We hadn't expected the Gulf of Corinth to be such a pleasant cruising ground. After two days in Trizonia, we might have just hurried through the Corinth Canal and into the Aegean Sea, but we really couldn't sail right past Delphi without seeing it. We chose to pull into Galaxadhi mainly because of its proximity to Delphi, but it turned out to be one of the most beautiful anchorages yet!
A Lunenburg native could feel right at home in Galaxadhi. A prosperous boat-building centre in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Galaxadhi is now a sleepy little town where not much seems to happen outside tourist season. The narrow cobblestone streets and steep stairways ascending and descending among picturesque stone houses give the town an Italianate appearance, but the churches and the culture are unmistakably Greek.
Reportedly, Galaxadhi can become crowded with tourists and Athenians during the summer and on the weekends, but the streets were quiet throughout our stay. During the last week of August, we had crossed the magical line that separates high season from low season. Suddenly we have very little competition for space in anchorages, historic sites or cafés.
From our anchorage in the old harbour, we are surrounded by beautiful sites: the dramatic bulk of Mount Parnassos and the surrounding mountains, the chapel on the tiny island at the mouth of the harbour, the shady park on the headland, the domed towers of the large Orthodox church in the town and the old windmills on the hills behind the park. We have left the lush greens of the Ionian islands behind us, and the landscape across the water looks as dry and barren as the Sierra Nevadas in Spain.
Our morning runs take us along a seawall overlooking water so clear that we can count the spines of sea urchins, past the fishing boats and yachts on the dock of the new harbour, into the shade of the cedars and pines of the park and past a small pebbly beach where a few senior citizens are paddling, sun-hats firmly in place. Later in the day, we peruse the inventory of the succession of tiny supermarkets and shops along the main street and visit the Church of Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas) where the intricately-carved altar screen (inexplicably topped by a skull and crossbones) is an amazing work of art. A little reconnaissance by Rick turns up the information that the bus for Delphi leaves from the square at 10 a.m. in the morning.
Relying on the kindness of strangers is a strategy that works quite well in Greece, where people's natural tendency toward helpfulness frequently motivates them to come to the rescue of bewildered-looking strangers. Just as we begin to feel uneasy that the bus has not appeared, we are taken under the wing of an elderly woman travelling to her home in Athens. She assures us that the bus will arrive in due course. Her face lights up at the mention of Delphi. "You are going to omphalos yios" she said, pointing at her belly-button, "the navel of the earth". She is also delighted to hear that we are from Halifax and tells us that many years ago, when her husband was a commander in the Greek merchant navy, she had travelled to Halifax and through the St. Lawrence seaway with him. We continue our conversation as we change buses in Itea and Rick helps her manhandle her unwieldy bags into the luggage compartment of the bus. The fires outside Athens are finally under control, she tells us, but three million trees have burned. Her sister's home, which was close to one of the fires, is now safe, but all the plants on her balcony have died from the extreme heat. When we reach the town of modern Delphi, we also meet Claudia and Gerhardt from Austria, who have just sailed west through the Corinth canal. They tell us that they had seen the glow of the fires and even had ashes landing on their boat. It is a sad story for an area that needs its trees badly, and there has been considerable controversy over the government's perceived mishandling of the situation.
It is nearly noon when we reach the site of ancient Delphi, but thankfully the air is slightly cooler at this altitude. To the ancient Greeks, Delphi was considered the centre of the world, because two eagles released by Zeus from opposite ends of the earth met here. Pilgrims travelled from far and wide to consult the famous Oracle of Delphi. The site itself, high on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, is mystical and awe-inspiring. Standing above the Temple of Apollo looking out over the cypress and olive trees in the valley below, I am carried back in time not only to ancient Greece, but to the old library in New Waterford and the pages of the well-thumbed book where I first read about the Delphic oracle. After touring the extensive ruins that surround the Temple of Apollo, we trudge down the road to the Temple of Athena, stopping to collect some water from the sacred Castalian Spring on the way. At the Temple of Athena , which is said by some to be the most impressive temple on the site, we find that only five other tourists have worked up the energy to walk down the hill.
Suddenly, the thought of walking back up the hill and down the road to the museum seems very daunting. Thankfully, the museum is air-conditioned, and the amazing archaeological treasures provide distraction from our sore feet. (In retrospect, we wish we had visited the museum first, since it would have given us a better perspective on the meaning and magnitude of the ancient site while we were touring it.) By the time we walked the kilometer back to modern Delphi to catch the bus, we are hot, tired and very thirsty. From the terrace of a little café across from the bus stop, Rick pulls out his new super-duper MEC binoculars and checks on Aisling far below us in Galaxadhi! Back at the boat, we realize that getting the sacred water home might be a bit impractical and I use some of it to water Spike the cactus, who will henceforth be known as Spike the Sacred Cactus.
On our last night in Galaxadhi, we had a delicious dinner at the "Art Café" in a converted olive mill in the old harbour, run by the artist George and his sister Mina. The meal was delicious-especially the mussels in olive oil, garlic and oregano- but the highlight of the evening was meeting George and Mina and seeing George's wonderful paintings. Rick immediately zeroed in on a painting of a boat passing the Galaxadhi park and when George mentioned that he had painted it in the Group of Seven style, which he had learned when he lived in Canada, we knew we had to buy one of the prints. We wish we could have bought the original, but since we have some big boat repair bills coming up perhaps it's just as well that they didn't take Visa!
We have, unfortunately, fallen behind on our journal. Since leaving Galaxadhi, we have visited Corinth, come through the canal, had our refrigerator repaired in Athens, had dinner with Peter and his son Will on the American boat "Time Warp" and sailed to Kea and Syros. We see a small weather window where the meltemi has moderated, and we are trying to cross as much of the Aegean as we can while the winds are favourable. We'll try to catch up with some additional entries on the blog this week.
Cruising Notes for Galaxadhi:
You can either med moor on your own anchor in the new harbour, or anchor in approximately 17 feet with good holding in sand and weed, in the old harbour. There is protection from all directions but the north. Water and power is available at the dock in the new harbour (you will need to find someone with a key). Water is also available from a tap in the fishermen's area of the old harbour. Lots of tavernas, small supermarkets, bakeries and a fruit and vegetable store in the town. To visit Delphi from Galaxadhi, catch a bus to Itea from the square and connect to Delphi (it's actually the bus to Athens) from Itea. We never did manage to get a bus schedule but the shops near the square can help you.
Itea is actually a more convenient location if your goal is a visit Delphi. Itea has a marina and chandleries and since it is a larger town it is a better place to provision. However, it is dusty and in our opinion it is not as pleasant as Galaxadhi.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||
08/31/2009, Saronic Gulf, On the way to Athens
Our first stop after leaving Ithaca was Messolonghi, the town where the poet Lord Byron, a passionate advocate of Greece independence, spent his last days. To reach Messolonghi, we motored up a long marshy inlet, where tiny houses were raised above the water on posts. Many of these houses, which were originally built by fisherman, appear to have been converted to cottages, but they are still very picturesque. We anchored just off a partially finished marina, debated about whether to put the motor on the dinghy and go exploring, but in the end decided to eat aboard and make it an early night. (For more information on the new marina at Messolonghi, see the cruising notes below.)
The next day, it was a bracing motorsail into a headwind of 20+ knots for our passage through the gulf of Patras, under the Rion bridge and into the Gulf of Corinth. We would have liked to stop at Navpaktos, but we were worried that there might not be room in the tiny medieval harbour so we pressed on, satisfied that at least we had sailed through the waters where the famous battle of Lepanto took place. By the time we arrived at the tiny island of Trizonia (the only inhabited island in the Gulf of Corinth) the decks and rigging were coated with salt and the cabin was in complete disarray. We were relieved to feel the wind abate as we turned the corner into the well-protected anchorage.
The tiny island of Trizonia is an enchanting place. No sign of the madding crowds on Trizonia! For anyone who truly wants to get away from it all- do some painting, write a book- Trizonia is the perfect hideaway. A small "ferry" (similar in size to my cousin Donnie's fishing boat) carries passengers back and forth (fare 1 euro) to the small town of Glifadha on the mainland, where groceries and the other necessities are available. Otherwise, you might be lucky enough to find what you need at the small general store, where you can also buy bread if you have had the foresight to order it a day in advance. (We hadn't, but they were kind enough to sell us a loaf anyway.) In spite of the miniscule size of the population, a new and imposing Orthodox church sits on the point, positioned so that its large windows overlook the mainland on one side and the fishing dock on the other side. As we peered in a window on one side, we could see a woman walking along a path on the other side, making the sign of the cross-a common practice among those of the Greek Orthodox faith when passing a church.
Four small family-run tavernas line the fishing harbour, all with limited menu choices and (at least at the end of August) very few customers. Both the Taverna Porto Trizonia and the Poseidon restaurant had good food and low prices, although surely anything eaten in such a beautiful setting would taste great! At sunset, the light is exceptional, with shadows outlining the contours and crevices of the mountain across the water on the mainland. At any time of day, it is pleasant to sit by the water in Trizonia and watch the fisherman coming and going, as the elderly men sit in the shade thumbing through their worry beads. At night, the star-gazing from our cockpit was terrific, since there is little ambient light in the anchorage.
Our most exceptional evening was at the Poseidon, where the regular staff spoke no English and a friend of the family, who introduced himself as "Billy the Greek", was helping out with table-side translations. After explaining the various menu choices, Billy amiably agreed to teach us a few simple phrases in Greek. Now there's an oxymoron-nothing is simple in Greek! But by the time we'd finished our meal and two of those dangerous little "half kilo" jugs of wine (it sounds so much worse than a half-litre, doesn't it?) we had a sheaf of notes with a list of phonetically spelled useful phrases like "What do you call this?" (pos toh len afto), "like that" (san afto) "I live on a boat" (zo sto karavi) and "shut up" (skas-eh). We didn't ask for that last one, Billy just seemed to think it would be useful. I finally understand why so many of the elderly Greek women in Canada still struggle with the English language! The differences in the alphabet make things very difficult. When I occasionally successfully decipher a Greek word on a sign or label, I get that same triumphant "I can read!" feeling I had as a child when I first sounded out "Here I am, my name is Nan" from my mother's old reader.
As we were paying our bill, a French family from another boat in the marina sat down at the table beside us and Billy effortlessly switched to French as he chatted with them. When we finally left the restaurant, we had another piece of paper with Billy's phone number in Athens (just in case we needed him to help us with anything) and a most excellent drawing of a whale made for us by the little girl from the French boat.
The next day, we made out way to Galaxadhi, a beautiful town on the north side of the Gulf of Corinth. We chose Galaxadhi mainly because of its proximity to Delphi, but it turned out to also be one of the loveliest places we've stopped. But I've burned enough power already tonight, I'll have to save that story for the next posting!
Messolongi: As of August 2009, berths at Messolongi's new marina were still free. The marina has 100 mooring places (concrete mooring block, chains and lazy lines or moor alongside) water, showers and wifi. Haul-out facilities planned. More info on their website www.messolonghimarina.com. We anchored in 20' with good holding in mud. There are a couple of tavernas ashore. Good protection from all directions.
Trizonia has a small marina where you can either med-moor on your own anchor or tie alongside an outer wall. There is also a small anchorage with good holding just off the marina. We spent one night at anchor and one night along the wall. We anchored in about 18' with a mud bottom and good holding. Good protection from all directions.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||