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||
08/26/2009, Galaxdhi, Gulf of Corinth
As we were running along the seawall in Galaxadhi this morning, an elderly man called us over, pointing to something in the water. Much to our delight, an octopus was swimming by. The three of us watched it swim along, settle briefly on the bottom and then disappear under the wall. Our new friend seemed very happy to have been able to share his octopus-viewing with us, and gave me a friendly slap on the back as he walked away, chuckling. How fortunate that Rick had brought his camera along!
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||
08/24/2009, Trizonia, Gulf of Corinth
It is impossible to capture the beauty of the Ionian sea in words- even our photographs do not seem to do it justice. The short journey from Nidri to Syvota took us through one of the loveliest stretches of water I have ever seen. As we left the anchorage, the heat-haze that typically blurs the outlines of distant points was less pronounced than usual and the dramatic mountain peaks of mainland Greece looked deceptively close. We sailed past the islands of Scorpios (the Onassis' private island, which we had "circumnavigated" on a daysail in June with our Swedish friends Guy and Pia) and into the channel between Meganisi and Lefkada. The forest greens of cyprus cedars and pines and the dustier green of the olive trees on the shores of the islands contrasted dramatically with the intense blue of the sea. It would have been the perfect day for a sail, if only we'd had some wind. At least Syvota was just around the corner, so we didn't have to burn much diesel to get there.
We had the misfortune to arrive in Syvota on the peak holiday weekend of the summer, which coincides with the Greek Feast of the Assumption and Italian Ferragosto. Syvota must be a magical place in the off-season, but our view of its charms was obstructed by the crowds and the mayhem in the anchorage, so we saw no reason to linger. Late Sunday morning, we pulled the anchor (breathing a large sigh of relief when the windlass performed beautifully) and pointed the bow toward the mountainous silhouette of Ithaca- or Ithaki, as it is called here. A few hours later, we anchored Aisling in the deep inlet off the town of Vathi. The anchorage is very well-protected, but when a catabatic wind swept down off the mountains and blew at about Force 5 until sunset, we were glad that our anchor was well dug-in. We crossed our fingers that everyone else's was too!
Ithaca has captured the imaginations of the young and the old for millenia. The mythical home of Odysseus, it is an island of breathtaking natural beauty, sparsely populated and surprisingly unexploited by tourism. There is, of course, much debate over the true location of ancient Ithaca and numerous other sites described in the Odyssey. Perhaps the Ithaca of the Odyssey was not the place we know as Ithaca today-- perhaps Odysseus himself was a mythical character rather than an historic figure-- perhaps even the poet Homer never really existed. But why spoil the fun? Imagining Odysseus finally returning home to Penelope really adds to the fun of a visit to Ithaca, so we'll cast our lot with the believers.
Although relatively new, having been rebuilt after a major earthquake in 1953, Vathi is a very pretty town. On Monday morning, we dinghied ashore for a run along the narrow, eucalyptus-shaded lane that follows the water to a little beach just inside the mouth of the harbour. A few dozen people were swimming and lounging on the beach under the diligent supervision of a young and beautiful lifeguard. A battered old fishing boat bobbed in the water by the sea wall. After running back to the town, we were so hot and sweaty that we immediately changed into our bathing suits and took the dinghy back to the beach. Floating on my back in the warm salty water, staring up at an old fort and a terraced olive grove, was one of life's perfect little moments.
Ithaca is a small island with a length of less than 30 km. With motorbikes available for hire at only 15 euros a day, we decided to do some exploring. The task of driving fell to Rick, but even as a passenger I had to give my inner scaredy-cat a firm talking to before I could relax and enjoy the ride. As we negotiated the sharp switchbacks beside breathtaking views down the coast and across the channel to Cephalonia, we passed several of the small roadside shrines that mark the sites of previous fatal accidents. Rick drove slowly and carefully, recalling an email from our friend Jean Francois Bourley, who warned that the asphalt on these roads becomes as slick as oil in the intense summer heat. Unlike the majority of Greek bikers, we chose to wear helmets, but they are unlikely to be of much help if we go over the edge!
Our first stop was at the "Cave of the Nymphs" which is purported to be the location where the Phaeceans left the sleeping Odysseus when they delivered him safely home to Ithaca after his ten years of trials and tribulations. Entering the cave is no longer permitted, so we continued on, climbing (about 1800 meters vertical) to an old monastery that , according to our Blue Guide, was restored with the help of a grant from Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. It is again undergoing some renovations but the setting is lovely, with an old tower overlooking the coastline, goats roaming the bushes along the headland and a beautiful garden in the interior courtyard. A sign on the gate says "Please close the door because the goats come inside" in Greek, English, Italian and German. As we continued toward the next village in search of water, we encountered a roadside farm and a large herd of goats unconcernedly rambling along the centre line of the road. Eventually, we reached the village of Anogi, where we found a small establishment whose three tables were occupied by a group of young people playing backgammon and sharing platters of delicious-looking home cooked french fries. The stolid and stout elderly proprietress spokes no English, but luckily I had recently learned the Greek word for water (nero). We sat outside and downed 1.5 liters of water in a few minutes while soaking up the ambience of the small village square. How much better our experience would be if only we could speak the Greek language!
We made a lunch stop at Stavros, where we chose the busiest taverna and had a delicious meal of briam (roasted vegetables in olive oil) with soft bread and tzatziki, a decadently sinful saganaki and (I had to do it) a plate of those home cooked french fries. Good restaurants are not as easy to find in this part of the world as you might think, but the chances of getting a good meal seems to improve as you get further off the beaten track. After visiting the small church in the town square, we continued on to Frikes, a small waterside village tucked under towering cliffs and then to Kioni, where the anchorage is obviously the preferred choice of the rich and famous of the yachting set. Near Kioni, we found a small beach with fantastically clear water, so we changed into our bathing suits in the bushes and cooled off with a swim.
By this time, our bottoms were getting a bit sore, but who could resist following a sign that pointed to an archaeological site called the School of Homer? To reach the site, we had to bump along a rugged dirt track, and when we reached the site we were equally as alone as we would have been in the back country of Nova Scotia. The cicadas were chirping wildly in the olive trees and the heat was intense as we explored the ruins, which have obviously undergone some recent excavations. Certain sections were under plexiglass. We were unable to find any good information explaining the history of the site, but I later found an internet reference claiming that examples of Linear B writing (an ancient precursor of the Greek alphabet) were found here.
Finally, we climbed to Exogi , a Venetian village high on the northwest side of the island, where standing on the wall was truly a "king of the castle" experience. By then we really were getting tired, so we decided to head back to Vathi. Along the way, we stopped once again for water at an old general store with glass-fronted wooden display cases. Stepping through the door was like stepping back half a century in time-- I'm sure some of the inventory on the shelves was older than me! After such a wonderful day, it was a bit disconcerting to return to Vathi and find that two boats had parked on either side of our dinghy, completely blocking it in. It was obvious we'd be waiting a while to get back to Aisling, so we crossed the road to have a drink at the Yacht club. It's a beautiful spot; the shady courtyard has tables circling a large pool that is connected to the harbour. The fish were plentiful here, eating treats from the patrons. Back at the dingy, with a little help from the staff of the charter company, Rick was able to get the boats pushed aside and squeak through so we could head back to Aisling.
The next morning, we took advantage of the few hours left on the bike rental to explore the southern part of the island. Unfortunately, the only available map had some serious limitations, so we never did find the road to Pigi Aretoussas, but we did have an interesting drive through the vineyards and olive groves in the valley, visited Alaikomes (previously thought to be the site of the castle of Odysseus) and followed a half-ton truck loaded with grapes up the hill to Filiatro before returning the bike to the rental agency. Seeing a young man riding in the back of the pick-up trucks with the grapes reminded me of the long-forgotten pleasure of riding in the back of my uncle Donald's truck as a child. Watching a young woman on a motorbike scoot down the hill with her hair streaming behind her, I felt a surge of envy and wondered if we have lost a little freedom in our quest for absolute safety.
On Thursday, we motored around to Kaminia, a gorgeous anchorage with room for only a handful of boats. We were fortunate that a charter boat was just lifting anchor when we arrived, so we were able to slide into its place. The warm , clear water made for great swimming and snorkelling, with visibility of about 20 meters and lots of colourful fish. It seemed like the perfect anchorage until the swell began to roll in at around 4 p.m. After a restless, sleep, we returned to Vathi in the morning and spent the day doing some cleaning tasks and preparing for our departure to Mesalonghi the next day. It's time for us to start gradually making our way toward the Aegean, but the Ionian will be tough to beat as a cruising ground!
Rick's notes for Cruisers:
Syvota on Lefkada is small and deep except near the town. It is well protected from all but the katabatic winds. We anchored in 25' and thick mud with good holding. I recommend you resist the urge to leave the boat in the late afternoon so you can "protect your swing room" . There are a couple of small groceries ashore and the harbour is a base for two charter fleets so there may be services to support those as well.
Vathi on Ithaca is also well protected except a sea can build up from the NE winds that arrive each evening. There is lots of room and we anchored in 17' with good holding in mud. Lots of small supermarkets and vegetable stands plus block ice is available from the butcher in the square. There is a fuel (1.13 euros/L) dock here that also sells water at .035/L.
Kamina is small and tight and it was difficult to get the anchor to bite although we were successful after a few tries. The water is deep. We anchored in 50'. There is a shallower spot further in but a sign written in paint on the rock said "Swimming Area, No Anchoring within 150m of shore, signed Port Police). The harbour is protected from all but the East. There were light winds from the NE when we were there and the swell managed to find its way around the point and was amplified by the narrowing harbour. A German boat took a line ashore in a small cove and med moored stern to the rock face.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||