Saturday, September 11, 2010

Plomarion, Lesbos

During our lovely downwind gennaker run today, Matador celebrated 10,000 miles of adventuring today, leaving UK in July 2006. That's equivalent to 4
times across the Atlantic!
We tied up in the quaint and friendly village of Plomarion, directed to a long quay opposite the small harbour entrance, and not in the protected area
that is labelled as the visitors' berths on our pilot book information. There is a reason why it has been taken over the small local boats, as we
found out by midnight, when a strange surging swell started to come in. Re-anchored further off the quay at 4am, and retied, but still had the most
unpleasant night's non-sleep in 10, 000miles.
When we stepped ashore last night, we were waved over to a table of Greeks to join them for a glass of wine in the taverna right by the boat. Turned
out be be 2 Greek Orthodox priests, the local nutter, and their visitors from Athens. Although his speech was rather slurred, Father Emanuel (right)
seems to be enjoying his retirement all right.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sigri, West Lesvos, North Aegean, Greece

Just arrived in quiet Sigri on the west coast, with clear turquoise chilly water. Checking the anchor was a shivery experience. We are going to go slowly around the south of the island, via the nudist lesbian beach (several miles offshore of course) and then to the natural spas of Loutra, then a restock in Mytilini harbour, over the next week or two. Then slowly south via Khios, Samos and some littl'uns, probably to Marmaris for December.
Anyone coming to join us?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mount Athos and Khalkidiki

Monasteries and sublime beaches - Mount Athos and Khalkidiki
Porto Koufos, 39 58.1N 23 55.1E, 1 September 2010

We finally managed to tear ourselves away from Lemnos, only by promising ourselves that we'll be back in a couple of weeks. We had a perfect force 4 reach (the most perfect and rare wind state for boats) across to the Mount Athos peninusula. This is the most northerly of the 3 fingers that project from the Greek mainland. The Athos peninsula is an autonomous region set aside only for Orthodox monks, and only men can set foot on the land. We could sail 500m from the beach, but it is not permitted to anchor in any of the bays. The medieval monasteries cling to the sides of the mountain, and overhanging rooms seem to be very popular here.
Until recently they did not even allow female animals on the land, and men had to be bearded, but now they have relaxed their rules a bit, it's tricky to get eggs from a male chicken and milk from male goats.

We anchored in Nisos Ammouliani and Nisis Dhiaporos, the small islands north of the Sithonia (middle) peninsula. The water is the clearest we've seen yet, you can see the anchor land on the bottom in 12m (36') of water. There's not much to do other than swim and chill out. There are few provisions available and we have even had to bake our own bread. The photos just can't do it justice. It's an easy drive from Thessalonika airport, and campsites are everywhere. It would be a relatively cheap holiday spot.
We are now tucked up in Porto Koufos, to wait out a blow. It is a wonderful natural harbour in a break in the sheer rock walls of the southern tip of the middle peninsula, but it's a strange place, lacking in real life, with no real sense of community, even though there are several fishing boats kept here. The large villas are probably only in use for the short-lived Greek holiday period of August, and by 1 September the place is already closing down. Although it is a short drive to the mainland, it is far more remote than the island of Lemnos in the middle of the Aegean.

North Aegean, Lemnos

Lovely Limnos
Moudhros Harbour, 39 52.2N 25 15.9E,
Alongside in new port, approx 6 euro per night.

Well, we haven't moved very far since we checked into Greece on 6th August. It was all very straightforward at Myrina, the main town of Limnos 39 52.3N 25 02.9E.
Myrina now sports an extended breakwater so the anchorage is very protected, the holding good and with the attractive town crowned by a fantastic Byzantine/Genose/Ottaman castle it was a delightful place to chill out for a few days. You can swim from the boat in clear turquoise water as many times a day as you wish to recover from the intense August heat.
The checking into EU was easy, just fill in 3 forms, hand over 15 euros and smiles all round, welcome to Limnos. At times like this we appreciate the great birth lottery that we won, with EU passports, no visa issues, and no time limits to worry about. As we wandered around the streets it was comforting to overhear conversations in our mother tongue, even if it was 'yeeerr, you've got snot coming out of your nose!'
We spent a few days enjoying typical Greek food: delicious cheese pies, greek yoghurt, pork chops, pork meat from the enormous 'spitaria' – more than you can eat for very little money and cheap good wine, produced here on the island. All the un-Islamic delights that we have been denied, are available here.
There is a wine factory right on the water's edge. You can even take your dinghy to a small quay just in front of it. You won't find a place more convenient for free wine tasting (Mon-Fri 9-1) with ultimate aquatic parking for carrying home supplies. After the horrors of Turkish wine for too long a time, this is such a treat, and the white wines of Limnos are well known for their quality.
On the main quay, next to the all day supermarket, a small shop has barrels and shelves and shelves of unlabelled bottles containing a clear fluid. Time for more tasting, but best not to do this the same day as the wine factory. This is a grappa like spirit, a kind of ouzo but double or triple distilled, and called tsiporo, with or without aniseed flavouring. The owner and his brother-in-law were doing their best to prove that you could drink the double-distilled (approx 38% proof) stuff all day and not suffer any hangovers. The triple distilled (48%) was a bit more dangerous, they said. They both seemed quite at ease with the world and life in general! He said 'the best thing about Limnos, it is a long way from Athens!' No rules here to say that you have to carefully label all your alcoholic beverages and pay the appropriate duty – just leave the bottles bare and lay low, enjoying quite a few snifters with the customers all day long.
The town is very lively at night, many tavernas line the waterfront for the adults, and on the other side of town the beach bars pump out chilled tunes for the trendy Athenian and Thessoloniki youngsters on holiday for the summer.
This place was very 'sticky', hard to move on from, but we knew that friends on Orca Joss were in Moudhros harbour, and that the island has many more delights to savour.
A short sail round the south of the island took us to the bay of Ormos Kondia 39 50.8N 25 09.4E, where we anchored just off the beach for a couple of days, and we got out the windsurfer for the 1st time in 2 years. In summer the winds blow virtually every day from the north, so anchoring off beaches is so easy – so unlike the Black Sea ! Now we are really starting to unwind and recover from the strangeness of the last 2 months. No kids swimming to the boat to climb up the anchor chain. Just splendid isolation – well except for drinks with the other cruising boats that seem to be equally attracted to the island. Very few charter yachts make it this far north.

Pressing on, we did a short sail in 30 knots – no problem in these protected waters and flat seas, up the deep indentation of Ormos Moudhrou, to the newly refurbished port of Moudhros. At first we anchored outside, but then we learned that inside is a nice new pontoon, with free electric and water for around 6 euro per night. After the hardships of dirty ports and limited facilities of the Black Sea we took the opportunity to tie up and hose off the coal dust, donkey crap, silica sand and fag butts that we had accumulated on deck. The port police are very friendly and efficient here. They will check all your papers and charge for your stay, but I don't blame them, it's not like Greece doesn't need the money is it?
Well, this port is more like superglue than velcro. Up went the sun canopy, out came the bikes from storage. Oh dear, it doesn't seem like we are going anywhere for a while. But it is very pleasant here, and we've met a few locals and longterm holiday makers from the mainland. I have been reading about Alexander of Macedon ( the one who extended Greek culture from north Greece to Egypt and India) and we got chatting to Kleathenis and Evi -their favourite subject – Alexander. We learned so much from them, about history, about the island, food, and culture. They kindly took us in their car to visit the ancient sites of eastern Limnos.
First the archaeological site of Poliochni, excavated by Italian experts, and thought to perhaps be the oldest human settlement in Europe organised into a collectively farmed and governed unit, older than Troy, across the water at the entrance to the Dardanelles. It is a superb site, overlooking the sea, with just the bottom few rows of stones indicating the layout of the houses, stores and meeting rooms. Not much to see, but having just read Guns, Germs and Steel (Jared Diamond), this place really fired my imagination about the leap made from tribal hunter gatherers to settled collective farming and how societies developed from there. I highly recommend the book.
We are both so fortunate to be able to pursue this slow accumulation of understanding of human history and culture, by seeing the sites for ourselves and finding many fascinating books in circulation in the cruising boat network. Neither of us were inspired to learn history at school, but the Med is really the place to figure out how it all fits together, from pharoahs to city states, pax Romana and to the battles for supremacy of the sea into the 20th century, and from patriarchs to popes and Mohammed. The Med has it all.

Further north at Hephaistia a small theatre has been thoughtfully renovated and last week the first production was staged there for 2000 years. Oedipus Rex.
Close by was Sanctuary of Kavirio, where huge nocturnal ceremonies were thought to take place to honour the Gods of the Underworld as on nearby Samothraki. Perhaps Olympia, mother of Alexander, landed by boat here to celebrate with wine, mystery and orgies. Not much to look at now, but a magnificent panorama over the sea. Excitable Greeks exclaimed that we must take the steep path down to the cave below, where they say that one of the men of the fleet of Jason's Argonauts, who were on their way to the Black Sea, rested and recuperated from a leg wound, looked after very well by the sex starved women of the island, who had previously murdered all the men on the island, after a curse had left them smelling badly, and their husbands refused to sleep with them. It must be great to grow up with all this ancient history and mythology all around in even the smallest islands of the Med.

Evi and Kleathenis suggested we should visit the beaches of Faranaki, 3km from Moudhros, as they are among the finest on the island. So we acquired a daily exercise regime of cycling to the beach, swimming and chilling in the shade of the beach palm-tree brollies. was as if we were on holiday at last! This place is going to be hard to leave. It really couldn't be more different than Turkey, where we never quite felt we could relax, and watching women in shapeless bright pink neck-to-ankle swimwear doesn't score high on our enjoyment/ entertainment scale. Greeks really let it all hang out on the beach, being quite well proportioned by cheese pies and spit roast goat overconsumption, but even so they are so much better looking than Turks. Perhaps because many of them are on holiday from the city, they are an interesting product of island chill-out and city-pzazz.
Luckily it has been blowing a hooly for 3 days, 30 to 40 knots day and night, so we have an excuse not to leave for a while, though there is always this nagging thought that the days are getting shorter, we are far north where the summers are shorter anyway and we might never be in this part of world again, so we should really push on for Chalikidiki, Samothraki, Thasos and Lesbos, but we have somehow worked out a route that will bring us back here in a couple of weeks. Limnos and north Greece have always appealed to me, even from when I glanced longingly through the pages of our then new pilot books 4 years ago, and during the depths of our boredom in the Black Sea, I found myself poring over these pages again. So far we haven't been disappointed, this really is a jewel of an island.
Last night Dimitri and Kristine took us out for a sunset tour of remote churches on the east of the island. Sunday evening at 8pm seems like a strange time for a wedding to us, but we stumbled into one in one of the tiny churches, the priest with a long beard and ankle length black frock delivering the liturgy in singsong Greek, while people ambled in and out of the church, lighting candles for loved ones inside or chatting outside with friends. They are all Greek Orthodox churches here, small, quaint and smelling softly of incense, lit by flickering candles to illuminate the gold and silver of the artwork and offerings to the saints. Our Greek guests genuflect and kiss the images of each of the saints, and in a book they wrote the names of the people in their prayers, family and friends and included us in the list. Dimitri, 6 foot tall and looking for all the world like a Greek God, works for the navy on the island base, and he invited us to eat at the military canteen taverna. We stuffed ourselves with food, beer and wine and the bill for 3 was 23 euros. We have been really lucky to meet these lovely people. They invited us to their home for a meal and we sampled real delicious Greek home cooking. We came away with olive oil from Dimitri's father's trees, tsiporo from North Greece from their next door neighbour, dried organo collected from the island. After supper they took us to Poliochni, the archaeological site, as it opens at night when there is a full moon in the summer. There was free admission, live Greek folk music and the opportunity to stroll around the ruins under the moonlight. It really is a magical place.
In return for their kindness and hospitality , we took them sailing for the day. Kristina supplied the food again, dolphins swam with the boat, and we had a wonderful sunset over Mount Athos.
Cruisers have come and gone from the pontoon around us, and we've spent many evenings with the kiwis and aussies on Orca Joss, Silver Heels and Midi, and near-circumnavigators Jane-G, listening to their tales of the antipodean coastal sailing, Pacific islands, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. It's also good to know that they are all suffering in this August heat, as much as us, as are the local Greeks. We had started to wonder whether we could take the heat of the tropics, especially if we are uncomfortable in the northern Mediterranean summer, but now we're encouraged to know we're no worse than anyone else and it's just part of the pain we have to bear, to enjoy this way of life !
I can feel the sympathy oozing out of the screen from you as you read.......
NB Photos will follow. This is sent over the SSB radio link, at 300 bytes per minute!!