Mon/09/12, All over Aegina
OK, so we're going to be In Aegina at least a other day, due to husband seeking out a dentist tomorrow. So, let's do something exciting and hire a quad bike! So after failing to negotiate a discount on the price as I am so rubbish at haggling, we booked a smart blue quad bike for 10am, at 30 euro for the day.
No deposit required, no thank you we don't want a helmet, just a wave of the driving licence was sufficient and we're off. Having been assured there was enough petrol on the tank for at least ten miles, and noting the location of nearest petrol station on our route, we merrily jumped aboard. Having volunteered to be the designated driver, I soon got used to the easy controls - all automatic, no gears, no pedals, just a brake on each handlebar and a small throttle lever for the right thumb.
Some of you may remember I used to live on Aegina for a year, from March 2008, so the roads and villages were familiar to me. I thought we would circumnavigate the island in a clockwise direction, so set off along the north coast, past where I used to live near Livadi, along to Souvala, hoping to stop very soon to fill the tank. We meet a friend of ours driving in the other direction, shaking his fist and pretending to shout obscenities at us, Greek style. We ignore him. First garage - closed. It was Sunday so we forgave them. A persistent flashing sign continues to light up on my little dashboard, indicating petrol tank was now virtually empty. No worries, next garage about 3 miles away. We make it by the skin of our teeth, the engine was lacking sustenance now, and couldn't have lasted much longer, and we free wheel into the forecourt, shudder to a stop and unscrew the petrol cap.
Old Greek man starts shouting at us. It turns out this garage is closed until Avrio - tomorrow! Disaster! Another garage is over 3km away at Mesagros, we'll never make it! A strange woman with no English and wearing black Arabic robes offers to follow us to next garage, but we decline, in case she is a member of an Islamic fundamentalist group who will try to get us to join her sect. At that moment, our same friend who pretended to shout obscenities at us, passes us again and we flag him down. We follow him back to his house 400 yards away and he finds a can of petrol in his shed that he was saving for hedge trimmer. Hooray! We are on our way again ....
First stop of our epic voyage was the Temple of Afaia, reached by some fairly steep uphill roads, when the poor quad bike, not used to carrying such excess weight, complained bitterly and appeared to be on a go slow protest. But we made it. We didn't go into this historic site, merely looked at the view and took a photo through the fence. The sort of tourism I like. Then we were off downhill, and several hairpin bends later we were in Agia Marina, Aegina's equivalent to Southend, with half a mile of tacky souvenir shops, bikes for hire, souvlaki cafes, and a nice beach. But we did find a very nice taverna overlooking the sea, selling very cold beer and an extremely pleasant lunch was enjoyed.......
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Fri/08/12, Aegean sea
We left Itea then Andikiron after our successful fact finding trip to Syos and headed to the Corinth canal. The wind had died but the seas were uncomfortable and choppy. I called up the canal on the radio as requested when five miles out, but no reply. Same again at one mile out. The Greek radio operator had probably gone out for a smoke. Eventually we managed to make contact and we had to wait a short while for the westbound boats to leave the canal. The water in the canal was a lovely turquoise, a combination of the overhead sun and sandy bottom, it was about 5 metres deep. At each end there were two low road bridges which sink under the water to let the boats pass. At the end of the canal we were efficiently dealt with when we paid the fee off 155 euro (£121).
We then headed for Korfos, and actually managed to sail all the way for a change, averaging over 6.5 knots with just the genoa. We really haven't seen much wind at all while in Greece, or it is from the wrong direction, ie on the nose.
Korfos was situated in a large sheltered bay and we anchored close to the shore near the tavernas. We were there for two nights and met up with our Dutch friends again.
We then headed to Aegina, a three hour trip due east from Korfos and were lucky enough to be able to use the private pontoon of the Aegean Sailing School, who I used to work for in 2008 and had still kept on touch with. Their boats were out until Friday night so they were happy for us to use their berth. The town was much as I remember it, although a little more up market, with several art galleries, nice jewellery shops, and even the scruffiest tavernas had bought new tables and chairs. We had a lovely lunch with Melody who runs the sailing school the following day.
On Thursday evening we had an entertaining evening watching a large number of boats come into the harbour all hoping to find a space, of which there were few. Early the next morning when one yacht left the harbour, we quickly decided to move into their space to vacate the berth for the returning sailing school yachts, and we were glad we did as the same entertainment happened tonight, with more and more boats competing for few spaces. They all seem to go somewhere in the end, and the less brave ones anchor outside off the beach.
More news soon .....
part three of trip to Syros
When the boat is out of the water in Syros for the winter, which may realistically be five months - end of October to end of March - we have decided to try and find a little apartment to live in near the boatyard. Now, where do you start? In a foreign country, can't speak the lingo, can't read the newspaper or speak on the telephone. Luckily most Greeks speak some English, so that's a start.
At the abandoned marina, we called in to a chandlers (lacking in customers, sadly) and spoke to another Yiannis. I believe that the eldest son in a Greek family has to be called after the father, so everyone is either called Yiannis, Giorgios, Stavros, Spiros or Vangelis. Very confusing. Anyway, chandler Yiannis phoned up a boatyard owner's son called Spiros - obviously not the first born, as his father was Stavros! Spiros owns a central heating and log burner shop! Not sure he's on to a winner here ... maybe Greeks find it colder than us .... so we went back into town to see Spiros, who seemed pleased to leave his immaculate showroom for five minutes to show us round the boatyard and discuss prices. We also met his lovely wife who could speak perfect English, and we mentioned we were trying to find a winter apartment. Bingo! The Greek grapevine rallied into action and five minutes later we were shown a lovely but small apartment nearby, owned by Giorgios, son of Giorgios. 250 euros a month, free water and electricity, but a bit small, basically one room with a tiny kitchenette in corner, but bright and clean, nice patio. We said we would bear it in mind.
We then went back to our hotel, to speak to Yiannis number 1. We told him we were looking for somewhere to live and as all good Greeks do, he sprang into action, grabbed the local paper and started ringing round. We came back an hour later to meet a lady called Zena who took us to see a flat she had to rent. Bigger than the first one with a separate kitchen, sunny balcony, nearer to town. 250 euros but electricity extra. We said we'd think about it.
Later, we went to see something I found via the internet - a wonderful very large one room apartment bullt on the roof of an old house with an enormous terrace, sea views, new bathroom etc. but too much money, and up 130 steps from town centre. So that was a no. We were due to leave the next morning, what to do? That evening we ate in the town and I purposely sat down next to some people who were speaking English, the first we had heard in Syros. It turned out she was a Scottish lady called Anne and her husband, who lived in Syros during the summer and had a house there. She took our phone number and email and put us in touch with another English couple, who emailed the next morning to tell us they had a house to rent at a beach location, which we sadly had to turn down due to having no transport and too far from the boat.
Finally Yiannis number one came up trumps. He had arranged for us to see another apartment, this time in what looked like an unfinished block, a short distance from the harbour and about five mins walk from boatyard. It wasn't too attractive from the outside, and on the second floor, but inside it was just what we wanted. Almost brand new, although a little scruffy, separate bedroom, air conditioning and heating, nice bathroom, large lounge, balcony, dining area, and kitchen with fridge and washing machine! We'll take it, we said. But it's out of our budget, 300 euros a month plus electricity bill. The old man who showed us round said he would call the company in Athens. 280 was their reply. Sharp intake of breath ...... Should we walk away or make a lower offer? 260 euros for a six month contract we said ...... Waited with bated breath while Yiannis number one acted as persuader and negotiator in Greek, old man tried to get a reply from company in Athens who own the flats ..... Finally they agreed, 260 a month plus electric, for six months. Hooray! We've rented a flat. Paid one months deposit and said we'd see him in October. And Yiannis has even promised to send us an Albanian for 50 euro a day who will decorate, and do anything that needs doing, curtain poles, shelves etc! Bonus! I promised Yiannis we would invite him and his girlfriend to dinner when we move in.
Fingers crossed this all works out, I'm such a pessimist .........
Sun/08/12, Same as previous
Part two of trip to Syros ... Are you still with me?
After deciding that the Oracle of Delphi was probably not as accurate as Paul the Psychic Octopus, we got off the bus in the middle of Athens in 40deg heat and found our way to the port of Piraeus using the metro. Very cheap only 1.70euro for any distance, we were on the train for about half an hour. We then walked to the port, bought a ferry ticket, had lunch near the fascinating Piraeus market. ( luckily the stall selling sheep's innards had closed for the day - on a previous visit the butchers sold a fine array of sheeps heads complete with tongue and eyeballs, and the entire digestive and respiratory system of several sheep were hung up, displaying lungs, stomach and intestines, plus other biological parts I couldn't recognise). Imagine those little old Darth Vader Greek ladies dressed in black carrying some of those home in a carrier bag on the bus! Delightful!
Syros was delightful too. I had booked a room for a couple of nights and phoned ahead to let them know when we would be arriving, and the owner, a terrific guy called Yiannis, or John as he called himself, insisted on picking us up from the ferry even though it was a short walk and we hardly had any luggage. He couldn't have been more helpful, giving us maps, recommending restaurants, day trips etc, none of which we needed.
The next morning we started our mission early, with a walk along the harbour visiting the boatyards we had identified. I don't know much about boatyards, these seemed rather dusty, with piles of wooden planks, rusty bits of metal and tyres everywhere, but husband Tim seemed enthralled. We also walked to the marina, quite a way out of town. Greek marinas are very strange - I don't mean that they keep cars there instead of boats, or that they are built underground, far from it. But apparently, the good old European Union in its wisdom, some years ago handed over exorbitant amounts of cash to many waterside towns and even small villages in Greece, and other parts of Europe, to enable them to build marinas to attract yachts, flotillas, charters etc.
So the greeks used the money to built the infrastructure - harbour walls, pontoons, facilities for boats to tie up, car park, electric points, water taps, offices, sometimes even a laundry, showers etc. These were intended to be wonderful, and attract visitors to the towns. Then I think the town or village is told, when the marina is finished and once people start coming, you must manage and organise the marina yourself, you are responsible for its upkeep, all the bills, collecting income, paying taxes etc. So what do the Greeks do? They can't be bothered to maintain the facilities, or go round and inspect it, or get a man to run it and charge fees, and heaven forbid pay any taxes to the higher authorities in Athens, so they let the marina go ruin, they don't connect the water or electric, things aren't repaired, lots of potholes, rusting pipes etc etc. Showers and offices are locked up etc. but yachts still come here as many people like us are prepared to go without a water tap or electricity for a day or two, and some of these unkept marinas are in good locations. We have found marinas such as these in many places, such as Benitses on Corfu, Trizonia and Itea. Apparently Pilos is the same. And also some places on the south coast of Italy like Rocella. It's a scandal!
Its the same when greeks build new houses, they can get some grants or loans, but are exempt from paying any back and exempt from paying stuff like council tax until the building is finished, so the family just lives in the ground floor rooms and the top floor remains unfinished! Does the European union know about this? No wonder greece is in a monetary crisis! They are never going to get any of their money back! If something isn't done these marinas will get worse and worse and eventually decay and die ....
Goodness I haven't even told you everything about Syros yet ....
Sun/08/12, Currently in Andikyra, gulf of Corinth
Trip to Syros part one .....
We have needed to do some research about where to overwinter the boat this year. Lots of help on various Internet forums but we wanted to avoid the Lefkas/Preveza area as we have done that to death, and fancied somewhere new. One possibility was a yard at Porto Hele, near Spetses, and another at nearby Khalida. After an email conversation, the yard at Porto Hele appeared to be fully booked, and we thought Khalida was just too quiet a place to spent the whole winter. We did discover other yards we previously had not heard of, dismissing them as too expensive, not sheltered enough, or too far from civilisation.
We then came across a single comment on a boating forum suggesting "why not try Syros".
Firstly, I had to look up Syros on a map. It's the capital of the Cyclades and is a proper working town, open all winter, next nearest island is Mykonos. Lots of Greek civil servants there, and an Athens university department. Fast ferries take two hours 20 mins. The capital city, Ermopoulis, is built on two hills with a big church on each, and surprisingly for Greece, the population is half Greek orthodox and half Catholic. Most places in Greece are 95% Greek orthodox.
So we planned our trip to Siros. We left the boat in Itea, near Galaxidi, on the northern coast of the gulf of Corinth, and took a four hour bus ride to Athens. It was 17 euro each, but well worth it. Wonderful mountain views, tiny villages, scary hairpin bends. We went through what, in the winter, is the biggest ski resort area in Greece, the houses look like chalets with sloping roofs.
We also passed through Delphi, famous for the god Apollo, and its oracle, which is not as I had previously thought, a book, but was a specially selected unblemished village woman who was taken into the mountains and sat on a type of throne positioned over a cleft in the earth through which some type of gas emanated, producing hallucinations and a type of madness! The mind boggles! Eminent people, royalty, battle leaders would approach her and ask her things. Not whether Portsmouth would ever in the FA cup again, but things like whether there would be famine, or would their battle be successful. All a bit vague really.
There is a modern online version at http://www.delphicoracle.net/ if you need the answer to a burning question. I typed in ... What will the weather be like today? ... And it told me -
What's more powerful a spice than salt?
When tears must fall, think on them glowingly,
For they have dissolved in them the story
Of a thousand kingdoms risen and gone.
Don't you hate people who can't make decisions?
Part two soon ..........
The crossing to Mesolonghi was done under motor, and I'm happy to say we had no
engine leaks of any kind, although the batteries and alternator were getting exceptionally
Mesalonghi (several different spellings accepted) is in the gulf of Patras on the Greek
mainland, and is a stopping off point for boats on their way to, or from. The Corinth canal.
There is also a very new marina there, which we wanted to check out as a possible place
to stay over winter. The town is situated in a huge shallow lagoon, and accessed by a
very long dredged canal marked by buoys. We moored side-to on the quay behind
another British yacht. It was not an immediately attractive place, with large areas of open
space which were prone to rubbish being left everywhere, weeds growing, and lots of
graffiti. Mesolonghi is known for its mosquitos but I'm glad to say we didn't meet any.
Early the next morning before 9am (exceptionally early for me!) I walked into the town,
about 15 minutes away down a dusty, untidy road. My first impression of the town was not
good; it was untidy, dirty and unattractive, although there were some interesting narrow
streets and a main square.
Later, we walked to the new marina and enquired about prices for staying there over the
winter, and talked to some people who kept their boats there. There was a shop, laundry,
good showers, a brand new reception office. It was quite a walk from the marina back into
to town. In the evening we had some very stormy weather with huge lightning flashes and
thunder in the distance but we didn't get any rain. We ate with the locals in a taverna
sitting at a table in the street, and enjoyed a wonderful plate of souvlaki and salad.
We also were visited earlier by the port police on the boat, who asked us to go to the office
with our ship's papers. After much paper shuffling and use of official stamps, we handed
over 10.75euro for the mooring fee.
Over another cold lager, we did some internet research and discovered that the island of
Siros in the Cyclades may be a good place to investigate for our winter stay. It is the
capital of the Cyclades and busy all year round. So we made plans to sail further down
the gulf of Patras with the thought of leaving the boat somewhere for a few days while we
catch the ferry from Athens to Siros for a fact-finding mission .......