Traveling west from the Greek Islands in the Aegean to Italian Sicily, you either transit the Corinthian Canal or sail south around the "fingers" of the Peloponnese. We chose the latter and made the best of two weeks anchoring in the clear waters off Elafonisos, going up the gulf to Gytheio's town quay and then to the western fingertip stopping in both Koroni and Methoni, our staging point to prep the boat and wait for a "weather window" to make the passage to Siracusa, Sicily. We were fortunate to have great sailing (with little motoring) on almost every leg. The sunset shot below is Gytheo (or Yithion - take your pick), the lighthouse marks the middle finger's Capo Tainaro and the old Turkish tower and fort protect the scenic Methoni anchorage.
A thorough scuba and snorkel bottom clean, window repair, winch maintenance and engine service kept us busy in Methoni between some shoreside excursions. Then it was an "oh-dark-thirty" departure for the passage to Siracusa.
Well, actually it was 3am on the 22nd and the winds were so light we had to motor for about 8 hours. Then, about 11 we picked up a southwest breeze that let us start sailing on a close reach, only to lose it by 2pm and we motored sailed until 8pm when the expected northwesterly filled in - unexpectedly stronger than forecast. That gave us a really bumpy night with Force 4, 5 and some howling Force 6 winds making the all night ride akin to a washing machine on steroids. And to pump the adrenalin a bit more there was non-stop lightning just behind us (fortunately it stayed there).
By Monday morning, though, it started to moderate and we had a perfect sail throughout the day and 2nd night until the wind finally shut down about 1am on Tuesday but picked up a 4am to give us a good sail into Siracusa.
Before hitting town, we hit the sack, notwithstanding fellow cruisers Bonnie and Rick on Aisling having stayed over an extra day to greet us. We did catch up with them later and had a delightful toast to the passage and a welcome dinner on board Aisling.
Above are a couple of shots in Sircusa's Ortigia - Old Town. That's a flag of Sicily that Craig's holding in front of the Diana Fountain in Archimede Plaza, which is just down the street from the main cathedral pictured to the right.
You may recall we spent many weeks in Siracusa in 2008 and 2009 and actually rented an apartment for a month while we worked on the boat - so, of course, we had to check it out and found it for sale. The adjacent buildings were in about the same state of disrepair with braces between each other to hold themselves up. These do all date back to the 16 to 1800's and, while there is some slow progress in restoration, a turnaround in Italy's economic woes would certainly help. Be that as it may, we still enjoyed the charm of this unique place.
This late afternoon sun-lit view of the walled medieval village of Monemvasia greeted us after a fantastic all-day 69 mile sail from Milos. Sangaris was reaching and fast all the way! We explored north and south anchorage options yet, expecting a "sea roll" with decreasing winds, decided to tie, side-to in the simple (no service/no charge) "marina". (If you "Click to see the Full Map" to the right and zoom the Google Earth map, you can see exactly where we were - on the wall just below the blue position dot.)
Monemvasia occupies a steep, rocky islet now connected to the Laconian coast by a causeway (the old Venetian bridge replaced). The settlement high atop 'the rock" was founded in the 6th century A.D. after barbarian incursions forced locals to retreat to the rocky island. A second settlement was later founded on a lower level and gradually it developed into a town of significant strategic importance. By the 13th century it was the commercial center for the Byztantine Morea. complimenting Mystras, the spiritual center.
The area was captured by the Venetians in 1464, occupied by the Turks in 1540, came back to the Venetians in 1690 and, in 1715, recaptured by the Turks. All this power churn despite its single entry (moni - single, emvasia-entry) and an easily defendable natural rock fortress! Monemvasia was the first among the fortified towns of the Peloponese to be liberated by the Greeks in 1821.
A signposted path led us to the vast and fascinating jumble of Byzantine and post-Byzantine ruins in the upper town and to the mostly intact, cliffside Church of Aghia Sophia, from 1150. The lower right photo (above) shows this octagonal, domed cross-in-square church, constructed 1150.
Being early September, we had a perfect hiking day with very little company. Thankfully, our guide book's reference to 'mass tourism' at Greece's equivalent to France's Mont St. Michel must be a summer-only event. Many waterfront restaurants were eager to fill vacant tables and we happily chose Scorpios Fish Taverna. The workers happened to just be sitting down to their own late lunch which looked so good we didn't give the menu a glance but simply ordered the same delicious homemade meals they had, highlighted by a generous portion of fresh horta cooked with local olive oil, lime juice and garlic - yummmm!
The next day, naturally, we sought out that fresh horta and found it overflowing at the local market, where the delightful shopkeeper was proud to display it for the camera. That's the local olive oil up on the shelf, too.
And, no surprise to anyone, Katherine's homemade version was even better than the restaurant's!
With Sangaris safely moored on Milos, we headed to Santorini for an overnight stay, taking the "Fast Ferry". It lived up to its name as we clocked it at 36 kts (41 mph) and the trip was a quick two hours.
We had reservations at Hotel Reverie so Georgios, the owner, met us at the ferry dock and during the drive to the hotel we had our first views of Santorini's dramatic volcanic cliffs. We strolled town and at Geogios' suggestion took in the sunset at the island's winery, enjoying a "flight" of their wines in a breezy sunset.
Here are some of the sights around town. Since Santorini is actually the above-water rim of a huge volcano, with the caldera making the bay in the center, the sheer face of the caldera walls give every view a dizzying effect. The towns look simply precarious, clinging to the bluffs, but they've had it down pretty well for centuries, except after major eruptions (last was 1956) when they rebuilt even more cliffiside villas and hotels! Minoan-era wall paintings (like the one seen here) were covered with ash and well preserved when archeologists uncovered them in the ancient southern town of Akrotiri.
The domed churches nestle amongst resort apartments and private entrances seem to open into nothingness, but actually have a steep stairway on the other side.
We had planned our visit so we could connect with Amir and Leta - Sam's Aunt and Uncle - who had a one day cruise ship stop at Santorini. We met them at our hotel in the morning and then went to the town of Oia (Ee-a) on the north end of the island where not only was the lunch delicious, but the views were stunning.
And if these pics whet your appetite for spending time in the Cyclades, look closely for the telephone number above and you can pick up your own vacation home on this magical island.
Crusiers note: We are glad we traveled by ferry vs. Sangaris as anchoring options in the deep caldera were virtually non-existent. A few yachts seemed to grab huge steel moorings for a few hours, but likely not all crew could go ashore. We understand there is a marina on the south end island but we did not see it.
Leaving Paoika on Paros, Sangaris headed west-ish through the southern Cyclades. The first leg took us through the windy passage between Paros and Andiparos that's famous for its kite and wind surfing. If you look really closely you'll see Kath under that red kite and Craig looks pretty good on the windsurfer, too! We tucked up under some islets in the middle of the passage for the night and the day-trippers in the small boats you see were gone by evening leaving just us to enjoy the crystal clear waters.
The next stop was Despotica, adjacent to Andiparos and a not-to-be missed anchorage. From there we caught up with Rick and Barbara on "Far Out" at the little harbor in Vathi on Sifnos. As chance would have it, the restaurant we chose that evening for Barbara's birthday celebration was hosting a wedding and we were encouraged to join in the merriment from a nearby table.
From Sifnos it's about 20 miles SW to the great cruising ground and three islands of Kimilos, Poliagos and Milos. "Sir Rod" as we and most cruisers call Rod Heikel, the author of "The Greek Pilot" that we always have at hand, suggested that Stenon Kimolou-Poliagos (the channel between Kimolos and its uninhabited neighbor, Nisos Poliagos) could have severe gusts and "though there is not a big sea in the lee of the islands, the wind can be very strong indeed". Good luck made it a lake for us and Revmatonisia a lovely place to anchor for couple of nights near Psathi, Kimolos. This very cool rocky outcropping was just a few boat lengths away as were these colorful boathouses, now summer "cottages" and access to the chora (old town), which was an easy uphill climb although one local chose the old fashioned way (no that's not Craig on his ass! And, oh OK, that really wasn't him on the windsurfer, either.) Then, just a short hop away was what became a favorite anchorage of Pollonia, Milos, with the evening sun showing off Sangaris and the quintessential Cycladic church on the point.
The shots above and below give you the flavor of this very special island with its phantasmagorical volcanic rock formations.
The next day we made our way to the main town of Amorgos, Med moored to the dock and as we strolled to town we just happened to say hello to a fellow sailor, Simone, on an Australian flagged boat called "Planet Perfecto". Suddenly she did a double take, recognizing us from our blog, and said she'd been following it for some time and will also be up on sailblogs now that she's setting off cruising - talk about serendipity!
Perhaps our favorite anchorage on Milos was at a little north coast place with the fun name you see. It's tucked in behind those amazing rocks and is normally inaccessible because of the prevailing northerly winds, but we caught two days of rare southerlies. By the way, those sea level doors were originally boat houses for the fishermen, who would sleep in the little room above, rather than returning to their village each day. Nowadays, these "syrmata", from the Greek work "syro" - to pull - have become novel weekend retreats - and most folks do keep a small boat in the boathouse.
In Polonia the moorings seem always available; if anchoring stay clear of the ferry and watch for extensive mooring chains and rodes. In the main port of Adhamas, the "Port Captain" Miltos is a jovial character who seems to have a floating price scale depending on how well he likes you. Oddly, we paid 23 euros for three nights - others were 20 a night. There can be a violent surge when ferries arrive too fast, which some do, so stay as far from the dock as possible and leave lots of space between boats.
Sailing the 80 miles or so from Patmos to Paros with only a slight break in the constant Meltemi winds was a bit of a challenge. After our first long day sail with a way too gusty arrival at Dhenoussa (30-ish knots) we broke the remaining upwind stretches into a few legs in the early morning to try to move before the wind started "cooking". By August 13th we sailed into the bays across from Paroika, Paros and found an "oasis anchorage" - calm breezes despite high winds 'outside', clear swimming water, beautiful scenery and great access to town where hundreds of tourists disembarked from up to 5 ferries per day.
We timed our arrival to catch the August 15 "Panaghia" (Virgin Mary) festival at the impressive Ekatontapiliani church - the so called Aghia Sofia of the Aegean because the builder was an apprentice to the builder of the real Aghia Sofia in Constantinople. The bell tower pealed from early morning as thousands of islanders and guests gathered, including we two and Barbara and Rick from "Far Out". The procession, led by bearded and crowned priests culminated with the icon of the Virgin Mary and wound its way through the labyrinthine streets of classical Cyclades white and blue buildings of the old town. That evening the Far Out crew joined us on Sangaris as the night sky was lit with fireworks.
Here are a few scenes from a walk thru town - another "iconic" landmark (well, not quite, but a good watering hole, nonetheless), around the corner from one of dozens of small chapels. The flowered cross is mounted on Parian marble - the local material from which Venus di Milo was sculpted as well as most of the works on nearby Delos. Typical taverna wine pitchers on the hardware storefront round out some of the local color and fittingly, the "I" - Information booth, is housed in a centuries old windmill.
Festivites continued the next day, but these were of the art and jazz type. Rick and Barb introduced us to a few contemporary Dutch artists who run the "Holland Tunnel Gallery" with locations in Brooklyn, NY and Paroikia, Paros. We shared a wonderful night in a couple of galleries with painting, photography and sculptural displays, plus live jazz and traditional lyre performances. The large canvases are by Jan Mulder, one the artists we befriended. The fun went on late into the night back at the Pirates' Bar (last photo) with swinging Brazilian jazz.
Now, around Milos are several delightful little towns, including Lefkes, a short bus ride for us. It was serious siesta time when we arrived so we wandered the pristine alleyways and made our way to the impressive Cathedral of Agia Triada across from which courtyard cafes welcomed all to a quiet afternoon repast. And, for the first time in months we actually saw clouds in the sky that seemed to signal the inevitable end of summer that's just around the corner.
The next day's short bus trip was to Naoussa town with its many artistic venues. The Meltemi was still piping up as the waves attest, but the art was striking. Here's a painting from "Sea Bed" where the artist captures sea creatures in sunlit waters above undulating sandy bottoms. And, speaking of sea creatures, the fresh octopus drying in front of the waterfront tavern announce that dinner tonight will be fresh, indeed. Finally, a local artist, Dimitris, greeted us and showed us his shop with an eclectic collection Byzantine style carved rings, paintings of local scenes, and a simulated cave replete with spray foam stalactites and stalagmites. Strange and fun stuff.
A great highlight of Parioika is free walking tours each evening. The town was originally walled and the top center is one of the main gates. Below that in the center is one of three fountains the towns patron installed. Atop the old city is the Frankish Fort from the 1200's which used the rubble of previous Greek temples for it's construction - hence the pieces of marble columns in the fort walls. Above the fort is a somewhat more modern church, again made from old temple rubble. Katherine is sitting on the steps of it's entrance. Finally, the watchword of sailing in these parts is the north wind which is called the Meltemi - here it is carved in stone in Greek letters.
Cruiser's Notes: The town quay at Paroika has laid moorings on the inside or use your own anchor on the outside, which is fine in calm wind,, although some waves from ferries. Mooring is free, but 10E for water and electric - water man comes in the morning and evening.
Samos is a semi-tropical island lying just five miles off the Turkish coast and, as you read in the last "Ephesus blog", a good place to jump off for ancient site touring. But the island itself deserves exploration as it has numerous off-the beaten-track fishing villages, beaches and quiet spots in cool (OK, cooler) forested inland mountain villages. After finding Nico's wonderful bike shop in Pythagoria town, we opted to hire two of his full size 27 gear, Karhkoff German bikes (instead of using our 3 gear folding "monkey bikes") to discover some of the south coast villages and, not yet done with ruins, (can you believe it?) to stop to see Hera's Temple.
We followed a coastal path but detoured to see working vineyards, orange groves and fields of green agriculture. At a welcoming roadside stand, a farmer had us tasting his freshly sqeezed orange juice and some of the island's sweet local wine, delicious, but not for daytime sipping.
Beyond its fame for wine, Samos is also significant as the legendary birthplace of Hera (Mother Goddess) and the sprawling ruins of her ancient sanctuary, the Ireon, where archaeological excavations continue, are impressive. Craig's pictured here to give you some height reference (original columns were 20+ meters) and the German and Austrian guys next to him (and the same column) a historical perspective (their excavations were some of the first in 1925). This sacred site dates back to the early Bronze Age, (3rd millennium A.D.). The cult of Samian Hera preserved the settlement, building and reconstructing many different temples and altars over the centuries. The photo at the bottom left shows the remains of an early Christian Basilica, first built in 5th-6th c. A.D. and later replaced with a larger structure in the 16th century. The headless statues are called "Kouroi" and were figures who adorned and kept watch over the sacred way leading from Pythagorios to the central Ireon (or Heriaon).
We wrapped up our time on Samos in the town of Pythagorias by joining in the annual celebration of the defeat of the invading Ottoman's on the 6th of August, 1824. The whole town was decorated with the flags and banners proclaiming this past glory. We anchored under the "Kastel of Likourgos Logothetis" - you can see Sangaris and Deep Blue at anchor below.The celebration culminated with a full blown procession from the local church of the Metamorfosis Sotiros to the waterfront. At the harbor the local boats paraded around a mock Turkish "ship" which was soon "attacked" and "burned". The victorious Greek "fleet" returned to their slips after which an amazingly huge fireworks display commenced and the Greeks lived up their reputation for knowing how to have a great party. Opa!
Having reconnected with the Deep Blue Crew in Samos, we left the boats safely Med-moored to the Pythagorio town quay and booked a day-trip to Ephesus, by way of a ferry to Kuşadasi and tour bus to the site (see Cruisers' Notes below). Our route from Didim was about 28 miles upwind with lots of sea and salt sprayed on our bow. Having tried without success to reach this island oasis last year and with Deep Blue ahead of us we pressed on regardless. By early evening we were anchored in Pythagorian Bay's crystal clear water with a backdrop of a pretty town and green pine tree hills beyond. After finally escaping Gϋmϋȿlϋk with a functioning refrigerator we wanted to head north and the next stop was Didim, where we had overwintered. This time, though we anchored off and took the dinghy in to connect with Steve and Karyn on Threshold. They had made the big decision to haul for this season and refinish the boat - a huge undertaking as every fitting is removed from this beautiful aluminum boat in order to paint both topsides and hull. You can see her in the YachtWorks shed under the arched structure that will contain the sandblasting and painting. After a couple of days helping them a bit with going over the entire rigging, we thoroughly enjoyed the treat of an evening out at the local restaurant (and, no, adorable as they may be, that's not the Bobbsey twins in blue shirts!).
So, above right are the girls with the main street laid out behind them - a colonnaded walkway with the Roman Library of Celsus at the bottom. Mind you, this was the 3rd largest city in the World, behind Rome and Alexandria. Sandra, Craig and Chris are posed in front of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Pop quiz: is that column? Doric, Ionian or Corinthian? First one to post the right answer as a comment wins a week aboard Sangaris (flight, food and drink optional extras.)
The above pic gives a perspective of the city location - all that valley in the background was open Mediterranean Sea and Ephesus owed its success to being a seaport. Over the centuries, though, the river that ran to the sea silted in, much like, say, the Mississippi delta, and the city was no longer viable.
Here's our tour guide - an affable Turkish fellow who works as an archaeologist in the winter and a guide during summers - very knowledgeable, indeed. Top right is a section of the excavated ruins - the theater-looking structure was actually the government center where issues of the day were debated. The cave or tunnel bit on the hill is actually a temporary structure they've built to stabilize another vast section that will be excavated in the future, when funding permits. This was one HUGE town!
Bottom left is some of the original infrastructure of clay (terracotta) water pipes that are "in situ", as they were 2500 years ago. And bottom right is one of many public carved backgammon boards which were a mainstay of entertainment.
Here's the Main Street again, further down toward the library with the columns that formed the covered walkway to the right - a posh place indeed. And well-engineered, too, as buried beneath tha street was the main sewer line of the city, running out to sea.
"Hey Hadrian! It's 123AD and you've been one heck of an Excellent Emperor for 6 years now, so we built you a Temple to honor your upcoming visit. We got our best stone carvers to chink out those details on the right. Y'all have a great time now!" (Of course, you've got to give that a classical Greek lilt.)
The Nymphaeum Traiani on the left was actually the pool at the end of a 25 mile aquaduct bring fresh water into the city. It was donated by wealthy locals to honor Artemis, Apollo's twin sister. The structure on top was a recent recreation to give us an idea of the original, but that was about 3 times higher, as you can tell from the close-up of the foot of one of the statues that was under the roof.
Across from this is a relief of Nike (bottom right) which our guide said is actually pronounced Nick-ee, not Nike-ee like the modern shoes. She was the goddess of victory.
Having now made our way down the main street, we arrive at the Roman Library of Celsus (not to be confused with Celsius, the temperature guy). Completed in 120AD it was once the repository of some 12,000 books (scrolls, actually) that were all lost to earthquake and fire in 262. Across the first level you see there were four statues with a close-up of one inset. These are replicas, but give you a good idea of the original. And what better place for a cat-nap than under a Corinthian capital. (That's a hint for the Pop Quiz, btw.)
From the main street you can see a covered section of the ruins that preserves the "Terrace Houses". These were occupied by the very wealthy and contain the largest complex of mosaic floor décor from the Roman imperial period in all of Western Turkey. At top left is some of the structural covering with wall paintings visible and the bottom is a display picture of the earliest covering efforts.
This montage is pretty much self explanatory as work proceeds to restore the vast mosaics that were on both the floors and the walls - the fellow in the bottom left is painstakingly preserving some wall paintings. You can see how ornate the residences were from the beautiful columns in the living spaces.
As we climbed up the stairways in the protective structure, dozens upon dozens of rooms with columns, mosaics and paintings became visible - complete with good explanations along the way like that Chris and Sandra are perusing.
Finally you make your way all the way down through the city and exit past the immense Theater that sat some 25,000. It was located near the waterfront and built during the Hellenistic period and then enlarged during the Roman era. Until just a few years ago it was used for modern rock and music concerts, but that's now stopped for fear of damage from over-exuberant fans. We left with our souvenir tickets of the city and the Terrace Houses as a reminder of an amazing day visiting antiquity.
We had excellent service from "By Ship" Travel in Pythagorios Town, who arranged all our transportation and tour guide who worked directly with the Kusadasi based "Meander" Travel company,. Price was 38€ RT per person for ferry to Kuşadasi plus a 10€ pp port fee upon arrival. The bus to Ephesus, entry to the city and a guided tour was 20€ pp. The Terrace House was an extra 15TL ($7) and we think this optional touring was well worth the separate admission fee . Obviously, from the pictures, we were not alone at the site - they get upwards of 10000 visitors on a good day - but it's a huge city and doesn't seem all that crowded.
The name, of course, is after our favorite old mathematician guy, Pythagoras, who was born here on Samos about 570 BC and figured out that cool right triangle bit - 'course he did it with Greek letters.
We had three windy nights that kept the crew alert and all too often awake, so we switched up and tied stern-to at the town key yesterday after a morning visiting refrig technicians in Samos marina ... yes, the saga continues.
Now we're quite happy here with a safe mooring, the old guy and his right triangle appropriately captured in a statue plus the pleasant bustle of small tourist town activity (picture us along the town wall in the middle of the top photo). We've got a tour boat booked for tomorrow to take us on a guided trip of the ancient site of Ephesus in Turkey which is just across a narrow straight (click on the Google Map button to the right and zoom around a bit.) Later this week we'll give the island of Samos a drive around and have lots of pics to share in the next slog - stay tuned!
Of course it's never all work and we escaped for a day to explore the local historical site of Melitos. In ancient times there was a marble paved sacred road connecting the two, which are some 18Km apart. Melitos itself was a thriving center of trade, culture, art and science from the 7th century B.C. The focal point of the city was the 15,000 seat theater that Craig is exploring above. The bottom right view from inside the theater is over a now fertile agricultural valley, but that was a vast open bay in ancient times and the city was on the shore. In the Middle Ages the local river totally silted in the region.
The next set of pics is around the town, with the "Delphinion" columns that formed an open air temple to Apollo Delphinius dominating. Apparently one could make a pilgrimage from here and follow the marble road to the main Temple of Apollo in Didim. Other remnants are of Faustian Baths with it's "palaestra" - a training and wrestling school, numerous temples to other gods and lastly there's another view of the open plain that had been the seaport, with remnants of a city gate remaining.
Cruiser's Note: For more details of the Threshold refit project, visit their sailblog at sailblogs.com/member/threshold
Our route from Didim was about 28 miles upwind with lots of sea and salt sprayed on our bow. Having tried without success to reach this island oasis last year and with Deep Blue ahead of us we pressed on regardless. By early evening we were anchored in Pythagorian Bay's crystal clear water with a backdrop of a pretty town and green pine tree hills beyond.
After finally escaping Gϋmϋȿlϋk with a functioning refrigerator we wanted to head north and the next stop was Didim, where we had overwintered. This time, though we anchored off and took the dinghy in to connect with Steve and Karyn on Threshold. They had made the big decision to haul for this season and refinish the boat - a huge undertaking as every fitting is removed from this beautiful aluminum boat in order to paint both topsides and hull. You can see her in the YachtWorks shed under the arched structure that will contain the sandblasting and painting. After a couple of days helping them a bit with going over the entire rigging, we thoroughly enjoyed the treat of an evening out at the local restaurant (and, no, adorable as they may be, that's not the Bobbsey twins in blue shirts!).