Fiscardo (Kefalonia) to Stivos (Levkas)

Yesterday we were in a lovely little town at the northern tip of Kefalonia.  Many of the towns on Kephalonia were destroyed in an earthquake in 1953, and the result is a beautiful island with lackluster towns.   Fiscardo and another town, Assos, were largely untouched by the earthquake.  The towns west of Athens are more reminiscent of Italy than of those that one thinks of as Greek (those white houses with blue doors).  The colors are muted: sage, tan, soft blue, terra cotta, and sand.  The cafes surround the waterfront, and thankfully they are quiet, unlike so many other ports, especially in more heavily touristed areas.

Only 50-75 people live in Fiscardo year round.  Only the elderly and a few families with children stay here through the winter.  The population explodes in the summer with dozens of cafes, shops, and markets to support the tourists who mostly arrive by boat.  There is one baker in town. She and her husband are open from April through November, then spend their winter months further north in a larger town.  Code picked up some chocolate croissants and a chocolate chip brioche.  The man loves chocolate on pastry/breads.  Me? Not so much.  I could stare at a chocolate covered pastry or brownies all day long and not be particularly tempted.  It was a nice, creamy brioche, though, I have to say. 

Last night Code and I ate at a Thai restaurant.  It is the most non-european restaurant food we have had since leaving the states.  It was such a great treat! 

Today were in a small and pretty windy little harbor called Stivos, or something like that.  It is also a hub for charter boats.  We have spent the better part of the afternoon watching Sunsail, IslandSail, etc charter  boats arrive in port and med-moor (back up to the dock, stern-to…not easy) in 20 knot winds (of course, blowing from the side).  I am proud to say that Code and I are pretty good at the med-mooring, and best of all, we have a feel for what the other is doing (I man the anchor, Code manages steering).  It takes a two person team of coordinated maneuvers – you have to ‘feel’ what the other is doing.  Of course, it is great entertainment to watch others do it.  There are moments when I think captains are going to drop everything and start a fist-fight, right there in the water, when two boats are jockeying for the same spot.  Other times, we’ll hear the screaming and shouts from observers ashore advising or warning of a looming collision.  Worse, is when you hear a couple screaming at each other, bad communication, inexperience, and just the comfort that couples have in letting it all hang loose with I-told-you-so’s, let-me’s, and you-should-haves.  Fortunately, we are past all that (not having had been above it!). 

They are coming in one after another. Code likes to go help out.  I think it is because he can share what he knows, but also keep in practice on someone elses boat.  Plus, there is usually an offer of good conversation or a beer at the end.


Goodbye Amy!

Amy left this morning.  We had a great visit with her and it was awesome to see her grow more confident in travelling.  We got as far as Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian islands, and Ithaka, a smaller less inhabited just a mile or so away.  It is beautiful here, as always, but I have to say that of all the Greek Islands, the Ionian are by far the prettiest and most fun to sail.  First, most tourists and charter boats head east from Athens to the Cyclades.  Yes, they are charming with their pretty white houses, but otherwise the Cyclades are barren, rocky, dry, and they lie directly in the path of the howling meltimi winds that come down from the north all summer long.  While you might be able to sail from Athens to Crete in about 4 days, it might literally take you 4 weeks to return, pounding miserably into the wind and waves.  The Dodecanese, the islands nearest to Turkey, are less dry and barren and beautiful in their own right.  They are less travelled, for sure, but it feels disconnected from Greece and a little more like Turkey.

The Ionian islands, though, are green and mountainous and big, but small enough to cover from end to end in a day or so (either by land or sea).  I would describe the mountains as ‘tight’, so that as you come around a valley another is staring you right in the face.  In some of the valleys, I feel like I could be in Bavaria or somewhere much further north.  Lush greenery is something we haven’t enjoyed in months.   Green hills and valleys are not something that you would think of when you think of Greece.   As I write this, I am looking up between a valley, filled with conifers, that leads down to a beach maybe 20 years long.  It is cool and misty today, and the water is calm.  It is so peaceful. 

Friday we took a long walk out of town to an underground lake (Melissina Lake).  Really amazing.  There is an underground river that flows across the island…25 km long.  It was only discovered within th last 50 years or so.  It was known for a long time that water flowed into a bay, but not back out.  Then some geologists dyed the water in the bay and it came out of the other side of the island, in this underground lake, then out to the ocean.  This lake is about 39 meters deep in some places, yet you can see the bottom.  The water is of course, Tidy Bowl blue.  You go in to the cave, the top has caved in many millennia ago, and the light shines down into this sapphire blue water.  It is stunning.  For 7 euros, you can get in a little boat and have a guy paddle you around and follow a short stretch of the river which eventually disappears back underground toward the sea.  The ancient Greeks thought it was a sacred place (I have to agree), but their story is that it is a place where a nymph drowned herself after being spurned by Pan.  I would say she picked a choice spot.

Yesterday we scootered to a little town called Assos (snicker snicker) and to a nearby beach.  Assos, despite its unfortunate name, was a stunning little village on the corner of an aquamarine bay.  Just a place to stop for lunch and watch the waves.  We spent some time at the beach, reputed to be the most beautiful on the island, but really, how can one choose one over another.  This one was at the base of a sheer white stone cliff, and the beach was a mixture of sand and marble stones.  The water is a bit chilly for me to go in without my wetsuit, but we got out of the sun under an umbrella and then the kids and I wandered down to a cave on the beach.  There are lots of these little swim-through openings that provide a nice cool retreat from the sun.  Even though the air was cool when we were riding our bikes, it was plenty hot on the beach.  I can’t imagine how scorchingly hot it must be mid-summer! 

Today we said our goodbyes to Amy.  It feels much quieter on the boat now, and we will miss her!  We had fun sharing our adventures with her, hopefully it will be the start of many more.  We just said our goodbyes to Amy and had a super wonderful visit.  We all had loads of fun.  She opted to take the less expensive but more adventurous option to get back to Athens, which was a ferry and a bus rather than a plane.  At the bus station this morning she already chatted up a nice family who is also taking the bus to Athens and they seemed to be willing to help her out. They said the trip to Athens was very easy, and that her hotel is in a great location.  She should get to Athens around 2 or 3 pm today.

She has a hotel reservation in a safe area in Athens near the Acropolis ( where we were before ) and should get a chance to meander about a bit.  We also advised her to re-check with the hotel on safety tips regarding the area (where to go/avoid, etc).  She has been practicing her 'guarded' look, too, so as not to look like a tourist fresh off the bus.    I think she feels sufficiently cautious but not overwhelmed with anxiety and eager to make her way to the hotel and then the airport.  Tomorrow (Monday) she will get up early and metro to the airport.  We let her be our lead on the metro when we were in Athens so that she can now confidently navigate the metro system.     It will be a new adventure for her, but we're sure she will do just fine.  Yesterday whle driving her motorbike yesterday, she navigated us through the roads of Kefalonia, just like a native.

We saw the Parthenon, Delphi, running, swimming, hiking up to a castle in Navpaktos, souvenir shopping, her bikeride adventure in Missalonghi (LOL), secluded coves and beachfires, trying new foods, and motorbiking around this beautiful was a great vacation (for us, too). 

We are almost into our last two weeks of travel.  The thought of leaving this all literally makes me feel sick to my stomach.  This year has gone by so fast and it has been so incredibly rich with experiences.  I don’t know how I will possibly respond when people ask me how it was.  It was great? Difficult? Life-changing? Challenging?  Fun?  I don’t know…it is all of it.   All I can say is I cant wait until we do this again.

Next time, though, we will definitely have a washing machine.  I am wearing something right now that stinks so bad I have to go change.


Fun with the Amys

My niece Amy came to see us for 2 weeks.  It is hard to believe that she is already coming to the end of her visit.  We were counting down the days until she arrived (the 13th) and at the same time, trying to cover a lot of miles to get to Athens to pick her up.  On the way, we had a few very windy days, but the days were not as bad as the waves.  They were 8-10  feet, not huge but they were close together, so the boat was constantly rolling to and fro.  It was sunny and beautiful, but we were all sick!   We can handle wind, but it is always the waves that will get you.

It was hot and sunny when Amy arrived. We did the tour of the Acropolis and its museum.  Both incredible.  I remember reading about the Parthenon in high school and wondered what the big deal was.  How could a 10th grader sitting in a class room possibly imagine the enormity of the structure, the detail, the engineering?  The lines of the Parthenon really do (nearly imperceptibly) curve inward and upward so the structure really does look, for lack of better words, ‘beefy’.  Even the kids got it in a way I know they never could have from a book.

We also saw Delphi, where the Oracle sat and advised the Greeks for over 600 years.  If there were a single spot in Greece where one could communicate with the Gods, it would be in Delphi.  Imagine ruins, but not on a hot, trampled, city-like location, but instead high up in the cool mountains, olive tree covered valleys below, peaceful, and quiet.  It is spiritual.

We are working our way westbound, so Amy saw much of the Gulf of Corinth and the Gulf of Patra.  She thought the Corinth Canal was amazing, and another huge highlight was meeting up with the other Amy, our Greek Amy, in Navpaktos.  Navpaktos is where Amy and Dimitri live.  It feel like a little home for me and it is where I feel like I became empowered as the master of my destiny (at least on the boat) last fall.  I had so many challenges there…the start button, the wiring issue, the windlass issue, the anchor fouling that started it all.  It wasn’t so much that I overcame those issues, it was what was gained: a real connection to a place and friends. 

We got to Navpaktos at night, and we were all tired and went to bed early.  There were other boats in the harbor, so we anchored off the beach.  I was disappointed to not be in ‘my’ spot but seeing the town from the water the next morning made up for it.  We meandered about town in the morning, and for a while, it looked like we would not be able to find Amy.  Finally, we tracked them down…and seeing Amy and Dimitri (and another friend, George) walk through that door to say hi was like the sun coming out on a cloudy day.  Smiles, hugs, memories.  The kids were estatic, I felt joy.  These are our friends.

Amy and Dimitri came with us to Missalonghi – about a 6 hour sail.  It was great to catch up, daydream, talk politics, talk about life.  One thing I love is about them is that in the midst of this crazy economic crisis, they stay objective and almost detatched.  Last fall, they seemed much more committed to staying in Greece than now.  The government and economy have deteriorated so much that they are beginning to consider other options, perhaps, although it would be so hard to leave such a beautiful place and family.  It seems that they are realizing that time is marching on, but the situation here gets worse, and they are thinking about what happens to them if they ‘sit and wait’.  They are a really great couple, and we had so much fun with them and said our goodbyes…for now. 

We were stuck in Missalonghi for an extra day waiting for winds to blow over.  Blow they did…even in our little protected bay it was blowing at 30 knots.  We heard it was 50+ out on the gulf. 

We took off early the next day. Missalonghi isn’t really a place you want to spend your vacation, unless you are in town or really like estuaries.  For the second time on this trip with our Amy, we got up early to beat the winds that usually pick up during the day.  We finally arrived out on the Ionian islands on Tuesday (two days later than hoped, but within what we had planned).  Unfortunatley we have not been very lucky with the weather.  For some reason we have seen a lot of clouds and some rain showers.  I am hoping for Amy that the sun decides to come out and stay out.  Yesterday was mostly sunny, and when the sun is out, it is brilliant.  Regardless, we are swimming, walking, running, shopping and eating.  Most enjoyable is staying in remote coves.  We have been having loads of fun.










We are now in Kythos heading toward Athens to pick up Amy McMullen, my dear niece who arrives on Sunday.

We are makeing great time across the Cyclades westward.  Oh, boy, what a heck of a day yesterday!! 

I worked until 2 am on my project on Wednesday (oh, it is just crazy now...10 hours of billable time per day this week).  Slept fitfully and then got up at 7 on Thursday and ran about 5 1/2 miles.  I didnt think it would be a good run, and instead it was GREAT.  Somehow being exhausted seems to add to the run.  Dont know why that is!
I got back and went for a quick swim to cool off, then packed up and sailed from Syros (loved the island and the town, even if the harbor view is only so so) to Kithnos.  Should have put a reef in the sail, but didnt, so we were all puking.  I never ever ever puke.  Of course, that means I am the one elected to duck down below every time we need something, so apparently my body had enough and I did the first 'heave-ho' over the side of this entire trip!!  Aethan puked twice, Graeme once, I am not sure if Code did, but he would have been better off if he did.  Winds were hitting 33 knots, seas were 12' at one point with really close intervals.  Almost lost the dinghy (did a MOB loop to retrieve it).  The sail (including our Dinghy retrieval) was about 6 hours.
Let me tell you about tired!!!  Had a great night's sleep and now feel quite RIGHT.

We're going to stay here today until the wind calms down and do our last leg to Athens tomorrow.  We'll pick up the 'other Amy', the Greek Amy, when we sail past Nafpaktos (where I had all that trouble last Sept.).  

Kyfnos is cute and there are HOT SPRINGS!!!!  And I do mean HOT!  

I am going to work today and then indulge in the warmth later on.



Hail to the queen!

You may not want to think about it, but a marine head has a finite lifespan.  It ages slowly and escapes notice, then suddenly, without warning, it gives up the ghost.  And timing, of course, is everything.  We were crossing from Mykonos to Syros, not a very long haul, but that is where we found ourselves dealing with an extremely messy, extremely smelly…mess.  The plunger valve, which pushes waste out of the boat’ was frozen in place and there was no choice but to remove the entire pump.   Of course, the head had leaked backward so the bowl and entire system were simply full of…you guessed it.  You can imagine the stench (or maybe you can’t), but adding insult to injury was the heat of the day and enough rocking to really make you sick if the situation weren’t sickening enough.

Code was just green, fortunately I seem to have a stomach for dealing with bodily functions, so the bulk of the emptying, disassembling, and reassembling was mine to do.  Fun stuff.  Code was my handy plumbers assistant, tightening hoses and advising as needed, but I have to say I felt a huge sense of accomplishment in dealing with just about the dirtiest job on board you can imagine. 

Now I feel the porcelain throne is mine!