Tiny khalki is just a stone's throw from Rhodes and a great 45 mile offwind sail from Karpathos in a steady Force 5. It's rocky and barren, but that contrasts with the waterfront filled with brightly painted stone villas that used to belong to sea captains. Khalki used to thrive on sponge diving, but when that dried up many residents emmigrated to Tarpon Springs, FL, where they continue to support the island from afar. In the montage you'll see the old mansions that festoon the harbor and if you look closely you'll spot the tallest belfry in the Dodecanese.
Now, wasn't this a nice short blog?
Cruiser's Notes: Floating pontoons at 10€ per day - water, no electricity. We anchored on north side of bay.
----- VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED ------
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.
Chania's Venetian harbor was a perfect place for us to enjoy long, lazy lunches after exploring the area's winding back alleys, covered market, archaeological and naval museums, and massive fortifications. It also provided a convenient port for us to leave Sangaris for an inland trip to the Samaria Gorge, but more about that in its own blog as it deserves that special attention. The only "not so perfect" part of our stay was the "full-on" late night cafe and bar scene just off our stern ... we think it would be better to visit a bit earlier or later in the season.
The "foodie pics" in the photo collage above show us checking out local herbs in the market, octopus waiting for a taverna chef's grill and a typical lunch of aubergine stuffed with vegetables and graviera cheese next to lamb and beef meatballs with mint; Kath's lunch always included stamnagkahi - local wild greens. The other photos were taken from our cockpit: the sidewalk scene complete with horse and buggy and an evening view of the harbor's Venetian lighthouse.
Each day in Chania we set out to visit different town attractions before stopping for a taverna (or Sangaris) lunch and then a rest during the afternoon (90+ degree) heat. One of our cultural outings included stops at three different religious sites: the Orthodox Cathedral, the restored Etz Hayyim Synagogue and the prominent Mosque of Kioutsouk Hasan, now used for art exhibitions. Pictured below are (clockwise from top left) carved metal-plate offerings from Cathedral parishioners, a neglected, but highly ornamental Venetian door-front, the mosque's exterior being restored and a garden outside the synagogue. Several other photos from the synagogue, which has been restored, and historical site memorializing Chania's former Jewish population, all victims of Nazi occupation in WWII, plus more views of Etz Hayyim and surrounding Chania sights are in the gallery.
Finally, the last set of images below are from the archaeological museum, housed in the impressive 16th c. Venetian Church of San Francisco, a former mosque. Its collection of finds from western Crete date from the Neolithic to the Roman eras and include statues, vases, floor mosaics and some painted sarcophagi from a nearby Minoan cemetery. The glass perfume bottles, clay lamps and ceramic animals pictured below are believed to have been burial offerings found in tombs in Chania's "Kastelli" (old town). Among the oldest and most unique artifacts were ancient tablets inscribed with "Linear A and Linear B" language recordings. Archaeologists believe the tablet markings refer to various plant and animal products along with their related values, indicating a system of economic administration. At the bottom right is a tall 'bird vase' dating from early Minoan times, around 2150 BC!
An utterly fantastic hike through the 10 mile long Samaria Gorge - the pics tell it all, except for the three days afterwards nursing our sore "pegs". Fit mountain goats we are not! After a 60 mile sail from Kapsali we arrived in Crete with hopes of escaping more of the 40 knot Meltemi winds that were forecast back in Kapsali. Plus we were looking forward to exploring Greece's big island. So now we're tied to Chania's town "quay" (dock) just to the left of the lighthouse pictured in the top corner. Looking a the row of cafes behind us, we spotted a sign that made us wonder if we'd made a bad navigation error and were back in Florida! .... make lemonade!" While it took some doing, the result was delicious. In this case the bitter bit was an afternoon of very uncomfortable sailing in steadily increasing winds that built to Force 7 and 8, that's 28 to 40 knots or some 50 miles per hour! 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. 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). 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.
Top left & around: Wild Oleanders growing everywhere. The two of us about to pass the narrows, behind. Well, Craig looks a little like a rock climber (a bit of a stretch). Amazing vistas down the gorge; the two little people you see in the photo below the climber are us! Finally reached the ocean, the Libyan Sea.
More pics in the gallery, including new friends Jessie & Ben from Toronto who joined us aboard Sangaris later the same evening.
Cruisers' Notes: We took a 7:30 am bus from Chania, about 1.5 hour to the Gorge entrance thru beautiful orange grove filled foothills before the big climb. 5E park entrance fee; Lonely Planet says hike is 4-6 hrs ~ we didn't dawdle but took 6.5! Fresh water along the way, happy to have a packed lunch. The Gorge is huge and 100s passed through on the same day, but all very spread out, not at all crowded. After hike took boat to Hora Sfakion where we the boarded bus for 2 hr ride back to Chania; total transp (rt bus/boat ~ 20E pp) ... long day but well worth it! (Tourist "i" has all the details for transp)
They even got the "glitz" spot on.
Check out our gallery for more pics!
The swell from the north wind does wrap around the harbor mouth and rocks us to and fro but not so much that we haven't been off the boat each day to walk the waterfront, see the Naval museum and wander some of the narrow lanes a bit away from the deluge of summer weekend tourist traffic. In Splantzia, the former Turkish quarter, we found one of Hania's two remaining Minarets with a delightful lunch taverna nearby.
It's Monday morning and we've just fueled up and will soon be off to town to take care of some of life's ordinary tasks: food shopping, laundry, internet "top off" cards, possibly a haircut for Kath and a dive tank refill and see about getting a calmer berth for a few more days to safely leave the boat for a day's car rental.
Cruiser's Notes: diesel at the quay this AM, 1.55E/ltr, water 3E for 1000 ltrs and electricity for about 5E/day. The town quay is heaving with tourists and loud with music at night, but anchoring out is not an option with N wind. Spent arrival night in Kolimvari - good protection but no facilities - a sizeable resort town with INKA supermarket.
And, to make matters worse we needed to sail upwind before finding the one and only nearby safe harbor of Kapsali on the southern tip of Kythera Island. Seems the first of the season's strong North winds - a Meltemi - had not been forecast on Monday evening when we planned our early Tuesday morning departure.
Ah, but the very tasty lemonade turned out to be the lovely town of Kapsali, which could have been a miss and remained unexplored if we hadn't made the best of our situation.
So, two days after dropping anchor in the wonderfully protected harbor and sitting out continued gusty NE winds, which now were clearly shown on the weather forecasts, we're sitting snug on two anchors, enjoying a light 10 knot breeze and some cool lemonade after a hot morning's hike to Hora, Kythera's old capital town. We checked the boat (which was behaving very nicely in much lighter conditions) and the stunning view at every turn in the switchback road that led us to the Hora and its cluster of Cycladic-looking (white, blue shuttered) houses. So take a sip with us and enjoy the scenery (another mountaintop 13th c. Venetian fort!); more pics in the photo gallery!
Note to cruisers: The Greek Pilot suggests that this harbor, open to the south is often untenable and that anchoring requires Port Police permission. Our experience was one of excellent protection (with NE Force 4-6) excellent holding in sand, and helpful port police who stamped us in & out, gave us the anchor "OK" and only charged us for one night @ 5.40E. The beachfront is lined with shady tavernas and a mini-market has limited provisions (more up the steep hill in Hora). Kapsali is described to be heaving with tourists in July & August, but not so during our June 21-24 stay.
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.
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.
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.
After a 60 mile sail from Kapsali we arrived in Crete with hopes of escaping more of the 40 knot Meltemi winds that were forecast back in Kapsali. Plus we were looking forward to exploring Greece's big island. So now we're tied to Chania's town "quay" (dock) just to the left of the lighthouse pictured in the top corner. Looking a the row of cafes behind us, we spotted a sign that made us wonder if we'd made a bad navigation error and were back in Florida!
.... make lemonade!" While it took some doing, the result was delicious. In this case the bitter bit was an afternoon of very uncomfortable sailing in steadily increasing winds that built to Force 7 and 8, that's 28 to 40 knots or some 50 miles per hour!
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.
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).
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.