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Archive for August, 2011

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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MOVE OVER CAPRI—GREECE HAS BLUE CAVES TOO!

August 4th, 2011 1 comment

We visited the Blue Grotto of Capri on our honeymoon—“luna di miele” as the Italians say and were quite impressed.  Picture tiny rowboats, with people packed like sardines lying on one another to stay below the gunnels as we entered the grotto, and then the soulful sound of the rowers singing opera inside the dark cave with light streaming through the small opening and illuminating the water iridescent blue to complete the magic.  OK, so the Blue Grotto is amazing, and we can’t recapture being there on our luna di miele, but we experienced some similar Greek magic recently on the islands of Milos and Zakinthos.

Milos is located in the southern Cyclades and was our jumping off point to cross to the Peloponnese.  We had heard wonderful things about the island, but not that is was famous for amazing rock formations, caves and beaches that lined its south shore.

We thought this should be called the Easter Bunny Rock

Kalamaria Pt. separates Milou Bay from the Aegean

We moored in the main harbor of Adhamas and decided to play “tourist” and take a day trip to the south shore on the Delfini express (www.milostour.gr) since the boat was fast, had lots of shade and most importantly was “dog friendly” so Jolie could accompany us.

Destiny stays at the quay as we leave on Delfini Expres

Sometimes a “guided” tour is a pleasant change of pace and the Delfini Express was great fun.  We brought a lunch, beer and wine and were ready for an adventure.

Kent called this a "busman's holiday"

The boat cruised along the coast pausing at several spots for “photo ops”. 

The limestone is dramatic. . .

and as we pass by a cave opens like a clam shell to reveal a boat anchored inside.

One of many caves we pass along the way. . .

before we approach Kleftiko where we will anchor for lunch and snorkeling.

The rock formations were impressive, the water crystal clear and pale aqua given its sandy bottom. 

The rock formations towered over the boat as we anchored.

We came equipped with snorkel equipment and left Jolie on board with new friends she had made while we explored the caves.

Jolie had plenty of company while we snorkeled.

You can't snorkel in the Blue Grotto of Capri, but here. . .

you could explore the caves. . .

or sunbath on a limestone "beach".

The anchorage is very popular this time of year and became quite crowded before the afternoon was over.

There were boats of every size. . .

and description in the anchorage.

Small pumice-like particles were floating on the water as we snorkeled–it looked like styrofoam.  One sailboat anchored under a limestone canopy had particulate swirling around it in a nearly perfect circle.

Limestone forms a swirl in the water

Limestone swirling in a circle looks like it could swallow the sailboat.

On the way back we saw numerous other day trip boats heading back to Adhamas, packed to the gills with people.

This group was having fun in the sun on the way back to port.

Barely two weeks later as we headed north to Corfu, we made a return visit to Zakinthos and its Blue Caves which are reputed to rival the Blue Grotto of Capri.  I have to say that “nothing” rivals the Blue Grotto in Capri, but the Blue Caves of Zakinthos are impressive none the less and accessible by dinghy from the nearby vacation village of Nikolaos. 

We planned our arrival in Nikolaos for late morning so we could visit the Blue Caves by dinghy while the seas will still flat.  Our prior visit to the Blue Caves had been in early May, 2010, and Destiny was the only private boat in the harbor. 

In August the harbor was chock-a-block full of boats, including many charter boats but arriving early in the day we found a spot moored stern to at the quay and promptly took off in the dinghy to explore the caves.

Dramatic cliffs and. . .

rocky shoreline define the coast.

The “caves” are more rock formations with beautiful clear water, but in the dinghy we could travel through the openings getting a more up close view than the large tripper boats who cruised by.

A majestic schooner sits alongside the caves. . .

as tour boats compete with rental boats for a view

With so many people on one side of the boat to see the view, some of the boats listed significantly.  Some of the smaller day trip boats could go through the openings and nudge into some of the large caves, but the dinghy gave us great flexibility.

Small boat goes through while large boat watches

We were able to pass through several times in the dinghy–couldn’t get enough!

Starting through the openings. . .

the color of the water gets more intense. . .

but once inside the darkness frames the next opening. . .

with sunlight sparkling the water before the next.

We found one cave this time that we missed on our last visit that truly was grotto-like, though much smaller than in Capri.  We could just enter the cave sitting up in the dinghy and once inside the ceiling and walls rose dramatically around us. 

Looking into grotto like cave is dark and scary. . . but once inside the light illuminates the water. . .

in an irridescent blue just like the Blue Grotto.

Its hard to capture the experience in photos, and Kent doesn’t sing opera, but the pictures give a sense of the awesome beauty of the place.

We have returned to Capri once since our honeymoon, this time on Destiny, but unfortunately the seas were rough and access to the Blue Grotto was impossible.  We hope to be back there later this fall and will try once again to revisit it.

In the meantime, we have lovely memories of Greece and its Blue Caves to tide us over.

Jolie was sad that she didn't go on this trip

But she didn’t go on the honeymoon either.

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SERENE SIFNOS

August 1st, 2011 No comments

We timed our arrival on the Cyclades island of Sifnos to an annual religious festival that we had read about. One of the pleasures of this life is participating in local events.

On the evening of July 18th we anchored in the nearly landlocked harbor at Vathi on the east coast of Sifnos.

Vathi Sunset

It is a charming little vacation village that boasts a five-star hotel with pricey amenities. We enjoyed the serenity of the harbor for a lot less, as did other boaters.

Vathi's waterside Chapel

Five stars for big bucks. . .

or camping on the water--Vathi is special.

The next day we went to the main town of Kamares to find out about the festival. Kamares is the main ferry port for the island and had an information desk that gave provided details about the festival scheduled for that day–July 19th. 

We had just anchored when the first ferry arrived.

There are two separate venues for the Festival honoring St. Elias–both monasteries some distance from Kamares. We decided to attend the larger of the two festivals despite the fact that it was a longer hike to the monastery—in retrospect that was a mistake.

First we took a bus to Apollonia—a lovely little mountain town about 7 km from Kamares.  With some time to kill before our next bus, we wandered around the town.

Apollonia has tiny pedestrian only streets. . .

vibrant flowers. . .

and charming cafes serving coffee frappes.

We caught a 6 p.m. bus toward Vathi with a stop at the trail to the monastery of Profitis Ilias Psilos.  The monastery was built in 1686 and is named after St. Elias.

The beginning of the path seems benign.

We were told that it was a 1 ½ hour hike to the monastery but we had no idea when we started that it was mostly uphill. The monastery sits at the top of a 694 meter (that’s over 2,000 ft.) mountain, one of the highest points on the island.

The trail went up, then down, then up again, and up and up and up. The sun was still high in the sky when we started about 6:30 p.m.(the festivities were scheduled to start at 8 p.m.), and as we trekked along, Kent eventually shed his shirt.

The trail goes up. . .

and up. . .

and meanders across the mountain down a valley and back up!

We kept track of the time, and at 45 minutes into the climb we were only half way and couldn’t even see the monastery. We gave some thought to turning around, but at that point stubborn determination took over and we had to get to the top.

 At one point we were passed by donkeys carrying food for the festival and another time by a motorbike—now that is really crazy given the terrain.

Kent scurries out of the way of a motorbike. . .yikes!

Finally, we made it to the top where ouzo, water and cookies were awaiting our arrival. By this time we were soaked with sweat from the long, dusty climb and were dried off with paper towels by an elderly Greek woman who greeted new arrivals.

Finally, the monastery is in sight. . .

We did it!

The view from the monastery was incredible as was the sunset.

Celebrants gather on the roof. . .

for a heavenly sunset.

The monastery glowed in the evening sun and people perched everywhere, including near the dome.

We enjoy the setting sun. . .

as children perch by the dome. . .

and the priest enjoys a moment of quiet reflection.

Bells were rung with great enthusiasm and the air was electric with celebration. The priest wandered through the crowd greeting people before he began the solemn service.

As dusk falls the religious ceremony begins.

We are told that the celebration continued on into the evening with food, music and dancing, but by 9:30 p.m. we decided that it was time to take our leave if we were going to make it back to Kamares and Jolie who was patiently waiting on the boat.

We can see the lights of Apollonia far below. . .

as we leave Profitis Ilias Psilos, circa 1686

As we started back down the steep path by flashlight the sky still glowed pink with the sunset and along the way we met people still coming up to the festivities—much younger people, I might add.

We surmised that many of those who attended the Festival would sleep outdoors under the stars rather than venture downhill in the dark as we did. Down proved to be more challenging than up—darkness and loose gravel made for a treacherous return. Once down and safely in a cab to return us to Kamares, we were exhausted, but so glad that we did it.

The next time, however, we’ll go to the festival that only requires a 30 minute walk to the monastery and overlooks the bay in which Destiny was anchored.

Live and learn.

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