10/06/2013, Symi, Greece
Modern Greek cuisine has naturally evolved from traditional peasant cooking and in our experience has not travelled too far in an adventurous direction. Reflecting on the delicious subtleties of French cuisine and the interesting but fairly predictable Italian cuisine of fish, meat, olives, tomatoes, basil, capers, olive oil combinations with or without pasta, the Greek cuisine comes in third with much the same combinations as the Italians with less basil and more lamb evident. Also immediately apparent is that the Greek people generally have considerable more girth than the French or Italians, which is at least due in part to the high fat content in the diet. Lamb served with french fries ( at least to tourists), full cream thick yoghurt and feta cheese as staples are clues.
We have enjoyed the 'Greek Salad' throughout our journey, the surprise being a flat slice of feta cheese atop the salad. Early on, Brad innocently asked pointing to a salad on the menu if this was a 'Greek Salad', to which the reply came 'they are all Greek salads on the menu'......doh! There are some more adventurous forms of the salad to be found and the best has included capers, pinenuts and anchovies with very delicious tomatoes, served with absolutely fresh ingredients, dressed with balsamic vinegar mixed with olive oil.
Fish is readily available but often not all that appealing, due to size and cost. Small fish such as red mullet and sardines are commonly on the menu, served fried and piled high on the plate. The trouble with the red mullet is that the bones are sharp and numerous but the sardines are tasty and delectable. Sea bream and bass have been available but our best fish meal has been the rarely seen red snapper, fresh from the trawlers and costing a hefty €55 per kilo with serving size around 1.2 kgs. The best fish restaurants will bring a tray of fish to the table to allow personal selection but recently we were taken to a chiller fridge with stainless steel drawers that had fish separated and graded according to size. Octopus is generally available, served in a variety of ways: fried, marinated or added to pasta. It has is a light and tasty firm flesh and has always been tender. We have seen large octopus left dangling on a timber horse in the sun, probably already having had a good thrashing. Calamari is also standard fare but shrimps when available are small or frozen when large and not at all like our Australian 'monsters' in flavour.
Greek natural yoghurt deserves a mention, which is a stable in the diet. We have happily added it to our breakfast menu on board but one cafe breakfast we were served a large yoghurt goblet with fresh fruit topped with honey...yum. Frozen yoghurt is plentiful on the streets served in cones and a common offering on the dessert menu is natural yoghurt served with Greek honey and nuts (pistachios). Feta cheese is also plentiful and is commonly served in restaurants fried with sesame seeds as a starter.
Talking desserts, we have rarely ordered dessert and it seems you never leave a meal table without being served a sweet treat such as baklava or almond flavoured syrupy slice along with a liquor or port and surprisingly we have not been offered ouzo. The one exception was a recent meal at 'La Vaporetta', (unusually) an Italian restaurant in Symi, where we all chose a seafood pasta dish and had hot chocolate soufflé to finish and served with lemon gelato to our surprise. Talking chocolate, it is available but not a feature in the diet.
Lamb has been tender and is mostly slow cooked. There are a range of cuts that we don't recognise, but when cooked on the bone it is delicious. Lamb shank, lamb cooked in garlic and a lamb dish slow cooked with capsicum, tomatoes and cheese have all been enjoyable. Lamb souvlaki has been available but we have not ordered it. Giros of either pork or chicken served in pita with chips and a slither of tomato was probably the worst quick lunch meal we've eaten and it gave us all indigestion.
We've done plenty of meal preparation on board particularly when in isolated anchorages. We rotate the chefs and have had some really enjoyable meals served in the Trilogy style. The pressure cooker is an effective way of creating tender flavoursome meals in one pot and tasty pasta or rice dishes have been easy to prepare. The most memorable meals were a chilli based pork pot roast and kofta meatballs braised in a tomato and zucchini based sauce. Fresh fruit and vegetables are available but somewhat scarce away from the bigger centres. Most sizeable townships have a bakery but a lot of what is on offer are dried breads. With the freezer in action, we have been able to buy rustic style bread sticks for toast and alfresco lunches and have it whenever desired.
We learnt only yesterday from the restauranteur at Nireas Restaurant in Rhodes ( Certificate of Excellence 2013 from Trip Advisor), that in truly traditional Greek tavernas, food is served as it is ready in the kitchen and comes to the table for sake of freshness, rather than to a menu plan. This made us relax when salad came well before the calamari and octopus and the grilled vegetables (chosen as an appetiser) arrived last. The question remains in our mind, is this true or was it a ploy to take pressure off the kitchen staff and keep the guests from hassling the floor staff when things are completely out of an expected sequence?
As always we have enjoyed the beer of the land, with draught Mythos in chilled glasses being our preference throughout this voyage. We have been mostly happy with the house wines served in half or one litre carafes, which are light flavoured compared to French or Australian wines. All up, we have tried to carefully select where we have eaten, with a lot of help from the internet and we feel we've experienced good but not exceptional cuisine. No complaints about the service, which has been cheerful and accommodating, and the generous custom of sweet treats and liquors to complete the meal is a very nice finishing note.
The original passage plan was to get away by 10:00 but as the Russians wanted to leave at 09:00 for their day in Santorini, we went with that after hosing the decks down to get rid of the dirt they had tracked all over Trilogy.
We headed slightly SE to Nisos Anafi, the southeastern most of the Cyclades. Trilogy had made good the passage and a revised passage plan had us sailing for the port of Skala on Nisos Astipalaia, to the NE of Nisos Anafi. Trilogy sailed 50 nms and in the prevailing wind made good speed on a comfortable beam reach. Nisos Astipalaia, according to Rod Heikell's comprehensive pilot, describes this island as ' lying like an almost forgotten part of the Dodecanese, consisting of two mountain ranges joined by a slender isthmus. Until the Romans and later the English suppressed piracy in the Aegean, the island was a natural lair for pirates, with good shelter and a strategic position to pounce on merchant shipping!
Now that it is considered the low season for tourism and we were getting more remote , we had no trouble getting a safe sea wall berth in the little harbour for €15. We immediately felt inspired to explore the township that wrapped high around the port and a castle (for a change) perched on the highest point. We planned an expedition to the castle next morning, to stretch our climbing muscles and checked out the three local mini supermarkets for fresh provisions before dining to celebrating Brad and Heidi's wedding anniversary at the beach side taverna. We relaxed and enjoyed the local taverna's food and house wine, with a beautiful warm evening embracing us. The guys checked the weather forecast before going to bed and it was not at all promising, so we went to bed uncertain of what the morrow would bring.
Sure enough, the sky had changed from it's brilliant cloudless blue by the morning and we made hasty plans to depart, not before a hurried shopping trip for fruit 'n veg and bread at the local bakery. The forecast was for gale force winds for several days in two days time and we needed to position ourselves well for that daunting prospect. The sky had already delivered rain before we set sail and on an 8-9 knot beam reach we charged across the swell and got hit by two squalls that delivered lightning, winds of over 30 knots across the deck and some very tricky sail downsizing and helming gymnastics. The guys donned their foul weather gear just in time and Trilogy sat tight through the onslaught. Sally and Heidi bunkered down below, with Heidi using the 'business as usual' strategy for Sally and her response was that we were riding on see-saws!
With another big day of 55 nms covered, we were all delighted to make landfall at Nisos Nisyros, in the relative shelter of ferry port of Mandraki, relative because it is very exposed to the NE, from whence the prevailing meltemi beckons. Luck was with us and the forecast held true, allowing us a safe stern to mooring for the night. The port policeman took his job seriously and greeted us with a firm request to the skipper to present his ship's papers, along with log book. With all formalities completed we went off to explore this pretty white washed township that climbs elegantly across the hillside and narrow winding streets with tavernas along the sea wall. A cooling Mythos beer watching the beautiful sunset and red sun soaked cumulonimbus rising high with flashes of sheet lightening dancing around finished the pleasant wander. Heidi cooked a delicious pork pot roast and potatoes gratin to end our day.
10/01/2013, Mandraki, Nisyros Island
Feeling a bit sad to be leaving Paros, our next port of call was Nisos Ios. This island is mountainous and barren and is claimed to be the burial place of Homer. An apocryphal story, Homer is said to have died at sea, his body thrown overboard and later washed up on the beach where the sand buried him. Fast forward and his body is now buried on the northern slopes of Mt Pirgos we are lead to believe. Today, the island 's popularity is with the young sun lovers, with nude bathing well tolerated all around the island, although technically still illegal in Greece.
We anchored in a quiet bay known as Ormos Kolitzani, around a headland or two from Port Ios. Impressive local stone combined with white washed houses dotted the bay and at night, many had lights on, indicating they were more than holiday mansions. One perched up from the water line had separate quarters on the waters edge occupied by several bronzed Greek 'gods' and sure enough, nudity was the dress code. Sally, Brad and Heidi motored ashore to the lovely sandy beach for the essential daily energy release for Sal, while Garth, Ros and John all enjoyed the deep clear blue water surrounding Trilogy. Heidi surprised us by swimming back to Trilogy over quite some distance, as she had lovingly offered to prepare Ros's birthday dinner of delicious beef tagine with couscous. Everyone opted for more swim time the next morning before departing for Nisos Thira (Santorini ), a large island that was clearly visible to us the night before by the loom of the lights on the horizon.
Santorini is a giant volcano and as such, the main island (Nisos Thira) is shaped like a crescent moon, encircling the rim of the crater now filled with water. Nisos Thirasia forms another part of the rim and in the middle of the crater are two small black masses of cinder and lava, the volcanic plug. Thira has very steep cliffs on the crater rim and consequently there is very deep water in the crater. Trilogy motored 16 nms back and forth across the crater and in spite of all endeavours, it was concluded it was inhospitable to Trilogy's safety. Our pilot information had been more optimistic but it was not to be. With the sun starting to bathe the cliffs in beautiful hues, we left the crater for a more promising anchorage on the southern aspect of the island. This turned out to be well protected although subject to some swell throughout the night. We were kept company by a large inter island ferry, that we concluded must have had a mechanical issue. We were surrounded by towering cliffs with spectacular white housing (and inevitable church) perched on high. The sun sinking low on the horizon painted the cliffs softly gold and later pink to our enormous delight. Early next morn we headed further SE to a marina at Vilkadha, where we nudged our way into the tricky shallow entry and tied off along side. This was not a nice marina, more of an active fishing port and we ended up with a Russian crewed charter yacht tied on our port side. Volcanic black footprints covered the foredeck as this crew thoughtlessly clamoured across Trilogy with unwashed feet.
Our day in Santorini was in some ways just as disappointing. We caught a taxi into town through very barren fields of withered grass or grape vines allowed to spread across the bare earth, derelict buildings probably abandoned with the economic downturn, and nothing of interest to even observe, except a roadside stall selling wooden (olive wood) and basket ware. Once in Santorini, the pace was hectic, with four cruise ships disgorging their population onto the island via a steep cable car, or aromatic donkey ride up the cliff face steps. We retreated to a quiet restaurant Naoussa (we immediately felt at home) with large open views over the crater. Greek salads, grilled sardines, moussaka, sea bream with tzazliki on bread filled our empty tummies, along with icy Mythos beer. After our late lunch concluded we had some more free time to gaze at the numerous jewellery shops (sprukers lurking to entice you), visit the local Cathedral and any other cool retreat, while gazing at the incredible view. Weary, we were happy to pass up an evening meal on the cliff top gazing at the changing colours, and head back to Trilogy for a shower and fish meal at the Dimitris, the local taverna up a steep staircase above the marina, where chargrilled red snapper was served fresh from the trawlers below.
A final note on Thira: the Atlantis legend first recorded by Plato which has baffled historians since, has in the last forty years moved to Greece. Plato's description of an ancient island civilisation which vanished after a natural catastrophe is now believed to be the fabled island of Thira.
09/30/2013, Skala, Astipalaia
Sally's contribution to the cruise has been immense. Being the youngest crew member to date in Trilogy's adventures, it was an unknown as to how one so young would cope with all that would be asked of her. Like all children who have strong parental guidance and love, Sally has taken everything in her stride, in her own inimitable way. Full of delight and embracing of her ship mates, we were quickly renamed Wozie, Garfie and Johnny, and Sally herself likes to be known as Sally B (Beatrice, banana, bear or beautiful).
Mummy and Daddy were by far her favourites but we all were drawn into her imaginary world of Beady and Goady, which she retreated to when she needed to escape. Sally had to learn the new rules that seemed to expand daily, but she listens well and astounds us by her grasp of understanding. Like all children she wants to stretch the boundaries, but with vigilance from all the adults she has had an adequate safety net.
Sally has consumed several sticker books and has entertained us all (and at times the whole beach) singing her favourite songs with great gusto. Brad has brought his guitar on board and many quiet singalongs with Sally have been wonderful. Sally is pretty headstrong and has boundless energy, so Heidi has been the loving mother there at all times for the reassuring cuddles. Not that anyone can complain about lack of cuddles.
Sally doesn't sleep during the day which means she has tolerated restaurant lunches very well. At night she is able to keep going to well after her dinner (with a little help from Peppa Pig), and if it is a night for a taverna meal, she has crashed on a makeshift bed of chairs and pillows. The Greeks love children!
All up, our darling Sally is a very worthy crew member, contributing with helpfulness and loads of humour! Well done Sally.
Leaving Mykinos behind in the distance we had a couple of hours motor sail to Paros Island and the port of Naousa , situated on the north coast in the large Plastira Bay.
White marble made Paros prosperous from the Early Cycladic period onwards, most famously the Venus De Milo, as was Napoleon's tomb.Keen to enjoy some tranquility overnight, we anchored in a protected bay close to the entry, surrounded by a fairly barren landscape of nature reserve crisscrossed by walking trails.
The water was calling us for a swim, so before gin 'n tonics were imbibed, we relaxed in the refreshing water. Next morning some of us snorkelled to shore, but predictably very few fish were spotted. However under Trilogy, we noted quite a few gar(th)fish, which made the skipper very happy. A local fisherman later arrived to try his luck with 'our' fish and we thought him rather clever as he gently rowed standing up with two oars as well as managing his hand lines. As our Greek was totally inadequate, we could not ask all the questions we were wanting answers to. Also to entertain our eyes was the inevitable church perched on the knoll which was replete with bride and groom the night before and a water sport centre also tucked into the corner of the bay.
By lunchtime we motored across the bay to the Naousa marina, a tiny picturesque once quiet fishing town which immediately won our hearts. Our washing machine did its duty and in no time the laundry was all completed, even though Trilogy looked a bit disheveled in the process. By late afternoon when the heat had dissipated the crew dispersed to explore on foot.
There was a certain sophistication found here; elegant seaside cafes, a small arched bridge across a stream in the town centre, a lovely beach with yellow sand and large white smooth pebbles that begged you to hold them, a well equipped children's playground that delighted Sally, a large twin towered church on the hill, bougainvillea draped white washed houses and a shopping precinct that was beautifully lit by night. Smart boutiques and jewellery stores to tantalise completed the appeal, along with a collection of several excellent restaurants.
We enjoyed a tasty meal in the balmy evening (little Sally being provided with cushions to sleep on) at the Open Garden Restaurant. Our meal choices for mains were octopus in risoni, chicken fillet in honey, grandma's meatballs, slow cooked lamb shank and chicken cooked in basil and tomatoes.
It was too good to leave next day, so we caught the local bus to Paroikia the island's lively main port and town. After fortifying ourselves with delicious coffee and croissant from the local patisserie, we headed through the labyrinthine old town to visit the Panagia Ekatondapyliani. What on earth is that you ask? Of course, it is a church, one of the finest churches of the Cyclades, dating from AD326. There are three churches within the compound and the claim is made there are 99 doors between them. Mythology promises that if the one hundredth doorway is found, Istanbul will return to the Greeks! Onto a small Archaeological Museum nearby to view some marvellous pieces, including the priceless Parian Chronicle, a historical record of the artistic achievements of Ancient Greece up to 264BC.
In the afternoon we headed back to Naousa for a delicious swim and a wash down of the decks. We headed off for another wonderful meal at SoSo, where more delicious combinations of local flavours delighted our palates. Being Ros's birthday celebration dinner, the chef surprised us with a chocolate/banana/hazelnut gateau for dessert that was stunningly good. Their last laugh was the candle that defied being extinguished! We wandered back to the marina feeling contented with all that we had experienced.
Monday dawned both sunny and very windy with the meltemi still howling in from the NE. Trilogy's crew decided to explore the famous ruins of Delos. The local bus delivered them at speed to Mykonos town after a slalom ride along narrow roads hedged with stone walls, past bone-dry, stone strewn fields. The wind, however, was not the only problem to confront the crew. It was Monday - and on Mondays in Greece the museums and archaeological sites are closed. The ferries weren't running to Delos. A quick reordering of priorites followed - we would explore Mykonos town instead; Delos could wait for tomorrow.
The picture postcards of blinding white cube buildings with electric blue shutters hardly do justice to Mykonos. The old town is a labyrinth of alleyways built over hundreds of years to prevent the meltemi from blasting its occupants away, while also providing welcome shade from the summer sun. In ancient times the maze of alleyways also provided protection from pirates, but more recently they have made a brilliant trap for tourists, fated to wander lost in the alleyways among the designer shops, around restaurants, tavernas and cafes and past small plazas with their fuschia bouganvillea and tortured topiaried gum trees. Only by emptying their wallets can escape be made.
A good lunch at Katerinas by the sea revived the crew and enabled them to set out to "do" the historic sites of Mykonos in the heat of the afternoon, including the 14th century Paraportiani church; the Maritime Museum of the Aegean; the artist's quarter (aka Little Venice); and the art gallery - and to find some ice-cream for little Sally!
By Tuesday the meltemi had started to ease and we rose early to catch the bus back to Mykonos. We had expected to share the bus with Greeks going to work - but no! At that early hour no workers were queued to board the bus, only children on their way to school. Breakfast by the port was followed by a short ferry ride to Delos and a few hours exploring the excellent ruins.
Delos was, according to ancient Greek legend, the birthplace of Apollo (the sun-god) and his twin sister Artemis (the moon god). It had become a major religious centre by 700 BC and subsequently, due to Roman intervention against Rhodes, a major free port. Unfortunately it was also an early example of free trade failing to maintain a defensive shield (Delos had no defensive walls) and was sacked twice by its enemies. The last sacking by pirates in 69 BC was fatal - the 20,000 inhabitants were enslaved and the town pillaged - it never recovered and went into long term decline. It is now one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece - much visited by cruise ships and tourists who have escaped from Mykonos' alleyways.
That afternoon, after returning from Delos, as the meltemi had at last relented, Trilogy reluctantly left Mykonos for the nearby Island of Paros.