07/07/2012, Aegean Sea, Greece
We left early for the 65 mile stretch from Patmos, the northernmost of the Dodecanese, to Mykonos, the first island of the Cyclades to the east. The Cyclades are a circular group of many islands that we'll be sailing in a big backwards "Z," east, west, east, for an optimal angle to the prevailing northwest wind.
Mykonos has a reputation with the "in crowd," many of them gay, as the party island, with its many beach resorts, fancy shops, bars, restaurants, and nightlife. We anchored in Ornos, a protected bay off a beach resort that was booming with music in the late afternoon. Luckily it died down by nightfall, when party-goers made their way across the isthmus to the Hora, or main town. Several large private motoryachts were anchored in deeper water behind us, and we were awakened at 4 am by noisy guests being ferried back to their yachts. High life in all corners!
We survived our adventure with a "quad", aka ATV, which we rented to go to town and tour the island. Cars and quads are rented with nearly empty fuel tanks when you get them, a profitable secondary income for the rental agency, since it's hard to calculate how much fuel you'll use. Extra fuel is siphoned out upon return. So the first order of business was to find a gas station. But the agent had siphoned so much gas out of the tank that we ran out before getting to the nearest one! Luckily it wasn't far ... I don't like motorcycles, Burger doesn't like quads. ("It feels like it's castrated," he kept complaining, as we crawled up the hills.) So we'll stick to cars in future. Or buses. Or feet.
We wandered around the quaint alleyways with its trendy boutiques and shops. In front of one of them we found the famous pink pelican, mascot of Myconos who we later saw meeting the ferry guests.
07/03/2012, Patmos, Dodecanese
The weather report sounded benign for our northwest course from Leros to Patmos, and we left Partheni Bay in light wind. Then no wind, with engine. Then building wind from the north, 25 knots, gusting to 35. Burger reefed the mainsail and staysail way down to reduce heeling, and still we bounced along at 7.5 knots. Thank goodness this is as far north as we're going!
We anchored in the main harbor of Skala, and went ashore late afternoon to wander the town, have dinner and do some grocery shopping. Greek shops typically close for a long midday siesta and then reopen from 4 or 5 pm till 8 or 9. Greeks typically dine late, 9 or 10 pm, but the restaurants cater to tourists like us who eat earlier.
We were awakened at 6 am next morning by a man in a dinghy who directed us to a mooring ball, to make room for the fuel barge that was on its way into the harbor. The fuel barge turned out to be a fairly large fuel tanker, which towered over the anchorage! The crew on sailboats med-moored to the town quay scurried about their decks, holding puny little fenders should the tanker come too close. Once anchored and secured to the quay with aft lines straining in the side wind, a not very large fuel hose was brought out to transfer fuel to the city tank farm, a process which took all day. We were happy to be on the mooring out of harm's way.
After breakfast we dinghied ashore and hiked up the ancient cobblestone path to the Cave of the Apocalypse and the huge grey Monastery of St. John the Divine, who supposedly wrote the Book of Revelations there. The Monastery, which evolved over the centuries into a massive castle built for defense, is surrounded by a labryinth of whitewashed cube-shaped houses called the "hora," originally the main town of the island. Typical of many Greek islands, the maze was built to confuse attacking pirates and other enemies. Today the winding narrow alleyways are filled with shops and cafes and blooming bouganvillae, to the delight of visiting tourists. It's easy to take good photos in such a beautiful place.
Wanting to get away from the town bustle we moved next door to Meloi Bay, a protected cove with good swimming. While there we met Californians Madeline and Ken of the tugboat cruiser Mamma Mia, and had a fun visit with them aboard Halekai. While Burger and Ken discussed boat electronics, Madeline and I talked and talked about our children and grandchildren and our pets and our travel, etc. etc. etc. We were so hungry for talk that we forgot to have dinner!
06/29/2012, Mainland Greece
On our return trip to Athens we drove west through mountain tunnels and had lunch in the lakeside town of Ioannina. There we visited the monastery where the brutal nineteenth Ottoman ruler, Ali Pasha, was killed. He was featured in the Alexander Dumas' novel, The Count of Montecristo.
Then we made our way south and crossed the Gulf of Corinth on the Rio-Antirrio, the longest multi-span cable-stayed suspension bridge in the world. We were now on the northern shore of the large peninsula of the Peloponnese. We stayed overnight at the small Hotel Lido resort in Melissi and swam off the pebbly beach.
On our way to the Athens airport next morning, we exited the highway and visited the Corinth Canal, a shortcut from the Aegean to the Ionian Sea. Four miles long and 70 feet wide, it is no longer viable for the larger freighters of today, but is still in use for smaller tourist ships and yachts. It was dug in the 1890's, effectively creating an island of the peninsula. We stood on the pedestrian bridge and looked at yachts passing under us, some 300 feet below! Our sailing itinerary takes us further south so we won't be transiting it with Halekai.
It was great to return to Halekai and find her bottom freshly painted, ready to launch. What a luxury! We spent another couple of days enjoying Craig and Katherine's company, catching up on laundry at their cottage yet again. Two weeks had flown by since we first arrived in Leros, and it was hard to say good-bye.
06/28/2012, Meteora Valley, Greece
Having our day's exercise behind us, we drove on to the beautiful valley of Meteora, a few hours' further north. We stayed at the Doupiani House in the village of Kastriki, away from the noise of buses and motorcycles, within view of the strange smooth rock pinnacles the area is known for. There were very few other guests and the village restaurants were nearly empty. Food and service were great!
METEORA VALLEY PHOTOS
Next morning we hiked up to four centuries-old monasteries perched on top of the pinnacles. Once there were two dozen monasteries, today there are only six major ones remaining. A couple of them are still in use. Monks climbed rope ladders or were hoisted up in nets, allowing them to survive in isolation while warfare raged below. The interiors of the chapels were covered with frescoes depicting early Christian torturing of saints and martyrs: there were portrayals of death by crucification, beheading, chopping off body parts, drowning, burning, crushing, hanging, hanging upside down, boiling, stoning, squeezing in vices, what have I forgotten?
06/27/2012, Delphi, Greece
We drove a few hours to Delphi, one of the most important archeological sites of Greece. Unfortunately the site closed just as we arrived at 4 pm, despite our guide book claim that it would be open till 6:45 pm. Austerity measures, we were told.
We were able to visit part of the Delphi site, the Sanctuary of Athena, before driving down windy roads on to the seaside town of Galaxidi for the night. We stayed at the Gandimede, a small hotel recommended by Craig and Katherine. The scenery en route was spectacular! We hadn't realized that Greece was so mountainous. We saw a sign for a ski resort near Delphi. The summer roadside was abloom with yellow witches broom and pink oleander.
DELPHI PHOTOS CLICK HERE
Back to Delphi next morning, we walked up to the Sanctuary of Apollo, where the Oracle spoke her prophecies, supposedly mumbled, then "translated" by the priests. We hiked further past the treasury, the amphitheater and finally to the stadium, where athletes once competed in the Pythian Games.
06/26/2012, Athens, Greece
The Olympic Air flight to Athens took less than hour, and it was another hour by modern metro into the city. We checked into our hotel before noon. Booked online with a hefty last-minute discount, the O & B Boutique Hotel was perfectly located, luxurious and empty. Pre-season, or Greek financial crisis affecting tourism?
With map and tour book in hand, we set out for the Acropolis. The first glimpse of the Parthenon was truly breathtaking. It sits atop a huge rock that can be seen for miles around. We walked through the Agora to the Archeological Museum, and had a late lunch at the museum cafe, enjoying the view of the Parthenon through a wall of glass. We then toured the Museum, with its amazing collection of sculptures and artifacts not just from Athens, but from several archeological sites in Greece. After a coffee break (which means ice cream for Burger), we hiked up to the top of the Acropolis to the temple ruins. The Parthenon restoration has been ongoing and will continue for years to come, but the cranes and construction scaffolds didn't ruin the experience. On the walk down again we stopped to watch, and listen to, the preparation for an evening concert at the ancient amphitheater, with its fantastic acoustics.
Exhausted from the exercise and hot sun, we stopped at the first taverna we came to in Plaka, the pedestrian neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis. We were impressed by the waiter's presentation of menu items, using his iPad. The moussaka and cold beer tasted wonderful! We slept well that night.
After a sumptuous breakfast buffet next morning, we walked down Ermou Street, with its fashionable international chain stores, to the Parliament, just in time for the changing of the guard. The poor guys had to stand at attention in the hot sun, trying to ignore the tourists who took turns standing next to them for photos.
Then back to the hotel where our rental car awaited us. The agent kindly drove us to the outskirts of the city, where he hopped into the Metro. We we glad we'd purchased the Greek GPS program for our iPad. Burger's nine school years (!) of Greek were of little help reading some of the road signs covered with grafitti!
06/19/2012, Aegean Sea, Greece
The sailing strategy of the Aegean is to get as far north as you're going in June before the Meltemi season sets in, with its strong northwest winds. We got a taste of it next day, a boisterous beat north to Leros. We anchored in the well sheltered Partheni Bay, in front of a military post where political prisoners were once tortured! Leros played a prominent role in the Aegean during World War II, as we were to learn more about later.
As we entered the bay we emailed our friends Craig and Katherine Briggs of sv Sangaris, who we knew were at the Partheni Boatyard. We got an immediate email reply, then a call on VHF: "Come ashore for dinner at 6:30! Bring the laundry, we have a washing machine!" Music to our ears! Craig and I had served on the board of SSCA together, and we'd all met at Gams in Florida a few times over the past several years. They had left Sangaris at the Partheni Boatyard over winter and were renting a cozy little cottage while recommissioning her. We dined several times together and joined them for late afternoon swims at Agia Kioura, a beautiful little cove just over the hill.
We rented a car one day and explored the island, getting lost among the winding roads to the Kastro (castle) and to Lakki, the main port. Lakki is known for its Art Deco buildings, a legacy of the Italian occupation in the 1920's and 30's. The Germans bombed Lakki in 1944 and ships were sunk in the harbor. We visited the WW II museum, built into one of the many tunnels that protected the civilian population during the battle of Leros. We felt sorry for the poor museum employee, who had to spend hours each day inside the tunnel, listening to audios of bombings and sirens.
Just a week after having scrubbed the bottom last, we discovered it just as foul as before. Evidently the antifouling paint from Thailand was no longer doing its job. Since we were anchored off one of the few boatyards in the Aegean capable of hauling our boat, we decided to have the bottom repainted. Since the haul-out price included seven days on the hard, we used the opportunity to travel to mainland Greece for a few days. The small Leros airport was right next to the boatyard, how convenient is that? Craig and Katherine gave us lots of good advice and tips where to go and what to see.
06/13/2012, Cyclades, Greece
The Dodecanese are a group of 12 islands in the Aegean Sea, just off the southwestern coast of Turkey. We visited six of them: Kastellorizon, Rhodes, Symi, Kalymnos, Leros and Patmos.
We remembered to switch courtesy flags this time, when we sailed north from Bodrum to Kalymnos. Like Symi, Kalymnos also once thrived on the sponge industry. We're not sure what they live from today, since there's not much tourism. Yet the young men can apparently afford gasoline (USD 8/gallon!), given all the noisy motorcycles that zoom around the waterfront. Bikes and golf carts would make so much more sense on these small islands, but they're just not cool.
Soon after we med-moored to the town quay, sv Makani glided in right next to us, a rendezvous pre-arranged per email. They had just been to the island of Kos to pick up Felix' sister who flew in from Germany. We all wandered about the town and then had fresh fish at a waterfront taverna.
It was our last time together as our paths diverged from here. Typical of many northern European retirees, Felix and Monika will spend summer at home and return to the Med in off-season fall, when it's cooler and quieter.
06/12/2012, Bodrum, Turkey
Oops, just in the nick of time I checked our passports and discovered that our three month Turkish visa was actually 90 days, and it was due to expire the very next day! Good thing that Bodrum was our next stop! Off we went that afternoon, and after a bouncy night anchored near the big, illuminated medieval castle, we spent the next day shopping and doing errands before clearing out after lunch.
Customs required us to tie the boat up to their dock so the built-in purchases could be verified for our VAT stamp, so we dinghied out to Halekai and brought her in. Not realizing how time-consuming the procedure would be, Burger had to first hustle to the police station, harbor master and bank before Customs would issue clearance, and the coveted stamp.
The bank was closed when he got there, but a sympathetic employee let him slip in the door, only to have to stand on a long line before he could pay the fee. He rushed back to the Customs dock where I was waiting, just before they closed. Had we had to postpone till the next day we would have been fined for overstaying our visa. No mention was made of our entry stamps into Greece a few days before. We left the dock just before dusk and motored to a quiet anchorage, and celebrated the mission accomplished with sundowners.
It was finally time to bid Turkey goodbye. Only later did I look at our passport stamps and discover that, quite by coincidence, we left Turkey a year to the day after we had arrived in Istanbul from Thailand!
06/11/2012, Knidos, Turkey
Our next stop was Knidos, which we almost bypassed due to a friend's bad experience dragging anchor in heavy wind. Luckily the weather was settled for the two nights we were there. It was a very unique place. Where else in the world can you anchor right across from an ancient Roman amphitheater? We hiked up to the lighthouse for a great view of the coast, and had calamari at the taverna that evening.
Next morning we went ashore to visit the ruins and met up with Tas, our tour guide friend from Marmaris, who was leading a group of Brits. It was hot ashore so a swim was wonderfully refreshing, even for Burger, so the water temp is gradually warming up. Later on, sv Makani sailed and we had a nice visit with Felix and Monika.
KNIDOS PHOTOS CLICK HERE
06/10/2012, Datca, Turkey
On our way to Datca next day, we remembered to switch the courtesy flag back to the half moon and star of Turkey again.
Datca is known for its almonds and olive industry. We had been there on a bus day trip from Marmaris in early spring, when the almond trees were blooming, and visited an olive oil factory. We had found a shop in town that sold high quality marzipan. Burger told the shop owner that coating his marzipan with chocolate, like they do in Germany, would surely give him a marketing edge. We returned to the same shop and found no chocolate covered marzipan, but we stocked up on it anyway, as well as olive oil.
DATCA PHOTOS CLICK HERE
Then we sought out the Customs office. Only to be told, nope, no can do, only Bodrum Customs can issue the VAT exit stamp ...
Photo: "Evil Eye" good luck charm, seen all over Turkey
06/07/2012, Symi, Greece
Some Greek islands are a stone's throw off the western coast of Turkey, and we didn't want to miss Symi, a popular stop right on our way to Datca. We weren't ready to clear into Greece yet, not having cleared out of Turkey, but we'd heard that Greek Customs turn a blind eye to transient boaters from Turkey, as long as you keep a low profile. So we sailed to the far end of the island from the town where the Customs office was located. We anchored in the bay of Panormitis, famous for the Monastery of St. Michael the Archangel. A helpful cruiser rowed over to remind us to exchange our Turkish courtesy flag for the Greek one. So much for keeping a low profile!
We went ashore to tour the monastery, and consulted the bus schedule: The only bus to town left at 7:30 am. Next morning we dinghied ashore bright and early, just in time to see the bus depart without us. It left ten minutes early! So we decided to sail around to Symi town instead. Surely Customs wouldn't notice us among all the other boats there?
Within minutes of med-mooring at the quay, an official turned up asking to see our papers, and directed us to the Customs office. Oh well. Our 90-day Greek visa, transit log and Schengen clocks started ticking sooner than planned. No notice was taken of the missing Turkish clearance stamp. Would Datca Customs notice our Greek entrance stamp when we cleared out of Turkey?
Symi is a bustling little town, special for its cheerful multi-hued neoclassical houses that climb the surrounding hillsides. Sponge diving used to be the main occupation, but decreasing demand and then a virus in 1986 all but wiped out the industry. Lots of Symian "spongers" emigrated to America and Australia. Years ago I remember seeing a "little Greece" community of spongers in Florida. They may well have been Symians.
Several giant cruise ships and ferries came into the crowded harbor, with sailboats weaving around them on their way to and from the town quay. Noisy motorcycles zipped around the tourists in the narrow streets and alleyways. Tavernas and cafes were busy and the supermarket was well-stocked. The Greek financial crisis and looming election didn't seem to be affecting business.
SYMI PHOTOS CLICK HERE
06/06/2012, Symi, Greece
We awoke early this morning to the sound of this fisherman's engine, mooring his boat next to us. He was out all night, yet his catch was meager. Not surprising, after years of over-fishing and dynamiting in the Med.