gulf formed part of the border between the Kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire.

We anchored in the Preveza anchorage just north of the newly opened marina by 12:30. The anchorage is well sheltered and pretty shallow in places. We anchored in 2.5m of water which was shallower than we would normally anchor in but we were 200 feet from the 2m contour and as we only draw 1.8m we were quite happy.

At Claire’s suggestion we took the dinghies into Preveza for a walk along the quayside and round the headland to the castle which guards the entrance to the gulf. From the sea on the way in it looks really impressive but from the land side it is a little the worse for wear. It was around an hours walk to the castle, along the coast and by 2 beaches, but we were promised a beer at the taverna next to it, unfortunately it was closed which wasn’t surprising since we hadn’t seen anyone on our walk except for the few people on the beach.

We took the direct route back through town and to the front where we stopped for an ouzo and beer at a quayside café. This was slightly more expensive than usual given that it was on the promenade next to where flotilla and charter boats normally moor. This time it was manly live aboard yachties or empty charter boats that hadn’t been chartered.

We went back a street and found a small square where locals sat at the various cafes for coffee and ouzo. We chose Nikopolis, named after the site of an ancient city and battle just to the north of Preveza. The prices were half what they were on the front and the drinks came with a fantastic meze which was a meal in itself. This was a common theme in the non tourist areas of the gulf and a taste of real Greece.

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Preveza ouzeri meze

2 years ago the marina hadn’t been completed and boats could tie up to the pontoons without charge. The marina has since been finished and officially opened and was fenced off. It is the base for a charter fleet of catamarans and was full with boats without customers. The pricing may put people off from going in longer term, for a comparison it is approximately €8 per night on the quay compared with €69 per night in the marina. There was a 62 foot catamaran in the marina and for fun I went on the website to see how much it cost to charter for a week – I hadn’t expected it to be €27,000 even if that did include a skipper!

Preveza is a great town, it has good shopping, a great range of bars and restaurants and lovely alleys and monuments. As a stopover and place to restock it is excellent. It also has a number of very helpful and well stocked chandlers.

Last year I’d had a problem with our generator and it had to be taken out of Coriander and sent to Athens to be repaired. Onan Athens did a great and reasonably priced repair and it was re-installed in February. When it was back in it was tested briefly and started ok and produced electricity. A month later there was a power cut in Kalamata so we decided to run the generator. It stopped with a similar error code to the one which we had last year. On checking the gen set, we found that it was sitting in a pool of diesel. We called back Yani who runs the company that re-installed it and he traced the fault to a cracked connector. While checking he also found that the flexible exhaust pipe had split. The coupling and the exhaust pipe were replaced and we ran the generator for an hour to assure ourselves that all was ok.

We next tried to use the generator in Pylos, this time it ran for 10 minutes before cutting out. I checked that it wasn’t a repeat of the diesel problem and it wasn’t. I half resigned myself to being without the generator until we returned to Kalamata. After helping Mike out in Vathi by going up his mast I mentioned the issue that we were having and he offered to come over to have a look, being something of an engineer. I pressed the start button and after priming for a few seconds the generator started and ran fine. We put it down to an airlock or something.

We wanted to use it again at Preveza and it again cut out and refused to attempt to start, just turning over. This indicated that it had to be a fuel problem. Thinking back, each time that it had run ok, it was when we’d filled the boat tank with fuel. I began to wonder if the engineer who had put the generator back in had connected the diesel in and diesel return the wrong way round. The return is at the top of the tank and would be able to suck diesel through if the tank was full but not when we’d used some.

Taking the pipes off and using a suction pump I was able to ascertain that they had indeed been connected the wrong way around. A trip to the chandler was required to get some fuel hose and connectors to correct the installation. Once done the generator ran perfectly and, touch wood, fingers crossed, continues to do so a month later. I’ll have a chat with the engineer when we return to Kalamata.

To celebrate the fix, we all went ashore for a drink and had intended going for a gyros but we came across a delightful looking taverna and decided to stop for a drink and have a few starters as a meze. The taverna was called Alatopipero (salt and pepper) and was fabulous. They suggested that we have pork kontosouvli (marinated pork roasted on a spit) rather than the pork dish we’d chosen and it was one of the best things I’ve tasted.

Preveza has an international airport just to the south of it and on the morning of the 15th July we noted a large number of flights coming in –Greece had opened the boarders to tourists flying in. We decided to head further into the gulf and took the afternoon breeze to sail 10 miles to Koronisia. We anchored in sand off the beach and were invited to Owl and Pussycat for pizza cooked on their Cobb barbeque. Mike had prepared the dough from scratch and topped them and we proceeded to learn how to use a barbeque to cook pizza. They were all fantastic and by third one pretty much perfect. Just to the north of the anchorage is a marsh and unfortunately when the sun went down we were inundated with insects so we beat a hasty retreat.

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Owl and Pussycat in the gorgeous anchorage before the insects arrived

Koronisia (Korona Island!) is a small ‘island’ connected by sand bars over the marsh to the mainland via a number of bridges. It is a delightful little town with a small fishing harbour. A few years ago a pontoon was put in to try to attract visiting boats but the shallow 1.6m entrance means it is too shallow for many yachts.

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The harbour, only shallow draft boats can enter

We took the dinghies to the beach and walked over to the village and harbour. We stopped at a small café where we had frappes and chatted with the owner. Like many she was interested in where we’d come from and spent the winter. We were possibly the first foreign ‘tourists’ to visit this year.

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Taverna by the harbour, great coffee

We waked back to the anchorage via the town centre with its’ old church with, for some reason, a millstone within its’ grounds and a well just outside it.

We took the afternoon breeze to sail 9 miles across to a wide bay called Ormos Paliomilou.

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Enjoying a good sail

We’d read comments in an online pilot guide that we use that it is very tranquil and beautiful and that’s how it turned out. There is a small beach with umbrellas and a beach bar which remained closed. Not surprising as the most people we saw on the beach was 4. We went swimming and generally chilled.

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Anchored off the beach

We again sailed the next morning to the resort town of Menidi. The sailing was a real bonus because we’d expected to have to motor. It was possibly the best sail of the year so far, even though it was only 10 miles. Menidi is where the Greeks go for a holiday and at was lovely. The swimming is good in clear-ish warm water.

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We chose a great time to leave, the rain is dumping on the anchorage we’d just left.

We anchored just to the north of the town in 4m of water just beyond the buoyed off swimming area. We took the dinghy into the harbour and met Mike and Claire for a walk around the town, culminating in a gyros on the seafront. There were still people in the water when the sun went down around 9pm. The town got busier as is the norm in Greece around 10pm. Apart from the serving staff wearing masks you wouldn’t have known that there was a worldwide pandemic going on.

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Church in the centre of town
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Enjoying a swim at sundown
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Interesting beach lights

We stayed the one night and had intended moving just 2 miles to the other side of the bay but our experience with insects (may have been mosquitos but I can’t be certain) we decided to re-trace our steps to Ormos Paliomilou where it was our turn to host a ‘Mexican’ night.

We started at 3:30pm with a domino game called Mexican Train. It’s something we play fairly regularly but time has to be allowed as it normally take around 6 hours for a game. I’m not going to go into how to play, there is plenty to read online about it.

For a change I was doing quite well and by the final round I was in the lead by around 50 points but fate (and Claire’s skill) managed to convert that into a win for Claire by 5 points.

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Not sure if this was a good or bad hand 😉

We’d had a few drinks and snacked on beef burrito spring rolls throughout the game. As a finale we dined on cheesy nachos with salsa, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos with chicken fajitas. 

It was now the 19th of July and we moved to one of my favourite places where we would stay for 4 nights, the town of Vonitsa.

Vonitsa (Βόνιτσα) is in the northwestern part of Aetolia-Acarnania in Greece and is seat of the municipality of Aktio-Vonitsa. The town is dominated by a Venetian fortress on a hill. The Greek National Road 42 (Lefkada – Amfilochia) passes through Vonitsa

We anchored behind Nisis Koukounitsa next to the causeway joining the island to the mainland. The island and causeway provide excellent shelter in lovely surroundings and it is only a short walk to the town from the tiny fishing harbour.

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Looking over the causeway to the town

We swam off the beach and had an excellent BBQ while watching the sun go down

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Enjoying the BBQ and ‘Sundowners’
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The causeway is lit up at night

After 4 nights it was time to return to Preveza to stock up again before starting to make our way back south. There was a very marked contrast in how busy the town now was. All of the establishments were full and the promenade was packed with tourists. It was a little unsettling and maintaining social distancing etc was next to impossible. We went to the supermarket on a couple of occasions, choosing to go at 3pm when the town was at its’ least busy.

We had drinks at a local bar that we’d frequented 2 years ago which serves up a fantastic meze and ate at the “salt and pepper” avoiding the busier tourist areas.

We departed to head back through the Lefkas canal on the 23rd July, 2 weeks to the day after we’d arrived.

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Joining the procession back through the canal

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the gulf and hopefully we’ll be able to head back in September when Mike and Claire are expecting visitors to fly in to Preveza.

Stay safe everyone.

 

 

 

A Very Different Ionian

I want to start this post by saying what an amazing job Greece has done so far dealing with the Covid pandemic. There are very few cases and fatalities so far due to the early lock down and the populations’ adherence to the rules. Kalamata looked after us tremendously and the Marina was fantastic by charging us winter rates less 25% for the time we were in lockdown, even though the last 2 months should have been on summer rates.

I’ve already written about Kalamata in normal times. Our friends on Owl and Pussycat have written an amazing post which describes this winter’s activities here: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2020/05/27/over-wintering-and-lock-down-in-kalamata-2019-2020/

On the 1st of June 2020 yachts already in Greece were allowed to start cruising again but the borders would remain closed until the 1st July and only allow flights in from the 15th of July. We decided that this would give us a great opportunity to cruise the Ionian without having to contend with all of the charter boats and flotillas which in normal times fill up all of the harbours and anchorages.

We hired a car for the last week in May to enable us to go round the supermarkets and stock up with the heavier items (beer and wine) before getting ready to leave. At this time the restrictions limited the number allowed in a car at any time to 3 so Both Mike and I were named as drivers so that he and Claire could shop as well as Gill and I.

The time had come when we were itching to be able to leave.

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Leaving Kalamata Marina

We started the engine and slipped the lines to leave Kalamata at 09:35 on the first of July and motored 16 miles to Zaga beach, Koroni. We’d anchored off the town the year before but this time we anchored to the south of the premonitory, under the castle. It felt strange to be back at sea for the first time in 8 months and it took a while to get back into the swing of things.

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Coriander, Owl and Pussycat and Sirtaki – Just left Kalamata

We invited Mike and Claire over for a celebratory drink of Champagne (ok, fizz) and the rum and grape juice that Chris had given us for Christmas.

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Great to be out

The next morning we took the dinghies ashore to explore the castle and walk over into town where we enjoyed a couple of drinks overlooking the harbour where other yachties who we’d spent the winter with had anchored. It was then time to go to the main street for what we believe is the best gyros in Greece.

Koroni is more of a locals / fishing town so although it was quiet, it wasn’t unusually so.

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Beers at Koroni Harbour

The next morning we motored 13 miles to Finikous and anchored in a bay a mile or so west of the resort of Foinikounta which we felt would be more sheltered from the forecast westerly winds. We’d intended going ashore for a BBQ but the beach was filled with cows and we felt uncomfortable about cooking their brothers in front of them so we decided to walk into the resort. We could have anchored off the town as the bay was sheltered and the swim buoys hadn’t been laid due to there being no tourists.

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Foinikounta

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Foinikounta Harbour

It felt very strange being pretty much the only people there. All but 2 of the tavernas were closed and the 2 that were open were almost empty. After a beer to prepare ourselves, we walked back and had a drink on Owl and Pussycat.

Next morning we motored all of 4 miles to the fabulous town of Methoni, guarded by an impressive castle and tower. This is somewhere I’d highly recommend spending some time and as long as Greece stays open we will visit on our way back to Kalamata.

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Methoni Anchorage with the fort standing guard

Gill and I went ashore to get some bread in the town and then walk round the castle. This is a fabulous tourist attraction which had just been allowed to re-open but was pretty deserted, indeed we only saw 4 other people all of the way round and everyone was keeping their distance.

The fort was built over a period of time starting with the Venetians in the 15th century and being completed in 1715. The standout was the tower at the seaward end built on Mothon rock

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Tower with canons guarding the entrance

We then met Mike and Claire in the town square for a frappe. We happened to be sitting next to a table of British ex-pats (immigrants?) who were complaining that other ‘ex-pats’ or holiday home owners were coming out now that they could drive to Greece and making them feel very nervous and un-safe.

We noticed that when we go to any of the bars the first question is a nervous ‘where are you from’ with the attitude being much friendlier when we explain that we’ve spent the winter and lockdown in Kalamata. Although the tourist money is needed, there is a lot of understandable nervousness.

There is a great (deserted at this time) beach at Methoni which we decided would be ideal for the BBQ that we’d missed the day before.

We were forecast strong winds the next day so we couldn’t stay longer in Methoni but would be able to find shelter 9 miles round the coast at Pylos. Mike and Claire and been warned by a Swiss sailor that the winds were forecast and that he was going to move across the bay at Methoni and see it through.

We anchored just to the north of the town of Pylos and the winds duly hit the forecast 30kts and it was no surprise to see the Swiss sailor come round and join us.

The anchorage was pretty sheltered which is good because although Pylos as a decent sized marina, there is no room for visiting boats because of the number of derelicts that are permanently moored there because no charges are made. We dinghied into the harbour for coffee in the town square and to visit the (yes another) castle. The town square was full of locals who were relieved that they could again meet for their ritual morning coffee and chat, albeit served by masked and visored staff.

After coffee it was time to head up through town to the castle.

By now it was the 6th of June and we moved 2 miles further in to the bay of Navarinou. This is the site of the famous battle of Navarone and the bay is littered with shipwrecks.

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The nearest I found to the ‘Guns of Navarone’

After a swim we decided that we needed more exercise and set out to walk to reportedly the best beach in Greece – Ormos Voidokoila. After walking by the lagoon under some pretty impressive cliffs (and by the signs saying the path was closed due to rock falls) we spent 30 minutes walking through sand dunes to come across an admittedly pleasant beach but possibly not the best in Greece.

Another attraction here is Nestor’s cave which is halfway up a steep hill. Of course we had to scramble up to see it.

In Greek mythology, Heracles slew all of the sons of the king of Pylos except Nestor who became king of Pylos. Nestor appears as a sage elder in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Legend also has it that this is the cave where Hermes hid the 50 cattle he stole from Apollo.

We decided to stay in the bay of Naverinou for an extra night but this time move the mile to the upmarket resort of Gialovas. This is obviously where the young come to be seen in some very chic bars.

It was time we started making some miles north if we were to see the Ionian islands while the borders were still closed.

For a change, the wind gods were in our favour and we were able to sail most of the 51 miles to Katakolo. The anchorage behind the huge breakwater is shallow and very sheltered from the prevailing winds and swell. The small town now gets most of its income from tourists who come to the town on cruise ships to visit nearby Ancient Olympia. The breakwater and quay were built to accommodate these ships but there were only a couple of mothballed ferries in their berths. We were able to see from the transponders that ships now have that they’d been there for months and usually ferried visitors from Italy.

The town was pretty much deserted and we ate in a taverna with at least 60 tables, with just 2 tables taken all night. You have to wonder how much these people are losing because they have to have bought in supplies to be able to open.

The next morning we sailed 25 miles to Keri on the south of Zakynthos. From May to October most of the bay is off limits to boats because it is an important nesting site for turtles. Why they think anchored boats disturb the turtles more than the extensive onshore nightlife and hotel complexes that line the beach is beyond me.

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Keri with Coriander and Owl and Pussycat anchored outside the harbour

The thing I completely agree with is the 6kt speed limit throughout the bay so that the turtles have time to get out of the way, or we are able to spot them and go around them.

Keri was a very pleasant town which was very slowly starting to open. The only place open was a coffee shop when we first arrived but within a couple of days a restaurant and gyros bar opened up, along with a beach kiosk. It was still pretty much deserted though.

On our way in we’d passed several turtles swimming around and they continued to visit in the anchorage.

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Coriander, O&P and the aptly named ‘Turtle Island’

During the walk to Nestor’s cave, Gill had hurt her hip so we decided not to join Mike and Claire when they went for a walk. Followers of the blog will know that if there is a windmill I have to visit it so I was somewhat challenged when Mike sent me a picture of them having in drink at a windmill which had been turned into a bar. Challenge accepted, Gill and I headed along the seafront and around a lagoon which is filled with natural tar which oozes to the surface and used to be used to seal the bottom of boats. You can imagine my (and Gill’s) relief to find an ornate windmill in a garden, thus negating climbing the hill to the one Mike had found.

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I found a windmill

After 3 days we decided to move a little further on to Porto Roma on the 14th of June. The pilot book we use advises against visiting due to the noise from the hotels and the constant jetski and banana boats that weave through the anchored yachts. This year the hotels was closed, the banana boat didn’t have any customers and we were the only yachts there. One beach bar was open though so we helped the local economy out once more by having a couple of drinks – Just the one would have been rude J

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Hotel closed and beach empty

One night was enough and the next morning we headed for another new island – Cephalonia, or Kephalonia as the Greeks spell it. It was 24 miles to the resort / anchorage of Kato Katelios. We went ashore for a drink and again were asked where we were from, with the friendly attitude restored when told ‘Kalamata’. The only people there were locals in what should have been a bustling holiday resort.

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A deserted Kato Katelios

2 ex work colleagues and friends have been following us on Facebook and the year before had asked if we would be around Cephalonia as they were holidaying there for the second time. Unfortunately we were in the Aegean so couldn’t meet them. I dropped them a note asking where they had stayed and coincidence has it that the first year they were in Kato Katelios and the second year in Agia Effima – our next stop.

Agia Effima is 22 miles from Kato Katelios and we set off quite early because the channel between Cephalonia and Ithaca is notorious for channelling the prevailing northerly wind and making a light wind seem ridiculous. We motored in next to no wind, following Owl and Pussycat who had left 30 minutes before us. We rounded the corner and headed north with a slight chop against us but no wind. Just 5 miles ahead, Claire messaged me to say they had over 25kts of wind against them. It’s hard to credit the difference a couple of miles can make and the effects of the topography on the winds.

The wind hit us and our speed dropped from 6 kts to just over 4. We motored into the wind for what seemed like ages before turning at Ak Dhekali into the bay past Sami and into Ag Effima harbour where we anchored in 8m just inside the breakwater.

This was our first visit here and there was only one boat alongside at the quay and 4 other boats anchored in the harbour. Exchanging messages with our friends Catherine and John, they were amazed how quiet it was compared to when they were there with the harbour and quay crammed with sailing boats and others milling round waiting for a space to become available.

Catherine suggested an excellent bakery for croissants and coffee which fortunately was one of the few places open. Luckily the chandlers was also open as the hand pump for petrol on Mike’s dinghy had started to leak and a replacement required. I decided that a spare for us would probably be a good idea so I went for one and of course came out with 5 other items that we hadn’t gone in for! The chandler is highly recommended and very helpful.

After a couple of days exploring Agia Effima on the 18th of June we decided to head over to Ithaca to an anchorage that looked sheltered and offered a few options in the bay at Pera Pigadhi. On arrival we found that there was a boats anchored in the prime spot but undeterred we tried anchoring in 4 other places around the bay. We have an excellent and reliable anchor but I couldn’t get it to dig in and hold. There was no wind and Coriander wasn’t in any danger so I put on my snorkel and mask to see what was happening. It soon became obvious that the sand that we thought we were anchoring was in fact flat rock with a dusting of sand over it. There was no way I was going to trust it so we decided to lift the anchor and try our luck at an anchorage we hadn’t been to before because it is always packed with flotillas who were briefed to be there before 2pm –  One house bay on the island of Atoko.

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One House Bay – The one house!

We sailed passed the anchorage at the south of the island where there was one yacht long lined and into One House Bay just as the only yacht there was leaving. We tried anchoring close into the beach in 5m but couldn’t find anywhere that was free of rocks, it was turning into one of those days. Lifting the anchor we moved out a bit and found some excellent sand in 10m and were solidly anchored. It was just as well because at 2pm the prevailing wind kicked in as always and it howled through the bay gusting well over 20kts until 8pm. We now knew the real reason the flotilla leads (mother duck) want their ‘ducklings’ in before 2pm.

One night was enough and we were pleased to have had the bay to ourselves. There is nothing on the island but the one unoccupied house so without any light pollution the night sky was outstanding.

We motored the next morning 9 miles to Ormos Sarakiniko back on Ithica where we anchored under some amazing cliffs in 15m of water just 100 feet from the shore. I put the snorkelling gear on and swam to check the anchor was securely in and was amazed at how clearly I could see it in the gin clear waters. Owl and Pussycat came round to join us but we seemed to have snagged the only bit of sand around. They left and moved to the next bay from where they messaged to say they had anchored in sand in 5m and there was plenty of room so we went around to join them at Filiatro bay.

There were 2 superyachts long lined in the opposite corner of the bay and the RIB that we assumed to be the tender off one of them turned out to be the Greek coastguard checking their papers. At this time the Greek boarders were still closed to visiting boats and we can only assume that they had arrived from Italy or somewhere while the borders were closed because the coastguard got on their radio and they both left. The sea temperature had warmed up nicely by now so I spent most of the rest of the day swimming and snorkelling along the rocks to the north of the beach.

There were strong winds forecast over the next couple of days so we went to the anchorage of Vathi (yes another one), still on Ithaca. We’d really liked it 2 years before but at that time there were 50 boats anchored and another 200 stern to the quays which surround the bay. This time there were about 8 boats on the quay and only a couple anchored. We went ashore with Mike and Claire to have a wander around the town and happened to be passing the yacht club when we spotted Gunnar and Anneka, a couple we’d over wintered with the previous year in Kalamata. They were in the bar with friends from Lefkas marina where they’d stayed this year. The quiet walk turned into quite a boisterous night!

This turned out to be unfortunate because the strong winds duly arrived but from a slightly different direction and at 6am we were woken up to being bounced around in 40kts of wind. Although it wasn’t really dangerous, it was very uncomfortable and as it wasn’t forecast to die down until the next day Gill and I decided to leave and go back to Filiatro bay for the night. We battled out against the 40kt winds and were relieved to be able to turn down wind and sail into the sheltered bay where the winds were a much more respectable 6kts.

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Big waves outside, all calm within

The winds had died the following morning so we made our way back to Vathi. Mike and Claire had managed to anchor to the north of the bay where there was more shelter but we headed back to the town anchorage. Once we were settled, Mike called and asked if I’d mind giving him a hand by going up his mast to fix a couple of pulleys which hold up the lazyjacks – lines which control the main sail when it is let back down the mast. Up I went and after 40 minutes or so the job was done – time for a well-earned beer.

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Working up the mast

We ate out that night at a taverna called Niko’s. The food was excellent and as we were finishing up the owner (Niko) came over to speak with us. We had been his only customers that night and he said that he was working in the kitchen and his son had served us. In normal times he said he employs 8 more staff and would expect to be serving 250 meals or more and that people need to book ahead or queue on the off chance of a table. If you multiply that by the number of restaurants in Vathi or other tourist resorts it brings home the scale of lost revenue and jobs that are lost.

Having spent a few days in Vathi we left on the 25th, we went to Nisis Ag Nikolaou, an anchorage that we’d tried to get to 2 years before but couldn’t get near because 2 flotillas were there. This time there were 3 other boats and we had no trouble finding room to anchor. It’s an absolutely gorgeous bay with 2 beaches behind an island. The first night the other boats left and we had the bay to ourselves, the next night Mike and Claire came to join us and we went ashore for an ouzo or two at a small shack that a couple have opened as a beach bar. They say they have been there for 10 years, adding to it a little each year. Gill and I took the dinghy over to the island to visit the obligatory church and look back over the views of the bay.

Mid channel there is a reef marked on the chart so we took the dinghy over to find it – It looked amazing, just below the surface and in the perfect place to catch an unwary sailor. It would probably also make for a fantastic dive site, maybe on our way back.

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The reef

Mike and Claire were keen to visit Fiskardo back on Cephalonia. They have fond memories of it as a bustling fishing harbour that they visited several years ago when they chartered a yacht in the area. It is also famous for being a favourite place royals like to visit, especially Prince Charles apparently.

It was one of the busier places that we’d been with the town quay full apart from a couple of berths that were a little shallow for us. There were 3 boats long lined at the north of the bay and we decided we’d join them. Owl and Pussycat went in first and when they were settled, Mike came over in the dinghy and took our lines.

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Long lining at Fiskardo – O&P

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And Coriander

We headed ashore and walked to the headland where there is a Venetian lighthouse and an early Christian basilica (yet more culture).

After that we took a walk into town and encountered our first real taste of tourists when 2 trip boats from Nidri disgorged around 100 tourists. The land borders had been opened mid June and there were a lot of Serbian and Bulgarian tourists in Greece. As an aside the border has since been tightened up and everyone wanting to cross has to have a certificate to say they have taken a negative C-19 test within the last 72 hours.We stood aside to let them passed and after an hour they were back on the boats. That evening we headed for a drink and meal and ran into Gunnar and Anneka again. We’d intended having a Thai meal for a change but the restaurant had still to open. We found a quayside restaurant that was open but very quiet like the rest of the time.

We left on the 27th for a great sail to one of Gill and I’s favourite places from 2 years ago – Vasiliki on Lefkada. We anchored outside the almost finished, but still closed marina just as the wind started to get up. Vasiliki is famous for windsurfing and the bay is crammed with watersport centres catering for the visitors. Every day around 2pm a westerly wind blows at around 20kts which the locals have named Eric. Today Eric blew a little stronger and the waves rebounded from the marina making it quite bouncy. Mike and Claire decided to take refuge in the marina but knowing it would die down later we decided to stick it out. It was quite fortunate that we did because a windsurf student had been caught out by the wind and was being blown towards the rocks at the marina entrance. Gill spotted him sitting on his board waving his arms and shouting for help. We were able to throw him a line and get him aboard Coriander. We tried phoning for help for him but in the meantime managed to attract the attention of one of the rescue boats who were able to take him to shore and re-unite him with his wife. Good deed done for the day.

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Vasiliki

We went ashore and joined Mike and Claire for a drink before they went back for a meal aboard Owl and Pussycat and we had a gyros. While making our way back to the dinghy we noticed Owl and Pussycat moving in the marina – The guard had been called to evict them as the marina really is closed. The rescue boat we’d called earlier said they only allowed boats to take refuge if the winds are over F8. Owl and Pussycat tied alongside the town quay and the next morning we moved in to join them for a couple of nights. This wouldn’t have been possible normally but this year it was free and we had the quay to ourselves.

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The watersports beach, before Eric arrived

We walked along the beach to fairly quiet water sports centres and ate at the recommended (by me) wood oven pizza restaurant the first night and at Penguin restaurant run by Gary and Mary, one of our favourite restaurants of 2 years ago.

We left Vasiliki on the 2nd of July to go back to One House Bay as Mike and Claire hadn’t been. Knowing where to anchor we dropped the hook and waited for Owl and Pussycat. Mike anchored but wasn’t happy so they decided to head for Kastos on Kastos. We had our second night alone in the anchorage and the next morning were delighted to see the pigs which we’d heard lived by the beach.

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One house bay pigs

Of course even pigs have to cool down.

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Anyone for a swim

We motored the 7 miles to the Kastos anchorage the next morning. The harbour and town is very small, we’d walked around it in 10 minutes. The highlight was the walk around the headland to a windmill we’d seen on the way in that just happened to be a taverna with a fantastic view.

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The taverna

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… and the view

The next few days were forecast to be thundery so we headed for the Ionian ‘hurricane hole’ of Vlikho. It is very sheltered with great holding for the anchor which was a good job as the thunderstorms arrived allowing us to get the mops out and give Coriander a good wash. It was funny looking around to see most other boat owners in their swimming costumes doing the same.

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Storm clouds gathering at Vlikho

We took a walk to the holiday resort of Nidri just a mile to the north and it was pretty much deserted. There are several boatyards on the way into Vlikho and they were still full of boats yet to be launched. Vlikho is also home to half a dozen charter fleets and these boats were all in port as Greece still wasn’t allowing tourist flights in. The only boats out had been locals or people like us or a very few charterers from eastern bloc countries.

In Nydri there is a statue to Aristotle Onasis. He owned the island of Skorpios in the approach to Nydri. On his death the island was meant to go to the Greek state but another member of the Onasis family sold it to a Russian oligarch. The island is now off limits and guarded by armed guards in patrol boats. The case is going through the courts.

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The statue of Aristoltle Onasis

While the going was still good we motored over to Ormos Abelake on Meganisi where we long lined next to the beach. Mike and Claire had been there before where they joined 30 boats at anchor, this time there were only about 5 of us.

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Long lined off the beach

We walked over the hill to the harbour town of Vathi – yes another one where I found what would probably be the ideal tender, if only we could transport it.

It’s a jetski that turns into a quad, or vice verse?

Vathi is a lovely little harbour town and it was great to sit in a coffee shop and watch the world go by. We returned to the yachts and spent the afternoon swimming before going ashore at the local taverna for a meal.

The next morning we took the dinghies round to the next bay – Port Atheni and went to the ‘Reggie’ beach bar. The trip back was pretty bouncy and we all had fingers crossed because the oil pressure warning light came on on our dinghy and Mike and Claire’s outboard started to misfire. We both got back ok and after checking the oil level we decided that it must have briefly been the angle the engine was at on a wave – it’s been fine since. We stripped the carb on Mike’s outboard and it too now seems to be running

Our next stop, and the one we thought would be our last in this part of the Ionian, ‘Two Tree Bay’ or Ormos Varko. It was fairly quiet when we got there and the beach and beach bar pretty deserted. We spent the day swimming and relaxing, while watching the workers ashore getting the beach bar ready for opening. When we were last here, the bar played music all day, before shutting down around 7pm, the beach was packed and around 50 boats were at anchor. There were 15 or so this time but around 9pm they must have got the sound system wired up and the beach bar blasted out ‘noise’ for the next hour. Thankfully then calling it a day. I guess they were getting ready for the 15th when the flights could start.

Not wanting a repeat performance, we decided to leave the south Ionian islands and head through the Lefkas canal and go to Preveza.

We’d calculated that it would take around 1 ½ hours to get to the ferry that was acting as a bridge while the bridge is being repaired (more on this in a future blog) and up anchored to make our way round.

All was going well, we got to the canal with Mike and Claire in the lead, then a catamaran that sneaked in front of us and then us. We proceeded along the canal but we thought that the catamaran was causing a lot of fumes as there was a strong fuel smell behind them. Having had enough we decided to overtake them putting us behind Owl and Pussycat. All of a sudden, Owl and Pussycat turned around and put up a sail to head back. Claire came on the radio to say that they had a fuel leak and the smell had been them unknowingly pumping fuel out of their bilge. They would try to sail out of the canal in the following wind to try to sort out the problem and see us later. We said no, we’d turn around and follow them. I asked Gill to prepare a tow line in case we needed it. Luckily we did because the wind went on the nose making it impossible to sail. We quickly came alongside and passed the tow line and proceeded to tow Owl and Pussycat to the anchorage at Lygia.

The problem was diagnosed as a leaking fuel filter but in finding that Mike noticed that one of the engine mounts had cracked. This was removed and Mike and Claire walked into Lefkas town and managed to source the required parts and get the engine mount welded.

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Seven Islands

We ate ashore at the excellent but slightly pricy Seven Islands taverna and the next morning Mike replaced the engine parts and we could make our way to Preveza.

Greece was about to open its’ borders to tourists. We’d seen a very different Ionian to when we were there 2 years before. There were no flotillas, the resorts were quiet, the locals reserved until they knew you and the anchorages empty.

The flip side was that there was unemployment, the tourist resorts were really struggling but they were very scared about what might happen. Many of the people we spoke to thought that they’d get a month to 6 weeks before things would have to close down again. Who knows, it’s been an interesting but sobering time.

As I write this Greece has been open to tourists for about 3 weeks and the cases have started to rise. Fingers crossed for whats next. Whatever happens It’s unlikely we’ll see the Ionian the same as we just have.

 

Mamma Mia Islands (or the Sporades)

When we head for new cruising grounds we read the pilot books to give us an idea of where we would like to go and how long we are likely to stay. For some reason the Sporades didn’t read well. There were few anchorages, it was overrun with tourists and flotilla boats and all of the tavernas pumped ABBA music out continually (as someone who doesn’t mind ABBA, I can still only stand so much). We only identified 4 or 5 anchorages that we wanted to visit and anticipated only spending a week or so there.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a fantastic area and we’d end up spending over a month in the area.

We left Myrina on Limnos on the 2nd of Auguts and motored sailed 57 miles to a very remote anchorage called Planitis in the nature reserve on Nisos Kira Panagia.

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Limnos to the Sporades

The anchorage is entered through a narrow 20m wide channel that is only 4m deep. The channel faces North and the pilot books warn that in anything over a force 4 Northerly wind entering or leaving the anchorage is impossible. We had a F2-3 easterly so it was no problem. Once inside the very sheltered anchorage all winds disappeared and the sea was completely flat.

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Planitis Anchorage

We joined a couple of other yachts anchored in the south west of the 2 legs. There is no-one living on the island and there is also no phone reception at all. It is also off the tourism beaten track. We spent an idyllic 3 days here, sunbathing, swimming and relaxing, most of the time on our own. On the 3rd day our friends on Owl and Pussycat (O&P) sailed over from Limnos to join us for the final day.

We decided to leave Kyra Panagia and headed for an anchorage on the south of Peristera. There are 2 anchorages on the chart but the first one was full and the second pretty busy but it looked like there was room to anchor in 20m of water. We tried to anchor 3 times, letting 60+ m of chain out but the anchor failed to hold on each occasion. We’d been in radio contact with O&P throughout and we decided to sail the extra 10 miles to Skantzoura.

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Skantzoura Anchorage

We anchored in around 10m on sand away from a small flotilla that had long lined at one side. As normal I went snorkelling to check that the anchor was well dug in and in sand. At the rear of the anchor there is a hole to attach a line to recover the anchor if it gets stuck. I’ve attached a 1m length of line and a cork float to it so that I can swim down and attach another line to it even if the anchor is buried – as illustrated in the picture below.

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Cork attached to a line

I wish I’d taken a camera with me when I checked the anchor because there was a octopus playing with the ball and trying to pull it off the line. I watched for around 5 minutes before the octopus realised I was there and curled itself around the cork ball as if to camouflage itself.

We’d intended to have a BBQ ashore but on visiting the stone beach we realised that there was a lot of debris washed up so instead we had a BBQ on the back of Coriander.

At this point we split form O&P again, they were heading to Skyros and we went north to Alonnisos as we’d arranged to meet my brother and his wife on Skiathos in a few days time and intended visiting Skyros with them.

The anchorage at Ormos Milia is pretty large and was well sheltered from the northerly wind and slight swell. We anchored in 15m, well outside the flotilla and tripper boats that were fighting to get as close to the beach as possible. The water was crystal clear so it was easy to spot an area of sand to drop the anchor in.

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Ormos Milia, Alonnisos

After a quiet night it was time to make our way in the direction of Skiathos, calling first at Loutraki on Skopelos. The wind had dropped completely and the sea was flat calm so we decided to go via Agios Ioannis Kastri- the ‘Mamma Mia’ church.

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To Loutraki via Mamma Mia Church

Our route took us through the channel between Alonnisos and Skopelos and gave us great views of the Chora of Alonnisos.

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The Chora of Alonnisos

It is very unusual for the sea to be so calm and we were able to get right in to where the church is for photographs.

 

From here we went around the north of Skopelos and anchored just outside the harbour at Loutraki. There are pontoons for yachts in the harbour but they have been taken over by a flotilla fleet.

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Loutraki Harbour. Coriander is the middle yacht outside the breakwater

It is possible to get 2 or 3 yachts anchored inside the harbour but room has to be left for the ferries that arrive 8 or more times a day.

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Loutraki Harbour with the flotilla on the pontoon

This is the only place I have been where the beach is outside the harbour wall.

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Loutraki beach

We ate ashore at the excellent Aramis restaurant and bar. I highly recommend the beef stifado (bottom) and the pork in plum sauce  (top).

After a couple of nights at Loutraki it was time to head across to Skiathos

We anchored in off the beach in Megali Ammos, just to the south of Skiathos town with a separate small beach which was ideal to take the dinghy to and enabled a short walk to Skiathos town.

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The beach where we landed the dinghy

We spent 4 nights here, being joined firstly by Cuffy and Lorraine on Cuffysark and then by Mike and Claire on Owl and Pussycat.

On the 17th We sailed in company to the anchorage of Stafylos on the south coast of Skopelos where the 3 boats crew went ashore for another great meal.

Cuffysark left to head further east and we backtracked to Limnonari via Agnontas. This is a great beach, complete with 2 bars – one with a swimming pool. It was very busy with charter boats and we decided it would be a good place to bring visitors. Of course we weren’t on holiday so we got on with daily chores 🙂

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Gill hanging out the washing

O&P left to head to Skiathos to meet Claire’s sister Chris and her husband John, we went to Mama Mia beach at Milia via having briefly checked out Panormos for future reference.

This is the location for filming “Paradise Beach” in the Mamma Mia film. In the film the beach is deserted with nothing there. In the intervening years it has changed somewhat.

The forecast was for settled weather so we decided to remain on anchor off the beach which was very peaceful once all of the trip boats had left. We were treated to another amazing sunset over the neighbouring islands.

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Sunset over Skiathos

By now it was the 20th of August. We motored 3 mile back to Loutraki to pick up supplies as the supermarket is next to where we could land the dinghy and then to Skiathos to meet Claire’s sister Chris and her husband John.

After a night in Skiathos, we sailed back to Loutraki and anchored with Owl and Pussycat.

My brother Chris was due to meet us at Skiathos for a couple of weeks holiday so we said our goodbyes to Owl and Pussycat and crew and made our way back to the island of Skiathos and anchored off the ‘notorious’ Koukounaries party beach. 

As things turned out, the anchorage is huge with a nice village and lagoon behind the beach. The bars and watersports facilities all closed by 7pm and we had a quiet night.

We left Koukounaries and returned to Skiathos town to stock up and await the arrival of Chris and Liba.

On the 29th we walked the kilometre or so to the airport to meet them. Skiathos airport is pretty small and you pretty much cross the runway on the way there. The photo below is taken from where people gather to watch planes land and take off. We had to get to the main building otherwise we’d have done the same.

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Skiathos airport runway

We had a beer with them at another Mamma Mia location – the pier where the ferry leaves for ‘Kalokairi’. As an aside, I’ve just found out Kalakairi means Summer in Greek.

We took Chris and Liba to Loutraki on Skopolos, our 3rd visit and took the bus up to the Chora for the amazing views. We then walked back down for a well deserved drink.

Owl and Pussycat dropped off their visitors and joined us for a couple of days before they had to head back to Skiathos for more visitors.

Before that they sailed with us to Panormos where we long lined and had fun on the paddle board before heading ashore for something to eat. I had never fallen off the paddle board to date and Chris tipped me off (honest). I’ll let him off though as he swam ashore with the lines when we arrived.

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Panormos dinghy landing area

From here it was a short motor round to Limnonari – the beach with bars and swimming pool. Not that we needed the swimming pool with the sea being so clear and warm.

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Limnonari beach. Coriander anchored at right

We took a walk round to the small harbour at Agnontas for lunch and a bit of exercise.

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Agnontas harbour

Our next stop was Ormos Milia back on the island of Alonnisos. This involved quite a boisterous beat into 20kts of wind. Liba hasn’t done a lot of sailing and I was very relieved that she coped so well with the conditions. On arriving we all had a swim before I dropped Chris and Liba ashore for them to walk into the nearby town.

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Ormos Milia anchorage

After a night here we sailed the 10 miles across to Skantzoura. Unfortunately no octopus this time but we did have a superb BBQ.

We had planned to head south and drop Chris and Liba off in a week at the island of Tinos. From there it would be a short ferry ride back to the port next to Athens airport. The Island of Skiros is almost half way down so it made sense to sail there. It was a fairly long but good sail which again Liba coped with  very well. We anchored off Ormos Fokas and went ashore for a meal. We were the only boat in the anchorage and the locals had pretty much left the beach for the day. The taverna owner obviously wasn’t expecting any custom as the only thing she could offer us to eat was a few vegetarian starters. Beggers can’t be choosers so we had to make do.

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Ormos Fokos and the lone taverna

The following morning we motored 2 miles to the main harbour on Skiros – Linaria. It’s possible to anchor just outside the harbour which we prefer to do as it’s cooler and saves a bit of money. We approached the head of the bay alongside a fishing boat. He directed us in and said when to drop the anchor. Unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan as we dropped on his anchor and pulled it out when we were digging ours in. Chris had to swim round to unhook it and we anchored safely at the second attempt.

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Linaria anchorage

We were now in the final week of Chris and Liba’s time with us. The weather forecast was for very strong winds in the Tinos area so we spent the next day looking at different options to get them to Athens in time for their flight. In the end we concluded that the only safe way would be to sail back up to Skiathos and for them to fly back to Athens from there. Thus involved booking extra flights and airBnB accommodation. This proved to be the correct decision as the weather was atrocious around Tinos and the surrounding area and we continued to have superb weather in the Sporades.

We retraced our steps back to Milia, then Mama Mia beach for swim, then to Loutraki. At Loutraki (for the 4th time) we took the bus to Skopolos town for a day out. We’d intended to hire a car to visit Mamma Mia church but found we should have done that in Loutraki! Not that it was too much of a problem as we spent the day walking around Skopolos town, having a meal and catching the last bus back to Loutraki.

We left Loutraki to go back to Skiathos for a final night before Chris and Liba had to leave us on the 13th to fly to Athens.

It was sad to see them go, we’d loved having them with us and hope they can join us again sometime soon.

Liba commented that the flight was one of the worst she’d had due to the very strong winds.

We left Skiathos and sailed to Koukounaries for the night before leaving the Sporades to sail to Evia and join Mike and Claire.

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Our route around the Sporades

 

 

North Aegean Islands

On the 2nd of July we reluctantly left the Dodecanese to head north to Lesvos, the first of the North Aegean Islands we were to visit.

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The route from Patmos to Lesvos

When we set off we hadn’t decided whether we were going to stop at Chios, approximately half way there overnight or whether we’d carry on and do an overnight passage. We motored for the first 20 miles up to the passage between Samos and Ikaria when the wind filled in and gave us a glorious and fast sail to Chios. We calculated that we’d be clear of  the passage at the north of Chios and Oinoussa before it got dark. Again it was a superb sail up to the passage where the wind briefly died. We met a large ferry coming through, we’d seen it on AIS but were still pleased that we passed it in daylight. The wind freshened when we got clear of Chios and we reduced sail to 2 reefs in the main and 3 in the jib. Because of the wind strength and direction we were still doing over 8 kts and would arrive at Lesvos at 2am. We like to arrive at a new place in daylight and had been warned that our chosen anchorage was through a narrow winding channel and not best attempted at night.

We decided to drop the main and sail under jib alone for the 30 or so miles to Apothikes. Even with a triple reefed jib, we had to sail up and down outside the entrance for an hour until it started to become light. We anchored at 06:30 and after putting the sails away and turning the instruments off we went for a sleep, just as others were getting up, I hope we didn’t wake them!

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The small fishing village of Apothikes

Our friends on Owl and Pussycat had been in Lesvos for a few days and had visitors James and John. We arranged that we’d remain where we were and they would come to meet us. On their arrival we went ashore for a walk and a meal at the small family run taverna. The food was basic but very nice, the wine however was atrocious. We have had a large variety of red wine but this was the first we were unable to drink – the (red) plants got a drink and we moved on to white which was much better.

The next morning we motor sailed for 32 miles to Skala Loutra, possibly the most sheltered anchorage on Lesvos. It hadn’t been our intended destination but the anchorage we’d planned had too much of a swell rolling in to be comfortable.

Skala Loutra is the port for the small town of Loutra which is a mile or so inland. The anchorage is large enough for at least 50 boats to anchor and given that there were less then 20 boats, we had plenty of room.

Of course we had to visit a local tavern for a meal and James, John and I decided to try a selection of Ouzos, something I regretted the next day but it seemed a good idea at the time.

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A pleasant meal, before the Ouzos

We decided that some culture was required so we caught the bus to the capital of Lesvos – Mytilene.

Mytilene was initially confined to a small island just offshore that later was joined to Lesbos, creating a north and south harbour. The early harbours of Mytilene were linked during ancient times by a channel 700 meters long and 30 meters wide. The Roman writer Longus speaks of white stone bridges linking the two sides. The Greek word εὔριπος eúripos is a commonly-used term when referring to a strait. The strait allowed ancient warships called triremes, with three tiers of rowers or more. The boats that passed were approx. six meters wide plus oars and had depth of two meters.

The areas of the city that were densely populated connected the two bodies of land with marble bridges. They usually followed a curved line. The strait begins at the old market called Apano Skala. It was also close to Metropolis Street and ended at the Southern Harbour. One could argue that the channel transversed what is now called Ermou Street. Over time the strait began to collect silt and earth. There was also human intervention for the protection of the Castle of Mytilene. The strait eventually filled with earth.

We walked up to the castle and had a look round and at the views over the capital, before going to the harbour for a gyros.

After re-stocking in the town of Loutra, it was time to head north. We had a brief stop at a small beach on the east side of Lesvos which had a number of ancient coffins in a farmers field. We saw a few before a herd of bulls took more interest in us than we liked.

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Old tombs

After a very peaceful night we sailed and motored round to Petra on the north of the island. Claire had been very keen to go there because it was one of the first places she’d visited on holiday in Greece.

We anchored off the beach and took the dinghies ashore.

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Coriander and O&P anchored at Petra

The small town was quite quiet given that it was pretty much the height of the tourist season. This was something we’d notice from here on and talking to taverna owners they said that it was one of the quietest seasons they’d known.

The focal point of the town is a church on a hill which we of course had to visit.

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Mike climbing up to the church

A polite notice asked that visitors dress appropriately if they wished to enter the church and given that we were all in shorts we contented ourselves with the views.

That evening we took a stroll alone the front before finding a taverna to watch the sun go down.

At this point O&P left to visit Mithynma before crossing to the island of Limnos ahead of a storm that had been forecast. We wanted to see more of Lesvos so decided to return to Skala Loutra to see out the storm.

I took the opportunity to contact the local garage and arrange for a delivery of diesel. I took the dinghy ashore with 5 containers which would enable me to get 120 litres. Of course as I arrived, the heavens opened. I sheltered in a taverna and luckily the tanker driver decided to wait for the rain to ease before he arrived at the dock.

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Sheltering ashore while picking up diesel

Fueled up and the storm easing we sailed along the south of the island to Sigri.

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Sigri anchorage

Sigri is a beautiful town sheltered behind 2 islands. I had to go ashore for 2 reasons, firstly to visit the windmill.

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Sigri windmill, now a beautiful house

And secondly to try the local beer.

This was our final anchorage on Lesvos and the next day we sailed the 54 miles to Dhiapori on Limnos.

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Lesvos to Limnos

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Coriander anchored off the beach at Dhiapori

We met up with O&P here and had a couple of days in the tranquillity here before sailing round to the main port of Myrina. It is possible to anchor in the port but on arrival there were a couple of spaces left on the town quay so we decided to med moor there. It’s reported that there is a heavy chain on the seabed approximately 40m from the quay so we were careful not to drop our anchor where it would snag. It is correct as several yachts caught their anchors over the following days.

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Myrina town quay and anchorage

We hadn’t realised it but we’d seen Myrina many times  – it’s the cover photograph on the Greek pilot book we’d been using. We tried to get a similar shot.

We found ourselves in the company of 2 other boats (apart from O&P) that we’d met during the course of the year, and  berthed next to a couple from Glasgow who used to keep their boat at Clyde Marina, Ardrossan – our UK marina for 15 years – it’s a small world. Of course we all met up on an evening for sundowners.

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The ‘above’ photograph

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And ‘below’ – No I didn’t take the photograph

We spent around a week here over 2 visits. We hired a car and toured some of the island’s sights:

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Statue of Maroula at Kotsinas

In 1478 Kotsinas passed into history when was besieged by Suleiman Pasha. According to one legend, popularised in the West, mainly from a 1669 poem by the Jesuit Dondini, the castle was saved at the last minute thanks to the courage of Maroula which, when her father was killed, grabbed his sword and rushed at the defenders fighters which stopped the siege.

During the Middle Ages it was an important port. At first was the seaport of Hephaestia while later, in 1361, acquired an imposing Castle. On the hill of Cochinas, inside the castle, stands the temple of Zoodochos Pigi on top of a well, “holy water” in which one descends with 64 stairs  until almost reach the sea level. Obviously, when the artificial hill of the castle was created, there were plans for an underground passage, so as not to lose the necessary water during the sieges. The “holy water” took its current form in 1918. Not sure about the bucket though and we didn’t taste it.

One of the reasons for the road trip was to find flamingos which reportedly number in the thousands, unfortunately when we got to the lake it was just a huge salt flat

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No flamingos here!

There are several archaeological sites spread over the island and the one we chose to go around was he ancient theatre at Ifestia

and then on to the amazing sand scoured cliffs at Atsiki.

We had also intended going to a famous beach but we were running low on petrol and the petrol station we’d planned on filling up from was closed so we headed back to Myrina for sundowners on the beach

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Sundowners looking towards Myrina

Of course, I couldn’t leave Limnos without visiting the ‘famous’ Limnos windmills.

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Limnos windmills – now a hotel

Our time in the North Aegean was coming to a close. We’d arranged to meet my brother and his wife in the Sporades – More of that next time.

Dodecanese Part 2 – Visitors :)

We left Alinda on Leros and re-traced our tracks to Xerokampos for a night and then headed to Kos Marina, just south of Kos town. We’d booked in there for 3 nights to pick up my Mum and my niece who’d be joining us for a week.

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Xerokampos to Kos

It was a motor all of the way as there was no wind which is a bit of a rarity in these parts. We called up the marina on VHF channel 77 and were asked to wait at the entrance until the marinero arrived in his RIB to guide us in. By this time the wind had picked up to 20kts from the north. Luckily the berth we were allocated was south facing which meant we’d be reversing into the wind. It may sound odd but yachts will happily reverse straight into the wind and the wind would also help us turn into our berth. I’m pleased to say we didn’t make a hash of it as there were several spectators. Two of them were Carola and Bobby on Blue Pearl. We’d overwintered with them in Kalamata and met them at a couple of anchorages since. It never fails to amaze me how often we meet up with friends.

We arrived mid-day on the 10th and my mum was flying in on the evening of the 12th which gave us a couple of days to get Coriander ready, do some provisioning and check out the town. There is a good but fairly expensive supermarket in the marina and an excellent Kritikos supermarket just a few minutes walk away.

Kos marina is the base for several charter fleets. We’d been told that we’d have to leave the berth by 9am on the Friday. We knew that there was no chance of a berth Friday to Sunday, not that it was a problem for us. Of the 5 fingers, 3 were dedicated to charter boats.

The reception staff were very helpful and efficient. The costs weren’t too bad at €50 per night for 15.2m, More expensive than a town quay but way cheaper than Balearic and Italian marinas.

We walked along the promenade into the old town to get our bearings. It was quite a shock to the system to be in such a busy place after the quiet towns and anchorages that we’d become used to. Kos town is very much geared towards the tourist trade, the old harbour is full of tripper boats vying for trade and is surrounded by tavernas and coffee shops.

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Kos old harbour

Mike and Claire had hoped to anchor off Kos a few weeks earlier but the weather had been against them. Mike has a penchant for real ale and they’d researched a real ale venue which I’m pleased to say we found and tried 🙂

Early the next morning I took the walk in to town from the marina to the port police to get my Dekpa or cruising permit stamped. This has to be done each year and costs nothing though there are large fines if it isn’t done. The process was very quick and efficient. We’ve found all of the officials in Greece to be helpful and friendly although we’ve been careful to ensure we are compliant at all times so haven’t given any reason for there to be any problems.

We did another supermarket run and then headed to town for something to eat before getting the 9pm bus the 25km to Kos airport to meet Mum and Gabi. As an aside, the 9pm bus is the last one to the airport and there isn’t a later one back.

Their flight was of course delayed and we finally met them around 11pm. We took a taxi back to the marina, got everyone settled aboard Coriander and headed out to get something to eat as the travellers were hungry. One of the great things about Greece is that you can get a meal pretty much any time. In this case one of the tavernas in the marina served up two huge burger meals at midnight.

We decided to spend the next day in Kos town to sight see and leave the marina on Friday morning.

The stroll along the promenade to town was fine in the warm breeze but once in the shelter of the town it was stifling. Luckily there were plenty of tavernas to choose from.

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Welcome to Greece Mum and Gabi

Refreshed, we then took in some of the sights of Kos Town:

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Gazi Hassan Mosque

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The Agora

 

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Herakles and Antagoras fighting over a ram

and my favourite, the ancient Tree of Hippocates

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The Tree of Hippocrates

According to legend, Hippocrates of Kos (considered the father of medicine) taught his pupils the art of medicine in the shade of this tree.

Given that this was 2400 years ago and the trees don’t usually live much beyond 500 years it’s doubtful although it may be a descendent of the original tree.

Culture done, we left the marina at 8:30 the following morning. The winds were due to be strong northerlies to we chose to head along the south coast to Kamari where we’d be sheltered from the winds and the waves.

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Kos marina to Kamari

As forecast, the wind increased but we had a great beam reach along the coast, reaching 9.9kts at one point.

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Gabi helming to Kamari

Once we’d anchored and had lunch it was time for a swim to cool off.

Kamari is a smallish town and probably one of the least touristy on Kos. The wind had picked up as forecast and the sea was pretty choppy so we decided not to risk going ashore, being content to swim and chill.

We stayed at Kamari the next day because the winds were strong from the north and that was the direction we wanted to go. Not that it was a problem as the weather was gorgeous and the winds made the temperatures comfortable.

On the Sunday morning we decided upon a long sail up to Alinda on Leros. This was because we knew the charter boats would be leaving Kos and we wanted to get ahead of them.

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Kamari to Alinda

The first few miles were pretty bumpy once we started heading north as the swell had built up and was coming from that direction but once we’d got to the north of the island and could head for the pass between Kalymnos and Pserimos we could get the sails out and enjoy a good sail.

Alinda was where I’d done the diving course but this time I could do the tourist thing.

After Alinda, we sailed south to Xerokampos, via a diversion to Panteli to get a view of the windmills and town.

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Panteli with the fort and windmills on the skyline

Once at Xerokampos (again) it was time to break out the paddle board for Gabi. It was her first time on one and she was soon paddling around the moored yachts.

It was great to sit in the sun chatting and relaxing.

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Sitting in the breeze

After our hectic day we headed ashore for a meal at Taverna Aloni and then returned to Coriander for sundowners which, to be fair, went on long past sundown.

We were slowly making our way back to Kos and we re-visited Palionnisos where more swimming and eating ensued.

The following morning it was time for our final sail back to Kos marina. It was really strange for us to have a deadline, we could have spent another couple of days in each of the places we (re) visited.

We berthed back in the marina at 11:30am and had the rest of the day with Mum and Gabi before they had to get a taxi to the airport at 8pm that night.

We went out for lunch passing the statue just outside the marina gates

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Statue of Kos fort with masts behind

and had a lunch of pork Pita Gyros – The Greek delicacy

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Pita Gyros – Yum

At around 6pm we headed to one of the marina bars for a final meal before Mum and Gabi got the airport taxi. Readers may recall that we’d walked in to town on arriving at Kos to find a bar selling real ale. We should have tried the marina bar first as they sold it there!

Far too soon (weeks!) it was time for Mum and Gabi to leave. It was really sad to see them go and we missed their company..

We left the marina at 07:45 the next morning to make our way North, firstly stopping for the night at Alinda again

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and then on to the anchorage on the south coast of Leipsoi.

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Note track around anchorages on Leipsoi

Our first choice of anchorage was in the triple bay of Katsadia but all of the prime anchor locations had been taken and when we tried to anchor we couldn’t get the anchor to hold. The sailing directions mention that the bottom is flat rock and that’s what we found. We left that bay and anchored in acres of lovely sand in the bay to the east – Hohlakora Beach. I highly recommend this as it’s both quieter and much better holding. We shared a huge anchorage with just 2 other boats.

From Hohlakora we headed north once more to the beautiful moorings and bay on the island of Marathi.

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Leipsoi to Marathi

This gorgeous bay has 2 tavernas and a beach club. It is very sheltered and I highly recommend it although the moorings are pretty close together.

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Marathi moorings. Ok if there’s wind to keep the yachts facing the same way.

We were in need of supplies so we took the RIB across to the small harbour of Arki. We could have gone stern to the quay if we’d taken Coriander in and if we’d had more time we’d have loved to have spent a night there.

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Arki harbour

One of the taverna owners had built model boats and moored them in a small pool just outside his taverna, Fantastic!

The mooring buoys we were on was owned by the Pirate taverna which of course meant we ate there.

We were nearing the end of June by now and if our rough plans were to be met we needed to make our way North. Our next stop was an anchorage on the south of Samos called Limniona.

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Marathi to Limniona

This was a spetacular anchorage in the shadow of the highest mountain on Samos. The bottom gently shelves for hundreds of metres and is all sand. We joined a couple of yachts and after a swim had a quiet night. We’d wanted to go to the main town of Pythagorion but the anchorage had been closed when yachts anchored in the path of the ferry – such a shame.

We rose at 8:00am the following morning to a beautiful day with light winds. By 8:30 the winds had reached 40kts and it took the best part of 30 minutes to get the anchor up. Looking at the charts we decided our best option was to head back south to Patmos where there were lots of sheltered anchoring options.

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Samos back to Patmos

We unfurled half the jib and ran to Patmos, firstly anchoring off the town of Skala to go ashore and get supplies before we tucked in to a bay called Livadi to the north of Skala to shelter from the winds.

We’d had our first experience of the famed Meltemi winds for which the Aegean is notorious. These winds come out of nowhere and can be quite dangerous. They blow from June to September with various strengths and are formed when an area of high pressure (H) forms over the Balkans and low pressure (L) forms over Turkey

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Meltemi occur when high pressure (H) forms over the Balkans and low pressure (L) forms over Turkey

The bay with the trees behind it provided fantastic shelter for the 5 days that the Meltemi blew.

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Beautiful sheltered beach (and taverna)

After 4 days the winds eased enough for us to be happy to go ashore for a meal and drink, and to look back at Coriander at anchor.

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Coriander at Livadi

Time had got the better of us and we needed to make serious headway north so we decided upon a 2 day passage from Patmos and the dodecanese to Lesbos where we’d meet up once more with Owl and Pussycat.

Dodecanese Part 1

The Dodecanese, literally “twelve islands” are a group of 15 larger plus 150 smaller Greek islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea, off the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey), of which 26 are inhabited. Τhis island group generally defines the eastern limit of the Sea of Crete. They belong to the wider Southern Sporades island group.

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The Dodecanese (bottom right)

We left Amorgos and the Cyclades on the 15th of May and had a great sail to (another) Vathy on Butterfly Island or Astypalaia.

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Amorgos to Butterfly Island and the Dodecanese

We joined Owl and Pussycat in the very sheltered anchorage just off the taverna at Exo Vathi

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Vathi on Astypalaias

The anchorage had been recommended to us by friends on Destination Anywhere who’d sheltered there from the meltemi wind the year before. We went ashore for a walk and drink and visited the taverna which was someones front room. The menu depended upon what had been caught that day – Octopus on the day we visited. It also seemed to be the only place in the village with a TV as locals turned up to watch together.

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Vathi Taverna

After a night we headed around the island to the anchorage at Analipsis. This is a series of sheltered anchorages in pretty bays sheltered behind islands.

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Sail round to Analipsis

Apparently the anchorages were used by pirates in the past and there is a monument to them on a headland in the bay.

It was very quiet while we were there, only 2 other yachts sharing the anchorage on the first night. The town is very small with just a couple of tavernas and a single shop. Mike and Claire moved on the town of Astypalea or Astypalaia as they were needing diesel while we anchored in the next bay off a delightful taverna.

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Coriander anchored off the taverna

We had the anchorage to ourselves which was amazing given how beautiful it is. Speaking to the taverna owner that night he said it would remain quite until July when it would be pretty busy for around 6 weeks before quieting down again.

Our friends messaged to say that the harbour and Chora of Astapalea were well worth visiting so the next morning we motored over and anchored in the harbour. When anchoring stern to the quay it is often difficult to judge where other people’s anchors are and it is not uncommon for the chains to become crossed, leading to fun and games when people try to leave. Here it wasn’t a problem because the crystal clear water allowed the laid anchors to be seen easily and thus avoided.

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Moored in Astypalea harbour

The harbour and Chora were a delight. We climbed to the castle (as usual) to take in the views and explored the Chora.

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The castle and Chora

The row of windmills in the Chora are quite famous.

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Astypalea windmills and the castle

As is normal, the castle contained a number of churches which were still in use.

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One of the churches

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The view from the castle towards the island anchorages

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Looking towards the harbour, town and castle from across the bay.

Across from the windmills there is a row of restaurants. We’d chosen a small family run restaurant called ‘Αγερι Εστιατοριο’ and I have to say the food was fantastic and amazingly good value (cheap). If we ever return we’ll definitely eat there.

One other place of note that had been recommended was the Ouzeri Anastasia. It was still closed for the winter when we originally moored but opened on our final day there and we had the honour of being their first customers of 2019.

From Astypalea, the 2 yachts split up for a short time as Mike and Claire wanted to go to Kos and we wanted to give Kos a miss for a while as we’d arranged to meet family there in the following month.

We had a fast and excellent sail to Pserimos, a small island between Kos and Kalymnos.

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Astypalea to Pserimos

This was one of those sails that make it all worthwhile, we only motored out of the harbour and into the anchorage – a total of 10 minutes in all. It was interesting sailing along the north coast of Kos as it is just mile upon mile of beach resort.

Rounding the SE corner of the island we passed a Greek gun emplacement with a huge Greek flag painted on the cliff facing Turkey which was just over 4 miles away.

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Pserimos Anchorage across from Turkey

The anchorage is quite remote with no roads to it. The water is crystal clear and the bottom sandy. The peace was shattered twice daily by tripper boats full of holidaymakers from Kos anchoring for a swim stop.

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Looking across to Turkey

Mike and Claire joined us after a couple of days so we went for a walk over the hill to visit the main port on the opposite side of the island.

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The trek over the hill from the anchorage

The walk was only a couple of miles and was well worth it, the town is very small but gorgeous.

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Pserimos town.

We walked through the town and then along the beach where we had to stop at a bar for refreshments.

There are several tavernas along the seafront to cater for the many day trip boats from Kos.

We’d checked the weather and seen that we had favourable winds to sail to Levitha or Donkey island, named as such by MIke and Claire after their visit several years ago.

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Pserimos to Levitha

It was another fast sail all of the way. The anchorage is very secure in a dogleg. Anchorage is a bit of a misnomer because the farmer had laid around 20 moorings which made anchoring impossible. We knew about this and as it was still early season there were plenty still free.

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Levitha moorings

The farmer came round each boat to see if we wanted to eat at his farmhouse restaurant, which of course we did.

We’d booked the table for 8pm, however, at 7:30 we noticed all of the other boats had gone ashore so we decided to head there early. We were the last to arrive but after a short wait the owner prepared a table. We’d left it a bit late and some of the starters were finished. Not too surprising because it is the only ‘restaurant’ on the island and the visiting boats are the only clients. The salad and barbecued burgers were good and the wine ok. We were however shocked by the bill (which included the mooring fee). The red wine had been charged at €17 per half litre, not good when we’d been paying around €4. There wasn’t a menu so we hadn’t been forwarned of the cost. White wine was charged at €6. We think it was a mistake and I fully understand that it is a remote location but it nonetheless marred the evening. On the positive, it is a destination that we’d discussed visiting several times and we were glad to have done so.

From Levitha we sailed back east to Palionisou on Kalymnos.

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Levitha to Kalymnos

The first couple of miles were pretty rolly as the southerly swell rebounded against Levitha but once clear we had a great sail back between Kalymnos and Leros. As we passed between the islands we saw a village and anchorage tucked away that we hadn’t considered.

There is very little at Palionisou aside from 2 tavernas and a beach bar. Each of the tavernas have put in moorings which are free to use as long as you eat ashore. They are in deep water and very substantial and would be safe when the Meltemi blows.

After a swim to cool down we went ashore to the taverna on the western side of the bay – the white mooring side.

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Palionisou, Coriander at far right.

We only had the one night there but it was noted as a good place to bring our visitors in the next month.

We motored the 9 miles to Xerokampos on Leros, the anchorage that we’d spotted on the way to Palionisou. I really don’t know why we hadn’t considered it earlier because it’s a beautiful anchorage and small town.

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Palionisou to Xerokampos

There are 3 sets of mooring buoys laid by different restaurants. We’d been warned to take the yellow ones on the west of the bay. The white ones are supposed to be ok but the red ones were suspect at the time we visited.

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Coriander on mooring at Xerokampos

The owner of the taverna who’s buoys we were using is incredibly helpful. If he sees someone having trouble mooring, or knows that strong winds are likely he’ll come out in his boat to help or offer advice. While we were here the first time, he had a diver inspect all of his moorings. The meals in the taverna are also very good and reasonably priced.

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Xerokampos beach from the bus stop

We decided to take a bus trip the short way across the island to the capital – Lakki. This is a Naval base so the anchoring possibilities are limited although there are 2 marinas here.

The naval base was originally built by the Italians when they ruled the Aegean between 1912 and 1942 and their influence in the architecture is very obvious.

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Lakki, Leros

We had lunch at a deli and checked the bus timetable for the return journey. We found that we’d been looking at the high season timetable and there wouldn’t be any more for several hours. The taxi rank was just outside the deli and we found that we could get a taxi back for just €1 more than the bus had been for the 4 of us so we took a taxi back and headed for the beach bar.

Our next motor was a few miles up the coast of Leros to Alinda.

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Xerokampos to Alinda

We anchored in the North West corner of the bay, at the opposite side to the harbour. At this time of the year the winds are predominately northerly and we were completely sheltered from the winds and swell while the harbour was quite choppy.

Alinda is a great anchorage with plenty of landing stages for going ashore in the dinghy and several tavernas and pizza restaurants. It is very much a tourist resort but still quiet at this time of the year (mid May). Around half of the hotels were open and the rest were being painted ready for the season.

At the weekend the beaches were filled with locals. All of the tavernas had sun loungers with drinks and snack service.

One of the reasons for visiting this bay was that it was the home of Hydrovius Diving Center. I’d qualified as a BSAC diver many years ago but was conscious that I wasn’t current and also that PADI was a more recognised qualification. I arranged to do a conversion course / refresher over the course of a couple of days and also some dives.

I highly recommend the dive master Konstantinos Kouvas (Kostos) as a dive leader, instructor and guide.

The first dive was to a cave and a seaplane that had been sunk in the war.

On the second day I sat my exam and passed easily, most things hadn’t changed. The 3rd day was a cliff dive followed by a dive on a landing craft.

It was now time to head back South to Kos marina and Visitors 🙂 but that’s for the next edition.

 

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.