We hadn't expected the Gulf of Corinth to be such a pleasant cruising ground. After two days in Trizonia, we might have just hurried through the Corinth Canal and into the Aegean Sea, but we really couldn't sail right past Delphi without seeing it. We chose to pull into Galaxadhi mainly because of its proximity to Delphi, but it turned out to be one of the most beautiful anchorages yet!
A Lunenburg native could feel right at home in Galaxadhi. A prosperous boat-building centre in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Galaxadhi is now a sleepy little town where not much seems to happen outside tourist season. The narrow cobblestone streets and steep stairways ascending and descending among picturesque stone houses give the town an Italianate appearance, but the churches and the culture are unmistakably Greek.
Reportedly, Galaxadhi can become crowded with tourists and Athenians during the summer and on the weekends, but the streets were quiet throughout our stay. During the last week of August, we had crossed the magical line that separates high season from low season. Suddenly we have very little competition for space in anchorages, historic sites or cafés.
From our anchorage in the old harbour, we are surrounded by beautiful sites: the dramatic bulk of Mount Parnassos and the surrounding mountains, the chapel on the tiny island at the mouth of the harbour, the shady park on the headland, the domed towers of the large Orthodox church in the town and the old windmills on the hills behind the park. We have left the lush greens of the Ionian islands behind us, and the landscape across the water looks as dry and barren as the Sierra Nevadas in Spain.
Our morning runs take us along a seawall overlooking water so clear that we can count the spines of sea urchins, past the fishing boats and yachts on the dock of the new harbour, into the shade of the cedars and pines of the park and past a small pebbly beach where a few senior citizens are paddling, sun-hats firmly in place. Later in the day, we peruse the inventory of the succession of tiny supermarkets and shops along the main street and visit the Church of Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas) where the intricately-carved altar screen (inexplicably topped by a skull and crossbones) is an amazing work of art. A little reconnaissance by Rick turns up the information that the bus for Delphi leaves from the square at 10 a.m. in the morning.
Relying on the kindness of strangers is a strategy that works quite well in Greece, where people's natural tendency toward helpfulness frequently motivates them to come to the rescue of bewildered-looking strangers. Just as we begin to feel uneasy that the bus has not appeared, we are taken under the wing of an elderly woman travelling to her home in Athens. She assures us that the bus will arrive in due course. Her face lights up at the mention of Delphi. "You are going to omphalos yios
" she said, pointing at her belly-button, "the navel of the earth". She is also delighted to hear that we are from Halifax and tells us that many years ago, when her husband was a commander in the Greek merchant navy, she had travelled to Halifax and through the St. Lawrence seaway with him. We continue our conversation as we change buses in Itea and Rick helps her manhandle her unwieldy bags into the luggage compartment of the bus. The fires outside Athens are finally under control, she tells us, but three million trees have burned. Her sister's home, which was close to one of the fires, is now safe, but all the plants on her balcony have died from the extreme heat. When we reach the town of modern Delphi, we also meet Claudia and Gerhardt from Austria, who have just sailed west through the Corinth canal. They tell us that they had seen the glow of the fires and even had ashes landing on their boat. It is a sad story for an area that needs its trees badly, and there has been considerable controversy over the government's perceived mishandling of the situation.
It is nearly noon when we reach the site of ancient Delphi, but thankfully the air is slightly cooler at this altitude. To the ancient Greeks, Delphi was considered the centre of the world, because two eagles released by Zeus from opposite ends of the earth met here. Pilgrims travelled from far and wide to consult the famous Oracle of Delphi. The site itself, high on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, is mystical and awe-inspiring. Standing above the Temple of Apollo looking out over the cypress and olive trees in the valley below, I am carried back in time not only to ancient Greece, but to the old library in New Waterford and the pages of the well-thumbed book where I first read about the Delphic oracle. After touring the extensive ruins that surround the Temple of Apollo, we trudge down the road to the Temple of Athena, stopping to collect some water from the sacred Castalian Spring on the way. At the Temple of Athena , which is said by some to be the most impressive temple on the site, we find that only five other tourists have worked up the energy to walk down the hill.
Suddenly, the thought of walking back up the hill and down the road to the museum seems very daunting. Thankfully, the museum is air-conditioned, and the amazing archaeological treasures provide distraction from our sore feet. (In retrospect, we wish we had visited the museum first, since it would have given us a better perspective on the meaning and magnitude of the ancient site while we were touring it.) By the time we walked the kilometer back to modern Delphi to catch the bus, we are hot, tired and very thirsty. From the terrace of a little café across from the bus stop, Rick pulls out his new super-duper MEC binoculars and checks on Aisling far below us in Galaxadhi! Back at the boat, we realize that getting the sacred water home might be a bit impractical and I use some of it to water Spike the cactus, who will henceforth be known as Spike the Sacred
On our last night in Galaxadhi, we had a delicious dinner at the "Art Café" in a converted olive mill in the old harbour, run by the artist George and his sister Mina. The meal was delicious-especially the mussels in olive oil, garlic and oregano- but the highlight of the evening was meeting George and Mina and seeing George's wonderful paintings. Rick immediately zeroed in on a painting of a boat passing the Galaxadhi park and when George mentioned that he had painted it in the Group of Seven style, which he had learned when he lived in Canada, we knew we had to buy one of the prints. We wish we could have bought the original, but since we have some big boat repair bills coming up perhaps it's just as well that they didn't take Visa!
We have, unfortunately, fallen behind on our journal. Since leaving Galaxadhi, we have visited Corinth, come through the canal, had our refrigerator repaired in Athens, had dinner with Peter and his son Will on the American boat "Time Warp" and sailed to Kea and Syros. We see a small weather window where the meltemi has moderated, and we are trying to cross as much of the Aegean as we can while the winds are favourable. We'll try to catch up with some additional entries on the blog this week.
Cruising Notes for Galaxadhi:
You can either med moor on your own anchor in the new harbour, or anchor in approximately 17 feet with good holding in sand and weed, in the old harbour. There is protection from all directions but the north. Water and power is available at the dock in the new harbour (you will need to find someone with a key). Water is also available from a tap in the fishermen's area of the old harbour. Lots of tavernas, small supermarkets, bakeries and a fruit and vegetable store in the town. To visit Delphi from Galaxadhi, catch a bus to Itea from the square and connect to Delphi (it's actually the bus to Athens) from Itea. We never did manage to get a bus schedule but the shops near the square can help you.
Itea is actually a more convenient location if your goal is a visit Delphi. Itea has a marina and chandleries and since it is a larger town it is a better place to provision. However, it is dusty and in our opinion it is not as pleasant as Galaxadhi.