It is hard to top our last port of Pilos but this harbor, bounded by a large fort with its landmark octagonal tower, is a sure favorite. Sailing south in very light air and making only 3 knots is not a bad way to while away an afternoon and had us at anchor in the tranquil bay by 5pm. We walked the town in the evening and the next morning set off for a proper trek through Methoni's vast and romantic fortress.
Its fields of onion blossoms (some with snails hanging on!) - that's Craig checking their freshness (the onions, not the snails!) , fennel and wildflowers interspersed amongst the Turkish Baths, a cathedral, a cistern, parapets and many underground passages were an intriguing delight.
Although initially Turkish, this strategic fort was the Venetian's first and longest held possession in the Peloponnese. During medieval times the twin fortresses of Methoni and Koroni (our next stop) were key to Venetian shipping routes and known as "the Eyes of the Serene Republic (of Venice)".
Note to cruisers: Methoni provides a well-protected anchorage with good holding in sand and a long dock for easy dinghy access. The town is small and friendly with P.O., various veg, bread & butcher shops, even a Carrefour Express". Lunch out for 2 with iced coffees and mezhedes (small meat, cheese, veg "tapas") at a small main street cafe was only 5Euros! Koroni anchorage off town is open to the north but was fine in settled weather.
With a few days of strong Northwest winds in the offing we chose to stay put and get to know the Pilos area. Our entry to its huge natural harbor called Navarino Bay was marked by a distinctive and much-photographed group of rocks which had a "key-hole opening" (top left).
Of course the bizarre idea of trying to thread the needle with Sangaris emerges from the Captain's cranium - which is why we also have the Admiral on-board. So, needless-to-say, going around, not through, the rocky structure, we were greeted by a spectacular view of the Neo-Kastro ("new" castle) fortress in Pilos town (top right looking out over the bay, after we got there).
But, with the looming NW blow, we decided to skip town for a bit and anchor in a protected corner of Navarino Bay with a spit of land separating us from the huge fresh water Giavola lagoon. We read that Gialova is home to 20,000 assorted migratory waterbirds ... between September and March. Oh well, no flamingos, ducks or heron in sight but we still loved the view and enjoyed a couple of days whilst the wind kept things fresh.
But the town's free marina and access to town beckoned, so we weighed anchor and spent another couple of days tied to a pier end - a bit odd as we stuck out 20 feet on either side of the pier, but we were snug. (Look closely at the end of the dock at left.) With easy access to town, the fortress grounds and gorgeous hilltop sunset vistas, we also made a fun connection with new cruisers Pauline and Ian aboard "Arcadia Too". This very enthusiastic and ambitious couple had literally just sailed all the way from England in the last two months - some 3000 miles! Good on you guys for making it happen!
Here's a couple of shots of "Neo Kastro" as we walked through. It was built in 1573 by the Turks and then occupied by the Venetians, before being taken over again by the Turks. That ended with the dramatic "Battle of Navarino" where 26 allied English, Russian and French ships-of-the-line sailed directly into the midst of the enemy Turkish and Egyptian fleet with three times that number - and proceeded to win the battle!
This 1827 battle is what ended Greece's war of Independence from Turkey and was well documented in the castle's museum. The castle grounds remain in good condition with formidable walls, a citadel, a mosque converted into a church and a courtyard surrounded by dungeons used as a prison until the 1990's.
And here is the view from the hillside above the town - great sunset & sundowner spots at the "Hotel Pierre" and the "12 Gods" taverna, both up a winding track of road above the "marina".
We topped off our week in Pilos by returning to the anchorage so we could dinghy ashore do the serious hike to the summit of the mountainous point, up to the next bay and then back alongside the Gialova lagoon. Setting off early with sturdy shoes and bottled water it was up the rugged Korphasion Hill to the Paleokastro (old castle) ruins at the summit.
There was amazing scenery both near and far - the far bit being out to sea and across the Bay, as you'd expect, but the amazing near scenery was just above our heads all along the path. Check out this picture - those things that look like big black dots are actually HUGE spiders in their webs and there were literally thousands of them wherever you looked. They were always either above or outside of the path, never in our faces, thank heavens, but talk about creepy - gives us shivers just thinking about it.
So narrowly escaping the killer arachnids (we're sure) and arriving at the castle (which you can see in the background if you can take your eyes off the spiders) we ducked inside to the extensive but crumbling ruins. After a fair amount of searching - this isn't your groomed US/UK hiking trail - we found a "challenging" rocky path out the other side. It was pretty much straight down, sometimes on all fours.
Halfway down we came to "Nestor's" cave, which may have been the one mentioned in the Odyssey where Nestor and Neleus kept their cows and where Hermes hid Apollo's sacred cattle. Back to the opening montage, in the bottom middle picture you can see Kath checking out the inside of the cave. She couldn't picture anything other than goats (or crazy cruiser's) making their way to the cave, but those guys were all gods and could do amazing stuff.
None too soon, thankfully, the path turned into soft white sand dunes high above a perfect horseshoe bay, again referring back to the opening montage on the bottom left, with its gorgeous white-sand Voidhokoilia Beach. Then a good path alongside Gialova lagoon took us back to the beach and dinghy. What a mix of terrain and what a good workout topped off with a welcome swim in our "pool".
You can see larger versions of these pics and more in the gallery.
Free marina (no services) in Pilos. User friendly Port Police for check-in. Easy fuel deliver to main quay by small truck and unlimited water for 5E - pay at Mayor's office or call posted number.
You may think we do too much touring and photograph way too many ruins ... we do! But, hey, this is Greece, so, having sailed 50ish miles south along the west coast of the Pelopennisos to Katakolon, we stopped in the little marina there and the next day took a 30 minute train ride to ancient Olympia where superb museums and extensive, you got it, ruins, awaited us.
We started at the archaeological museum and could easily visualize the ancient grounds and buildings and begin to appreciate all the training, competition, worship, orgies, sacrifices, and celebrations that were part of the historical games.
There we learned that the first of these athletic events started in 776 BC and honored the goddess Rea and son Zeus and continued every four years from Mycenean, through classical Greek and Roman times until a killjoy Roman Emperor ended the 'pagan events' in 394 AD. Talk about a long run -that's like 1170 years - eat your heart out Broadway!
The most popular 'games' were wrestling, discus, javelin, long jump and running. All athletes were male and all competition was done in the buff. Spectators numbered as many as 45,000 - again all male except for a few lucky gals who got special tickets with family connections or that snuck in - if caught they were tossed over a cliff...really.
One unusual event described in the museum included "acrobatic somersaults over upended swords" but for some reason that never made it to modern times (hmm, naked young men flippin' over swords - gee, wonder why that wasn't a keeper?).
Next was a walk through the, thankfully, well-shaded grounds of the large site where temple, gymnasium and treasury foundations, broken altar columns and a huge stadium were unearthed by German archaeologists in the late 1800's, a series of earthquakes and floods having virtually buried the grounds for many centuries. There's an aerial view of it all in the top left photo and, to the right, two pix of Craig showing his form at the discus and at the starting line of the running races.
In our photo gallery you'll see more pics of treasures and sculptures found amongst the ruins and, hopefully, some images that communicate the grand scale of this site. There's even a picture of the exact spot where the Olympic flame is ignited to kick off each of the modern Olympics.
So finishing our day trip and returning back to town in the hot afternoon sun, we found the dockside shops and taverns swarming with tourists as three cruise ships were in the harbor. The Port Captain said there had been a big surge as they entered and Sangaris had come close to being damaged on the quay! Not being big on that scene, we decided to cast off and head out to what we thought would be a well-protected anchorage for the night.
Unfortunately the winds shifted around the wrong way and gave us some nasty 'rock'n'roll' for another day and night with anchor drills and other great fun - sorry no pics of that. But that's all part of life on a slant.
As we wound up early season chores and planned a departure from the marina, it was time to say goodbye to local friends, visit the town's "Garden of Heroes" and spend a last evening cycling across the lagoon causeway.
We met up with Hilias and his entire family at his chandlery, snapping a pic of him at the checkout counter (top right). We bid farewell to Andreas at his "Fisherman's Restaurant" (from our last blog) and arranged a late afternoon tour at Messolonghi's memorial garden near the "Exodus Gate".
Licensed guide George Apostolakos (top middle pic) enthusiastically shared his passion for the local history and the bravery of the community. Monuments in the Garden honor Greek military leaders Botsaris and Kitsos, to say nothing of Britain's poet Lord Byron, who lived in and supported Messonlonghi during Greek's War of Independence (1821-30). That's Byron's statue behind us in the lower left pic with Botsaris' tomb above that.
We'd heard of this "sacred" town's fight for independence, but George brought to life the desperate conditions and sacrifice of the townspeople during sieges by Turkish and Egyptian warlords. The final one-year siege in 1825-6 drove 9000 people to escape through what is now called the Gate of Exodus. The remaining brave souls held on against all odds until finally faced with mass starvation. Even then, though, they made one final blow against the Turks by luring them into the main square, seemingly to surrender. Then, with thousands of the enemy in close proximity, they detonated their main arsenal, sacrificing their own lives at a huge cost to the enemy, rather than succumb to capture and slavery.
The next night, as a last hurrah, we cycled with our Australian friend Russ across the lagoon to Tourlida. There, at a colorful dockside restaurant, we enjoyed drinks and seafood mezedhes (appetizers) while watching local fisherman mend nets and sailors make their way up the canal to anchor in Messolonghi's calm harbor.
Note to cruisers: Marine Shop/Chandlery is "Sea World" (YDATINOS KOSMOS) owned by the most helpful Hilias Dedes. If a guided tour appeals, George specializes in Messolonghi's Etolo-Akarnania region and also leads tours Nikopolis, Thermo & ancient Delphi. Email: [email protected]
Messolonghi has been a welcoming town for cruisers either spending the winter or just s few weeks on either end of their season. Several locals became new friends to us as they provided for everything from chandlery supplies, historical tours, local cuisine, musical entertainment and even machine shop metalworking.
One of the most popular and entrepreneurial guys is Andreas who, with his hard-working wife Ria and daughter Angelika, offers up tasty homemade food and music nights at his Filoxenos Taverna. Fridays have been traditional Rebetiki, Greek "blues", nights with a couple of serious -looking guitar and bouzouki musicians. On Tuesdays cruisers bring their own guitars and throw "open-mike" sessions, sometimes with Andreas' own bouzouki accompaniment. As you may imagine, these last well into the wee hours and provide good fun for all. The photos above show Andreas playing his bouzouki with Craig trying out Sangaris' "Strumstick", Kath and Angelika, a Rebetiki trio and an instrument close-up.
Note to cruisers: Helios is a very helpful and knowledgeable chandlery owner and the shop is an easy walk from the marina. Alexos, the machinist, created some parts from scratch - a delrin block and a Stainless Steel bushing. His machine shop is off the main street "Spriou" not too far from the town gate and everyone knows where Andreas' Taverna is ... also an easy walk from the marina.
Craig's May 10th birthday celebration (39 and holding!) began with Kath and Sandra at the town quay fisherman's dock where a fresh selection was on offer. Menu planning was to be built around the "catch of the day" and we soon spotted some big, brown slimy skates - Rays, that is. With a little imagination we could envision skate au buerre noir, a classic French preparation with butter (of course!), vinegar, capers and parsley.
But first, how were we ever going to get that tough skin off, especially after fisherman Costos said "No, No" (we were hoping for "nei, nei" which means "yes" in Greek), but it was "no, skin is too difficult". Delaying for just a few moments, a crew member came up, said "I do" and 1/2 hour later the skins were laboriously cut with a very sharp blade and pulled off with some rusty old pliers ... why didn't we think of the butcher for some fresh lamb chops?
With "our catch" back aboard on ice, we cycled off to town to buy all the meal accompaniments, including a version of Craig's favorite dessert "Sticky Toffee Pudding".
Created the Greek way a chocolatey-spicey cake is laden with honey then covered with chocolate curls. We couldn't resist a selection of bakery treats, but that was certainly the best amongst the lot.
Deep Blue provided a happy venue for cockpit quaffs, one of Chris' famous English ales for Craig, and then a cozy dinner and dessert below. Thanks for hosting!
While we were still stateside in March, our dear British pals Sandra and Chris on Deep Blue wrote and suggested that we share a hire car - that'd be a rental car in American English - and take a trip inland upon our return. Our destination was to be one of Greece's most treasured sights - Meteora. The name is derived from the Greek adjective 'meteoros' which means "suspended from the air" and, indeed, the 14th and 15th century monasteries we were to see, atop soaring 1,500 to 2,000 foot tall rocky pinnacles were very high 'up in the sky' to say the least.
Luckily for us, Sandra volunteered to make all the arrangements, so a few days after our return to Messolonghi, the four of us drove north amidst spectacular views of springtime green fields and wildflowers, the massive "inland sea" called the Gulf of Amvraki and snowcapped mountains in the distance, as we approached the city of Ioannina, a former Byzantine and Ottoman empire cultural center.
Undeterred by rain, we walked around Ioannina's lakefront and old town (the Kastro) to see "Its Kale" (the inner citadel) the Victory mosque and the palace and tomb of Ali Pasha, the Albanian warlord whose fiefdom included most of Albania and Greece in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The picture here is of the palace and the decorative cast iron grillwork covers the tomb.
Sandra had picked a winner in the Hotel Brettania which provided comfy respite for the night replete with an elaborate bakery and breakfast bar for evening and morning treats.
Our second day saw unexpected morning sunshine for our drive to higher altitudes and the World Heritage site of Meteora. We were graciously welcomed at the family run Tsikeli Hotel in the town of Kastraki, and we even caught a live telecast of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Katharine before beginning to explore the strange and beautiful landscape.
In the earliest times the monasteries were reached by removable rope ladders, making them ideally inaccessible retreats that provided safe haven for hermit monks when Turkish incursions into Greece were on the rise. Today they are linked by roads at the bottom and then one walks up flights of heart-stopping steep stone steps to get to the rocky pinnacle tops where the monasteries themselves are precariously situated.
Our afternoon tour included visits to the largest Monastery (Moni in Greek) - Megalou Meteorou, plus Moni Agiou Niklaou and the peaceful nun's quarters at Moni Agias Rouanou. At each site Sandra and Kath were required to don full length wrap-around skirts over their long slacks and thus, modestly attired, we were able to see a portion of each monastery's grounds, courtyards, Katholikon (church), well preserved frescoes and, just to top it all off, witness the amazing surrounding scenery.
After a rest from our climbing back at our hotel, we toasted Meteora's rocky forest with traditional ouzo and then drove just 10 minutes out of Kastraki to a village called Dhiava where we dined at a unique tavern called Neromylos. Unique because they actually raise their own delectable trout in tanks constantly fed by the rushing fresh water of a former mill stream. Also amazing was that we four all had appetizers, grilled trout dinners, wine and dessert for just 53 € ($75)!
Saturday's itinerary included touring a couple more "Moni"s. One of those - Moni Agias Triados (Holy Trinity Monastery) - happens to have a recent claim to fame as it was featured in the 1981 James Bond film 'For Your Eyes Only'. We'll have to catch that up on Netflix this winter.
Nevertheless, the views from here across the valley are incredible and the true religious purpose of the Moni's dominates as each dawn and dusk, the talando is struck to call the faithful to prayer. That's a large wooden board suspended from the rafters on which an ancient rhythm is tapped out with a wooden mallet.
You'll see photos not only of the talando but also of Ioannina and the incredible views from atop the rock pinnacles of Meteora. Just click on "Photo Gallery" at the top of the column to the right and enjoy clicking through the show.
Once the weather turned cool last October, the rain became more frequent and northerly winds began to dominate, we knew it was time to end our Ionian sailing season and take Sangaris to Messolonghi. The trip there took us up a long shallow river surrounded by wetlands that are home to hundreds of species of birds and fertile fishing grounds for locals. The pictures above show some of the terrain and classic low-lying fishing boats that sail the shallows of Messolonghi.
Before we "put the boat up for the season" we had a wonderful visit with Maria & Ted who were visiting Greece before flying home to Ecuador after a summer season in the USA. Small world! - Maria was Jennifer's supervisor whilst she was in the Peace Corps in 2000-2002. A great visit last October and fun re-connection from when we were traveling there a decade ago.
Once we completed our "over-wintering chores" by stowing all sails, lines and equipment below, we left Sangaris securely tied to the dock and we went off to tour Athens for a couple of days. Two different "Athens photo albums" in the "photo gallery" show pics from our October 2010 and April 2011 visits to this ancient capital city.
Arriving back to Greece after a winter in the USA we rested up for a couple of days over Easter weekend in Athens and then moved on to find Sangaris in good order. Pals Sandra & Chris were aboard their "Deep Blue" on the same dock and gave us a very warm welcome, delicious meals and help to begin our season's 'to-do list'. Thank you dear friends!
(above referenced pics and more in three new photo albums: "Messolonghi", "Athens October" and "Easter in Athens" ... see right column, click "Photo Gallery" & enjoy!)
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.