When we travel from one country to another, despite the level of research we do, I can never really know what we will find when we arrive.
It is for this reason we like to take a ““peek”” at a place before committing to an entire winter there. We were glad we took this approach in Morocco. While an interesting place to visit, it was not a place we felt we would be happy for an entire winter. We again peeked in Montenegro and that peek helped us to relax all summer long, confident that we would be happy there for the winter.
Here it is August, and we still haven’t seen our winter home of Kas, Turkey. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to travel that far South and East when so much of our summer plans are North or West. So, we are crossing our fingers.
But having arrived in Turkey only two weeks ago, what we have seen of Turkey, we love. Easy for me to say now…
I must say, I had my reservations. I’m not sure why there was so much uncertainty with Turkey. Perhaps it was comments from family or friends who don’t know the Turkey of today. Perhaps it was due to my own “Western” – centric tendencies.
You see, Tukey is – well, Eastern, or at least, middle Eastern. By the time we make it to the Bosporus canal, we will be straddling the dividing line between two continents. We can’t go any further East and remain in Europe. Officially, we are on the Asian subcontinent.
Perhaps that is why recently, I have been at once feeling like the travel we have been doing is getting, well, redundant. I suppose if you do anything for long enough it can lose its “Alice in Wonderland” feel and after our 5th summer aboard and 4th summer cruising in Europe, we are feeling …. Well, comfortable I suppose. And it is the DIS-comfort that I usually like about travel. The getting outside of our comfort zone which is where the real work and the real personal discovery happens. I just don’t want to be too far outside of my comfort zone.
So, just in the nick of time, we leave the “West” and arrive in the “East.” Of course, we have been traveling in the Eastern Hemisphere for a while now having just passed the 26th parallel East. And we are shaking things up again by being here.
Many of the islands just 10 miles away from the Turkish Coast are Greek. Why? Because the entire Dodecanese Island group originally belonged to Italy following the first World War but became Greek after the second World War. It makes traveling these islands and navigating interesting given that there is just a line on a chart separating the Greek waters from the Turkish. I have looked up to see a lovely island oriented perfectly to find a protected anchorage given the winds, only to discover moments later that its Greek – so we continue.
But it is remarkable, given that, even though many Greek Islands are a stone’s throw away, the feel of the island, the language, the religion, the currency, the flag, the food, the history… are all totally different.
When we first arrived and got settled and I peddled to the grocery store with Kim, I felt at once despondent. A Crushing feeling of overwhelm came over me – and it shocked me. Staring into the dairy case trying to discern the Turkish word for “butter” after spending 3 months learning the Greek words, left me lost. At once realizing that despite having achieved some level of proficiency finding the Greek products which I could use to prepare the foods my family loves – I realized that I was starting all over again. Rather than feeling excited at the prospect of learning a whole new lexicon of foreign words and phrases and discovering a whole new flavor profile of delicious food, I just felt exhausted with the effort of starting over again. All the new words, useful only a week ago, useless for my endeavor today. Even the word for “Thank you”, the first and most important word we ever learn even before the lines are on the dock, eluded me for the first week. I just could not learn this word. I practiced it repeatedly and the next day, it would fail on my tongue. (Tesekkurler) by the way.
An acquaintance from Montenegro sent me an article today -which was timely given the changes that I have been grappling with. This person was grappling with his own changes – far greater than those that I have been dealing with. You see, alone and while on a passage, at night, he was knocked unconscious and awoke many hours later aground. Ultimately, he lost his home, his boat, and all his plans for the coming months.
According to Dr. Robert Puff, PHD writing on Physcologytoday.com, one’s ability to adapt to change is the determining factor in happiness. We all know that change is inevitable, so being able to anticipate and adapt to the change we all know is coming will decide one’s happiness.
I have often said that this lifestyle would either attract people for whom change is no adversary or it will make a person this way. One cannot be happy cruising if they are averse to change. There is very little about this life that is known or set in stone. The stops we make, the plans we research, everything we do is left to the vagaries of the weather and a machine which, regardless how well it is maintained, will incapacitate your trip from time to time.
This is not the first time I have become overwhelmed in a new country. But this is the first time I had to fight back feelings of panic given that we will be living here for the next 6 months. This was the first time that I had to admonish myself to keep my mind and spirit and heart open to all the new experiences. And for these first two weeks, I am breathing into the change and embracing the newness of this experience.
And my disposition has drastically improved. For one thing, I may not know how to say or read “butter” but 90 percent of the food we eat on board comes from the market and the market here is second to NONE. By the time we made it to the market that first Saturday, I felt my mood lighten and my spirit lift and within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was joyful. Stunned at the feeling of love and joy that overcame me, I had to take a moment to ask why? Why did standing amongst these lovely farmers, and rural shoppers surrounded by the most incredibly tasting fruit and vegetables I have ever eaten have such a profound impact on my peace of mind. I’m not sure but I think it is this: First, all the fresh food was a reminder of the abundance that we enjoy in our life. Regardless of any materialistic thing, the fresh food, and the abundance of it, is an enormous gift and nothing to take for granted. Alec added that the energy in the market is higher, and I think it is the energy emanating from the food as well as the people who shop and grow what is sold here.
I left with very little in my bag from the grocery store that day, but the bags upon bags of fresh fruit and veg we found in the market – you can’t believe! And while, as a longstanding coffee snob, I’m struggling to adapt to a very tea centric culture, I have enjoyed a few cups and I can see that I may well be a convert, at least while here anyway. I am reminded of the grocery store trip in Italy, overjoyed I was that I finally found what I thought was tahini and bought several large jars to discover a few hours later, on board, that we had bought mustard. None of us a fan of the condiment, I found a lovely recipe for honey mustard dressing and now I can’t keep enough mustard on board!
We rode our bikes the Ancient Greek sanctuary called Didyma and it was amazing. Founded in the 8th century BC, evidence of the temples to the twins, Apollo and Artemis dominates the grounds but other deities were also worshipped here. Look for people in the photo for some idea of the size and scope of this remarkable project.
I hope to write several more posts about the Turkish culture in the coming months but what I can tell you today after this short time here is that the handful of people we have met, are kind and warm and hospitable. The fruits and vegetables are incredible. The cost of living is incredibly low – but sadly for the Turks, inflation is very high. I feel grateful that I don’t have a bank account full of Turkish lira losing value every day. The waters here are unspoiled and the country incredibly clean and the historically significant archeological sites are remarkable.
If we were lucky to have an ole’ salt in Kelly aboard for the passage from Schioussa to Paros, we paid our dues with Jennifer and Tracy going to Poros. A 12-hour passage and forecast to be off and on high winds and bigger seas than we like to see with guests aboard, we received their blessing when we asked if they wanted to give it a try.
We knew (and assured Jennifer and Tracy) that there was no safety factor in jeopardy or, of course, we wouldn’t have left. But the seas were forecast to be 3 feet at 3 seconds. The 1-meter seas were not the issue – but rather the time interval between the waves. A 3-meter sea isn’t so bad if it is a long swell with 15 seconds in between, but when the period is the same as the wave height, it indicates short steep chop which is very uncomfortable. Gratitude is a full ocean crossing sea boat though, and while we don’t love the uncomfortable ride of short steep chop, Gratitude couldn’t care less. She is in her element in big seas.
Another factor is from which direction the waves and wind will present, and for us, it was going to be forward of the beam. If the waves are not on the nose, we have found that the stabilizers do a brilliant job of coping, but any component forward of the beam increases the discomfort. So, the forecast of 3 feet (1 Meter) and 3 seconds 10 degrees off the nose did portend a lousy ride. To be honest, we would have taken a pass if it was just us, but anxious to get our guests to another island and one closer to Athens for their final few days with us, we rolled the dice.
I don’t like suggesting that gambling is something we do regularly on Gratitude – but what we got was in some places quite smooth, yet in others, 4-6 feet with 3 seconds. Really uncomfortable.
Jack and I usually take a ½ a seasick pill when we know the conditions are forecast to be lousy and Jenn took one herself. Luckily, Jack and I did fine – unfortunately Jenn did not. Alec, Tracy, and Pratt all handled the sea like pros. So, several hours into our 12-hour passage I asked Jennifer if she wanted to duck into another island. Trooper that she was, she said “Nope, press on”. To be fair, we had moments of nice weather, but it was, unfortunately punctuated with steep pitching for most of the passage.
But we made it to Poros, and we really enjoyed our time there.
Enroute, and when it appeared certain we would be going the distance, Alec and I began doing research on the 3 islands which make up the Saronic archipelago. Wanting to go to Hydra, we soon discovered that there is no transportation from one end of the island to the main town given that no cars are allowed. But by going to Poros, we were able to enjoy the lovely anchorage off one of the prettiest beaches we have seen, while being able to enjoy the main town of Poros. Additionally, there is ferry service to Hydra, so we managed to get another island visit in.
As I have previously written, each of these islands are completely different from each other and in the case of Poros and Paros, two islands couldn’t be more different. For one thing, the Cyclades Islands, of which Paros is a member, is more arid, drier, and breezier with cool winds nearly constantly pelting the island. There is little green, and olive trees dot the Cyclades only sporadically. It is lovely in its own right – don’t get me wrong – but it is totally different than the Ionian side of Greece or the islands closest to the mainland in the Aegean.
More closely resembling Italy, Poros had mountains covered in Cypress trees and olive groves by the dozen. Even the houses and hotels followed their own color scheme of terra cotta roofs with natural hued facades contrasting with the Cyclades stark white buildings with blue domes and trim. The water was equally cool, but the air was much warmer as we were now out of the heart of the cool Northern Meltemi winds.
Away from the touristy mecca of the Cyclades, we found the shop owners and restauranters’ slightly more hospitable. Arriving in the Sporades meant a return to the hospitality tradition of thanking guests with a small gesture after dinner of a sweet treat or sometimes a drink of ouzo or lemoncello. There seemed to me a higher ratio of locals/guests even though Poros was clearly a charter fleet start/finish.
We enjoyed meals ashore; sauntering around town and in and out of shops and we even hopped aboard a free bus to have a quick look around.
We spent a day swimming, snorkeling, and laying on the beach changing our view for a day.
And we took a ferry to Hydra.
Known for its beautiful if pebbly beaches, and stunning Byzantine architecture, Hydra (pronounced IIdra,) even has their own flag. Alec and I could have whiled away the entire afternoon watching the sport of boats attempting to arrive and depart in the incredible wind and waves which pounded the port. We enjoyed meandering through the cobbled stoned streets and wandering in and out of shops. Jack and Tracy took a short trip around town on a donkey.
We loved an old monastery – Panagia Phaneromeni (The most Holy Virgin Mary Revealed of Hydra). According to the information on the building, in 1656, Barbary pirates raided the island and the Monastery. They stole the Sacred Icon of Mary as well as 3 notable Hydrean citizens. While heading toward Crete, their ship encountered a storm and fearing that they would sink, pirates begged the pious Hydreans to pray. One of the pirates desecrated the icon by chopping tobacco on it, and then broke it in 2 and threw it into the sea when his comrades asked for prayers.
A short time later, both pieces of the icon were found joined together on the shore of Hydra nearby the Monastery. The clergy, with incense and candles, reinstated the icon to the place in the Monastery. Simultaneously, in Africa across from Crete, the Most Holy Virgin Mary appeared to the pirates and ordered them to liberate the 3 captives. The men were returned unharmed to Hydra. A book, published by the Sacred Cathedral in 2014 recounts this and other miracles.
Riding back on the ferry we encountered the same high seas and wind we observed in the boats coming and going. The ferry departed 40 minutes late due to the slower speeds they needed to travel and 20% of the passengers were ill on the trip. All of us were fine – but we felt bad for the steward who was busy delivering sick sacks and caring for the ill passengers.
The rough weather, due to persist over the next several days caused us to change plans – again. Jennifer and Tracy decided to take the ferry back to Athens and we would take Gratitude, thus giving them a few more hours in Athens and a smoother ride. We all met later in Athens aboard Gratitude.
The next post will consolidate my 2 trips to Athens. The first with Kelly, then Jennifer and Tracy and finally with Michael and Marianne who arrived from a cruise ship on our final 24 hours in Athens.
Until next week…
PS As I write this, we are at anchor in Turkey. We are nearing our 3rd week in this amazing country, and I have already begun writing some of our experiences – I can hardly wait to share!
Can I just begin this post by saying that moving Gratitude this summer with the Meltemi winds has been a challenge. That said, we have mostly managed to keep to our original plans – plus or minus a few days. Getting from Ios to Schinoussa to Paros with Kelly on board was nerve wracking given that the winds were high and the sea state a little lumpy, but Kelly handled it like an ole salt and we were worried about nothing at all! Even Jack and I opted to take a pill and Kelly didn’t and was perfectly fine! Brava!!!
So, after a several hour passage we arrived in Alyki bay on the South end of Paros.
Something that we just recently discovered is that as the Meltemi is a thermal wind that begins the day as calm and builds throughout the day, until around 1900 when it begins to calm once more. Some bays have a katabatic wind which funnels down from the hills or mountains on the land and pour into the south bay. This is a totally new phenomena for us which we discovered while trying to find a calm anchorage sheltered from the Meltemi. The katabatic winds were gusting in the force 8 to 9 (40-50 knots of wind). Paros winds were so high that we broke our 2nd dynema anchor snubber! Dynema is supposed to be stronger than steel cable and after our first snubber snapped in high winds, we attributed it to wear since we have used it for several years. After putting on our spare we lost it on another windy day. Alec has spliced the 2 broken snubbers and made a 3rd which has been holding up thus far.
Alyki bay seemed to have these katabatic winds since our friends, Kim and Steve on Mimpi arrived shortly after us and anchored in Parikia. Realizing that there was a big difference in the winds they were experiencing on the same island, Alec and Jack decided to move Gratitude up to the port town while I was traveling to Santorini to meet up with Jennifer and Tracy.
The absolute saving grace is that the ground holding here is fantastic. We have set the anchor and held firmly in place for days on end in 40 knots of wind. The amazing holding is the only reason we have been able to be at anchor as much as we have all summer and still travel freely off the boat with reasonable certainty that Gratitude would be safe and sound while we are gone – which is a great thing since Paros is a wonderful island to explore.
And we had the opportunity to explore it, not only with Kelly but also with Jennifer and Tracy 1 week later. So, I’m going to combine both trips in 1 post about Paros.
Taking a public bus from Alyki to Parikia, the main port town, we had explored the main “city” and enjoyed … yep … more great food, and anther very cool old town. Meandering streets filled with cobbled stone roads which have been wandered since the 4 or 5th centuries BC, is at once surreal and delightful.
Paros has become the “new” Mykonos or Santorini with night clubs and throngs of 20 something Europeans arriving (literally) by the boatloads daily. Not since the earlier days of South Beach have I seen so many beautiful bikini clad young people, backpacks slung over their shoulders coming and going on ferries all day. Since we are well past the age of nightclubbing – what follows are the attractions that interest us on Paros. Jennifer, Tracy, and I were amongst some of the new arrivals when we took the ferry to Paros from Santorini.
2 highlights of our time in Parikia include the Frankish Castle, built in 1260 by Venetian Duke of Naxos, it is comprised of “building materials” from the archaic temple of Athena. What has resulted is a fantastically interesting structure, the pictures of which are below. In town, art galleries have photographs and artistic renderings of this iconic building. We did see a similar use of past building supplies resulting in a magnificent old building in Croatia. But despite the frequent use of old building materials through the centuries, these are the only 2 buildings we have ever seen with this unique “style”
And the second highlight of Parakia is the Aghia Eleni – Panagia Ekatontapiliani (The church of 100 doors)
Our first encounter with St. Helen was when we were in Venice last year. We stayed at the Santa Elena Marina just adjacent to the Santa Elena church. Briefly decommissioned and then later re-consecrated in 1928, this church holds the relics of the Christian Saint, Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine. St. Helen was in and out of favor amongst Roman Nobility but while she was granted status as a “Noble woman” when her son rose to Emperor in Rome, and she was granted land near Rome.
According to Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Helena, Mother of Constantine.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/helena-mother-of-constantine-3530253, Among the notable events attributed to St. Helen – she is believed to have found the original cross of Jesus while traveling in Palestine “on an official inspection for her son of the construction of the churches he had ordered.” While having a temple to Venus removed and replaced with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the cross was supposed to have been discovered.
The Panagia Ekatontapiliani (also knowns as the church of 100 doors), was built in the mid 4th century by St. Helen or by her son, Constantine the Great who fulfilled his mother’s vow. According to aboutparos.com, Saint Helen stopped to worship here on her way to the holy land whereupon she prayed to the Virgin Mary that should she find the cross, she would return to build a bigger church. Destroyed but rebuilt in the 6th century, the church has 100 doors but only 99 can be seen. The 100th is closed and, according to legend, will only be open when Constantinople (currently Istanbul) becomes Greek again.
A 30-minute bus ride North from the port town of Parakia and you will arrive in the charming fishing village called Naoussa. We loved it so much while visiting with Kelly, it was at the top of the list to show to Tracy and Jennifer. Nightclubs throb into the early daylight hours here but during the day the quaint fishing village is charming. Winds on our second trip were so high as to make the trip to the old 14th century Venetian Castle fortification impassable but we did get to see it with Kelly. From the North side of the island and on the safety of land, the Meltemi was very impressive.
On both trips we arrived just in time for lunch on our body clocks- or breakfast for the 20 somethings that I mentioned earlier. While we were looking for a place to eat, it was clear that most of the town was still just waking up with young people lounging on chaises drinking bloody mary’s and coffee. But the shops were open while we wound our way around the labyrinth stone paved lanes, and the charming fishing boats were unloading their catch of the day in the noontime sun. Mostly what we saw was octopuses drying in the sunlight, but I can’t take photos of them because I hate to see them endure such a tragic end. Jack and I have seen some hiding under rocks while snorkeling but here they are a mainstay of the local cuisine. Meals we enjoyed on both occasions were amazing. Incredibly fresh ingredients are the star of the Greek diet and for once in my life, I could walk into nearly any restaurant and be delighted with the offering (the exception being strictly seafood).
There is also a town in the center of the island to which we never made the trip. It is purported to be the source of the crystal-clear marble that made the Venus de Milo and the Parthenon.
A short ferry ride from Paros, Anti-Paros lies just to the Northwest of Paros. Known for more upscale shops and rugged hikes, it was the perfect place to spend the day eating lunch and whiling away another lovely day in the Cyclades with friends. Steve and Kim came along for the ride and after a quick change in plans upon finding that the smaller boats wouldn’t make the trip due to the high winds, we took a bus to the larger ferry further south from Parakia and enjoyed a lovely day together.
Kelly and I traveled by ferry to Athens for the end of her time with us and Jennifer and Tracy continued on the Gratitude with the next stop… Poros…
Poros, a totally different island in the Argo-Saronic Gulf has almost nothing in common with Paros, in the middle Cyclades Island chain. But we will keep that for the next post….
Right now, I’m sitting in Didim, Turkey where we have a small mechanical issue with our davit (the crane which lowers our dinghy, bikes, and some beach toys) to the water. The timing of this issue could not be better as we had planned to take some “down time” to get caught up on life admin tasks and I’m able to do some chronicling of our adventures before we get too far down the road in Turkey.
Bear with me here while I write a few words about being Jacks mom. The reason we keep this blog, while it is nice if we can share our experiences with others, is so that we can look back someday on our adventures and remember where we have been.
For this reason, I would like to take a few moments to share that being Jacks parents has been the greatest of all our gifts and the greatest thing we have ever done.
It is because of Jack that we are on this adventure. Because of him we decided to retire early. Because of him we want to live more simply if FAR more boldly. It is because we want to share the world with Jack, that we hire tour guides, and venture further from the beaten path and it is in the boat schooling of the past 3 years that I have learned the most.
So happiest of happy birthdays Jack on this your 12th birthday. You have grown as we have so much these past 4 years. You have taught us more than we have taught you and we are so incredibly proud of you. Your humor, your talent for art and writing and your creativity delights us every day. Thank you so very much for coming to us.
Jack wanted to be on an island away from civilization for the day so that is where we went. An island in the middle Cyclades, Schinoussa is peaceful and offered just the perfect place to drop the anchor and spend the day in the water. Aunt Kelly was here and brought presents from home and from his Gram and we had a wonderful celebration. Filled with all his favorites from beginning to end – it was a day we will all remember.
Continuing our travel North from Santorini with Kelly aboard, we first stopped in Ios. We enjoyed Kelly for 8 days and in that time, we visited Santorini, Ios (all over the island), Schoinoussa – primarily the water and anchorage, and finally Paros.
Likely the question we are most frequently asked is: “What is your favorite xyz?” Depending on the person asking or the context, sometimes xyz = country and sometimes it is island. Sometimes xyz = food and that one is easier to identify. For me, the Greek food has been the far and away my favorite (though I remember thinking Spain was my favorite while there), and Ios was absolutely a favorite island (though I remember falling in love with Folegandros also). All of this is to say, it made the list of standout places that were special to me.
As we have been cruising the islands of the Greek archipelago, of which there are 227, we have only scratched the surface at 20 island visits. We tried to see and immerse ourselves, as much as possible, in the islands we visit -seeking opportunities to connect with the people who call the island home. We do this through arranged tours but also through random encounters. For me, my favorite is usually the place where I am now living. This isn’t a quip or lie – but honestly how I feel. Some cruisers and travelers will reply “the next stop on the itinerary” and I get that too. The reason we keep traveling is a desire to experience “the next”. But for me, I often struggle to let go of a place because where I am standing is the most amazing experience I have ever had.
So with that in mind, I’ll try to convey my loves of Ios.
Jack and I struggled to get through Homers’ Iliad and Odyssey a couple of years ago. We never quite finished it – Jack was only 9 or 10 at the time and it was foolish of me to foist it on him. But we did enjoy the stories contained within through BBCs programs of narrating fantastic stories from the Iliad. It was with those tales in our mind that we have been enjoying our tour of the Greek islands. Ios is the presumed burial place of Homer, and it is here we found his “gravestone” and small monument to his work. This visit has re-invigorated my desire to re-read and understand Homer and his famous Iliad and Odyssey.
If you read our post on the Kalamata olives from – well, Kalamata, you might have felt just a small inkling of the love of food we have and the love of the people who, through the connection of a love of food, share these experiences with us. Well, we found a similar and equally amazing experience here in Ios and utterly and completely by accident. Driving down the road we saw a sign indicating a cheese museum. Of course, I love museums and I love cheese, so we were bound to stop right?? The lovely woman who passionately shared her love of her culture with us will forever touch us. If you are visiting the Cyclades islands, this island warrants a stop if ONLY for the amazing cheese museum. You can visit online and book a tour through Diaseli.com. We learned so much about Greece in general from this visit alone.
Married into the family but originally from Athens, our tour guide walked us through the life of her Greek family and shared passionately her love of its culture. At the end of the tour, we loved it too. I’m sad to say too much time has passed and I don’t recall our hosts name, but she had so much soul – we all fell in love with her.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and after an hour or two felt that nothing was said, no meaningful connection made? Yet conversely, had a conversation with someone and after 15 minutes felt that you knew them heart and soul? This was what happened with this guide. She had so much love and passion and soul and she generously wanted to share it with us. Walking us through her family’s 18th century home, we learned that the paved road and electricity on the island was only 40 years old and prior to that, farmers would only walk between towns with mules, donkeys, or goats. This explains why there are so many wonderful hikes on each of the islands, – they are what remains of a practical means of travel from over the centuries. What was particularly shocking to us is that only 40 years ago, life on this island would have been much as life in America was perhaps 150 years ago! Our “progress” has been so swift it induces whiplash, while the “old ways” here persist with only minor changes in terms of improvements in economies of scale or industrialization.
The result of that tie to the past is the most amazing cheese one has ever tasted! The goats, visible in the distance, still meander the hillsides feasting on wild (not cultivated) herbs. They are not penned; they eat what is growing wild and untreated with chemicals. We were not permitted access to the “factory” due to health and safety measures, but we looked in and witnessed just a small room which produced the nicest cheese we have ever sampled. Alec loathes goat cheese but with some prodding decided to try this. The purveyor explained that with no stress hormones and a rich diet of herbs – the goat cheese has none of that weird flavor that we all associate with goat cheese. She was right. Not even the slightest hint of goat cheese in the cheese from goats. Alec LOVED it – we all did.
We learned that the iconic white houses are the result of an epidemic of Cholera in 1938. The Greek dictator Metaxas mandated that each house be whitewashed in limestone to kill the infection. Later, during the dictatorship of the 60s and 70s in accordance with a military regime of order, the whitewashing persisted to be homogeneous and impersonal. But along the way it became iconic and a touristic draw and today it persists if for no other reason because it is cool.
Our guide showed us where the man of the house slept (in a bed) and where the women, huddled with children, slept (on the floor) and we gained a sense of the roots that persist today in this patriarchal society.
We enjoyed local herbs (one I have found in Turkey at the market, and I still don’t know the name) and cheese, and mostly we enjoyed a connection to this family and their very recent past.
Continuing our travel, we went to a monastery up in the mountains, the trip to which is a pilgrimage in itself. The monastery is still in use and services are held here regularly.
After a long and full day exploring, we were ready for an amazing dinner which we enjoyed in the main town of Ios. Gratitude was anchored on the South end of the island from where we took a bus to the port town. We loaded up on fresh groceries and traveled back “home”.
It is always fun to share our “real life” with people who visit us. There is no way of explaining that we are not simply laying on chaise lounges sipping drinks with umbrellas in them. No matter how we try to convey that this lifestyle, though wonderful and enriching, is challenging in ways we can’t possibly explain, we know that when visitors come, they have had their own visions of what their vacation will look like and we also know, that unless they have been here more than once, it won’t look anything like what they envisioned. Even though Kelly has visited us before, she hasn’t had the chance to see us while cruising and moving from place to place. So it was fun for her to experience what our real life is like. All the moving parts that must fall into place for us to move from one island to another. All the weather planning, all the logistical planning, and even the grocery shopping. On this trip we purchased groceries since we had a rental car, and it was simple to get the groceries to the anchorage, but from there we had to convey the groceries to the dinghy whilst climbing over rocks in winds exceeding 40 knots, at night. The dinghy was tied to rocks and stern anchored but had to be pulled in and the groceries loaded. From there we traveled to Gratitude and in pitching seas, loaded us and our precious cargo aboard. So, you can see that we may not have a lot of ice cream on board, or beer, or even wine. We don’t carry much more than that which we need because carrying only what we need is as much as 3 people can manage. It is truly fun for us to share this part of cruising because this is what real life is for us. We try to make sure we do the cleaning and preparing before guests arrive so that their time with us isn’t drudgery but sharing some of the realistic aspects of what we do is authentic and fun as well.
Ios was a fantastic stop – amazing food, swimming, snorkeling, beachcombing, and history. What more could we want? Our next stop was a request by Jack for his birthday. He specifically asked to be at an island that was minimally inhabited, and he wanted to spend the entire day in the water. Happy to comply, we thankfully and barely found an acceptable weather window to go to Schoinoussa.
While at a cocktail party in Montenegro- before we left on our 3-month tour of Greece, we met someone who had cruised the Cyclades the year before. One of the highlights of enjoying time with other cruisers is the wealth of information we can share with each other from one year to the next. Rarely do we all have the same itinerary. Even if we are wintering over for more than 1 year together, we will have varied cruising schedules. So, imagine my shock when the person replied, “they were all the same – one was as the other and honestly I can’t recall even the stops that we made to recommend or not”. Even though I had only been to Greece 30 years earlier, I had the memory of knowing that the few stops we made on a short cruise ship itinerary involved places of completely different (if similar) character. Suspecting that our conversation was unlikely to improve, I made my way to others in the room.
But as I sit here on the fly bridge approaching what is scheduled to be the last and final island on an exquisite tour of some of the most stunning and soul rich places we have been, I am in true awe of what makes the Greek Isles so special. And I can promise you that after stopping at 20 islands, each is decidedly NOT as the other. Each of the islands is as each of the people we met – unique and special and a treasure we will keep with us forever. I’m at once joyful at what we have experienced and sad to have to leave this wonderful place. (Americans are only permitted 90 days out of each 180 days in the Schengen area of which Greece is a part). I haven’t updated the blog lately because we have been living living! Living! but now, I’d like to get some words on paper so we can preserve some of the special memories we have made in this stunning archipelago.
At first glance, our routing would look haphazard and as Alec said it, “like a drunken sailor.” But we had a motive in mind when we resumed our course East ward following the Peloponnese to port. Even though Santorini was not intended to the be the highlight of OUR summer cruise, we knew from polling our guests who were joining us that it was an important stop. And why wouldn’t it be? It is so unique in terms of geology and scenery with the gleaming white buildings crowned with the iconic blue domes. It is likely the most photographed of all the Greek islands and it is an Instagram/social influencer dream.
But we are far from influencers aboard Gratitude. We aren’t looking for the perfect shot to convey the perfect image. Rather, we are looking for the perfect person who can sum up the perfect soul of a place.
So, for that reason, Santorini was further down on our list of favorite islands but what I CAN say about it – the caldera in the center, the largest in the world, with water of 300 meters depth climbing to mountains of 100 meters high was incredible. I could sit and stare in awe imagining the amazing cataclysmic explosion in 1400 BC, felt around the world, that left this gaping hole in its wake. People are an adaptable species and given the high cliffs and abundant sea life, for centuries, donkeys have carried goods up and down the 566 steps to the top. Today, that effort is augmented by a cable car operating from Thira which shuttles cruise ship passengers up and back to their ships. Speaking of cruise ships…
There is, near where the cruise ships ferry their customers to the port, a large, enclosed net which sits on the surface attempting to contain seepage from a cruise ship which sunk on April 5, 2007. I heard this shocking tail of a cruise ship, damaged and with a Captain dithering about for 8 hours, and then going to the deep commercial port to disembark the fortunate customers who made it safely to land, from someone sharing our ride to the port. Rumors abound on the island about what became of the captain, though the most credible is that he changed his name and ran off to avoid prosecution. Remembering that we have friends who were on a sunken ship in Greece, I asked them if this was their ship and, in fact, it was. The cruise company offered them compensation of 2500.00 each and a voucher for a future cruise. 2 passengers were lost and presumed dead. And the wreckage is still a ticking time bomb on the bottom of the caldera. Every day this ship sits is one more day that the fuel tanks suffer the corrosive effects of salt water. The insurance company and cruise ship company have already been ordered to contain the wreckage and remove the ship, but they are appealing the decision and the biggest loser (aside from the poor missing passengers) may well be the environment and the people who call this special place home. Today there are roughly 10000 regular inhabitants who work incredibly hard to support the 500,000 yearly visitors on this tiny island. But enough of that poor misbegotten adventure, on with ours… The weather, warm over much of the Mediterranean, is cool and comfortable in Santorini (and many of the Cyclades islands) owing to the pleasant cool air funneling down from the North. This same North wind, called the Meltemi, is also what has kept us moored in several locations a few days longer than we may have preferred to remain, and to arrive earlier.
Santorini is made up of lava, ash, and oxidized iron which accounts for the 3 beaches, black, red, and brown.
I was able to enjoy Santorini a couple different ways, first while we were moored in Thirassia while awaiting my sister Kelly’s arrival, and then later when I took a ferry to meet Jen and Tracy. Both trips were totally different but equally enjoyable. With Kelly we were aboard Gratitude, and we took the dinghy over the Oia where we hiked, shopped, and dined on beautiful food. We met a few lovely humans away from the hustle and bustle of the main island and it was these encounters which left me with a sense of the soul of the place. With Jennifer and Tracy, I met them at a lovely hotel (for lack of a better word). But “hotels” on Thira are truly in a class by themselves. The nicer of them, such as where we stayed, provided multiple rooms housed in one shared space with our own small wading pool. Truly God help the humans who daily deliver luggage to the inhabitants perched on the side of a mountain. These men (I didn’t see any women doing this job) climb up and down the cobbled stoned paths carrying cases larger than a child. They do this with a smile on their face and commitment of service.
We rented a car for a day and traveled from end to end seeing all that we could see and again, we ate and ate some of the most gorgeous food I have ever seen! If you are heading to Santorini, highlights included Mia’s, and a home cooked meal but I can’t remember the name – Jen or Tracy – Any help??
It is hard to imagine anyone being disappointed by a trip to Santorini (Thira) but I beg you to make certain to include some smaller islands on your itinerary if you come to Greece. It is the smaller islands who hold the soul of Greece and in the absence of throngs of short-term visitors, the locals have the energy to share and impart that soul to you. What will follow in the next blog entries are the smaller islands in which we stopped making our way Northward to Athens.
Rounding the peninsula of the Peloponnese, we had opted to head due East, rather than make the turn North heading to Athens. Our primary considerations for the next 6 weeks are the 7 guests arriving in 4 different increments. Since all our family and friends arriving should see, at a minimum, Athens- and most want to see Santorini. Our challenge is that we don’t wish to spend 6 of our precious 12 Greek weeks in these locales, so it has involved a bit of “visitor calculus” to make sure everyone is getting what they want after traveling 5,000 miles to be with us.
While we have only hosted 2 people thus far, we have high hopes for achieving these goals – though weather will certainly play a big role in this. The summer wind events in Greece known as the Meltemi have been causing a few disruptions to the schedule and we must plan to make sure we are where we can receive guests – i.e., near an airport or ferry. In fact, during the most intense Meltemi, even the ferries cancel service. That said, we have had 2 events so far and we arrived in Milos ahead of the first, and we tucked into Folegandros for the second. So far, so good. But back to Milos, where we entered the Cyclades….
Our first visitors arrived in Athens within a couple of days of our arrival in Milos. We planned this so that they could spend a couple of days acclimating to the time change in Athens and see the Acropolis and anything else they wanted to see, then take a ferry to us in Milos. This worked perfectly as we were then “stuck” in Milos for several days while the Meltemi blew. We had several days of 35 knot winds during which travel would have been in violation of rule number 1 on Gratitude – “Keep the pleasure in pleasure boating”. That said, by the time they arrived, we were rested, ready and had some family time “in the bank” so that our week together was enjoyable.
Milos is an amazing island and since I had never heard of it before this visit, I can only assume it is considerably underestimated. The southernmost island in the Cyclades Island group, located just north of Crete, it is known for its stunning beaches and is also famous for the location of the discovery of the Venus de Milo.
We originally planned to anchor in the south of the island due to the prevailing Meltemi from the North but opted instead to try out the harbor as the journey around the island to collect our niece from the ferry would have been a long one. Surprisingly, the harbor was very comfortable and reasonably protected with the 30 knots of wind we encountered on several of the days we were there. This can only be attributed to the excellent holding of the anchor and the ‘flopper stoppers” we deployed to counter the effects of the swell. I don’t think we would have been any more comfortable at the marina and, In fact, as it was much warmer at the dock, I can only imagine we would have been far less so.
The port town of Adamantas was busy but lovely and contained many shops, restaurants, and bakeries as well as a salon where Jack got his hair cut. He has been letting it grow long but found that it is interfering with the seal on his snorkel and mask, so he has decided to cut it. I love function over form, and I personally prefer his hair short, so this was a welcome change. We also toured the old caste near Trypiti, and after Ryan and Sarah arrived, we went to the fishing villages, Sarakiniko beach and the Catacombs. Discovered in 1844, The Catacombs of Milos are an ancient burial site for Christians as well as a place of worship during a time when it was dangerous for Christians to openly practice their religion.
Wishing to avoid further delay, we opted to head to Folegandros, to wait out another weather opportunity for our planned destination of Thira (also known as Santorini).
A smaller island than Milos in terms of occupancy and historical sites, it more than made up for any perceived deficiencies in terms of beauty and hikes. We found a perfect little anchorage, again in the South, and out the path of the Meltemi but the surge was remarkable and probably given other circumstances, we may have gone elsewhere. Still, the flopper stoppers performed admirably and, mindful of lockers closed and locked, we had a wonderful stop. We were here for US Father’s day which we were happy to celebrate with Sarah and Ryan. The Chora in Folegandros was adorable and we found one of the best meals we have eaten there. And this little shop housed handmade toys and crafts that reflected the sweet nature of the shop owner and craftsman who made them.
The final island on Sarah and Ryan’s itinerary and the place where we will continue to stay awaiting Kelly’s flight on Wednesday, we were fortunate to secure a mooring ball in Thirasia. Warned by multiple sources that the Infamous Thira – aka Santorini – would be difficult to manage in terms of anchorage or marina opportunities, Alec worked hard to find a suitable option for us. And here is why: Santorini is so incredibly well known that for us or our family to miss it -would be a shame. Added to that is the convenience of having an airport large enough to accommodate arrivals and departures from Athens. While we probably wouldn’t have planned a week here, this week is necessary between guests to clean the boat and hit the master reset on our family time. While we love having family and friends visit, having 2 back-to-back would fail to honor their visit with our best selves.
THIRA (SANTORINI) Anchoring… or not…
The island of Thira is a giant volcano which most recently erupted in a cataclysmic event in 1400 BC. For this reason, the mountains climb to 100 meters and descend to depths of 300 meters leaving little in the way of suitable anchorages. Not only are all the shallower depths littered with volcanic rock (not the best medium in which to anchor), the depth alone prohibits suitable anchoring. We typically use a scope of 5 to 1 meaning that in 300 meters of depth we would need more than 5000 feet of chain. So, you see the dilemma. There are also no marinas on either of the 2 islands. There ARE, however, mooring balls. Used primarily by the day tripper boats shuttling tourists from Thira to the smaller neighboring island across the caldera called Thirasia, the owner of the substantial mooring offered to rent it to us for several nights. Problem solved. We have the privilege of watching 5000 thousand daily tourists invade this tiny island of approximately 150 year-round inhabitants. Honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. They come to deliver people en masse to the handful of restaurants and have a little swim in the cool clear waters away from the main towns of Oia and Thira. I don’t blame them; the water is gorgeous and the respite from the busy streets a wonderful break. The cost of this service ranges from 1035.00 per person on the catamarans to 2200.00 for the faster speed boats. It includes lunch and drinks. I’m not sure what the charge is for the giant, filled to the rafters, tourist boats but for those lunch and drinks are not included.
But with Ryan and Sarah we only had 1 day to make the most of their visit here so with little time to spare, we enjoyed some traditional Greek music at a sweet small festival on Thirasia, and we went to Oia for the day.
Charming and quintessential, Oia is the lovely cliff top town on the North side of the island. The shops, though certainly catering to tourists, (and there are many that have the cookie cutter “evil eye “likely made in China), are many artist shops and special places that reflect the unique nature of Thira. The lovely and Jet set abound up and down the streets crammed with restaurants and those iconic white buildings with blue accented doors and domes. But it works. Arriving by dinghy at the port, we were all a bit daunted by the site of several hundred steps to the top but Laurie, Sarah and Ryan climbed up while Alec and Jack (worn out from our 2 very large and steep hikes in Folegandros) opted to take the donkey to the top.
There is a reason why Thira is the most famous and photographed island in Greece. There is simply no other place like it. End to end the island is only approximately 9 miles long but the interior Caldera is roughly 6 miles. Which is to say that much of the volume is water of depths exceeding 500-900 feet. Fascinating.
Following Ryan and Sarah’s departure, we spent a family day on the small boat, searching out snorkeling spots and in search of the famed “White” “Red” and Black” beaches. The “Red” Beach is probably the most famous and interesting with oxidized iron accounting for the red color of the cliffs.
Jack has spent some time building the huge project that Sarah delivered. Jack had ordered and paid for the immense Lego with birthday and job money months ago. And Alec and I have gotten caught up on some “life admin” tasks. Gratitude is all shiny and clean following an entire day spent cleaning her inside and out and we are ready for Kelly to arrive next week.
Correction: There are 18 UNESCO world Heritage sites in Greece as of 2021. The caves are still not on the list, however, there are far more than the 5 that I read about in my (clearly outdated) travel guide.
Lefkas, Nydri, Ithaca, Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Katakolo (Olympia), Kalamata, BWA Yacht Service, Olive Route Tours, and so long Kim, Steve and Missy….
After only a short 6 weeks in Greece, we have all fallen in love. It isn’t hard to see why, given that just mentioning the country evokes feelings of old-world charm, azure seas and the famous Mediterranean food which has fueled countless food crazes over the years.
We have been cruising down the Ionian seaside of Greece (Western side) and island hopping the whole way with only a rough draft in mind of the places we would see. As we wrap up 5 weeks of cruising, eating, traveling, and immersing ourselves on the Ionian side of this beautiful country, I knew that I needed to get writing lest 1 single detail of this adventure be lost. As I type, we have just departed Kalamata (yep, the same Kalamata as the famous olives) and we are heading to Milos where we will begin our Aegean portion of this Greek Odyssey. But I digress, let’s start at the beginning. When I last wrote, we were in an anchorage just South of Corfu.
First, a word about BWA Yachting and the services they have provided for us thus far:
The anchorage on the north end of Paxos called Lakka is a lovely place to spend some time. There was hardly any swell and a very protected crescent shaped anchorage which gave us restful nights and stress-free days spent exploring the towns. BWA Yachting continues to provide our yacht agent services. You may remember that we discovered how amazing it is to travel stress-free when someone else is assuming legal responsibility for your status and paperwork requirements. When we checked into Greece in Corfu, we first made the acquaintance of Johnny with BWA who cleared us in, had our port documents stamped, delivered the garage full of Amazon products which we had sent to them to hold for our arrival (very hard to get products in Montenegro and we wanted to prepare for Jack and Alec’s birthday). When we discovered in Paxos that Jack had left behind one of his most prized possessions (his scooter and primary form of transportation), it was Johnny who facilitated its transport to Nidri on Lefkada and George in Nidri who arranged the reunion with Jack and his scooter and made restaurant recommendations for Alec’s birthday. He also forwarded items which were promised in April to our next port. The Paxos agent handled our paperwork, delivered books I had ordered for Jack, and even graciously provided us a car for our use for the day. In Cephalonia, the BWA agent Sofia drove from the other side of the island to deliver a package which I had sent to Athens for our arrival there. In absolutely no hurry to have the package, the agent thought we may need it, so it was transported to us via a fairly long drive from Argostoli to Sami. And finally in Kalamata, Andriani collected our transit log to have stamped in and out, made our marina reservations, recommended an exceptional olive oil tour (more on that later) and got us an air conditioning mechanic through other sources which we could not have found on our own. We continue to marvel at the level of service offered by BWA and we remain incredibly grateful for their knowledge and experience. To say that it is well worth the cost is, for us, an understatement. We are en route to Milos and we have already been “handed off” to the BWA agent there who will continue to look after us. BWA has taken so much of the stress and unpleasantness out of the regulatory aspects of cruising and made it so easy, anyone can do it!
We celebrated Alecs birthday on the Island of Lefkada and after several days hanging on the hook here and meandering around the shops and restaurants, we cruised further South to Nydri where we viewed one of the natural wonders of Greece, the waterfalls pictured below.
Lovers of Greek Mythology and Literature will appreciate the stop we made in Ithaca. Believed by some scholars to be the home to King Odysseus in the famous Homers’ The Iliad and Odyssey, walking in the footsteps of such iconic history has been thrilling. We went for a bit of an explore to the remains of what is believed to be his palace from 2800 years ago. It is astounding to me that structures remain, in whatever form they persist – especially given the unstable nature of the region with catastrophic earthquakes happening with some regularity in the past nearly 3000 years. Still, we had a wander around the olive groves and crawled all over stones placed 3 millennia ago. We also went to the cave of the Nymphs.
Cephalonia has been on my bucket list since I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. The book is so achingly beautifully written, I have been anxious and excited to see the place which was so eloquently brought to life by Mr. De Bernieres. We had the added joy of being reunited with acquaintances from a past life who we would now freely consider to be friends. Paulette and John are experienced and capable cruisers, sailors and yachtsmen in their own right and had considered crossing the Atlantic in their Kadey Krogen. Opting instead to purchase a home in Argostoli, Cephalonia, the birthplace of Paulette’s father and home to many other relatives, we had the great joy of spending a couple of days together. Seeing any place through the eyes of a “local” is an opportunity not to be missed, but from a speaker of the language and relative of the island, it was even more exquisite.
We continued to eat (and eat) the glorious food of the region, and we drove all over the island stopping at the charming seaside villages of Fiscardo and Assos. Just 2 km from the town of Sami, we discovered the Melissani (the Cave of the Nymphs). Located in a landlocked lake and being tended by men in oar boats, the cave is up to 39 meters deep in places and has stalactites dating back 20,000 years. And I thought a 3,000-year-old structure was amazing! Listed in the guidebook as one of the greatest natural wonders of Greece, we were shocked that it wasn’t mentioned on the UNESCO heritage list. Excavations in this cave have uncovered evidence of 3rd and 4th century BC worshippers of the god Pan. Leaving behind the Cave of the Nymphs, we traveled on to the Drogarati Cave. 3 km from Sami and 120 m above sea level, the cave descends to a depth of 95 meters. The literature provided states that it is considered the finest cave in Greece, but I would go much further than that. Completely full of Stalactites and Stalagmites, and home to bats who feed on the mosquitos due to the damp environment, it was the most extraordinary and enchanting caves we have ever seen. We could easily have spent another whole week on the lovely island of Cephalonia, but after a day spent at the beach; where snorkeling Steve and Jack discovered a lovely octopus who treated us all to a view, it was time to continue.
Jack has been looking forward to Zakynthos. An island on the Ionian, it is most recognized as the site of the second most photographed spot on Greece, the shipwreck. For numerous reasons, we opted to view the wreck from above and here is the stunning view of the beach below.
Much more amazing to us were the turtles. Home the one of the largest and most protected sanctuaries for returning nesting Loggerhead Turtles, we were able to spot several between Cephalonia and Zakynthos. We spent some time on the North End of the island tied to a pontoon which cost us nothing at all – literally, free. And then traveled to the South end of the island where we laid at anchor for a few days of swimming and – you guessed it… more eating with Kim and Steve. A sweet and enterprising man came by with a trolley which seemed to operate with the motor of a lawn mower. He sold us some honey which we bought even though we have more than enough on board.
Touching the mainland Greece for the first time, we anchored in Katakolo. Likely you would recognize it as the cruise ship port for passengers visiting the very famous Olympia. A Charming train will take you round trip to Olympia for 10 Euro, but we opted to take a cab for greater flexibility. This archeological site, which is currently, even now undergoing excavations, holds more than 750 significant buildings and ruins. This historical site is the birthplace of the original Olympic games, which were held every four years beginning in the 8th century BC through the 4th century AD. Even the fiercest of enemies who were currently at war laid down their weapons and agreed to a truce while the games were held and ambassadors from each city-state were sent to sign declarations of peace before the start of the games. The winner won not only a wreath made from olive branches but a lifetime supply of olive oil as well as fame and fortune.
According to Wikipedia, “The sacred precinct, named the Altis, was primarily dedicated to Zeus, although other gods were worshipped there”. There is also a lovely village which has restaurants and cafes as well as souvenir shops and a terrific Archimedes Museum where we spent an hour pouring over the wonderful experiments. This village has seen continuous occupation since ancient times.
Also on the site is a museum which houses many of the artifacts found from the archeological progress currently underway.( I was truly shocked that this too has not been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. )I’m sure someone reading this will have a terrific explanation – if yes please let me know because if ever such a site should be protected, this is it. POST SCRIPT… SHOUT OUT TO ANNE FOR letting me know that Olympia has been on the list since 1989. I have no idea why I couldn’t find it but thanks so much for the update.
Leaving Katakolo, we had a 10-hour passage to a place high on Alec’s bucket list, Kalamata. Since the day that Alec saw it on the map, he has wanted to go here so it goes without saying, here is where we said goodbye to the Ionian side of Greece.
Some of you may remember a post I made last year after spending a week with our friends in Piacenza, Italy. I felt as though I was no longer looking through the window into Italian life but rather, I became a full-fledged member of the community. This connection was made more profound by the recency of our time in Venice, in which we felt absolutely no authentic connection to what is “Italy” but rather spent time in a town we felt existed only to support tourism. Reaching this connection isn’t as much a function of the amount of time spent in a place as one may think. It sometimes happens after months in a place, in our case in Kalamata, after only a few days. This is because of the special character of Kalamata and the incredibly generous spirit of the inhabitants. We weren’t treated as though we don’t belong. And when we took a tour of an Olive grove and Olive Mill, we were treated to an experience that moved us right into the kitchen of a 5th or 6th generation olive mill family. We were given a literal and proverbial seat at the table of Greek life in a way in which the previous month had only hinted.
There are two extremes in tourist travel – whether we like the term or not, we are tourists visiting another world. We try to be travelers who seek connection to a community. This can be easy or difficult largely based on the town. If the town exists to support tourism, it is far more difficult to connect to a culture since the culture of a tourist town is to accommodate visitors. If the town exists to support the community, it is far easier for us to connect to what is authentic and real in a place. There won’t be t-shirt shops or souvenir stores. The restaurants will be serving what the locals eat and how they eat. It may be harder to navigate and fewer of the locals will speak English but often the connection, despite these challenges, will be more authentic. This was the case in the lovely Kalamata, in the region of Messenia.
This is one of those times that I regret I’m not a better writer. I wish that I was able to transport you to this experience in the same way that this lovely, storytelling and multi-layered women transported us. It is the type of experience that has left me wanting more. More information. More flavor. And more time to digest the “meal” which was the day we spent at the ANDROUSA MESSINIAS OLIVE MILL. I have been left with a craving to connect with this culture where one wouldn’t dream of cutting down a tree which has fed and nurtured and even healed the ancestors and current occupants of the land in the Messenia area of the Peloponnese. A culture where the words of Hippocrates “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food” are more than a quote, but rather an ethos by which the community lives and works and breaths. A place where the tradition of extracting the oil from the olives isn’t just a job but rather an avocation for all regardless of the vocation of the individual.
This is a land where 10 million (yep that’s right! million!) trees inhabit the space between and around yours and the neighbors’ homes. A place where, regardless of what you do the rest of the year, in October, everyone works to harvest their roughly 300 olive trees owned by each family in the area. A place where children are baptized in the oil of these trees and where a tree is planted for every child born so that they may grow together. This is a place of stewardship and reverence.
When I was trying to put my finger on the differences between our American culture and this organic and earthy existence, it occurred to me that in this place, the rough age of a “teenager” olive tree is older than our entire country. Trees last 2000 years or more! In this lovely region, traditions have been passed down for more centuries and generations than exist in the US. This reverence for earth and trees and fruit isn’t something new age but rather it is in the fabric and the DNA of the heritage. Property “owners” are mere custodians of the lessons and precious resources entrusted by the previous tenants.
Dimitra, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your beautiful love of your home and culture with us. The olive oil that we brought with us will surely nurture our bodies and the stories and knowledge that you shared will surely nurture our souls.
If you are reading this and have any plans to go to the Kalamata region or if you may want to take an agritourism trip – I can’t recommend this place highly enough.
In the 6 weeks we have been cruising and without putting a fine point on it, we have only spent roughly 14 days at a dock and approximately 30 days at anchor. Based on our current needs and without air conditioning, we have been delighted to see that we can live for 12 days without charging the batteries using only stored energy and solar power coming in. This is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT over our situation last year. When we began using air conditioning at night beginning June 1, our consumption went up enough that we could make it 2 nights on stored energy if we stretched it but likely we will run the generator to re-charge every day for 1 hour. Again, an amazing improvement as that one of hour of running will allow us to make water and cool the boat before bedtime and completely re-charge the batteries. So, all in all, this has been a worthwhile (if expensive) upgrade. The solar power coming in has been up to 2400 watts! Incredible!
Living at anchor in Greece has been amazing! The holding here is like setting in cement (a good thing) and we have never felt anything like it. We drop the anchor and the first time, it’s in! So having this solar power and self-sufficiency is incredibly timely. We hope to maintain this throughout the summer.
to our buddy boat MIMPI. We have been close friends in proximity and heart space since last year in Croatia and we spent the winter together in Montenegro in addition to cruising together in Greece for the past 6 weeks. Due to conflicting time schedules and with multiple family and friends coming to visit us, we had to say so long for the time being. We will miss you Kim, Steve and Missy and look forward to the reunion hopefully soon. Be safe!!
Well, that wraps up the Ionian travel experience. We have arrived in Milos and we expect the first of our visitors to arrive next week. Can’t wait to see you Sarah and Ryan!!!
A mere 2 weeks into our cruising season and so much is happening, I’m all ready to make a short post. This is going to have more photos than words but will include a bit of an update on our Victron/Solar upgrade, Jacks school (big changes), and our stops thus far.
We left Montenegro on 30th of April – 22 – right on time! We considered stopping in Albania but decided to press on for a couple of reasons. Primarily, we were so excited to get to Greece, we didn’t want to delay, and we planned to meet up with friends who had a similar ETA in Corfu as we did. We arrived on 1 May and hit the ground running, clearing into customs and dining on our first authentic Greek meal. Amazing!
The next day we met the other friends from Porto MNE and walked the old town, meandered in and out of shops, visited a local veggie market (one of my favorite things to do) and enjoyed a most amazing meal. Fish spas are an interesting thing here and, having never done it before, we all decided to give it a try. Jack LOVED it and felt like he was really treating the fish to something special. I was initially enthusiastic but quickly backed down when I saw the near frenzy the fish went into when the toes approached the water. While we all loved the result of silky-smooth feet, we had mixed reviews on whether we would do it again. Jack was by far and away the most likely and wanted to use his own money to go back the next day. Saying so long to Moray and Debbie on Sol Purpose, We, Kim and Steve on Mimpi (our buddy boat), and us, decided to rent a car and explore the island.
We enjoyed the “Old Fort”, the “New Fort” and the incredible architecture spanning many hundreds of years and several occupants. The most prominent architecture in this area would have to be from the time of Venetian Rule (400 years) and it was they who re-built the forts as evidenced by the iconic Venetian Lion at the gate.
At the marina in Corfu, we continued to use the shore power because we have been having constant trouble with 1 of the 10 batteries which are connected and running in parallel with each other. Due to limitations within the system, if one battery misbehaves, the entire system can shut down. Alec tried to get them to balance for days at the dock but finally, Lloyd suggested simply disconnecting the troublemaker and operating with the 9 remaining. Having made that modification, we left the marina with fingers crossed that we would have some final success. And success we had! While I’m still not thrilled with the customer service of Victron or the installer we had, the product is amazing. We have been at anchor for over 1 week now and we have moved to our 3rd anchorage and in that time, we have only used the generator on 1 occasion and for 4 hours. Even that was not totally necessary, and we could have totally recharged our batteries in 2-3 hours. We continued to operate the generator only to make fresh water and we even performed power intense activities such as launching the dinghy and storing it 3 times. The solar power coming in during the day, while not completely meeting our power needs, is providing enough so that we could operate for a week with only a couple of hours generator usage to replenish. This is an enormous improvement over our time last year whereby we rarely even ran the boat without the generator due to the high electrical requirements underway, and at the anchorage we used the generator every day – not all day- but for easily 5-8 hours depending on the heat.
Jack’s school… This is a biggie folks! (Insert Deep breath)
We have been boat-schooling Jack exclusively for 3 years. We have used whatever resources we could get our hands on and, following a rough idea of what his peers were learning, we tried to significantly add to that curriculum a world view of US events. We have worked to, where possible, present a well-researched approach to any historical information, often finding 3 or more sources for the same historical event. I can’t tell you how this has contributed to our own education and world view as a family, and we have enjoyed it immensely. That is not to say it has always been easy, but the challenge has been worth the reward – for me anyway. But one of the challenges that Jack has had is that he wants me to be his “mom” and cheerleader, not his teacher. He takes my feedback incredibly personally and no matter how I try to temper input with honest praise, he only hears that he has in some way disappointed me. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
So, Jack has requested that we consider Florida Virtual School. We are incredibly fortunate to have this resource at our disposal, and having spent a few months on it, I’m surprised we didn’t do this sooner. While we had nearly finished the work that I had planned for the year, it was a good time to give the Florida Virtual School a shot. Jack signed up for 4 classes. The art class was a shortened class – and he is already finished with it. He loved it and interacted incredibly well with his talented art teacher. Mrs. Bass worked with Jacks current love of art to bring out his own creativity. We are so very much looking forward to next year and taking more art and elective classes. He also signed up for Social Studies, Language Arts (the very class we struggled with feedback in) and Science with Mrs. DiLorenzo. He loves her!!! The classes are a combination of independent study/ tests and quizzes, written work, lectures (though I don’t think he is attending these) and a few times a semester, a discussion-based assessment with the teacher. Jack participated in just such an assessment last week while we were in Paxos. Since we had the appointment scheduled, the rest of our day revolved around that meeting. We brought the wifi router with us and we found a nice, quiet café at which to have lunch and we enjoyed dessert while Jack had his meeting with Mrs. DiLorenzo. She really knows how to put him at ease and Jack doesn’t even know he is being evaluated while they are casually chatting about the things he has learned. Rather than dread the meeting, Jack was truly looking forward to seeing his teacher. Given that he has only known Montessori and boat school, this is a big relief to us.
One of the things I love about this lifestyle is how incredibly independent all the boat kids are. They are very comfortable problem solving, finding their way in shops and restaurants navigating foreign languages and cultures. They run wild and free in marinas without a care in the world. And I love it and support it. But when it comes to school – I admit – I hold too tightly. I have done since the first days of this little experiment and I’m doing it still. So, this is a challenge. Insert second deep breath…. Jack has asked me to trust that he and his teacher have this handled and I’m working to do just that. Working on it – not totally there… but closer. He is nearing the end of the 16-week class, and he tells me he is doing well. So, we shall see. Assuming this goes to plan, I see no reason why we can’t continue this again when we get to Turkey in late October. This coursework doesn’t take as much time as we used to do in school together so it should offer us the opportunity to do more off boat travel. Who knows? But to Mrs. Bass and Mrs. DiLorenzo – thank you very much for your work and efforts. You are such wonderful teachers; I’m humbled by you and grateful to you for your talent and time.
Finally, in only 2 short weeks we have seen so much gorgeous wildlife! Dolphins, mating turtles (not a good shot but you get the picture) and something out of Hitchcocks “The Birds”.
Well, that’s about it for now. Currently we are at an anchorage near Lefkada, Greece. We will be here for a week or more then head to Cephalonia and Ithaka- following in Homers and also St. Paul’s steps…