Over 6 Weeks of Salsa, Sightseeing, Sun, and Scuba in ....
Over 6 Weeks of Salsa, Sightseeing, Sun, and Scuba in ....
This trip was a once in a lifetime experience for us in a surrealistic yet truly incredible place.
We call it an "Alcatraz" still living in a time capsule.
Email us if you wish to hear about it.
A Retreat to North and South Cyprus, Greece and Turkey
0111106-11 Cyprus, North and South
This week is the biggest national holiday in Turkey, and most businesses shut down for almost a week. Work on aVida, which is on the hard in the boatyard, will cease, and it is chilly here, so we decided to take a side trip to Cyprus.
Cyprus is a large island divided between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and the Greek Cyprus in the south. Cyprus historically has been invaded, occupied and battered by numerous empires and armies over thousands of years. In the past century, it has been an English colony alternating with Greek rule a few times. The north of Cyprus has had many Turks living there, the Turkish Cypriots, due to proximity to Turkey. The Greek Cypriots inhabit the south. Both sides are fiercely Cypriots, and fiercely loyal to their parent nations. In 1974, Turkey waged a bloody armed invasion of the north, claiming this territory for itself. There is now a militarized dividing line through the country, and right through the middle of the largest and capital city of Nicosia (Greek name), also called Lefkosia by the Turks. The Turks began changing the names of towns, archaeological sites, geo features, etc to erase the Greek history and culture, and "Turkeyfy" everything. Over the years since, there have been numerous killings and incidents, but mostly peaceful for the past 7 years or so.
The United Nations and most of the world condemn Turkey for this, and do not recognize the Turkish occupation. The Greeks call the north the "Occupied Turkish Territory of Northern Cyprus". The Turks constructed a lighted flag and Turkish title on the face of a huge mountain that faces the Greek side of Nicosia- it must be ½ mile long, and visible from many miles away across the entire valley. It is amazing that the island maps we get on the Turk side omit any detail of the south, and vice versa. As you can imagine, the enmity between the sides is still severe.
So we arrive from Turkey into the north because no flights go to the south. It is dark, and we rent a car and drive into Nicosia wandering around for a while, only to learn that the hotel we booked is on the Greek side, as the city is surprisingly divided between two countries, and our rental car is not allowed to travel into Greek territory. So, we drive to one of the several militarized checkpoints, park the car, and walk across the ½ mile wide DMZ, passing Turkish security checks, a UN checkpoint, and then Greek immigration and customs controls. From there the Greeks call us a taxi and take us to our hotel, quite late. It is clear we did not do enough research about what we were getting into, but all is OK.
We walk the lively and charming streets of the old town inside the ancient fortified walls for the evening, find a nice dinner in a restaurant on top of a building with a view of the town and the giant Turkish flag on the mountain. We are the only customers, and after dinner we spent a long time discussing Cyprus politics, Muslims, and religion in general- very insightful. We agree that nations and religions divide people, indoctrinate and infuse them with dogmas to maintain power and control; but other than that, most people everywhere are good people with goodwill.
In the am, we rent yet another car, for the Greek side. We now have 3 rental cars; 1 in Turkey at the airport, 1 in N Cyprus and 1 in the south. Changing our itinerary a bit, we will spend 3 more nights traveling the Greek side end to end, then return to the north for 1 night. The drive to Paphos at the far west end is scenic. Some valleys are covered with primarily coniferous trees, of course cypress trees, olive trees, etc. Others look like the savannas of Africa, with grassy lowlands and sparse trees. The hills are rocky and barren except for scrub brush, with dark red soil everywhere. We stop at Aphrodites birthplace, on a picturesque cliff overlooking the Med, with beaches and cliffs stretching far in both directions. After checking into the hotel in Paphos, we walk the town and the harbor, and explore the old fort, etc.
AM we drive to Larnaka. This is a large town, with a commercial harbor and port, and also a long beach area with a rather developed string of 5 story hotels, many restaurants and bars that is tourist oriented. At the end of the strip is a very interesting medieval castle with many historical exhibits and artifacts. Reconstructions of ships from 300BC with their cargos of large pottery amoras full of wine and almonds are on display. As with all castles in the Med, this one has been home to a succession of invading empires and cultures. After an afternoon nap, back out again for dinner, and then walking the back streets of the town we find "Mikes Bar" for a last night cap. We meet a retired Turkish Army Colonel who is now living on the Greek side. He is an engineer, and is working on an invention of a motor that will for 100's of years on the rare-earth magnets inside of it, with no other energy input. I tried to explain that he is describing a "perpetual motion machine", a concept that violates the fundamental physical laws of conservation of energy. So he runs home and brings me his drawings, offering me 50% stake in the business if I help him develop it. Sorry, but no thanks. Of course we discuss Cyprus politics, and due to his military connections he actually has a lot more information and insight into the dynamics of US, UK, Greek and other forces that make it what it is. The new news is that S Cyprus has recently discovered what is estimated to be one of or the largest reserve of natural gas in the world, and this will drastically shape the politics to come.
AM we drive to Ayia Napa and search for a hotel. This is clearly a summer tourist resort, with lots of resto-bars, night clubs, and hotels, the great majority of which are boarded up for the season. It takes us a while to find a decent hotel, and it is more of a large resort with beautiful pool area, large beach area with masses of tiki huts and lounge chairs etc. It is very busy here, full of mostly geriatric tour bus groups from UK, Germany, etc. So, we lounge and relax. At the far eastern end of Cyprus,there is a huge bluff with a lighthouse. The shore approaching this is eroded into numerous caves and tunnels, and it is quite a thrill to climb around, in and through these formations. The view of the crystal clear sea alternating turquoise blue over sand, navy blue over deep, and black over weeds, with the caves and rock strata alternating white, red and black in the background is stunning.
AM back to Nicosia, to return the car. The very nice rental car owner drove us back to the DMZ, we walk back across the DMZ to find our other rental car still waiting there. Then we drive to Kyrenia on the north coast. Very scenic, with a huge castle complex and other historical sites, and hotels and restaurants surrounding an old harbor full of picturesque fishing boats. The view from the roof of our "White Pearl" hotel is fantastic. The castle is immense, with numerous passages down deep into dungeons and storage areas. After a nap, we venture into the back streets again (away from the more touristy places on the harbor front) and we stumble onto a gem of an a very old estate that has been converted into a tavern, where we find seats right in front of a giant fireplace for drinks. The music is a great collection of world music, which then turns into salsa music. A very nice couple joins at the fireplace, and we enjoy good conversation and much salsa dancing together. Then dinner on the waterfront, and bed. It seems everywhere we go, we find salsa.
The trip back to Nicosia and the fight back to Izmir. It is late so we decide to find a hotel in Izmir, Turkey's 2nd largest port city. It is jammed with traffic, and rather cold here. On the waterfront packed with probably 100 restaurants and bars, we find good food, and a live band to listen to until late. In the AM back to the waterfront for a good breakfast (because we overslept for the hotel breakfast), and then the 2 hour drive back to Didim Marina at nightfall.
We decide to find dinner in Altinkum, the beach resort area of Didim. We are the only customers at this Chinese restaurant, so we get 100% personal attention from the owner/chef. He has 1 helper, a mute and deaf young man who has been with him for 6 years- they have an evident deep trust and relationship, communicating by hand signals. The owner sits with us for a long time after dinner. He is a Muslim, but very open minded. I ask him why the "good Muslims" do not "police their own" and stand up against the Jihadists. He says that Muslims are indoctrinated to be meek and submissive, which makes them pawns of religion, government and fanatics. The omnipresent broadcasts of prayer music from every mosque (there are Many) 5 times a day over every city and village reinforces this. He informs us that the President of Turkey is himself a Jihadist, and is working to push that agenda into the army and government which until now has been largely secular. It is rather amazing how many people here we have been able to engage in constructive discussions about these complex and touchy topics, and how much insight we are gaining from these experiences. I guess this is a very big part of the appeal of world travel, beyond sights, places, history, and nature. We tip the owner very generously, and as we are walking away, we see him hand the money to the young man. Truly a heartwarming experience, and the end to another great trip full of experiences of all types.
aVida on the Hard – Our Excursion to Istanbul (Turkey), Prague (Czech Republic), and Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jordan (Israel)
20111019-1102 aVida on the Hard - Our Excursion to Istanbul (Turkey), Prague (Czech Republic), and Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jordan (Israel)
After settling into Didim Marina in Turkey for several weeks, it was necessary to haul aVida out of the water (put her on the hard as they say) for cleaning and painting, and other well-needed maintenance. During the coming weeks, we planned an inland excursion to not so exotic warm tropical places you can imagine and that we prefer, but to nearby landmarks of Istanbul, Prague and Jerusalem. After our travels, we found each of the cities to be quite exotic in their own way - abundant in history, culture, architecture, traditions, and peoples.
Several days before we left, on a clear, calm, and sunny day, we left the dock and motored over to the haul out area, with the guidance of Yacht Work's manager Barkin. Luckily the winds were light, as Mark had to maneuver into a very narrow haul out channel with only est 2 feet clearance on either side of aVida. We chose Didim Marina because it has the only TravelLift in the entire eastern Med that is wide enough to haul out aVida. The process was quite impressive. A huge remote-controlled 4-legged monster with 8 wheels each over 8 feet diameter approached us carrying two very strong straps that strategically were wrapped around the bottom hulls. Usually everywhere we have sailed, aVida gets favorable looks from other sailors and locals. This time was not the case. Barkin commented that she was dirtier than most vessels they have seen - literally caked on and foul with mussels and other organic matter from about two years in mostly tropical waters. Immediately they power washed a good amount off the hulls and planned for the coming weeks of further cleaning and maintenance.
We stayed on board several days to help assess other tasks required and monitor the beginning of her cleaning, repairs and maintenance. Then, we departed via taxi to the bus station for a long overnight ride to Istanbul. Although somewhat comfortable, there were frequent stops along the way making the trip an est 11 hour long one. Waking from a nap in the middle of the night we surprisingly noticed we were not moving and saw waves breaking around us outside the bus windows, soon realizing the bus was on a ferry crossing a portion of the Miramar Sea, and then another several hour bus ride into Istanbul.
Istanbul is a bustling colorful city in northwest Turkey, its largest city although not its capital, bordered on the north by the Black Sea and the south/southwest by the Miramar Sea. Rich in culture and with 99% of the population being Moslem, many mosques can be seen and wailing voices can be heard chanting prayers five times a day.
We checked into the Arden Boutique hotel, and immediately walked the old city streets known as the Sultanahmet area, home of the previous Sultan's Blue Mosque. After a well needed nap, we toured the sites via a hop on hop off tour bus - Istanbul is too huge to cover on ground by foot. Mid-way through the bus ride, we hopped off at Taksir Square, a lively part of the city.
We were surprised to see thousands of demonstrators, young and old, marching through the main drag to the square, most of whom were chanting and excitedly waving the Turkish flag. We learned that 14 Turkish soldier were killed 2 days ago in SE Turkey by Kurdish "rebels", in retaliation for the 25 Kurdish people that were killed by Turkey 2 weeks before, in what has been a continuous string of many mutual retaliations. The point is that the Kurds in Turkey and northern Iraq want their own autonomy, and Turkey prefers to kill them than allow this. I was somewhat skiddish engulfed in the huge swarms of people, but we did manage to squeeze our way out of the hoards of demonstrators and resume our sightseeing, safely. We visited the reknowned Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar, the grand palace of Tupkapi, and notable Ottoman period public buildings replacing the earlier Byzantine period and reflecting much of the grand wealth and power from the Ottoman Sultans of the past. We were contacted by several friends and fellow colleagues concerned about our safety from the recent days when a magnitude 7+ earthquake devastated towns in eastern Turkey, killing and injuring hundreds of Turkish people. But, we were luckily unaffected - the catastrophe happened very far east of us.
The highlight of our Istanbul experience happened in a local, authentic "Hamman" aka Turkish bath. Stripped down to our bikini bottoms, we laid side by side on a marble hot bed for almost 30 minutes. For about another 30 minutes, a feisty robust Turkish woman scoured almost every inch of our bodies with a hand mitt, removing dead knarley skin that came off in dark clumps. We were somewhat embarrassed by this, but it is very normal. Several times she would slap our butt cheeks and bicep muscles to interject a bit of fun in the process. Then came a dousing in mounds of soapy suds, covering our entire bodies. Her final antic was dousing us with a cold bucket of water. We said we never felt so clean since we were born - not that we would remember that feeling.
After we were scoured almost raw, lathered with soap and rinsed, a male masseuse gave us an hour long sports oil massage, again over almost every inch of our bodies, managing to release several muscle kinks we had in our shoulders and back. Quite a treat, and long overdue.
We took a day long ship cruise around the Miramar and Bosphorous Sea, with several stops along the way including the Asian side of Turkey. In the evenings we enjoyed dining at outdoor cafes, feeding and petting the many stray cats and dogs, and discussing politics with several wait staff. Turkish people were quite kind to us.
Prague, Czech Republic was our next destination via a several hour flight. Despite enduring brutal Nazi occupation and a Communist period for many years in the past, Prague has managed to retain six hundred years of architecture. Its medieval layout and rich mantle of Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau buildings are virtually untouched by natural disaster or war. Few European capitals look as good.
Weather in Prague was quite a bit chillier than we were used to. It offered a wide variety of German-influenced dining venues with many comfort foods Mark had been used to from his childhood - roasted Pork knuckles, bratwurst and sausages, many Beer distilleries, hot spiced red wine, and "Marilnknaedles" (apricots covered in dough and sprinkles of cinnamon sugar). We were certainly comforted every afternoon.
Each day we covered all the major landmarks including the Prague Castle, Mala Strana (a picturesque area squeezed between the Castle and the River Vltava), Stare Mesto (the Old Town), Nova Mesto (the New Town), Joseva (the Jewish Quarter), Wenceslas Square, the small island of Kampa, and the Charles Bridge. We made an effort to take a new walking route back wherever we went, always to see something different along the way.
Prague is abundant with classical music and dance, so we enjoyed several evening performances including a modern ballet at the Estates Building in Stare Mesto, home of Mozart's first performance of Figaro, and a musical concert performing classical favorites from Beethoven, Handel, Vivaldi, Bach, etc. We stumbled into an Argentinian tavern where a Cuban Salsa trio was jamming, and befriended the lead performer who guided us to another hot Salsa venue. We danced, conversed in our pig Spanish, and made arrangements to visit his band again at another venue the third night, with more Salsa dancing again. We enjoyed other nightly stops in several quaint taverns, with some very vibrant Jazz music.
Jerusalem, Israel was our final stop in our land excursion, with a flight through Tel Aviv and an hour long taxi ride. Jerusalem is the eternal city sacred to three religions, with unparalleled history, influenced by Arabic and Jewish cultures, the Crusaders, and immigrants from Russia to South America. It has a warmer and dryer climate, reflected by every building built in stone.
Being a more compact city, we walked many miles exploring the major sites including the Jaffa Gate, the ramparts around the Old City, the Jewish Square with the "Western Wall", the mecca of all holy places, home to daily Bar Mitsvah celebrations, many bazaars tucked into the city streets, the Holy Sepulture where Jesus was crucified, Jewish and Christian cemeteries, the Mount of Olives, prophets' tombs, the City of David, and a very tight walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel.
We hired a local guide to drive us to several surrounding areas. We visited Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the huge wall around the West Bank dividing Palestinians from Israel, drove through the West Bank desert, dipped our feet into the Jordan River surrounded by military mine fields and barbed wire, and floated in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea retains so much salt in the water that your body is naturally buoyant and floats with no resistance. We sank into a natural mud hole and caked on the thick dark mud all over our bodies. After somewhat dried, another plunge into the sea. Our skin was as soft as a baby's butt again - not that we remember what that felt like.
Our last stop was a visit to Jericoh, at 11,000 years claimed to be the oldest city known, a late lunch, and return to our hotel in the Old Town of Jerusalem by the Zion Gate. Never had we felt unsafe despite the tension still remaining between Palestinians and Israel.
In the evenings we dined in several different locations such as the German Colony, and the vibrant, busy district off Yafo Street south of Mea She'arim.
We changed our flight back to avoid the long bus ride, this time connecting in Istanbul and then to Bodrum, with only an hour taxi ride back to aVida. Our excursion was filled with a wide variety of sites and sounds but more so filled with many historical treasures. Not the tropical exotic locations we have primarily experienced, but certainly exotic in a unique way and quite rewarding.
Santorini, Greece to Didim, Turkey
20110930-1011 Santorini, Greece to Didim, Turkey
aVida remained on anchor off the tiny village of Akrotiri on the south side of Santorini to escape the fierce Meltemi winds for 2 days after our friend MarkJ departed. We did not go into the city or tourist areas again, preferring to chill out, swim, and relax. We took our dinghy to the "red beach" not far away for an afternoon of beach, sun and vino. The steep cliff faces ringing this beach are deep red color, and so is the sand. There is also a "black beach" obviously made from the black volcanic rock and pumice in that area, and a "white beach", also appropriately named. We visited the family owned tabernas on the bay, some of which are built into caves carved into the soft sandstone cliffs, where we could get internet and catch up on matters.
With October comes a change in weather that increasingly brings storms and squalls from the south, so we decided to head for Turkey (but not in too much of a rush) where we will put aVida on a dock in a marina for the coming winter. We visited Astipalaia Island where we anchored off a pretty little town with a castle and fort and charming old town of course, which we explore on foot as usual.
Next stop is Kos Island and Kos town. As usual, we have to dodge numerous high speed hydrofoils and ferrys, some moving at 32 knots or more, in our approach to the harbor, where we anchor off a beach outside the harbor. This is a very pretty but bustling tourist town which was largely destroyed in numerous earthquakes, one last century, so the historical ruins are largely leveled, although the walls of the old fort are largely intact. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, lived and taught here. We enjoy lunch and dinner ashore, exploring what the town has to offer.
Kos is our exit point from Greece, so we need to visit the authorities to clear out- customs, immigration, and port police. We do this the following AM, leaving enough time to make our final sail to Turkey.
Our new home base for the winter is Didim marina, in Didim, Turkey, where aVida will be med-moored with her stern to a dock. It is a new (2 years) marina that is perfectly clean, manicured, well secured, with a yacht club, swimming pool, and excellent yard services, chandlery, sailors bar, etc. After touring the whole facility, we have an excellent dinner at the yacht club and then retire to aVida.
Since we usually anchor out, we are rarely part of the "cruisers circles" that are a part of marina life. We have several very nice neighbors here; Alphonse is a Frenchman living in Switzerland who is an investment banker and pilot, next to us on the dock; and on the other side of the dock across from us are Richard and Barbara of the UK who have been sailing around the world for 14 years.
Alphonse has a Bennetau 52DS monohull and is now absolutely enthralled with our Atlantic 57 once we showed him around and answered his questions. He immediately contacted Chris White (the designer) and began discussion about possibly buying possibly the smaller version of this boat. Since Alphonse's wife has returned to Switzerland already and he is alone we had him over for a dinner so he would not be alone. I helped him with information about how to disassemble and maintain his Harken winches which I also have.
Richard and Barbara invited us over immediately for sundowner cocktails and pleasant conversation on their monohull "Breakaway".
We explored the town of Didim and its touristy beach resort area Altinkum. It is off season, and thankfully the hordes of summer tourists have thinned out to almost nothing. The restaurant and shop keepers are very forward, open and engaging in friendly ways, not the aggressive Greek style, and a lot of fun we must say.
After a few days in Didim, the weather forecast called for heavy winds to come in for several days- 35-40 knots. We all prepared our boats for this, and the first day was ok. What we did not expect was the following morning an intense rain squall on top of these high winds, which produced 70+ knot bursts in the marina, at 9am. The wind ripped Richard's genoa sail open, heeled the boat half way over, and the force ripped 2 dock cleats out of the dock- Breakway did literally break away. The wind direction was such that Breakway was hanging on one mooring line in the middle of the channel, and fortunately did not collide with the boats on either side. The sound of the wind was like being under a freight train, and we jumped out of bed to see this all happening. Through the driving rain, we could barely see Richard crawling to the bow to try to subdue the fierociously flogging sail. We called the marina on VHF to get them help, but apparently Barbara had just done that also. Richard did manage to furl the genoa which had been badly damaged by the winds. And the marineros arrived in their boats soon after to help bring the boat back to the dock. Rita and I put on our foul weather gear and went out to help with the re-docking maneuver, and loaned them a spare dock line to replace one of his badly frayed lines.
In the meantime, Alphonse's boat was rolling and rocking severely in the heavy whitecapped waves Inside the marina breakwalls, such that his stanchions got under the rub rail of the boat next to him, crushing several stanchions and damaging the other boat. One boat in the marina had it's mast fall down. We can see several boats around us with shredded bimini covers, cockpit canvas, etc. In such a large marina, surely many more boats were damaged, confirmed later by the yacht service companies who are scrambling to just assess the damage to all the yachts, yet alone conduct repairs.
Weather downloads suggest 2 more days of heavy winds. Sure enough the following morning it is blowing again, but luckily no rain squall. But Barbara took a video of a waterspout tornado just outside the marina breakwall past the end of our dock!!
aVida came though unscathed fortunately. With the storm not quite over, we took our rented car to explore the Apollon Temple in Didimya, the rains paused enough for us to tour the site, and we managed to make a very fun day of it. The temple dates to 600BC and is the largest Ionic temple in the world, huge scale. Near the temple we found a craftsman who makes vases, bowls, wine glass sets, etc out of solid Onyx. He took us in the back of his shop and put a block of stone in his lathe and turned it into a beautiful shape; and then showed us how he polishes it. Each stone looks dull white on the outside, but once polished amazing intense colors of green, brown, red, orange come to life. We purchase quite a few of his works as gifts for Xmas.
Driving back to Altinkum and walking the waterfront, we were accosted by a particularly outgoing and engaging waiter at the restaurant "Romeo", and we took the bait. He convinced us to order the restaurant's "special" meal which was lamb, chicken, onion, garlic, spices etc put into a sealed clay pot and baked. When the meal was ready, he brought over hats for us; for me a large bulbous golden Turkish sultan's hat, and for Rita a beautiful purple ornate crown with purple trailing fabric. The clay pot was delivered with flames all around it, and carried outside the restaurant in the light rain. We danced Turkish music with the waiters in the rain, then I was given a cleaver to chop the top of the clay pot off. A friendly English couple at the table next to us took photos for us, and all the patrons were getting a kick out of the scene. The food was truly flavorful, moist and fantastic. What a fun time.
Then we found the 'Sucky Fish' shop, which offers pedicures performed by swarms of hungry fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet. And let me tell you, living on a boat, on non-skid deck surfaces, causes the thickest and most knarly layers of extra skin on toes and foot bottoms- we needed it. The shop is run by a Scottish woman with as heavy an accent as we could barely understand. At first it tickled so much we almost couldn't stand it, but once we got used to it, it felt pretty good, and the 30 minutes was up before we knew it. The next day, after our feet got un-waterlogged, we were amazed at how well the procedure worked. Then we investigated 2 Turkish bath facilities for a future indulgence, and then back to aVida for cards, music, vino, of course. What a fun day it was.
As predicted, by morning the winds were reducing, and by noon we saw this strange bright yellow ball in the sky- we hadn't seen the sun for several day, which is unusual for us after 3.5 months of non-stop clear sunny days.
We are now preparing to have aVida pull onto the hard to get some work done. Didim is the only marina in southern Turkey with a lift wide enough for our beam. We are having 2 companies competitively quote work including bottom painting, touch up and painting of some war scars on the sides and topsides, chemically scrub the topsides to get rust stains off, wash all canvas, professional rigger to inspect all shrouds and fittings on the mast, etc.... While aVida is on the hard, we plan to travel. First maybe to Moscow and Prague, before it gets too cold there. Then the next trip will be a driving tour around Turkey to see the Many archeological, natural and cultural sites it offers. Then a trip to Jerusalem. We shall see.....
Athens to Santorini, Greece with MarkJ
20110919-0929 Athens to Santorini, Greece w MarkJ
You know you've found a true best friend when you enjoy each other's company, sailing days on end into heavy winds and huge waves. We found just that when MarkJ joined us for 10 days bouncing around the Cyclades Islands of Greece.
MarkJ is one of our closest friends, a good-natured, intelligent, humorous man we have known for almost 12 years now. After a day of down time catching up on each other's lives and sorting through purchased provisions he shipped with him, we toured Athens via a hop on hop off tour bus. We visited the major famed ruins of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Ancient Agora, Temple of Zeus, the National Archeological Museum, Theatre of Dionysos, walked the Plakas, and googled at many Greek gods. Every evening we chilled and played music, card games or watched a movie, danced, and quite frankly were eager to be just silly together.
After several days of Athens overload, we were ready to set sail. We knew from the weather forecast the meltemi winds were to kick in and we would be in for some wild rides for the next week or so. These Northerly winds are characterized by their noticeably cigar shaped clouds that hover above the hills and mountains, and are a result of a gradient pressure from low and high pressure areas from the surrounding lands spilling into the Med. They begin their blows in June/July, reaching full strength by August and supposedly should lessen by end of September to October. However, for the next week plus they stuck around to greet us almost daily.
Our next anchorage was in a bay overlooking the Temple of Poseidon off the mainland after a healthy long day sail. Of course we hiked the temple, and then found a small family owned resto for a huge fresh grilled Dorado fish as the main course.
The next morning, we reefed aVida preparing for the forecasted 25 knot winds. The weather was somewhat cooler with some rain. We anchored off Kea and hiked up into the town which was a long walk upwards and perched upon the cliffs. Lunch at a Taberna and then an evening sail to Kithnos. We had some difficulty finding a suitable anchorage with very little light, as nightfall was approaching.... And as you can imagine none of us got very much sleep. It sure doesn't help having anchored with little moonlight, positioned in a narrow bay, and surrounded by a rocky shoreline by so many unknown feet away.
The next morning we set sail again, thankful we were not as close to the rocky shore as we thought. The winds increased to over thirty knots and the waves were probably 12 footers, very steep and close together. Mark made the call to turn back to our previous anchorage... there was no reason to suffer through this for the day. They say it's not so much the boat handling in heavy conditions you worry about - it's more the crew on board weathering it out.
So, anchored off Kithnos was a safe move, but the bay itself very barren. We walked the town and its mountains, which were both completely desolate, only with a spatter of empty vacation villas and not a Taberna in site. We chilled, tried our hand at fishing off the boat, swam, read, enjoyed a homemade meal, and watched a movie.
Next stop was Mikonos! And it was a long wavy and windy sail. We successfully docked off the quay and upon arrival finally took a shower, and then hit the town for an evening walk through its narrow alley-ways , white-walled building and stone surfaces webbed with white paint. They call the heart of the island "Little Venice" where swarms of hot spots and restos are engulfed along the shoreline. Drinks, dinner, music, and dancing in the evening (and for MarkJ the entire night!).
With aVida safely tied to a dock, we took a ferry to Delos the next day, a small island nearby known for having one of the most important archeological sites -the birthplace of the twins Apollo and Artemis from the 8th century B.C., with no population, and surrounded by the bustling other Cyclades Islands. A true soothing contrast to the relentless liveliness of Mikonos. Back on board after a meal at a beachside resto in Mikonos, cards and bed.
From Mikonos we sailed to Naxos, working our way SE. Anchored in the bay after several tries, we ventured into the town, found a quaint resto for dinner, with a hot dessert from a hot Greek donut man, then back on the boat. MarkJ was in heaven with his handmade donut treats made by this Greek god.
We rented a car to explore Mikonos, through cliffy winding roads, to see Mount Zeus. Lunch beachside, movie on board, and watching the weather as the winds increased.
Our sail the next day was kind to us. Despite the increased winds, they were behind us, allowing us good speed as well as smoother sailing. Our destination was Thira, aka the picturesque Santorini. We had trouble finding an anchorage close to the town because the depths were too vast due to the huge cliffy coastline. We settled on a very protected quaint anchorage in a town called Akrotiri situated on the SE side of the Fira touristy area town- only a 15 minute taxi ride away.
Santorini will take your breath away with its surreal landscape that was probably the biggest eruption in history. Rumor has it this was the lost city of Atlantis. Views from the edge of the caldera over the multicolored cliffs of its central town called Fira are breathtaking, and at night the edge is a frozen cascade of lights that eclipses the display of gold shops and restos in the streets behind.
Mark and MarkJ call me the cat woman. Just about everywhere we walked in Greece we were approached with many cats. I seemed to attract them. They were not just eager to eat my tidbits of leftover meals, they just wanted attention and affection... don't we all.
After dinner out, we spent our last night chillin again, with music, dancing, and just having fun among friends. Of course the next day was departure day for MarkJ and an emotional one for us all. We say we would like to keep MarkJ inside our pockets and let him out whenever we need a good laugh. He says we are one of his closest friends. We always will treasure our adventures we have had together and look forward to our next MarkJ "fix" in the future.
Corinth Canal, Piraeus, Meteora, Greece
20110910-0918 Corinth Canal, Piraeus, Meteora - Greece
After transiting the Corinth Canal, we have almost a week until our friend MarkJ comes to join us in Athens.
It is a leisurely sail from Corinth to Aigina Island, our night stop half way to Athens, where we explore the ancient ruins, walk the charming town, and have dinner and play cards.
Then to Athens! The entire coast of the Saronic Gulf on which Athens sits is heavily developed, industrial, especially compared to where we have been. We settle into Marina Zea near Piraeus Harbor, the primary commercial port for Athens, on a Med mooring with our stern to the dock. Marina Zea is a large well protected circular harbor, surrounded by a plethora of tabernas, shops, markets, bars, chandleries- pretty much anything we need we can easily walk to. It is Hot and sunny, but we aren't complaining because we know this will change soon.
We spend a few days cleaning the boat inside and out, provisioning, getting some supplies for boat repairs and maintenance, etc., and plan our trip to Meteora in Central Greece via train for several days.
Meteora is a striking geological site, with dozens of very tall vertical spires of rock arranged close together as if it was a giant rock forest. Over 1000 years, numerous churches and monasteries have been built on top of the spires by monks on an impressive scale, for security against Turkish invasions as the Byzantine power of the Roman Empire was waning. In those days, the primary access to some of the monasteries was by a manual cable winch that lifted people and supplies in nets. While there, the annual pan European rock climbing event was going on, and we could see many dozens of rock climbers scaling these rocks all weekend. We rented a moto scooter so we could cover more ground and see more sites, much of it via steep switchback roads up and down the surround cliffs, from which there were additional long walks up steep trails or steps to access the monasteries.
Back in Athens, we hired a professional crew to do an intensive boat cleaning while we traveled in Meteora - all topsides cleaned, polish stainless steel, remove rust and oil stains, etc. Vasilis is the owner of the business, and a very intelligent educated engineer. We spent a great afternoon on aVida discussing our philosophies about religion, politics and business, on which we meshed perfectly. Vasilis is disgusted with the corruption, bribery and entitlements of Greek government, and is preparing to move to New Zealand to start a new yacht-oriented business in a better cultural climate.
After some additional provisioning, we are ready for our good friend MarkJ to arrive and spend almost 2 weeks with us. We will tour Athens together, and then sail southward along the coast, then south hopping various Cyclades Islands, with a plan to end in Santorini where he will take a ferry back to Athens and depart.