The Great Greek Adventure – Part 2: Northern Greece

This second blog post about our Great Greek Adventure covers the time we spent in Northern Greece between 21st and 31st January. During this time we stayed in 6 different towns/cities, drove 2,250km, visited several museums and sites and celebrated John’s birthday. This latter event was undertaken in the usual style at a brilliant Craft Ale Bar in Larissa.

Happy Birthday John

If only we had stayed there all evening instead of going to a less than great Italian restaurant!

Larissa was approximately two thirds of the way between Athens and our next big city stop – Thessaloniki. On our journey between the two we drove along the pleasant Vale of Tembi to the village of Ampelakia where we had hoped to visit the “Georgios Swartz” museum which chronicles the destruction of the village during WW2. Unfortunately it was closed but we had a nice walk round anyway.

Parked outside the museum – a 1950’s Opel Olympia, we think

The old well in the village with the double headed eagle – a symbol of orthodoxy

En route we came across an unusual restaurant!

DC3. John told us the story of his ride in one whilst in Vietnam

Thessaloniki, lying on the coast – but at the centre of the province of Macedonia, has been home to many powerful civilisations. Macedonians, Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs and Ottomans have all left their legacy and elements of their culture which has resulted in Greece’s second city being characterful and diverse.

Diversity was also a feature of the weather whilst we were there. We got variously soaked, chilled by mist and cool winds and enjoyed coffee al fresco in glorious sunshine with wall to wall blue sky.

Thessaloniki in the mist… from Ano Poli looking down

The oldest part of the town “Ano Poli” was once surrounded by fortified Byzantine walls – little of which now remain.

The great walls and gate

A number of churches and monasteries are dotted throughout the labyrinthine alleyways and we slowly wound our way down from the top along numerous steep narrow streets.

This is the only part of the city to have largely survived the devastating 1917 fire. Ironically the fire actually started here in upper Thessaloniki but the wind which was coming from the NE that day swept the flames down over the lower city and towards the sea.

The influence of the Romans is clearly seen in parts of the lower town – the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda of Galerius being the most obvious examples – though parts of an Agora and the ruins of the Palace of Galerius can also be visited. Galerius was an early C4 Emperor and his arch celebrates a victory over the Persians.

Victorious Soldiers

Of the eight original arches/gateways only two remain and there is no sign at all of the dome which once crowned the top.

Built in AD306 the Rotunda was supposed to have been Galerius’s mausoleum. However, whilst travelling in what is now Serbia he succumbed to a strange and unpleasant disease which, apparently, still puzzles historians and meant that he was buried there rather than in his purpose built final resting place in Thessaloniki. Constantine the Great turned it into Thessaloniki’s first church and the Ottomans then converted it to a mosque and built the minaret.

At one end of the waterfront is the port area, the old port buildings having now been converted to bars and museums including the Museum of Photography which we enjoyed visiting. At the other end is perhaps Thessaloniki’s best known landmark – the White Tower.

Built in late C15 it stands at 33.9m high and has seven storeys. Throughout the centuries it has had various names – “Lion’s Tower” [C16], “Fortress of Kalamaria” [C18] and the “Blood Tower” and “Janissary Tower” [C19]. These latter names were coined when it was used by the Ottoman sultan Mahmud II as a prison, torture chamber and place of execution for long term prisoners and where he later apparently massacred rebellious “janissaries” [elite troops of forcibly Islamicised Christian Boys]. Its current name came into being in 1890 when, allegedly, a prisoner whitewashed it in exchange for his freedom.

There is now a museum inside which is very well laid out and, to those who can read Greek [unfortunately not me unless it’s a menu!], quite informative. We all got the general gist of what the exhibits covered but overall I think I much preferred the view from the roof….

….and the sculpture just a little further east along the waterfront.

Two other museums also aroused our curiosity. Mike, John and Jerie visited the Museum of the Macedonian struggle which was even more fascinating as we had been in Athens when the recent protest over renaming Northern Macedonia had taken place. We also went to Ataturk House – a three storey museum inside the Turkish Embassy which chronicled the life of modern Turkey’s illustrious founder “Mustafa Kemel Attaturk”.

You would think that after all this we would want a break from history but Greece has so much to offer that we just didn’t want to miss anything. So, on leaving Thessaloniki on 25th January we went to the birthplace of Macedonia’s most famous leader – Alexander the Great – at the former royal capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon, Pella. Unfortunately it was a rather drizzly day and the site itself seemed rather uninspiring in the rain so we just stopped outside for a brief photoshoot.

Part of the Stoa and Agora

The Atrium

It’s perhaps a shame that we couldn’t see the mosaic floor of the Atrium but, inside the Museum of Pella, we did see mosaics which had come from the Houses of Dionysus and Helen.

In the most luxurious houses the splendid mosaics were matched by equally colourful walls, painted in the “first Pompeiian style” to represent marble with pillars and cornices.

In the entrance there are two important exhibits: A statuette with the characteristic attributes of the god Pan and a head considered a portrait of Alexander the Great

You can just see the horns

The man himself

Taking good photographs in some of the museums is difficult due to lighting and glass cases but at least I was able to get some form of shots in Pella; at our next stop, Vergina, photographs weren’t allowed inside at all – so this was all I could take to remind us of that visit.

Well…. its a mound!

Doesn’t look very inspiring does it? But, it is the burial mound housing the Royal Tombs of some Macedonian kings, including one which is believed to have contained the son of Alexander the Great. Inside the tumulus are the remains of four tombs, two of which still have the full frontage structure. Fortunately I found a website which includes photographs so the following are credited to www.aigai.gr.

Phillip II’s tomb

The finds from the tombs are also contained in the museum and some of the pieces were stunning. The most impressive tomb, and artefacts from it, was the final resting place of Philip II of Macedon who was buried in 336BC by his son Alexander in the most lavish funeral ceremony ever in Ancient Greece.

The urn and gold wreath of Philip II

A selection of silver utensils placed in the tomb for banquets in the afterlife

I was blown away by the pieces belonging to “Meda”, a Thracian princess married to Philip and buried with him.

The golden diadem of Meda

Our next couple of days were spent in Ioannina, set on the western shore of Lake Pamvotis. The car journey to Ioannina gave us a taste of things to come….

….and, we found ourselves in a brilliant small city…

Part of the castle and old town

….with stunning winter scenery.

Cool – literally!

As well as taking an evening stroll around the castle on the shores of the lake we also spent a day on “To Nisi” [The Island]. I imagine that in summer it is packed with tourists, but on the Sunday we visited it was peaceful even with a couple of ferry loads of Greek families taking advantage of the cold but beautiful weather.

The noisiest inhabitants were a flock of argumentative geese!

As well as several coffee shops, restaurants and gift shops designed to entrap visitors there is the “Ali Pasha” museum.

The main house

Nicknamed “Asalan” [Lion], to distinguish him from several other Ottoman pashas called Ali, he lived a life full of murder, intrigue and extortion. Revered by some, particularly his second wife, Kira Vassiliki…..

Aubusson tapestry of Ali Pasha and Kira

……. and hated by others he most often acted as an independent sovereign, failing to carry out the orders of the Ottoman sultan. Sultan Mahmud II finally had enough and sanctioned Ali Pasha’s assassination. Falsely assured of a pardon he moved to “To Nisi” where he was trapped and shot.

Says it all!

Also on the island are “The Caves of Pamvotis”. First inhabited by monks in C15, they were used in 1940 by terrified inhabitants of the island who fled to them during a bombing raid by the Italian Air Force.

The figures were lifesize

Talking of monks and caves, our next stop was Meteora, an amazing World Heritage site, famous for its massive pinnacles of rock atop of which stand several monasteries.

Wow, our first sighting

The geological heart is the “Adrachti” – the obelisk – a striking column visible from some distance away.

These peaks were once sediments of an inland sea….

…. until about 10 million years ago when tectonic movement completely changed the landscape. Weathering and erosion has since done its work to form the massive outcrops.

Imposing

From C11 hermit monks lived in the scattered caves….

Supposedly the wooden remains of an old frame dwelling

……but by C14 Turkish incursions into Greece were on the rise so monks sought safer havens to avoid the bloodshed by Muslim forces. The inaccessibility of the tops of the peaks were ideal and the earliest monasteries were reached by climbing removable ropes and ladders. Later windlasses were added so monks could be hauled up in nets – still a fairly precarious method! It wasn’t until the 1920’s that steps were hewn to gain access and now, fortunately for the thousands of visitors who flock there every year, there is convenient road access.

According to our friends, Dave and Margaret, who have also visited and spent time walking with guides, these monasteries are now very rich from the takings. They also reported being told that the months June/July/August are not the time to visit! – just in case any of you are thinking of making the trip.

From Meteora we made our way south to the shores of the Gulf of Corinth where, you may remember Mike and I sailed last summer. We based ourselves for three nights in the lovely small town of Galaxidi and finally managed to visit the nautical museum which had eluded us last June. A fascinating insight into the sea-faring history of the town was provided by a local English speaking guide and I was especially interested in these items……

Tools to measure speed and distance covered. The string was attached to a log thrown overboard

….from whence originated today’s Ship’s Log.

Our main reason for basing ourselves in Galaxidi was the relatively close proximity to Delphi. Stemming from the word “delphis” [womb] – the Ancient Greeks chose this spot as the centre of their world and built the Sanctuary of Apollo.

Temple of Apollo

Delphi was at its greatest between C6 and C4BC when countless pilgrims made their way to the sanctuary to take guidance from “The Oracle”.

Rock of the Sibyl

To reach the Sanctuary they had to walk up the Sacred Way, pass the Athenian Treasury …..

Part of the Sacred Way

The Athenian Treasury – just one of several treasuries at the original sanctuary

…. and climb the slope at the end of the polygonal wall which separated the Temple of Apollo from the rest of the sanctuary.

Interlocking stones featuring approx 800 inscriptions relating to slave emancipation

The original bronze Serpentine Column to the east of the Temple was removed in AD324 by Constantine the Great and can now be seen in Istanbul. It was built at Apollo’s Temple to commemorate the defeat of the Persian Empire at the Battle of Plataea in 479BC. This replica replaced it in 2015.

The Tripod of the Plataeans… aka the Serpentine Column once held a gold tripod in the shape of a three headed serpent

Near to the entrance of the sanctuary stood the magnificent statue “The Bull of Kerkyra”. Made from three silver sheets connected together by bands of silver plated copper held in place by bronze or silver nails it was forged by an Ionian artist [from Corfu – hence its name] in C6BC. Traces of the wooden core were found as well as hundreds of small pieces of the metal sheets which have been used to recreate the statue as much as was possible. It now forms one of the exhibits in the Archaeological Museum at the site.

Mind blowing

Other spectacular artefacts included these relief representations of mythical battles carved from animal bone….

Bone reliefs probably depicting the Fall of Troy

…. many statues – some of which were placed against a photograph of the excavations which I thought was quite clever.

Near the entrance to the museum an illustration of what the Sphynx looked like on top of its column…..

The tall iconic column reached 12.5m [approx 41ft] high

……gave some indication of the scale when you saw the actual sphynx.

A gift from Naxos – supposed to ward off evil

The “Twins of Argos” also stood out as examples of the “Kouroi” which I wrote about in the previous blog…..

Believed to be two brothers – “Cleobis” and “Biton”. Pairs of statues are rare in Greek Art

…. and finally, in the end room we saw the life size bronze charioteer which commemorates a victory in the Pythian Games of either 478 or 474BC.

Life size and quite life like

Unfortunately we were unable to visit either the theatre or the stadium but one other structure which did take my eye at the main site was this watercourse.

Great engineering

A little to the east of the main sanctuary lies the Sanctuary of Athena Pronea. Constructed in C4BC, it became the first place of worship for pilgrims who visited subsequently. Unfortunately much of it was destroyed in an earthquake and landslide. The rectangular foundations are all that remains. Fortunately the “Tholos” [Rotunda] fared better though only a small part still stands of what was once a very beautiful building with twenty outer main Doric columns and ten inner half Corinthian columns all made of marble.

Temple of Athena…….

Well, I started this post with photographs to show how we spent the evening of John’s birthday. Rather surprisingly, for my posts, no other scenes of joviality and feasting have appeared so it seems fitting to end with a couple of shots which prove we  took eating, drinking and socialising just as seriously as we did studying culture.

Cooking in one of our Airbnb kitchens

Inside “Foul Tou Meze”, Thessaloniki [What a name for a restaurant!]

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/03/28/the-great-greek-adventure-part-2-northern-greece/

The Great Greek Adventure – Part 1: Athens

For Mike and I, the Great Greek Adventure started when, towards the end of 2018, we were contacted by two lovely friends who we originally met in Tijax Marina in Guatemala in 2013. John and Jerie told us they were coming to Europe for three months and that they wanted to start their trip by visiting us, and Greece, for just over three weeks.

Thus the planning – and therefore the adventure – began and over the next few weeks an itinerary developed which would take in the many archaeological and other historic sites as well as cities, towns and villages and mountains, lakes and coast.

I decided it was impossible to write about everything we did and saw in one blog post so this one covers the five days we spent in Athens at the start of our trip.

Posing in front of the Roman Agora

Athens history dates back to Neolithic times but is most remembered for its “Golden Age” which lasted from 479BC when the Persian Empire was defeated and its oppressive rulers ejected from Athens to 404BC when Sparta gained the upper hand in the Peloponnesian Wars which had started in 431BC. This may seem to be a short period of time to call a golden age but it was a time when Athens was the principal city of Ancient Greece. The most famous of Athens’s monuments – the Parthenon – dates from this period, as do most of the other buildings which make up the Acropolis.

For a city dedicated to the goddess Athena who, according to myth, had beaten Poseidon in a contest to have the city built in their honour, only the best architects, materials and craftsmen would do. Unsurprisingly time, earthquakes, invading armies, pilfering, poor early renovation techniques and visitors footsteps have taken their toll and only remnants of its former glory remain – but they still manage to amaze.

The Propylaia – the three halled monumental entrance to the Acropolis

Just inside the gateway -Part of a shrine dedicated to “Health/Medicine

The Temple of Athena Nike

The word Parthenon means “virgin’s apartment” and was the largest Doric temple in Greece and the only one completely constructed, aside from its wooden roof, of white Pentelic marble.

View of the iconic Parthenon looking South West

Managed to miss  most of the cranes and scaffolding

The east side with a small part of a pediment remaining

The Metopes, square carved plaques, variously commemorated the Olympian Gods fighting the giants, Theseus leading youths into battle, the sacking of Troy and the contest of the Lapiths and Centaurs.

Centaur and Lapith

Little of the Pediment sculpture remains….

The corner of a pediment

….. and, similarly, a significant part of the most famous frieze depicting the Panathenaic Procession was destroyed or damaged by the Turkish gunpowder explosion in 1687.

Sadly and, in my opinion wrongly, much of what now remains of that frieze is in the British Museum, Lord Elgin having taken it along with one of the six Caryatids – the large columns supporting the south portico of the Erechtheion.

The sanctuary of Erechtheion

The other five are in the Acropolis Museum [which we didn’t actually visit] and the ones seen “on site” are plaster casts. It must have been tempting to make the casts whole but much better, I think, to replicate what now remains of them.

Four of the maidens from Karai

It was in the sanctuary of Erechtheion that the deity contest took place and Athena won it by producing the Olive Tree.

Athenas tree!

This tree is, reputedly, a cutting of the original tree, the cutting having been taken during WW2 to protect it from the Germans. Not sure how it was supposed to have been protected from all the other marauders and pilferers! But it makes a nice story.

Scattered around the site are column bases and capitals.

 

The one immediately above shows the hole in the top into which a chunk of wood was placed which fitted into a corresponding hole in the bottom of the next tier of the column. Damn clever eh.

On the slopes of the Acropolis are two theatres. Completely restored and still used for performances is the Roman Theatre…..

The Odeon of Herodas Atticus

…. but whilst the view was much more impressive from that one I found the Theatre of Dionysos far more interesting. It was the world’s first theatre, built by the Persians. Group singing and dancing contests were held annually and, on one occasion an artist left the group and took centre stage for a solo performance. As all you Thespians out there know, his name was “Thespis”.

Decorating the “Hyposkenion”, which was the support for the “Proskenion” [raised stage] were characters from the myth of Dionysus and his cult. Satyrs and Silens played a supporting role in all that Dionysus did and here two, of an original three, Silens can be seen doing just that.

The remaining side Silen

The central Silen – echoes of Atlas and Herakles

Most of the theatre seats were made of Piraeus limestone….

Limestone or marble signified your seat in society

…. but priests and other officials had front row thrones made of Pentelic marble.

The “posh seats” including the priests throne

Some, as you can see,  had their names carved on them and the centre seat was reserved for the Priest of Dionysus and had a canopy to shade him from the sun during performances.

Menander – a Greek dramatist who wrote 108 Comedies

In 338BC all the city states of Greece were captured by the Macedonians, of whom you will hear more in the next blog, and they, in turn were defeated by the Romans. At this time Athens entered her second important phase from around 180BC to 529AD and during this period various Roman Emperors, whilst on the one hand spiriting away some of the Classic artwork to Rome, on the other built most of the rest of the iconic sites of Athens.

Hadrian’s Arch in the foreground

In AD132 Hadrian built an arch to commemorate the completion of the Temple of Zeus, another work undertaken at his behest, 700 years after it was begun and then abandoned by the Persian Peisistratos.

The Temple of Zeus. Only 15 of 104 columns remain

The fallen column – blown down in a gale in 1852

The largest structure constructed under Hadrian’s direction was the Library.

The only wall left standing

Archway and pillar leading the eye to the Acropilis

Very little now remains and a current occupant of the site was more interested in the grass than the stonework.

There are two “agora” – the Ancient Agora and the Roman Agora which were the centre of Athens life.

The Roman Agora houses the “Horologian of Andronikos Kyrrhestes” – better known as the Tower of the Winds….

The Tower of the Winds

….which we found quite fascinating.

The roof is perfectly preserved and consists of 24 marble slabs around a circular keystone. Difficult to photograph so I hope you get the gist.

Incredible workmanship

On each of the eight exterior walls were incised lines which corresponded with an equal number of sundials and the eight main winds were portrayed above.

The SE wind

Apeliotes was the Greek deity of the south-east wind. As this wind was thought to cause a refreshing rain particularly beneficial to farmers, he is depicted carrying fruit, flowers and grain draped in a light cloth.

We couldn’t work out exactly how the water clock worked…

Such mathematicians

…. but there was some form of hydraulic mechanism which used varying amounts of pressure to power it.

We hope that any waste water was then directed to clear out the latrines.

Wot – no porcelain

A sign told us they drained into the main river running through Athens – bet that was lovely in the hot summer!

The Ancient Agora, bigger and more impressive, contained several remarkable buildings.

Entrance to the Odeon of Agrippa

The C10 Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles.

Built to commemorate the teaching by St Paul in the Agora, the exterior patterns imitate the Islamic “Kufic” style of brickwork.

The exterior of the Stoa of Attalos has undergone considerable renovation but it was quite amazing to think that this, and every other “stoa” in Ancient Greek cities, was a prototype for the shopping arcade.

Each doorway was originally a different shop

At the other side of the site and originally surrounded by metal workshops and foundries was the Temple of Hephaistos.

The Temple of Hephaistos in the distance

The Metatopes on the north and south sides of the temple depicted the labours of Theseus, and these, on the east side, are some of the twelve labours of Hercules.

Metopes with Triglyphs – the three banded spacers – between

Not surprisingly there are several museums in Athens and we had to make choices about which to visit. The small museum in the Ancient Agora contained some fascinating information about some of its artifacts…

A Klepsydra – part of a type of water stopwatch to time speeches

Gold decoration for shrouds

Fascinating

Naming and shaming

… and the private collection at the Benaki museum some outstanding exhibits. [Sorry Gill, I didn’t take a photo of the bibles.]

Phenomenal – a gold snood

A complete sitting room from a Macedonian mansion

But, no cultural trip to Athens would be complete without a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. Just wow.

Monumental Attic grave amphora from around 750BC

Larger than life – a Kouroi – one of the earliest large stone figures

The life-size female equivalent – a Kore

The debate continues – Zeus or Poseidon. Whoever it depicts it is a magnificent bronze

Great detail

Representations of the god Bes

One of the rare preserved statues of the god Sarapis Amun Agathodaemon

Gold death mask known as “The Mask of Agamemnon”

I found these rather ghoulish. Gold burial coverings for a baby

Egyptian influence – funerary stela of the deceased Khenit and her son Kai

Part of double false doors of a tomb

Copper alloy with metal inlay statue of the princess/priestess Takushit- approx 670BC

Such detailed hieroglyphs and deities of the Nile Delta

“The Artemisian Jockey” – bronze statue recovered in pieces from the shipwreck off Cape Artemesian

Physical beauty

One of Mike’s favourite statues -Aphrodite, Pan and Eros

The incredible parian marble “Harpist of Keros” – from around 2500BC

Phenomenal – look it up. The Antikythera Mechanism – the worlds first computer

We did lots and lots of walking from site to site and museum to museum but our favourite walk was in the late afternoon round the base of the Acropolis along the popular promenade. The highlight was standing on the rocky outcrop just below the Acropolis on Aeropagus hill. Amazing views.

The city spread out before us

“On the Rocks”!

The sun sets over the Saronic Gulf

Our final “not to be missed” event was the Sunday Changing of the Guard which takes place in front of the Parliament Building.

Whilst the guards change on the hour, every hour, on Sunday a whole platoon marches down accompanied by a band.

A full show

The spectacularly costumed Guards are called “Evzones” and they are actually guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – with the names of battles in which Greek Troops lost lives inscribed along the wall.

Amazingly embroidered jackets

Changeover

So, all in all, a brilliant time in Athens – the place where Europe apparently starts and where I was, for now, still European!

Says it all

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/03/14/the-great-greek-adventure-part-1-athens/

A slow[ish] passage from Porto Cheli to Kalamata

You might recall that at I wrote about the “Medicane” and some of the chaos it caused around the Argolics and Saronics when it crossed the area on 29th September. When Mike and I left Porto Cheli on 2nd October we saw further evidence of damage. As well as dodging lots of branches and sometimes whole trees which were floating around we also passed this boat….

Really hope there was no-one on board when it overturned

….and, on arrival at our first overnight anchorage, could see this beached yacht in the north part of the bay.

We had read on the internet that it was a boat chartered by a group of ten and blown ashore in the strong winds. Fortunately they all escaped unharmed.

The anchorage was in the large Bay of Kyparissi which lies on the eastern Peloponnese coast 24 miles south west of Porto Cheli. We anchored just off the main town….

Lovely surroundings in Kyparissi Bay

……and went ashore for a look around. I expect that it is quite a bustling destination in the summer months with yachts – as there are several mooring options – and land based tourists, but it was very quiet when we were there, with more signs of bygone days than the present.

1869….

… and 1885

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again we had parted company with “Coriander” as they were heading north to meet family and we were making a leisurely passage to our winter marina in Kalamata.

We basically just went with the weather, sailing when we could and sheltering when necessary. We weren’t in a hurry so also took time out to see places along the route. All in all we spent 17 days getting from Porto Cheli to Kalamata, during which we sailed on 11 of them and covered 220 miles.

The weather on 3rd October was very strange – a kind of lilac grey tinge to the sky and no wind. It was definitely a motoring day but we only had 13 miles to go to from Kiparissi to Ierika so that was fine. We arrived late morning and as there was a boat alongside the village quay we anchored opposite under the cliffs. However, they moved and we took their place. We really liked Ierika and, although there isn’t room for many boats either at anchor or on the quay it would be a brilliant place to “hide” in all winds except, perhaps, strong winds from the west.

Above the small village are the ruins of the Ancient City of Zarakas…

Some of the ruins

…. and we spent a pleasant couple of hours in the late afternoon just wandering around before a sundowner on the quay.

Whilst walking alongside the lagoon we saw this fish.

At first we thought it was dying – and then, when we saw lots of others doing the same thing, decided it was probably feeding – though whatever it was after was too small for us to see.

Our last port of call on the Eastern Peloponnese was Monemvasia….

Approaching the island

Old village from the east as we sail by

…..or, to be more accurate, Yefira, the town which has developed on the mainland and is now linked by causeway to Monemvasia island. The name derives from “moni emvasi” and means single entrance. Until the late C19 a fourteen arch bridge – the middle part of which was a drawbridge – joined the Lakonia coastline with the rock.

Although we had been here once before we still walked up to the old village……

Signposted walkway to the upper village… didn’t go anywhere and had to turn round!

……which, at least in the lower part, has been restored considerably in the intervening ten or more years.

Original gateway to upper village

Old upper village

Dome of C12 church “Hagia Sophia” in upper village

Lower village from above

More ruins!!!

Most recently restored square in lower village

Main square

Yefira is a very popular stop for yachts rounding Cape Maléas and the harbour is generally pretty full. Having said that, the available anchorages in the large bay and under the causeway are rather rocky and subject to surge and the holding, if med moored on the harbour pier, is poor – especially in cross winds. We were therefore very glad to find one of about five available alongside spots on the harbour wall empty – and, even better, the one furthest away from the entrance. We were therefore well protected from the wind, waves and surge during the four nights we stayed there.

Others were not so lucky. At about 3 am on 6th October I was awakened by the sound of anchor chains. Two boats on the pier had dragged and were re-anchoring. About two hours later one of them dragged again so went alongside the pier, which isn’t actually allowed – but there was no-one to make him move in the middle of the night and it was definitely his best option. All of this had woken up the crews of the three or four other boats on the pier and, quite sensibly, some went to check their anchor chains too. One couple decided they wanted to tighten their chain so turned on the engine to power the windlass. Apparently they heard some kind of “pop” and smoke started coming out of the engine compartment. They got off the boat and by the time I got into our cockpit, having once again been disturbed by the commotion of the other boats leaving the pier, this is what I saw….

Mike and I sat in the cockpit with fire extinguishers, as did the other boats moored alongside the harbour wall. There was absolutely nothing any of us could do to assist so all we could do was try to ensure that no other boats caught fire.

Genoa sheets burnt through and sail unfurled

Fishermen moved the two fishing boats moored on the other side of the pier to the alight boat and eventually the coastguard and fire brigade turned up.

Coastguard boat struggled to hold fire fighters close enough

Fishing boat got closer and the alight boat anchor chain was cut

Next to the pier ….. almost burnt out

All that remains

Three boats from the pier who had spent a few hours outside the harbour motoring around returned and rafted alongside us and others on the harbour wall.

It was an awful thing to witness but fortunately no-one was injured and no other boats were damaged. We were impressed by the speed in which an anti- pollution skirt was put around the burnt yacht – in fact it was done so quickly that they then had to wet it through a few times to stop it also burning.

It’s great that anti-pollution is taken so seriously. If it wasn’t, I suspect we wouldn’t see some of the wildlife we are lucky enough to come across on our journeys. Over the course of this passage the following sightings were particularly memorable.

Turtle in Yefira harbour

White wagtail – Monemvasia

Stunning kingfisher at Petalidhion

I mentioned above that Monemvasia is popular with yachts rounding the Cape [Akrotíri Maléas] which has quite a fearsome reputation, so picking a good weather window was important to us. Although it is generally less threatening travelling east to west [as we were] we still didn’t want to round it and find ourselves in fierce headwinds or heavy rolling seas.

The day we chose for rounding it, 8th October, dawned bright and fair with negligible wind – just like the forecast has said – and we left Monemvasia at 8.30am. Approaching Maléas the sea was wonderfully calm….

Lighthouse at the Cape

……and we had a 1kn current with us. It only lasted a short time but, when it is going the way you are, every little helps!

Having rounded the headland we were subjected to about 20 minutes of 20kn gusts off the mountains but the wind then settled to a lovely 10kn from the south and we crossed Ormos Vatika to arrive at our chosen bay on the small island of Elafónisos at 2pm.

A little gem of a place with crystal clear water and a lovely beach. We didn’t actually go ashore but we hope to revisit at the start of our 2019 sailing season.

Our next destination was Yíthion, 28 miles NW at the head of the Gulf of Lakonika. The cruising guide describes it as a pleasant low key place seldom visited by yachts. We really liked it. When we arrived there wasn’t much room to berth because whilst it might not be much visited by transiting yachts it is clearly a place where some people have chosen to berth longer term and we took one of maybe two or three spaces available at the inner end of the row of boats along the harbour wall.

Looking over the harbour to the newer part of town

We would certainly recommend it as a place to visit for at least a couple of days – for the general ambience if nothing else – and, if the harbour wall is full there is the option of the anchorage protected by the causeway.

Anchorage and older part of town from the island, Nisis Kanai, now attached by causeway

Maniot Fort on the island

Nisis Kanai lighthouse

We have tried and tested the anchorage because having left Yithion on 11th October for a nice 11 mile sail in 10-14kn winds across the Gulf to Elaia we found that we did not at all fancy the mooring options there so turned round and sailed back to Yithion and opted to anchor. In fact, because winds seem to gust from the north and blow across the harbour we actually felt more secure in the anchorage than in the harbour.

The island from the anchorage

The next four nights we also spent at anchor – firstly at Scutari Bay and then at Porto Káyio on the east coast of the Mani Peninsula and the third and fourth nights at Karavostasi in the large Bay of Limeni half way up the Mani’s west coast.

Wonderfully secluded “Fisherman’s Cove in Scutari Bay

Popular Porto Kayio

The Mani is an amazing place steeped in history and is a very popular place with holiday makers in camper vans – though how they manage some of the steeply winding narrow roads I don’t know. The drivers obviously don’t suffer from vertigo.

An original Maniot Village – now an upscale holiday resort!

Its east and west coasts are very different and are sometimes referred to as the Bright side and the Dark side. When rounding the tip of the peninsula the huge bulk of Capo Grosso gives you the first inclination of why the “Dark side” might be appropriate. The imposing coastline is peppered with caves and split by ravines and it is perhaps no wonder why at least two places along its length are in the list of many claimed entrances to Hades.

Two entrances in one!!

Almost directly across the Gulf of Messiani from Limeni lies the lovely town of Koroni….

…. and we spent two nights here, taking time out to visit the castle…..

The monestary inside the fort

One of the churches in the fort built in the left nave of an older church

Inside the small church

The old walls – pretty thick

Bell tower of lowest and newest church

….and the splendid wine shop tucked down a back street.

The anchorage is mainly sand but there are huge boulders on the bottom. The water is very clear, which certainly makes it easier to spot them and we motored around quite a bit of the anchoring space trying to find somewhere we would not snag a rock with the anchor or chain. However, there are so many it’s not easy to find a 40m boulder free “hole” to drop the anchor in the middle of and when the wind shifted overnight our chain wrapped around one. Fortunately we were able to clear it easily by driving in a semi-circle.

We left Koroni on 18th October and arrived in Kalamata on the 19th having spent our final night at anchor off the small working town of Petalídhion.

Overall it was a really nice pleasantly paced trip from Porto Cheli to Kalamata and, although we weren’t booked in until the beginning of Nov there was no problem with us arriving 2 weeks early [we had contacted them to check] and we settled happily into our winter berth.

Home from home

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