08/06/2009, Vlicho, Greece
Sorry about the long silence, we've been very busy. Perhaps I'll have time to fill in some of the blanks later, but for the moment I'm a bit distracted by the current "situation".
Anyone who has travelled by air recently will have seen the HSBC ads that highlight the difference a point of view can make. A poster showing a stiletto shoe is labeled "pain"; beside it a poster of a hot pepper is labeled "pleasure". A few steps closer to the gate, the same posters are shown, but the stiletto is now labeled "pleasure" (oh, sure) and the pepper is labeled "pain". A baby is labeled "work" and a computer "play", then the reverse. The cruising life is a bit like that-some days are great, but some days can be really, really bad. Sometimes you get time to play and sometimes it's a lot of work.
The last few days haven't been so great. We're in Vlicho, a sleepy little village in an area that reminds me a lot of the Cape Breton highlands, my personal benchmark for natural beauty. But, as my Aunt Katie used to say, "there's always something". In the case of Vlicho (and apparently throughout the Greek islands) the "something" is rats. And one of them (please Lord, let it be only one) had a little staycation on Aisling while we were away.
We were so hopeful, so unsuspecting, when we arrived back at the boat after a lovely two days in Athens. Horatio's men had been hard at work-- the steps and walls of the companionway were newly varnished, the windlass repaired, the wind generator refurbished, the new motor mount installed. Things were a bit grimy above and below, but at first glance nothing seemed amiss. Then Rick lifted the tarp that had been covering the settee and found a little pile of shredded mystery stuff and a partially chewed cork. Oh. My. God.
On the list of things women fear when cruising, "rat onboard" is right up there with "wife's incompetent downwind helming causes husband to be knocked out by boom". I'd known for some time that this day could come, had read Linda Dashew's story of encountering a rat in a stern locker, had heard tales from other cruisers of picking up unwanted guests in various ports of call. So before leaving we had carefully rodent-proofed the boat, sealed up all the food, and laid out some poison just in case. How had the rat gotten on board? Probably through the hatches that had been left open without screens for an extended period while Horatio's men were working on the boat.
I should have been prepared to cope with the problem calmly and matter-of-factly. Instead, I retreated to the cockpit and burst into tears. And if those other women claim they didn't do the same thing, they're probably fibbing. The thought of sleeping in a small enclosed space with a rat running around was too terrible for words, but Horatio's search for a vacant hotel room turned up nothing closer than Nidri. Fortunately, there seemed to be some indications that the rat was no longer with us. When Rick found a half-eaten block of poison and we realized that none of the "evidence" was fresh, we began to hope that the rat was dead, or gone, or both.
After a mostly sleepless night, we began the process of cleaning. Most of the hard work fell to Rick-not a pleasant task with the temperatures climbing about 35C. After two days of hard labour, the boat is now cleaner than it's been since we left Halifax. In the process, we discovered that the little bugger had chewed the lid off our precious jug of Tunisian olive oil. Here's hoping he didn't get to any wires or hoses. We still haven't found a corpse and I fear we will stumble on it at the worst possible moment. But surely, in this heat, we should have smelled it by now if it was here?
Things haven't been all bad. On Tuesday evening, we joined a group of Horatio's friends for dinner at a taverna high in the hills above Nidri. It was a small family-run operation in a spectacular setting, just like something from the movies. As we sat under the branches of a huge beech tree, a young boy brought us platter after platter of delicious food. The bill for nine people was 113 euros. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that we will ever find this place again, since no one could even tell us the name of the village.
We have a few more tasks to finish but we hope to find our way to a pleasant anchorage soon. We need to get away from the rat race.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||
On June 18th, our daughter Katherine was called to the Ontario Bar in an impressive ceremony at Massey Hall in Toronto that included over three hundred of Ontario's roughly 1200 new lawyers. The rainy, cool weather didn't dampen our spirits a bit. After the ceremony, our first stop was at Osgoode Hall (site of the Ontario Court of Appeal, Superior Court of Justice and Law Society of Upper Canada) where Katherine submitted an application that will begin the process for her acceptance to the Nova Scotia bar. To our surprise, we were also able to get a table for lunch in the Osgoode Hall restaurant, which was certainly the perfect setting to celebrate the launching of a legal career. Osgoode Hall is a lovely old heritage building and after lunch we had some fun wandering around the hallowed halls and the library.
We capped off the celebration with dinner at Canoe in the evening, a highly rated restaurant at the top of the TD bank tower. Although the food was perhaps not quite as spectacular as the reviews suggest, the ambience and service were superb, the Bandol rosé wine that we had with dinner was excellent and overall we had a lovely evening. Much of the next two days were spent packing up Katherine's belongings for the move to Halifax, but we found a little time to visit the St. Lawrence market and to make the requisite stop at the West Marine store.
Yesterday, as she walked out the door for her first day of work at McGinty Law, I couldn't help but be reminded of her first day at school. Bravo Katherine, we are very proud of you!
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||
We have moved the boat to the Vliho town quay at the head of the bay, where it will remain under Horatio's care until the end of July. At 0715 Rick is already pacing; "The bus could come any minute Bon, you can't be sure, I'm taking your bags to the road...." After eight weeks where we have constantly been within arm's reach of each other, I feel panicked at the thought of leaving him behind. I am just coming up the companionway when he shouts that the bus is coming, so there is barely time for a quick hug before I leap on the bus that will take me to Lefkada town for the first leg of the 48-hour journey home. The buses will be busy today, since it is both a national holiday and a festival day in Lefkada. Even this small rural bus is staffed with a ticket agent as well as a driver, so at least I don't have to worry about digging out the fare until I am settled in my seat.
On the route from Nidri to Lefkada town, the passenger in front of me is a bearded Greek Orthodox priest, wearing a stiff black hat that looks like a stovepipe with a lid. Across the aisle, a weathered old woman wearing a rusty black dress and scarf clutches her walking stick and looks at me with a faint whiff of disapproval. As we approach her stop, two passengers leap to their feet to help her off. The women behind me are carrying on an animated conversation. "Neh, Neh, efaristo, efaristo..." ("Yes, yes, thank you, thank you") In this baffling language, the word that sounds like "neh" actually means "yes" and a word that almost sounds like "OK" means "no".
After a long wait in the Lefkada station, I take my pre-assigned seat on the 0930 bus to Athens. I am fortunate to have purchased my ticket in advance, since several people do not have seats and must stand or sit on the floor. We drive over the causeway and through the beautiful mountainous countryside of mainland Greece. The water is first on our left, then on our right, and I can no longer identify our location on the map. The young man beside me finally leans over and says "You won't find this road on that map, it is a new road that only opened three weeks ago." He explains that the new route has shaved a full hour off the trip to Athens. As we approach the bridge across the Gulf of Patras, he is beaming with delight. "We have already reached the bridge and it is not yet noon! Less than two and a half hours! It is unbelievable!" Thomas seems happy to pass the time by talking to me. When I comment on how green and lush the countryside is, he tells me that they have had a very wet winter, which was a blessing since sequential dry winters in previous years have seriously depleted the water supply. "If we can have two more years like this" he says, "maybe we will not run out of water".
The woman across from me, white hair pulled back severely into a thin bun, is periodically making the sign of the cross as we drive along. It seems to be prompted by something she is seeing beside the road. Shrines? Accident sites? I would like to ask Thomas but think better of it. Instead, I ask him how the Orthodox faith differs from the Roman Catholic faith. After listening to a complicated theological explanation involving the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I am none the wiser, but his second point is easier to understand. The Pope is a problem. The Pope should not be placed above other priests. "All are equal" Thomas says "even the Archbishop in Constantinople". (To the Greeks, Istanbul will forever be known as Constantinople.) As for the Protestant denominations, he sums things up by saying "I do not like to use the word "heretic". Gosh, me neither.
It is interesting to drive along the gulfs of Patras and Corinth (a route we hope to sail in July) but the entrance into Athens is unimpressive. The bus crawls through bumper-to- bumper traffic in the midday heat, past industrial buildings and bleak-looking housing. At the bus station, I descend onto the chaos of the platform and finally find the taxi queue. My anxiety level rises when I realize that the taxi driver does not speak English. Showing him the address of the hotel doesn't work, nor does pointing out the location on my map, which has the street names printed only in the Latin alphabet. Too late, I realize that I should have asked the girl in the tourist office to write out the hotel address in Greek. The station dispatcher clears up the confusion. Ten minutes and seven Euros later, I arrive at my hotel, the Acropolis View.
The Acropolis View could never be described as a luxury hotel, but it is comfortable and clean, costs "only" 80 euros a night (including breakfast) and actually does have a view of the Acropolis. I climb to the rooftop patio where, to my astonishment, an American woman is sunbathing in the blistering afternoon heat. "Last day of sunshine for a long time" she explains, "I head back to Washington State tonight." She points out the path to the Acropolis and suggests that we share a cab to the airport.
The Acropolis, which my guidebook bills as "the most important ancient site in the Western world" is a five-minute walk from the hotel. Since it is after 4 p.m. when I arrive, the swarms of tourists that would normally be crawling all over the site have fled to the bars and hotels. Unfortunately, consistent with the pattern that has repeated itself through all my visits to the world's major monuments, the Parthenon and most of the other buildings on the Acropolis are undergoing restoration. Since the buildings on this site were constructed during the 5th century BC, it is not surprising that some restorations are needed, but damage from acid rain is reportedly accelerating the rate of deterioration. The Parthenon is an awesome sight even when partially covered with ugly scaffolding, but I feel rather sad to be seeing it by myself.
It is very hot-surely it must be nearly 35 degrees- what will it be like when we come back here in late July? I buy a frozen lemon drink and cool off in a patch of shade near the exit, where I meet Tony, a young man from Chester. Tony chugs down two vodka coolers in quick succession and invites me to look through a huge binder with his collection of postcards of the world, which he has apparently carried with him all the way from England and brought along to the Acropolis in case anyone might want to look through it. "I've travelled the world now, haven't I?" he says. "Nowhere left to go."
I bid Tony goodbye and wander through the streets surrounding the Acropolis. By nightfall I have managed to see the National Gardens, the changing of the Guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier, Hadrian's arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I sit on an ancient stone bench in front of the pillars of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and talk to Rick on my cellphone. After a meal of grilled fish at a sidewalk café, I head back to the hotel, arrange for a 3 a.m. wake-up call and tumble in to bed. To my surprise, I have had an enjoyable day!
Well, Bonnie has left and it is very lonely all of a sudden. There is a lot to do and I'm moping around getting in my own way, it seems. Time to take stock and work on the list.
First though, a little description of what it is like here. Vliho is further in the large bay from Nidri. While Nidri is a bustling tourist town with all the plusses and minuses that go with that, Vliho is a sleepy little village with a couple of stores, a few tavernas and the Vliho Yacht Club. This is a great anchorage with depths around 20' and great holding in a mud bottom. I am told this is one of the best protected anchorages in all of Greece and certainly in the Ionian Sea. The setting is spectacular, with mountains encircling the bay, covered in olive trees, 40' cedars, pine trees and scrub. There must be the odd house way up in the mountains because at night I can see faint lights twinkling in the distance. The mornings are calm and bright with whisper of a breeze coming off the mountains. The birds are singing and swallows are diving for bugs all around the boat. The temperature is in the high 20's C. When you look shoreward the village of Vliho is tinged with bougainvillea and other flowers. You can smell them in the breeze. As our friends Jaap and Diane say, "What a beautiful back garden to wake up to." There are two other pluses with this spot as a hang-out. First, Vliho means sweet water in Greek and the quay has fresh water coming up below it that helps cut down on barnacles. Second, if you stay on the quay or anchor close by, the sun sets behind the mountains about two hours earlier than in does further out the bay and provides much-needed early shade during the heat of summer.
Horatio Todd provides a guardienage service that will watch over our boat while we are away. Aisling will stay at the quay while they attend to problems with the wind generator and windlass and do a bit of varnish work for us. Once that is completed he will take the boat out to anchor. This is interesting. He drives the boat into the mud on the south shore, runs our anchor out with considerable scope and then sets one or two of his own anchors off the stern. The boat works away in the mud and ends up floating in a little hole, aligned with the prevailing winds and as secure as can be. Here's hoping it works. A friend of ours has done this for two years in a row and says it works just great. At 3 euros a day, regardless of whether you are on the quay or at anchor, it's hard to beat the price.
With so many chores to do, the week goes by quickly. I spend an evening with David Constantine and Sue and a couple of their friends at the yacht club and a few other nights I enjoy English suppers at the yacht club. The Yacht club is the local yachtie hangout and there are lots of stories being told at the bar. Some true and some are .... well you know, stories. Later in the week, an American flagged boat anchors a few hundred feet off my stern and the skipper is staring intently at our flag. It turns out this is Vitale Bondarenko and his family. Those of you from Nova Scotia you will know that name. They are the Russian family that tried so hard to get Canadian landed immigrant status in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia but became totally stressed out and left for Europe just before it was made official. This is a very sad story because they now do not believe they can return to Russia and they regret leaving Lunenburg with out seeing the process through to the end. Other than their boat, they are homeless, and really do not know where to turn. I suggest they think of returning to Canada but Vitaly says the boat is no long capable of an Atlantic passage. My heart goes out to them but I don't know what to suggest. At least I now know where to leave the left over food from the freezer. They write a few letters to friends in Lunenburg and ask me to deliver them.
I say good bye and head to the bus for the same journey that Bonnie took last week. The flight home is a bit unusual as it is via Warsaw. Leaving Warsaw for Toronto on the great circle route, we head north over Scandinavia and then over Greenland. I see the ice cap and then the mountains on the western coast. There were two huge glaciers that truly looked like winding rivers of liquid from my altitude. I have never seen anything like it. A few hours later I landed in Toronto and was back to "Canada normal", at least I think it's normal. The lines of normal are starting to get a little fuzzy, but its good to be home.
|Greece Ionian & Gulf of Corinth||