What was your favorite place?
When we return home for the winter, our landlubbing friends and family typically ask this impossible question. Last year, we visited 75 ports, in 7 counties, not to mention all of the cities that we saw by land. There just isn't one favorite. Each has its own charm, and what makes them all unique is the combination of the place, the experiences, and people. The local people that go out of their way to help us, the other cruisers we meet, the new friendships, this is what really makes make what we do special. A couple of examples:
Driving back to Berkeley East from our land trip to Umbria, we decided to stop at a winery in Le Marche. While trying to find the winery, our GPS finally gave up and said "drive off road". We wound our way around for a while, gave up and stopped for directions. Most Italian small towns have a square where the local men sit, drink coffee and talk, so we stopped there and asked, in our broken Italian, for directions to the winery. One of the men quickly got up and signaled us to follow him. He got in his car and proceeded to drive up and down hills for 10 minutes to the winery. Pointed it out, smiled, waved and then took off. At the winery we were shown around first by the owner's son, then his daughter. When the owner eventually caught up with us in the tasting room he was beaming with pride talking about his children, not the wine. People like this are what make us treasure our visit to Le Marche.
Another time, we were at anchor off Dugi Otak Croatia, when a couple in a dinghy stopped by to admire Berkeley East and they asked if we were going to dinner at the restaurant onshore. We had planned to eat on board, but based on their recommendation we decided to go to the restaurant. They said that they knew the owners and would call the restaurant to make a reservation for us, which they did.
Over the next few days we got to know them a little better and confided in them that we were struggling with Croatia, as there were so many island and places to go we just couldn't find a clear path through the country. We also had the itch to get to Greece quickly. They had been cruising in Croatia for over 10 years and insisted on sharing their insights. So after 2 ½ hours of going through charts, guide books and all the business cards they had collected, we were even more overwhelmed. But we developed a plan and as a result, we extended our time in Croatia by six weeks, had countless wonderful experiences and ate at some of the best food we've had in Europe.
As much as we will remember all the great places we have traveled to, the beautiful scenery and interesting history, we will remember the people and our interactions equally as much.
Our path last year (2012)
Where are you cruising this year?
Whenever we get back to Berkeley East in the spring, our cruising friends typically ask us "where are you going this summer and where will you leave the boat for the winter?" For the last two cruising seasons, we have started with a plan of sailing through Greece and on to Turkey for the winter. So our standing answer has been that we plan to cruise in Greece and winter in Turkey. This plan always seems to falls apart quickly, as we find there is too much to see and do on the way and we cannot tear ourselves away from the fun. So our plan for this year is, once again, to sail to through Greece and put BE in Turkey for the winter.
We had about two weeks left before we needed to start looking for a weather window for the trip back to Sicily, so we decided to pop down to Greece. When we left Montenegro on a 24-hour passage to Corfu, in the Ionian Islands of Greece, there were a few clouds in the sky. By the time we were 30 minutes out, we were surrounded by black sky, the wind was howling, and lightening bolts were striking the water sending shivers up our spines. One of us wanted to run north and hide. One of us thought we should find a way around the storm. We spent the next three hours slowly weaving our way through the clouds and lightening. Not the start we had hoped for on an overnight passage, but best to get the bad stuff over in daylight. The rest of the trip was quiet. The dark sky made way for huge, white, puffy clouds, the thunder silenced, the wind calmed and all we heard was the sound of Berkeley East's engine.
We arrived at the marina in Corfu the following morning to check into the country. After three seasons in the Med, we had finally made it to Greece! Arriving in Greece was new, refreshing and just a bit spooky. The language, the customs, the signage, it was all very foreign; you might say "Greek," to us. For the next ten days, we got a small glimpse of two of the seven Ionian Islands, Corfu and Paxi. On Corfu, we explored Corfu Town, anchored off the old fort and spent a few nights in some quiet coves. It was a nice mix of touring and relaxation, a good introduction to Greece.
Our time on the island of Paxi was a completely different experience. We pulled into the Lakka anchorage on the north end of the island and found a lovely, very shallow bay and beautiful little town.
We enjoyed swimming and relaxing before going to shore for the evening where we found an excellent restaurant, and live Greek music and dancing.
It was ideal, just what we expected of Greece, and we decided that we were going like cruising in Greece again next season. Had we known what was in store for us, we would have stayed that night and danced until the music stopped, as it would be our last time off the boat for five days.
On Day Three of "The Downpour" in our "Idealic" Paxi, we began to look for animals that needed rescuing from the flood. Instead, we kept finding boaters who wanted to anchor on top of Berkeley East; in a squall, in the dark, in full sail. With BE's engine running, we put on our life vests and clipped onto the boat for safety, then waited for the wild wind to die and the rain to subside enough so that we could see beyond the cockpit and have time to bail out the dinghy before it sunk. We rejoiced when we saw 45 knots become 20, and the torrential downpour turn into just a constant rain. "Ha, ha, just kidding," we imagined the Greek rain god was saying - it seemed like it would never end.
When the weather finally subsided, we got BE ready to move (she was cleaner than she had ever been), but as we tried to raise the anchor, it would not budge. After five days of wind and rain, Berkeley East had decided to stay put. We thought we had probably hooked another boat's anchor, but it turned out that during the storm, BE had spun around so much and pulled so hard that our anchor had just screwed itself deep into the mud. Once we were free, we had a peaceful motor on a clear sunny "rainbow" day to Othonoi, a small island off the NE tip of Corfu, to position ourselves for the passage back to Sicily.
What should have been a two-day passage to Siracusa, Sicily, ended up being just 36 hours, as we were able to sail at 9 knots for most of the first day. When we pulled into Siracusa, we recognized many boats in the harbor, and saw more American flags than we had seen in months. We were hailed on the radio as we anchored and visited by fellow cruisers in their dinghies, it was like coming home. After a couple of days of catching up with friends, we were off again, this time to Marina di Ragusa to put Berkeley East to bed for the winter. The summer was over.
Just a day sail from Croatia, Montenegro is a country of great contrast. Rugged, dramatic cliffs in the interior give way to a long sparkling coastline.
Trendy beach clubs and restaurants share a view with rustic towns. Super yacht marinas and tacky seaside resorts border internationally recognized historic sites. Montenegro has something for everyone.
We made just a few stops in Montenegro, and in that short time, caught a glimpse of a beautiful but rough country struggling to reinvent itself as a luxury paradise. They are off to a good start in the Bay of Kotor, a sunken river canyon, with four distinct bays, that is the closest place to a fjord in the Mediterranean. We made a stop at Porto Montenegro marina to check into the country and were surprised to find the marina full of super yachts, some of the biggest that we have ever seen. Berkeley East is a mere dinghy compared to these massive vessels. The marina itself was a refreshing step into civilization with nice restaurants, classy shops and a she-she beach club that would fit nicely into any upscale resort. Instead of having to spend hours going from customs to immigration, the marina staff did it for us, leaving us time to spend money at their restaurants and clubs. We thought it was a fair trade.
Purobeach Porto Montenegro is a spectacular and beautiful club with a 180 degree view of the Bay of Kotor. We hung out on the sunbeds, swam in the 63 meter long pool and relaxed to music from the DJ.
Outstanding food at the mariana sushi restaurant
Renovated dockyard crane - An iconic landmark at Porto Montenegro Mariana
From Porto Montenegro, we sailed BE through the bay to Kotor, a historic town with yet another fabulous wall to climb. With its remote location and heavy fortification, Kotor escaped destruction by war, but suffered badly during several earthquakes.
Kotor is on the cruise ship circuit, and while we were there, we saw three large ships come and go. Whenever we see cruise ships, we try to only go onshore in the early morning, or at dinnertime, in order to avoid the crowds. But on our last day in Kotor, we slept in a little too late and as we were leaving BE to climb the town wall, we saw five shore boats offloading passengers from a huge ship that came in during the night. We climbed the wall anyway and then had fun sitting in the square trying to figure out where everyone was from.
We made several other stops along the Bay of Kotor, enjoying breathtaking views of islands and the massive mountains, then headed south along the coast to the Budva Riviera.
Perast - A city of 349 people originally built by the Venetian's in the 15 and 16th century withs sixteen Baroque palaces, seventeen Catholic churches and two Orthodox churches.
The islands of St. George and Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock). . Gospa od Škrpjela is the only artificially built island in the Adriatic
O. Otok an island in the South part of the Bay of Kotor
Berkeley East at anchor of O. Stradioti in the Bay of Kotor
A friend told us to skip Budva. They said it was a tacky tourist resort with the largest outdoor disco in Europe. But Berkeley East needed fuel, we needed to check out of Montenegro, and Budva was a good place for both.
Who Said Tacky Couldn't Be Fun?
Our friend was right. Budva was tacky and it was touristy. But it was also fun. Full of parasailers, jet skis and fast moving boats.
There was a wonderful old town with beautiful views, great restaurants and music.
Along the shoreline, families were swimming and sunbathing. And at night, there were discos with loud music that made you want to dance. But they must have been discos for old people, as they closed down by 1 am. When we were checking out of the country, the customs official asked if we enjoyed Montenegro. We said we did. He said he had traveled all over Europe, even to USA (which he pronounced OOH-sa), "but," he said, "Montenegro is very good."