That's right, we are in the USA! We have decided to do something different this winter and do some land travel. My brother lives here and so we are basing ourselves here until the end of February, with visits to friends in the USA during our stay and hopefully some skiing in Canada.
It felt very strange leaving Deep Blue but we are confident that she will be fine in Messalonghi and we have great neighbours to keep an eye out for us.
Before heading back to the UK, we spent a couple of nights in Athens (separate blog to follow) which we thoroughly enjoyed. Our hotel (Plaka Hotel) couldn't have been in a better location and we are looking forward to visiting again when we make our way back.
Before crossing the pond, we spent two weeks in the UK visiting family and friends. We timed our arrival perfectly to avoid the snow but it started to fall as we went to sleep and everywhere was covered the next day. However, it didn't stop our planned visit to Norfolk to 'meet the chickens' that our friends Rosemary & Roy have in their garden and to catch up with friends over a meal at our favourite Chinese restaurant.
Snowball fights with sister and nephews, warm country pubs and logs fires
kept us going until we got on the plane to the USA. Again, we were lucky with the weather with Heathrow Airport closing 48 hours after we left.
So, here we are in sunny South Carolina, getting ready for Christmas Day. We are cooking a traditional Christmas lunch at my brother David's friends house - no pressure there then! The Christmas cake is iced (thanks for making it mum) and the mince pies have just come out of the oven.
We'll be updating our blog during our travels but in the meantime, all that remains is for us to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy & Healthy New Year.
The capital of the county of Etoloakarnania, situated at the edge of a lagoon and roughly opposite the city of Patras, at the neck of the Gulf of the Peloponese is the town of Messolonghi and Messolonghi Marina, our home for the next 6 months.
The name is derived from the Italian word mezzo-laghi (middle of the lake) and the marina is at the end of a 3 mile long channel. The journey down the channel is fascinating as the depth drops to between 5-6m and on either side are to be seen pellades, fishermans huts standing on poles above the water level of the lagoon. The marshland is very low-lying with a backdrop of mountains behind and big, big skies.
The town first gained prominence in 1571 when the combined fleets of Spain and Venice defeated the Turkish armada, just outside the entrance of the Gulf of Patras. The first settlers were Dalmatian pirates who made their home here due to the safety of the lagoon and its abundance of fish. The town developed a significant merchant marine fleet but this was obliterated during the Orlophs revolution in 1770 and after several more attacks and sieges, it was proclaimed a sacred town of Greece in just 1937 as a symbol of freedom and liberty, a free town at last.
After 3 weeks in Vathi, the weather finally cleared and we headed off but we didn't go far, just 2.6 miles, around the corner into the anchorage of Ormos Skhoinos. However, we felt as if we were miles away. The anchorage was just perfect with clear blue water surrounded by lots of trees of every colour of green and, in the background, just the sound of bells as sheep and goats meandered around.
It tempted us to stay longer but with the clocks going back the day ends around 6pm and night is much cooler so we started our hop over to our winter destination. On the way out of the anchorage, Chris was taking the anchor up and I was on the helm when I heard some splashing behind the boat, I looked around and called Chris back to take a look. We were being followed in the wake of the boat by a beautiful fish.
It was about 50cm long, yellow and greeny/black horizontal stripes that continued through its dorsal fin too, yellow tail and yellow fins (two just behind the head), a flattish head with black beady eyes on top and blue lips.
The fish was very fast and powerful and kept poking its head underneath the stern of the boat to catch fish that were hiding there from it as we were leaving (probably thinking we were a bigger fish and would therefore protect them!).
We haven't been able to identify the fish yet, though someone thought it could have migrated from the Red Sea. It certainly looked very exotic and so brightly coloured. If you have any ideas what it is, please let us know.
To celebrate Chris's birthday and the fact that the rain stopped and the sun finally came out for the day, we hired a car and explored Ithaca, the 5th largest of the Ionian islands, south of Levkas and east of Cephalonia. It is 26km long and 6.5km wide consisting of two peninsulas joined by an isthmus at a width of only 620m.
The capital, Vathi, in the south, is a small picturesque town built like an amphitheatre around one of the most natural ports in Greece. Within the port is a Lazaretto, a small island, that has been used for quarantine purposes, as a prison and now has a small church upon it.
Our trip took us firstly to Perachori, a traditional village above Vathi, known locally as the 'balcony of Ithaca'. From here we had a great view of the island and our route for the day. Whilst there, a local lady handed us a bunch of sweet basil picked from her garden as we passed by and said 'hello'.
From here, we headed north and climbed the road up Mount Nirito. The coastal road offered superb views across to Cephalonia, that seemed so close we could touch it. From above, we also notice a fabulous swimming stop and headed down to check it out. Having not swam for a while due to the bad weather, we were very happy to enjoy the clear water and have the beach all to ourselves.
Our lunch stop was to be the picture postcard village of Kioni, via the small fishing village of Frikes, but both places had finished for the season and were more or less closed down so we went to Stavros, the main centre for northern Ithaca where we had lunch in the sunshine on a terrace overlooking Cephalonia.
Next stop was the 'School of Homer' at Pilicata, where experts believe the palace of Odyseus was located. We climbed over rocks and undergrowth to get to the excavations but it was very difficult to understand what we were looking at as there were no picture boards available. We found a well within the rocks and just had to use our imaginations for the rest.
Further north and higher up again and we arrived at the small village of Exoghi, with fanastic views across a wide and flourishing valley as well as over to Levkas, Meganisi and the mainland.
We took the mountain road back to Vathi which was very rocky and barren in comparison to the greenery and colours of the rest of our day. Mountain goats and sheep, all with lambs (in November!) as well as a couple of mountain cows hardly noticed us as we passed them on our way to the 16th century monastery of Kathera, high on the sloped of Mount Niritos.
We had a great day and now that the tourist season is well and truly over, it was nice to have the opportunity to have some places completely to ourselves.
From mid-October, Vathi is the best place to be based as Frikes and Kioni are closed down with very little or no provisioning opportunities.
Car hire from Nicco, a Greek/South African, at Alpha Bike & Car hire behind the museum in Vathi square. Tel 0030 26740 33243. Friendly and cheap.
Whilst out walking a few days ago, we started to notice some seasonal changes in the countryside.
The olives trees are now ready to be harvested and, unlike in the South of France where the olives would have been harvested in September, here in Ithaca, they are harvested between November and January. The trees are also full of ripe acorns and we also found wild pear.
On the ground, carpets of pink bowing heads of cyclamen can be seen as well as white and yellow crocus, a flower that we associate with spring in the UK. With all this colour around us, we started to take more interest in what we could see and found some red and gold mushrooms poking their heads up but left them alone, not knowing what they were.
A trip back here in the spring, when all the spring flowers will be out, sounds like a must.
The rain finally eased off for 24 hours and so, eager to stretch our legs and have a change of scenery, we put our walking shoes on and headed over the saddle to Sarakiniko Bay. The road took us high above the valley and Vathi and we could see Deep Blue at anchor in the distance. The olive trees were dripping with olives to be harvested very soon and, after the rain, everywhere looked lush and colouful.
We sat on the pebble beach at Sarakiniko Bay, it was too cold to go swimming, although not too cold for a nudist lady to brave the elements. On our way back, it started to rain again so we sat underneath a boat that was out of the water for repairs until it passed, the sun came out and we made our way back. On our return journey, we passed a big green rubbish bin and could hear a noise from inside. Chris went to investigate and then recused two tiny kittens that had fallen in searching for scraps.
We arrived in Vathi, the capital of the island of Ithaca nearly 3 weeks ago. The day of our arrival, the sun was shining and it all looked lovely. Since then, we've had thunderstoms and rain in biblical proportions almost every day.
Some of our time has been at anchor but we spent about 10 days tied to the town quay, just to make life easier getting ashore (bailing out the dinghy and dressing up in all our foul weather gear is not much fun just to go and buy a loaf of bread!).
However, we had our friends Katherine and Craig around for a lot of the time and Craig cheered us all up by trying to replicate a cocktail that he had when we visited Assos in Cephalonia, a warm cocktail of raki and honey. We didn't have any raki but they had 3/4 of a bottle of Grappa and we had some Greek honey so Craig poured it all into the kettle and warmed it up before pouring us a nice warm cocktail to keep us warm as the rain pelted down. By the end of the kettle full, we couldn't have cared less whether it was raining or not!
We've been at anchor in Agios Eufimia for a few days whilst we did some inland travel around Cephalonia. It used to be the main port for Cephalonia but after the 1953 earthquake it was abandoned and Sami next door became the major port for the area. The town is small but it has everything you need and there is a town quay with water and electric, if you need it. The only thing we couldn't find was Camping Gaz! It is a good place to be for visting the island.
Two butchers & two bakers (the bakery near to the town quay is the better one of the two).
Town quay - 1.50 euros per metre (Oct '10) + 5 euros for water & 4 euros for electricity. Showers provided. Lots of flotillas come in.
Dive centre where you can get tanks refilled.
Car hire - 50 euros for Fiat Bravo sized car.
Feeling energised from our previous day's car trip, we put our walking shoes on and followed the well sign-posted trail to Myrtos Beach, 4 1/2 miles away. The hiking track took us around fields surrounded by stone walls covered with brambles. Everyone once in a while, we would come across a small house/farm and our arrival would set a dog barking away but the sheep and goats didn't seem to be bothered. The flora and fauna was constantly changing and in just three hours we arrived at Myrtos beach, which was breathtaking.
The final descent to the beach was very steep but it was worth it to swim in the crystal clear water. The beach was made of polished white pebbles which made the sea seem even more turquoise that it already was. During our visit, a film-crew were using the beach as the setting for a commercial film they were making. We happened to see the location notes and they were supposed to be portraying the Caribbean! It was just gorgeous and not at all busy in October. Don't think we would be saying the same thing if it had been August!
We fortified ourselves for the walk back with lunch at the top of the hill under the shade of vines, surrounded by flowers.
Our final destination for the day was Assos and our drive there took us through some lovely countryside bursting with produce. The vines have been harvested for the most part but the trees are full of pomegranates and citrus fruits, olives are turning black to be harvested next month and colouful beehives dot the hillsides.
The west coast has lots of cliffs and windy roads. We made our way over to Assos, a picture postcard place and enjoyed a stroll around the village with it's quaint quayside restaurants and tumbling flowers. Over early evening cocktails, Chris made friends with the bar's dalmatian. What a Dr. Dolittle he was that day!