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This is a REALLY long but FANTASTIC Blog. It's got lot's of pictures and not one, but TWO (Count 'em) Video Clips. So get a BIG Cuppa or Sundowner and sit back and enjoy!
When last we left you we had "gorged" at Samaria, so to speak, and sent along a Chania Encore, just about three weeks ago! Since then, we've sailed the north coast of Crete and enjoyed a nice mix of anchorages and discovered old towns and ancient Minoan ruins, although the strong Meltemi winds of 20 to 35 knots are a challenge and the thermometer pushes 95 most days; hot, but not as bad as what we've read about the heat waves in the US!
After our Harbormaster and Port Police check-out from Chania, we anchored for a couple of days off Milati Island on the northeast end of Souda Bay. Our 4th of July holiday highlight was a visit to Sangaris by four young US Navy Lieutenants - fresh out of Annapolis on their first cruise. They were on leave and seen Sangaris' big "Stars & Stripes" from the beach, so they swam about a mile out to greet us.
Our guests, like hundreds of other US and NATO military personnel, were in Souda for a strategic stopover at a base that is a huge operations center for current air & sea activities. Our safety assured, we swam, BBQ'd and watched the "air show" - a constant traffic of military fighters and transports going in and out of the air station - as we happily swung on our "hook" for the first time in more than a week.
Rethymno was our next stop and an easy stern-to tie-up in the town's public marina - amazingly, only €1.50 per day! Again, there were very few neighboring cruising boats, perhaps because everyone else knew that Crete would be too hot and windy in July? We entertained ourselves with morning walks, long lunches in shady tavernas followed by naps, frequent cool-off dips and evening strolls.
It was friendly and we think a recommended stop. In fact we know several folks who found its attractive old town, festivals, cultural events and university energy a draw for an appealing live-aboard over-wintering location.
In the montage, above, you'll spot two classic views of Rethymno: the ornate Rimondi Fountain with spouting lion heads and Corinthian capitals attests to former Venetian rule, and the massive 16th c. fortress with great views from the ramparts. The true classic, of course, is Craig enjoying the local octopus luncheon!
Making our way east we spent a rolly night at anchor in Bali. It was picturesque with homes perched on steep cliffs, but sleepless. Iraklion, Crete's big city, was next on the itinerary, but we took a pass on touring the ancient Minoan Knossos Palace, what with a heaving tourist trade, unshaded ruins and 100° temps - we hope to see it some other time - off-season!
So on to a 5-star anchorage where we could cool down & swim before heading into the small fishing harbor of Palaiokastro - a common name you'll see later that simply means "Old Castle". There we squeezed into a surprisingly tight space between local fishermen. The town seemed a bit remote but had a good internet connection to make some Skype calls, having learned that our dear Auntie Jean was hospitalized.
Our base for the next few days was the "Spinalonga Lagoon", near the resort town of Elounda and a short bus ride north of scenic Agios Nikolaos (Ay Nik). We needed a Meltemi-protected anchorage and internet access to be in touch with family and healthcare providers in Florida. The Lagoon was safe, but not calm and would have been a fabulous area to explore had the winds not been howling up to 35 knots! Only after letting out 200 feet of chain (in only 15 feet depth) did we feel comfortable enough to leave the boat for a couple of day trips to visit the Ay Nik marina, buy fresh fruit and veg and tour the renowned Spinalonga Island.
The two photos below, one with Sangaris in the very far left corner (if your eyesight is really sharp!), give a good sense of the place.
Like most of Crete's headlands or peninsula points, Spinalonga was a strategic fortress site built by Venetians as a trading point and also had huge salt flats nearby. A Turkish seige in 1715 displaced the Venetians and the Turks carried on to the 1900's through the declining Ottoman era; the more modern painted buildings in the photo are from the tail end of Turkish rule. After Crete joined Greece in 1913, the island became Europe's largest leper colony; the last leper died there in 1953 and it's been uninhabited since. It was an eerie but interesting walk around what locals refer to as 'the island of the living dead'.
Now here was a fun interlude -
After spotting "Elli's Cafe" (Katherine's mother's name having been Ellie) we just had to stop - incredibly Elli's daughter was also named Katherine (Katerina) - so we struck up a fun connection over a traditional lunch.
An interesting sidelight we heard from Elli's "other daughter" Katerina, was that many Elounda and nearby Plaka residents were featured in a recent documentary about the island ... something to check on Netflix next winter.
From the lagoon we set off for Sitia, our last stop in Crete. What a restful place to be, for another week(!) while we continued to get updates on our Aunt's post-stroke status in rehab, tended to some boat chores and enjoyed frequent cycling outings to explore and provision.
The harbor was well protected and pretty with palm trees, sidewalk tavernas and small fishing boats lining the circle of aqua blue water. Here's a short video clip of the harbor.
By the way, we'd recommend the small archaeology museum here, the highlight of which was this old boy - Palekastro "Korous". The statue of "Kouros" was painstakingly pieced together from fragments of ivory hippopotamus tusks from which it was carved and adorned with gold and other decorations some 3000 years ago.
So, trusting the boat's secure side-tie at the gusty pier, see the top right pic in the montage above, we hired a car for a day to see the dense fields of olive trees, palm groves and ancient sites on the northeast coastland. It was a great day out with some trail walking high above the little town of Zakros where we discovered "The Source". It's an amazing , abundant natural spring that supplies all the local towns and irrigates vast olive tree acreage. Amazing, because it starts at about 2000 feet above sea level in desert-like mountain terrain and just flows from under the rocks - ain't nature grand! Also amazing is the world-renown Sitia Olive Oil - green, fruity and super-low acid (0.3%) - a gourmet's delight.
The sights and sounds along the mostly non-irrigated terrain were typical of Eastern Crete and the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean. This image gives you an idea of Crete's dry, rocky and windblown land with cicadas buzzing (I can't believe we finely spotted one of these stealthy critters!) and ubiquitous goats bleating and munching on the prickly ground foliage.
At ancient Palekastro (remember "old castle" mentioned about an hour ago?) we found an active dig, open to the public where a major Minoan palace is being unearthed - it's where they unearthed the old boy Kouros whom we had met in the museum.
From there the road led past touristy but beautiful Vai Beach with its unique palm groves and on to a lovely taverna on the sea at Ancient PaleKastro.
The crew's lunch was fab - complete with fresh seafood risotto, homemade myzithra cheese and veg pies, a scrumptious salad of assorted local greens, all washed down with a carafe of a local monastery's biological white wine and topped off with slices of ice cold watermelon for dessert. A beach walk, swim and peak at the monastery completed our afternoon before another grocery store load up and rental car return (we never pass up the chance to schlep heavy groceries in an actual automobile - much easier than our bikes!) As usual, the photographer's clicking was a bit out of control, so check out more pics in the Eastern Crete Photo Gallery.
Now, if you think we're going to let you off the hook about now - NOT! We just couldn't resist one more super bit. Seems we're always on the lookout for the perfect combo B&B/Gourmet Restaurant for our pals Gina and George to take over in semi-retirement. Well we found it! But rather than bore you with more verbiage, we actually made a video clip - so just click here and be amazed.
Next stops Karpathos and Khalki in the Dodecanese Isalnds!
Cruiser's Notes: "Marina" and dock side charges varied from Rethymno's €1.50/day and a small surcharge for water & electricity to free at Sitia (water only, no elec for us). However, port fees were collected at all and the price was consistent: a one-time harbor fee of €4.20, calculated for our 14m length (€0.30 cents/mtr) and then a daily fee of €0.45 cents/mtr plus 23% VAT. Each port therefore was €8 to €9/day for us. Very good holding in the lagoon near Elounda and Spinalonga, but very gusty winds off the mountain sides each afternoon and most nights. Provisions were easy to find in most every area: local markets and a Carrefour in Rethymno, mini-markets with good supplies in Elounda and great options in Sitia: just two blocks north the pier and a couple west a cluster of very good veg shops, fish markets, butchers and bakeries supply most everyhting you need. But if you're looking for more, the Supermarkets "Ariadne" and Super SPAR are near by and easy by bike; the Lidl, however, requires a car which we hired for €28/day.