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HIGHLIGHTS OF THE IONIAN

September 15th, 2011 No comments

Leaving mainland Greece at Katakolon the end of July we started working our way up the Ionian islands, revisiting several harbors that we first saw in spring 2009.  I wanted to be in Corfu for our anniversary, on August 31st so we had nearly a month to travel about 160 NM.

Our first stop was the town of Zakinthos on the island of the same name. 

Destiny on Zakinthos quay

The town has several lovely squares and already we are seeing the Italian influence in architecture.  Overall, the Ionian islands are more Italian than Greek.  Not surprising, given that they were part of Italy until the early 20th Century.   The town comes alive during the evening when families stroll the squares and children playfully dart around.

Church of Agios Dionisios brightens the evening skyline

. . .while at St. Marco Square families stroll in the cool evening air.

We made a return visit to the tiny harbor of Nikolao on the north tip of Zakinthos and took the dinghy to the “Blue Caves” that are a touted tourist attraction.  Unlike our last visit it was warm enough to snorkel in the azure water and see amazing rock formations below the surface.  The ocean bottom is like a moonscape.  We saw some colorful fish as well—unusual for the Mediterranean.  See: “Move over Capri, Greece has Blue Caves Too”, August, 2011.

Since the wind is primarily N and NW this time of year, and we are heading north, criss-crossing between the islands is the only way to get some sailing in.  Although we managed to sail a portion of each day, we are spending more time “motor boating in the Med” as Kent calls it.  Everyday he sets sails and takes them in when they don’t carry.  Frustrating but good exercise.

From Nikolao we headed across the Cephalonia Straits to revisit the island of Ithaca where we spent two nights at anchor.  The first night we anchored in a lovely bay just at the entrance to the gulf and the second in the harbor where there was access to both a bakery and an ATM.  The town of Ithaca is a popular destination for charter boats, and quite busy this time of year. 

Enroute to the Levkas Canal we made stops in Sivota and Tranquil Bay an anchorage just opposite the town of Nidri on Levkas.  We spent several days enjoying the company of friends Martin & Sandy on S/V Mystique and Ted & Pam on S/V Rahda who are also enroute to Marina di Ragusa for the winter.

The Nidri Quay is a desirable place to be. . .

IF you can find a spot.

Nidri sits just across the Meganisi Channel from the Onassis family island of Skorpios which we passed by there enroute to an anchorage on Meganisi.  The island is meticulously maintained with manicured grounds, several quays and small beaches. 

Skorpios looks like a large, well maintained park. . .

that people pay money to see from a boat, but can't set foot on.

Boats a permitted to anchor off the island but can’t land.  The rusty ship mooring that once held the Onassis mega-yacht “Christina” is still in place.

M/Y Christina took a ship size mooring approximately 4 ft. across

Meganisi is a fjord-like island with numerous anchorages and several small towns separated from Levkas by a channel. 

The Meganisi Channel is considered one of the prettiest passages in the Med. . .

with low lying fir covered islands framed by mountains.

Day trip boats from Nidri bring tourists here to view the island and swim.  We spent one rather blustery night anchored with our stern tied to shore before returning to Tranquil Bay. 

Off the point just outside our anchorage a mega-sailing yacht went aground and the efforts to get her off the reef provided “entertainment” for about eight hours.  It was well after dark before several fishing boats acting in concert were able to free her. 

Hard aground on a Meganisi reef

We couldn’t help but feel sorry for the captian and crew as “heads were likely to roll” over grounding on a well marked reef at mid-day.

We left Nidri for the Levkas Canal in mid-August.  Having made the passage south through the canal we had some idea what to expect.  The canal is fairly shallow and marked with stakes that don’t look like they have been replaced for many years.  Boats going north or south inch along like ducks in a row at 5kts. or less until arriving at the swing bridge that connects Levkas to the mainland.  The bridge opens on the hour, so you have to time your arrival according.  Even then boats circle just off the town of Levkas waiting for the bridge to open and then it’s every captain for himself.

The "parade" forms for passage through the bridge. . .

and some people have no patience once the bridge swings open. . .

despite the oncoming traffic.

We planned to stop next at Gaios on the island of Paxos which is directly south of Corfu,  but as we motored out of the Levkas Canal  the wind was more favorable to sail up the mainland coast.

Kiriakis an out of the way harbor that barely gets a mention in our cruising guide, was a quiet anchorage where  we celebrated the beginning of our “adventure” on August 14th.  The surrounding cliffs are a dramatic backdrop for rocky outcroppings at sea level and numerous caves. 

Rock formations. . .

and caves in Kiriakis.

With the both the wind and Paxos west, we headed north in light winds under gennaker part of the way.  We anchored just off the Old Town of Corfu in Ormos Kammeno where we were surrounded by the Opti fleet from the local sailing club.  Optis are universal.  We have seen Opti fleets in Croatia, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Opti fleet off Corfu with Fortress in background.

The following day we moved to an anchorage just outside Gouvia Marina because we needed a repair to our refrigeration which had stopped working several days before.

There was another US boat, S/V Glide anchored nearby and Kent stopped by to say “hello” and met Brian, Lisa, and children Max (nearly 18) and Gina (age 16) who hail from California.  They have been circumnavigating for over 8 years, and Brian just happened to have some knowledge about refrigeration having owned a boat maintenance business. More importantly, he had the tools needed to do the job.

This fortuitous meeting got our refrigeration working for FREE and allowed us to make new friends at the same time.  In fact, we enjoyed the company of Max and Gina so much we asked them to go sailing with us for a few days, giving the entire family some extra space.  

Max handles the wheel while Kent adjusts sail for a rip roaring ride to the island of Othoni, north of Corfu.

Max & Gina hit the books everyday--they're both home schooled seniors.

There was also some time for kayaking. . .

snorkeling in caves. . .

and walking on the beach with Jolie.

After Max and Gina left us at Corfu we topped off the diesel tanks (avg. 1.52 per liter or just under $6.00 per gal.), filled the water tanks and were off again backtracking to Paxos.  Again the wind said go west and then back east, so we visited the mainland harbor and islands at Mourtos where we were treated to a picture perfect sunset.

Mourtos Sunset

Nicklolaos Island sits very close to the town of Gaios on the island of Paxos.  In fact, the distance between the island and town is so narrow it resembles a river which makes navigation particularly challenging.  While the quay is very protected as a result, in settled weather anchoring  just south of the island is cooler.  It took two tries to get the anchor to set in a hard bottom but the setting was lovely and we could swim off the boat.

Anchorage off Gaios. . .

became more crowded as dusk fell. . .

including mega-yachts.

The next day we set out to see the whole of Paxos by heading south around the bottom and then up the west coast to see several caves mentioned in the cruising guide.  The west coast of Paxos is miles of sheer rock, dotted with caves. 

Limestone cliffs of 300-400 ft. dominate the west coast of Paxos. . .

and create a clam shell like backdrop dwarfing a boat anchored. . .

where Destiny drops in for lunch.

We stopped for lunch off a sandy beach and launched the dinghy to tour the nearby caves.  We were amazed by the size and depth of some of the caves, which are clearly among the most spectacular we have seen anywhere in the Med.

Some of the caves were quite deep and we worried about bats. . .

while in others we worried about getting trapped by a large tour boat.

After lunch we headed for Lakka a small harbor on the north end of Paxos where we again met up with S/V Mystique and S/V Rahda and enjoyed dinner ashore.  We were last in Lakka in April, 2009 when we were one of three boats in the harbor.  During August there are 80-100 boats in the same space, not to mention small ferries coming and going.

Dinner ashore with cruising friends, Martin, Ted, Pam and Sandy. . .oh yes, and Jolie!

We returned to Corfu for several days before our anniversary (post “Blissful Anniversary”) to enjoy free outdoor philharmonic concerts at the Victorian bandstand that take place on Saturday and Sunday evenings in August.  

On Sunday we attended a service at the Trinity Anglican Church then visited the Palace of St. Michael and St. George which now houses the Corfu Asian Art Museum. 

Castle of St. Michael & St. George. . .the inside is equally impressive.

Having celebrated our anniversary it was time to start heading to Naples where we meet Kent’s son, Spencer and family on September 20th.  After a night at Mandraki Y.C. just under the fortress we checked out of Greece.

Mandraki is the ancient harbor and you pass through the Fortress to get to the town.

From Corfu to Naples is approximately 516 NM.  Our first hop in the trip is to the island of Othoni just north of Corfu, and after an overnight there we made a 70 NM passage to Santa Maria de Lueca.

From now on La Dolce Vita. . .more adventures to follow in Italy.

Ciao!

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BLISSFUL ANNIVERSARY

September 1st, 2011 No comments

August 31st was our 8th wedding anniversary and we spent it in style at the Cavalieri Hotel Corfu with Destiny anchored in Garitsa Bay within view from our room.  The hotel has marble floors, vaulted ceilings and is tastefully decorated with period fabrics and prints.  It became one of Corfu’s first luxury hotels in the 1960’s and is a well-maintained Grand Dame to the present.

Cavalieri Hotel Corfu was a 17th C. nobelman's mansion

When you live full-time on a boat you forego some creature comforts like air conditioning on demand and long soaks in a bathtub.  In fact, water and energy consumption are constant concerns–mostly for Kent who nags me about turning out lights and using too much water to wash dishes. 

What I wanted for our anniversary was 24 hours on land where I didn’t have to worry about running out of water or leaving a light on, and could bask in air conditioned comfort. 

Our friends Martin and Sandy on S/V Mystique were anchored nearby to dog sit for Jolie and keep a watchful eye on Destiny. 

Martin & Sandy offered to keep the Princess

Of course, Kent’s requirement was a room that would give him a view of the boat–the Cavalieri filled the bill nicely since its 4th and 5th floor rooms overlook the bay.

View of Destiny and Mystique from Room 54

The garden restaurant on the 6th floor terrace of the Cavalieri Hotel has one of the best views in Corfu Town.  You look down on the Victorian bandstand on the large park and have an amazing view of the Venetian fort. 

The roof deck overlooks the Spianada or "Great Square" with bandstand

After seeing the view and reviewing the menu, I knew we wouldn’t have to leave the hotel to have a memorable dinner.

We arrived just after sunset

As we sat sipping prosecco swallows nosily soared overhead like children playing tag and the sky turned pink, then inky blue as lights came on throughout the town and cast the fort in a soft yellow glow.

From our table we watched ferries passing the fort. . .

and the 1840 Chapel of Agios Georgios bathed in light.

So this anniversary was particularly special.  I had a lovely marble bathroom with a deep old-fashioned tub that I could stretch out in.  I took so many baths, that Kent thought I would shrivel up.  The air conditioning sang to me all day and night and I watched enough CNN to not miss television again for a few months.  Oh yes, and had Kent’s undivided attention (which I usually share with Jolie and Destiny) for 24 hours.  Perfect!

To another year of adventures!

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IT’S OFFICIAL: LIFESTYLE. . . NOT ADVENTURE!

August 14th, 2011 1 comment

A genneker day on the Ionian

Today is the third anniversary of our sailing out of Marblehead Harbor to follow our “destiny” and we are heading to Corfu in the northern Ioanian Sea.  The gennaker is full and we are making a respectable 5 kts. on the rum line to our destination.

On the first anniversary we enjoyed a stunning sunset in Sukosan, Croatia. 

Sukosan Sunset

On the second we were anchored in a small cove in Bozburun, Turkey,  watching a peasant woman tend to her goats.

Hand feeding the goats

Three years ago yesterday we were at the Dolphin Yacht Club dock getting ready to leave.

Marblehead Harbor, August 13, 2008

 Three years later, here we are in Greece.

Destiny anchored off beach. . .

in Kiriakis, Greece, August 13, 2011

We speculated on the first anniversary that it was too early to tell if this was an “adventure” or a “lifestyle” and last year this time we still were not sure.  Having reached the three-year mark however, we have decided it is a “lifestyle”—an adventurous one that has no time limit.

Reflecting on the past three years and the thousands of miles that we have under our keel, the most amazing thing has been how exciting it continues to be.  There are days,  of course, when something breaks—yesterday it was the refrigeration for the third time in as many months—and life ashore seems tempting.  But then a full moon rises over a cliff and casts its glow on the mirror-like water, as it did last night, and you can’t imagine being anywhere else at that moment.

Our days are filled with unforgettable moments.  We have walked through history in Delphi, Delos, Ephesus and Olympia—to name a few of the many ancient sites we have visited.  We have experienced more incredible sunsets and sunrises than most people enjoy in a lifetime.  We are at one with the sea, the land, the weather and most importantly ourselves—although we have survived dragging anchors, a brief but sobering grounding, and angry seas.

When we left Turkey a couple of months ago, the many friends we made there all said “you’ll be back”.  They may be right.  Turkey was not part of the original “plan” which included the Med.  We went to Turkey because it was close by and “why not”, but stayed because its some of the best coastal cruising in the Med. 

For now we are enroute to Ragusa, Sicily and unlike last year there is no definite plan to return to the States for the winter.  We have talked about skiing in the Italian Alps, and spending Christmas in Rome. 

The longer we cruise the more indefinite the future becomes.  Yesterday we headed for the island of Paxos, but the wind said otherwise, so we sailed and spent the night in a small bay called Kiriakis on the mainland of Greece that barely warrants a mention in the cruising guide.  It was absolutely magical and we were the only boat anchored in the bay as the full moon rose last night.

Kiriakis to the Moon

We have no idea where destiny (with a small “d”) will take us on August 14th next year—depends which way the wind blows.

Here’s to another year of fair winds and following seas.

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LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

August 12th, 2011 No comments

One of our final stops on the Peloponnese was the port of Katakolon just south of the Gulf of Patras.  Katakolon is a major cruise ship port located about thirty minutes by bus from Olympia, the site to which Greek athletes gathered every four years for almost eleven centuries.

Cruise ships arrive daily. . .

depositing thousands of tourists in Katakolon for the sole purpose of seeing Olympia.

We anchored just outside the harbor and took a tour bus to Olympia.  The thirty minute ride took us through groves of olive and fruit trees and past a checkerboard of fields under cultivation. 

The modern town of Olympia has the usual assortment of restaurants and souvenir shops, but the ancient site and its museum are the main attractions.

Many of the early structures were temples and Olympia was a sacred place honoring Zeus, the “king of Gods”.

From remnants of columns, a reproduction gives life to what was there. . .

and allows a step back in history.

We first wandered through the ruins and visited the place where the Olympic torch begins its journey for the modern games.  The actual spot where the flame originates is hardly more than a roped off area with a sign.

Ancient columns line some streets. . .

and outline buildings no longer there.

Very little remains of the buildings of ancient Olympia, and some imagination is required to transform the fallen pillars and foundations into anything approaching their original magnificence. 

Pillars and. . .

foundations stroke the imagination.

One thing that is relatively unchanged is the stadium that is a grassy banked area surrounding a field with marble starting and finishing lines that was where an estimated 50,000 could watch ancient running events.  Interestingly, only men participated and attended and all the athletes and their trainers were naked.  There is some disagreement among historians as to why no clothing was permitted, but it is speculated that ancient Greeks revered the human body in its most athletic form.

The stadium is no more than a grassy embankment around the field. . .

with marble start and finish lines over which thousands of bare feet ran. . .

until Kent arrived--it was too hot to run.

The marble base that held the famous sculpture known as “Winged Victory” is still in its original spot although the statue has been moved into the archeological museum where it has a place of honor.  The sculpture actually depicts the Goddess, Nike and was considered a tribute to Zeus.

The triangular base upon which. . .

the Goddess Nike proudly stood.

The archeological museum contains most of the artifacts recovered from the site. 

Some relics are at the entrance to the museum.

They are preserved and arranged in displays that reconstruct portions of the architecture.

A portion of the pediment from the Temple of Zeus. . .

has larger than life-size figures.

Marble statuary that survives thousands of years is remarkable, but blown glass that dates to the 1st Century B.C.  is downright amazing, and there were examples of that as well.

How does something this beautiful. . .

and obviously fragile survive?

 Being “tourists” for a day was fun.  We gained a new appreciation for the Olympics, and its history.  In the future we will watch the lighting of the flame and recollect that “we’ve been there”–to the place where it all started all those thousands of years ago.

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MISTRA & METHONI = MEDIEVAL HISTORY ON THE PELOPONNESE

August 8th, 2011 No comments

Traveling along the southern Peloponnese enroute to the Ionian islands of Greece we took a detour up the Gulf of Lakonika to the town of Yithion (also known as Gyithion) when the wind was more favorable for a passage north rather than west which was our original intention.

Destiny at anchor in Yithion

Sometimes, it is the places that you never intended to visit that prove to be the most interesting.  Yithion is a pretty, pastel seaside village protected by a small island and a causeway that connects it to the town.  We anchored just off the quay lined with restaurants in the shelter of the island and spent two lovely days.

Yithion is famous for octopus, and every restaurant has their ugly carcasses prominently hanging from lines—food and decoration.  We had grilled octopus for lunch looking out at Destiny anchored in the harbor. 

From our lunch spot you can see the island that protects the anchorage.

Yithion is somewhat “off the beaten path” if you are rounding the Peloponnese, which is unfortunate since it is a lovely spot.

Our cruising guide mentioned that it was possible to visit the inland cities of Sparta and Mistra from this location.  After a stop at the local tourist office, Kent came back with details on the bus transfers that could take us first to Sparta and then on to the medieval city of Mistra.

We left Destiny at anchor with Jolie in charge and off we went.  Bus travel in Europe is quite comfortable—cushy seats and air conditioning, as well as curtains to keep out the summer sun if you wish.

The trip to Sparta took about one hour, and there we changed buses for your trip to Mistra.  Modern day Sparta offers little of historical significance—it is a loud, bustling city.

As we left Sparta the bus wound uphill through lovely little enclaves of pastel colored hours surrounded by olive trees and colorful splashes of bougainvillea.   After a half hour ride switchbacking our way uphill we arrived at the base of the medieval city of Mistra which continued uphill as far as the eye could see to a fortress on the mountain top.

OK, so we're in for another hike

Mistra is a UNESCO Heritage site and its earliest building dates to 1249, and most of the structures are Byzantine.  There are the remains of  a castle, a fortress, residences and numerous churches and monasteries most from the 14th Century.

Ayios Demetrios Cathedral founded in 1291. . .

has a frescoed dome. . .

and a two-headed Byzantine eagle marking the spot where the last Emperor of Byzantium was consecrated

The Pantanassa monastery is home to nuns who sell small paintings and embroidery.

Entrance to the Pantanassa monastery grounds. . .where nuns still live.

Pantanassa loggia and bell tower

View from the loggia covers the lush valley below.

Many of the monasteries have elaborate frescoes, columns and domes.

14th C. Monasteries were elaborate structures. . .

with plaster and frescoes masking the underlying brick.

There is an impressive museum with artifacts from the site and English descriptions which made it more interesting. 

Mistra was home to more than monasteries.  There were commercial buildings and residences situated on paths that criss cross the hillside.

A commercial center of the town. . .

now only walls and windows on the sky.

Modest residences like this were set. . .

along paths that meander through the town. . .

which also had "McMansions", like this one being restored.

The view of the fertile valley stretching toward Sparta from the heights of Mistra is quite dramatic.

As we climb higher there is a sweeping view of the valley.

From this Byzantine perched village, we next traveled to Methoni, a small fishing village surrounded by verdant farmlands, on the southwest cape of the Peloponnese .  Our trip from Yithion to Methoni was mostly motoring into the westerly wind that is prevalent this time of year.

Approaching Methoni by sea you first see the Bourtzi, an octagonal Turkish tower built shortly after 1500.  It is attached to the mainland by a stone bridge under which the sea flows into the harbor. 

The Turkish Tower and Kastro as seen from our anchorage. . .

are dominated by walls that once protected the entire city.

Methoni’s history, like Mistra’s dates to the early 1200’s.  The Venetian citadel (the so-called “kastro”) was built in 1209.  At one time the entire population of Methoni lived within the walls and moat of the citadel which still covers a large area with many surviving buildings.

This bridge leads over the old moat to the main gate.

The Bourtzi tower is among the more impressive of the structures.

From the Kastro to the Bourtzi. . .

over the stone bridge.

View back at the Kastro from the tower

Equally impressive are the massive walls and the rocky shore that added to the safety of the early population.

The massive walls protected the city. . .

as did the rocky coastline.

This is the only Citadel that we have seen in this part of the world that is actually at sea level.  After all the climbing we have been lately, it was a treat to tour a relatively flat ruins, although we couldn’t resist climbing and walking the walls.

We never did find out the purpose of this pyramid roofed structure. . .

that had a door but no windows--storage of gunpowder?

There are Venetian coats of arms marking the walls, including the Lion of St. Mark and a column that marked what had been the central square.

A commemorative column in the city square.

The town and harbor are havens for vacationers who line the beaches and enjoy the crystal clear water.

By afternoon this beach will be covered. . .

with vacationing sunbathers.

So one day we are in the mountains, and the next at the shore, in both cases soaking up history left behind by cultures that preceded us by thousands of years.  We love this life!

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