Ionian Islands July 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Our Ionian Cruise on the Velos

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Ionian Island cruise - what a great week.

Its been a while since the last post as we were cruising the Ionian Sea and visiting some beautiful islands. There is quite a bit to read below so if it all gets too much just look at some of the beautiful images and for all of you enduring the Australian winter imagine blue skies, 30 degree temperatures and a gentle breeze!

Saturday 26th June

Our bus to Lefkas doesn’t leave until 1pm so there is no rush for breakfast or to pack so we take things easy before heading off to the bus station at midday. We have consolidated our “boat clothes” into a couple of soft bags and stored the cases at the hotel.

The bus station is just as crowded, noisy and smelly as last time and we had about 45 minutes to kill. Kath wrote a couple of post cards which I put in a postbox I found near the taxi rank – who knows if anyone clears the postbox. We were pleased to get on the bus on time and slowly pull out of the station. The 5 hour bus trip was not too bad, with one comfort stop on the way. Much of the scenery was of distant mountains but there were a few interesting sights on the way. Kath saw an impressive man made canal (I was asleep), we crossed a long suspension bridge and there were beaches with lots of kite surfers on them. Liz managed to sleep much of the journey – she said she wasn’t asleep but as the photo below suggests she was either catching flies, practicing at opening her mouth for her next dentist appointment or....she was fast asleep! Sorry Liz but I did say the photo was going on the blog!

When we pulled into the Lefkas bus station at 6pm there was no obvious taxi rank and knowing that the port was not too far away (we had driven through it to get to the bus station) we decided to walk to our hotel. I felt like a pack horse saddled up with a back pack and two side bags! All of a sudden the walk didn’t seem as short as before and what exacerbated it was that we couldn’t see the hotel sign at first and so walked right past it. A few questions of local bar employees and we eventually found our way there and happily shed the load.

Lefkas is a very large port with dozens of yachts lining the dock – so many in fact that we couldn’t find the Alexandros. Eventually we decided to wait until the morning and try again, as it was now time for dinner. We found a nice tavern for a simple dinner where we were able to see a beautiful sunset before heading back to the room where I watched the soccer and brought the diary up to date. Finally turning the TV off at midnight I realised that Lefkas is a party town as the sound of revelry outside was very apparent – for many hours.

Sunday 27th June

We were not scheduled to join the boat until mid afternoon so after breakfast Kath and Liz went off in search of the Alexandros and the local shops whilst I uploaded the diary to the blog and added the photos.

Arriving back an hour or so later the girls declared the Alexandros nowhere to be found. I hope Thanos has his mobile phone turned on as I call him to ask where he is. Sure enough he answers straight away and says he’ll meet us at the hotel at midday to say hello and explain where the boat will be.

No wonder we couldn’t find the Alexandros as Thanos explains how he and his wife Alicja have recently upgraded from the 51ft Alexandros to the 56ft Velos. What a pleasant surprise to have a free upgrade! As requested, we arrive at the boat at 3pm where Thanos shows us our cabins and explains how everything works, including our ensuite shower and toilet. Kath and I are sharing a double cabin whilst Liz has a double cabin to herself (including ensuite) – she’ll be shocked when she learns that not all boats are like this.

Before long Thanos’ wife Alicja arrives and introduces herself. Alicja originally came from Poland to work for Thanos on the boat as a hostess and over the last several years of working closely, and obviously very successfully, they realised that more than just a working relationship had formed!

Our other travelling companions for the week arrive shortly afterwards. Dustin and Ashley are in their mid twenties and are from Texas where Dustin is involved in the family sugar cane business and Ashley works as a co-ordinator in the child health area of a Charter school system in the region. Jordi and Montse are a few years older than Dustin and Ashley but are here from Barcelona on their honeymoon. Jordi is an Orthopaedic Surgeon and Montse is a translator in the court system.

Over a welcome glass of champagne, olives and smoked salmon sandwiches (don’t worry nanny and gonny Liz’s getting her fair share of smoked salmon!) it became quickly apparent that we had ended up with a lovely group of fellow travellers to share the adventure with.

Before we knew it Thanos had the map out and was suggesting a rough itinerary for the week. Happily agreeing with his recommendation (really not knowing any better) we suddenly found ourselves out motoring down the narrow channel out of Lefkas and towards the Ionian Sea. As soon as possible Thanos got people involved as we unfurled the genoa and killed the engine – sudden silence as we sailed smoothly over the calm water. It really was amazing to feel the power of the boat each time there was a gust of wind and the speed picked up. This is no Sydney to Hobart mind you as we are sailing the calm waters of the Ionian Sea but it is nonetheless a great feeling to feel the wind rushing past sitting on the front of the deck. I think I am going to enjoy this!! The photo below of a yacht we passed shows how smooth the water was at times.

The sail to the first night stop in the village of Vathi on the island of Meganisi was an easy 1 ½ hours which seemed to pass in no time. That night we all ate together at Stavros’ tavern with whom Thanos and Alicja had obviously built up a good friendship over the years as the family looked after us as though we were all long lost friends. Great food again, with very moist baked whole White Snapper for main. It was a lovely night and reinforced that we had indeed had the great fortune to end up with a compatible group of travellers.

Back on the yacht, our first night’s sleep wasn’t as comfortable as hoped. It wasn’t the motion of the boat, which was in fact minimal, but an infernal mosquito that we couldn’t find!

Monday 28th June

After our somewhat broken sleep we ventured out of the cabin at about 8.30am for a breakfast of cereal, bread, homemade jams and fruit.

A day of great expectation, being our first full day on the boat, was to be a day of mixed emotions however. After breakfast I switched on my mobile phone to check for messages and found a message we had been dreading. Sadly it told us that our beloved dog Hannah who has been our companion for the last 15 ½ years had passed away at the vet’s overnight. Needless to say there were quite a few tears from all of us in the cabin before I rang the vet to get all the details. Our only consolation was that she had had a happy last couple of weeks at the vet where she had become “part of the family” and that she died suddenly in her sleep. It will be very sad to go back to an empty house (apologies to Romeo the budgie but he’s not quite the same as a dog) without Hannah constantly roaming around to find Kath’s or my feet to sleep under or to try and pinch some dinner off our plate if we’re eating off our laps. I will also miss having to carry her out at night to put her to bed.

The holiday continues however and we stopped in a bay on the east side of Meganisi Island in the morning for our first swim. The expectations of clear blue water coves were immediately realised as I jumped off the bow of the boat (photo courtesy of Liz) into the slightly cooler than expected water. A few seconds later I was accustomed to the temperature and enjoying a swim in the surprisingly buoyant sea. I was later to discover (when I remembered you can’t breathe through a snorkel when it’s underwater!) that the waters of the Mediterranean have a high salt content. The other photo is of Velos taken from the dinghy when we went out for a little row.

Lunch, which Alicja had been cooking all morning down in the galley, smelled delicious. Most of the produce, except for the sausage, was from Thanos’ parents’ garden so was fresh and pesticide free and tasted beautiful – ratatouille, lentils, greek salad, tzatziki followed by fresh figs.

Time for another swim before hauling up the anchor and setting sail. This time it was Liz and Kath who took the plunge off the side of the boat accompanied by screams as they hit the water. Once we were under sail Liz had a go at opening the genoa using the winch and discovered that even though it is highly geared, it can still be hard work!

Our second night was spent in the village of Kalamos on the island of the same name. It was a quaint little village with a relatively small harbour which was already close to full. Thanos was able to find one space to squeeze in as again we were the biggest boat there. Fortunately the new boat even has small jets on the left and right of the bow which aid in propulsion and steering when reversing into tight spots.

Alicja had recommended a beach 15 minutes along the headland so we set of for yet another swim. There was a deserted windmill on the shoreline and a long pebble beach. After laying our towels on the pebbles we gingerly walked to the water as the pebbles are perfectly smooth but they are very hard and lumpy underfoot. The water was beautiful and I happily swam and floated on my back whilst the girls fossicked amongst the pebbles on the water line. When I went back to the towel I even managed to squirm around on the pebbles enough to create a dent that matched the contours of my body and suddenly realised I was supremely comfortable lying there with the warm evening sun on me and the warm pebbles warming me from behind – I could have slept there for hours.

That night we ate at George’s taverna where Thanos had recommended the lamb. The view was lovely and it got better as the sun went down. The lamb was a great recommendation as it was so succulent and tasty I could have had it twice over. We had decided however to save some space for a crepe at another cafe further down the jetty. Good in theory but bad in practice as we should have ordered one crepe and 3 spoons rather than 3 crepes! They were rather large and in Liz and my cases they were filled with chocolate and covered with a chocolate sauce – another waddle home!

Fortunately tonight the cabin was mossie free so we had a much more pleasant night’s sleep. The temperature is very comfortable at night with the portholes open to provide some fresh air and a light sheet, if anything, is all that is needed to keep warm enough.

Tuesday 29th June

Today’s morning swim was on the deserted (except for an abandoned cottage and chapel) island of Atokos. The cliffs rising from the sea were fascinating. The limestone layers had rippled over the centuries courtesy of geological movements. Also scattered in the layers were almost perfectly round stones of quartz which Alicja explained had been formed as molten drops of quartz spewed from a volcano and had then solidified in round balls as they cooled. A couple of rock caves that apparently were here last year had disappeared as the rougher winter seas had eroded the soft limestone causing the cliff side to collapse. When we arrived there were maybe 3 other boats there but by lunchtime there would have been close to a dozen scattered around the bay – a popular place although it still didn’t feel crowded.

Kath and Liz were first into the water – eventually, and only after I planted my foot on Kath’s behind to give her some encouragement!

After a while on the beach the girls called out to me to pick them up in the dinghy which I would have done but I was having a really interesting chat with Thanos at the time. When I did eventually decided I should go they were already on their way back to the boat with more samples of rock for Liz to bring home in her handbag . Sydney customs are going to wonder why she has half of Europe’s rocks in her bag. Whatever school she ends up going to I hope they have a good geology section.

Although the island is deserted of humans, Thanos explained that there were goats there which had been dropped off by farmers who occasionally came back to take some home to eat – a kind of free agistment. As if on call, just as he mentioned it, two black goats, one with a bell, appeared through the scrub near the beach.

Earlier, before we had arrived at the bay, Alicja had mentioned that there was a rock face that could be climbed from the sea with several ledges to jump off back into the sea. I happened to notice that Alicja and Dustin had ventured to the rock and were taking it in turns to jump and just managed to get my camera out and change the lens in time to catch Dustin taking his last jump with Alicja looking on below.

After lunch (zucchini soup, pasta and meatballs and greek salad) Kath and Liz decided to go for a paddle in the dinghy but with a breeze coming up they were drifting towards another boat and rocks beyond. Thanos suggested I might like to go and help out so I had to dive in and swim over to them and board the dinghy before rowing back to the boat.

Undeterred by this little outing Liz was keen to snorkel back to the beach to study more rocks so I went with her and was amazed at the variety of round stones, smoothed by years of waves, on the beach. So far we haven’t actually found a sand beach and they have all had rocks and large pebbles, which are uncomfortable to walk on, but are far more interesting. Before long however Thanos called us back to the boat as he was keen to make sure we reached tonight’s port before the flotillas arrived and took up the berths.

Dustin was last on the boat with an interesting discovery – two red starfish. One was bright red and one more of a burgundy shade. Everyone back on board, except the starfish who were returned to the sea, we headed to the village of Vathi (yes same as the other village but the word means “deep” so several bays with deep water are called that) on the island of Ithaka.

The sail to Vathi was frustrating as the wind would gust for a couple of minutes and then we’d be becalmed for the next 5 minutes. Not wanting to risk missing a berth, Thanos eventually decided to motor the last couple of miles. As we approached Vathi it was obvious that it was a much larger town than Kalamos, with yellow and blue painted houses rising up from the sea line on the hills it actually reminded Kath and me of some of the villages on Lake Como. After last night’s close call where we got the last berth at Kalamos, there was plenty of space at Vathi, although as we later saw by nightfall the jetty did fill up.

Arriving at 4.30pm everyone went their separate ways to explore the village. Dustin, Ashley, Jordi and Monche hired scooters to venture further into the island while Kath, Liz and I set off on foot to look in the shops and have an ice-cream. It was at the ice-cream shop that we discovered the worst flavour ever – a cream coloured flavour called Mastic. The lady in the shop couldn’t explain what it was, but fascinated to find out Kath got a sample to try. We couldn’t come up with any comparative flavour to describe it and whilst it was not exactly disgusting neither was it at all pleasant. Eventually I decided it was probably was what tiling grout would taste like – not that I have or intend to verify that. We decided on banana and chocolate! Returning to the yacht we picked up the netbook and walked across the street to a bar owned by a friend of Thanos which had wi-fi and the soccer – very civilised. I had a Stella in a glass that was so cold, ice sheets were forming inside the glass and then floating to the top as the glass slowly warmed. Kath decided on a shandy which turned out to be interesting as the waitress had no idea. Eventually we explained the half beer, half lemonade combination and the shandy duly came back half beer half lemon sqash (Solo) and not our expectation of lemonade (Sprite). Nonetheless Kath said it was very refreshing and managed to finish the ½ litre glass whilst helping Liz to bring her journal up to date and getting snippets of news from me as I caught up on events at home on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

At 8.30pm everyone met at the yacht before setting off into town to a gyros (kebab) shop that Thanos and Alicja always gravitate to when they are here. We had a very inexpensive dinner (€8 each) and a very lively conversation on many topics including family and food. It was when we got to food that we mentioned the Mastic ice-cream to Alicja who laughed and suggested it was an acquired taste that I would get to like after the first 20 times! She explained that the flavour is the sap from a fairly rare tree and as if to prove a point Thanos decided to have a whole tub of the stuff!!

L-R Thanos, Alicja, Ashley, Dustin, Liz, Kath, Montse and Jordi

At 10.30pm it was time to head back to the yacht and bed for Liz and the last episode of Glee for us – finally!

Wednesday 30th June

I woke early so decided to sit on the deck and update the diary in the peace and quiet. The mornings are always very calm and the air is crisp but there is still a slight warmth in the sun. Not long after, Jordi appeared on deck and went for a walk into town, arriving back 20 minutes later with a cake box. Today is Montse’s birthday and the cake was to be a surprise. Unfortunately a trip to the fridge for milk meant Montse asked too many questions about the mysterious box so the surprise was over but it meant that everyone could now wish her a happy birthday.

Having so much coastline with all the islands, there are thousands of coves and beaches to visit and this morning’s beach was again gorgeous with a very small cave next to it that we were able to explore.

Even though it was only a few metres deep there was still a certain level of anxiety about what vicious sea creature may be lurking inside its darker corners – too many scary ocean movies! After slowly venturing in I was relieved not to encounter anything scary but even so Kath and Liz were more than prepared to take my word for it rather than exploring for themselves. I had already remembered that you can breathe through a snorkel underwater and today it was time for Kath to remember that it’s hard to walk on slippery rocks in shallow water with fins on whilst trying to balance and take a stone out of a fin at the same time – hence the several puncture marks on her thigh as she came crashing down with a scream onto the rocks. She still managed a laugh as she realised the futility of what she had been trying to do and it didn’t spoil the fun she and Liz were having rock hunting.

After a relaxing morning of snorkelling, reading and sunbathing it was time for another of Alicja’s fresh feasts for lunch. Fresh fish baked with potatoes in a tomato sauce, zucchini fritters, tomato and onion salad, tzatziki and garlic bread, washed down with the obligatory glass of wine. Interestingly, although all the wine, beer and ouzo we can drink is included in the price of the trip, no one is really drinking much at all – just the occasional beer or glass of wine. Thanos poured us an Ouzo and lemonade one day and although it was quite refreshing I still found the aniseed flavour quite intense.

Following the tasty and healthy main course it was time for Montse’s birthday cake, which was as exciting for Liz and Thanos as it was for Montse. We already knew Liz’s affection for anything chocolaty but we have also discovered that Thanos has a healthy appetite (not surprising with Alicja’s delicious cooking) and certainly enjoys sweet treats. Jordi had even managed to find candles for the cake which Alicja pointed out that she will keep and use for her own cake later this year!

After lunch we set sail for Sami on the island of Kefallonia which was to be our overnight stop. Kefallonia is one of the largest islands of the Ionian.

Sami is a large town and one of its claims to fame are the nearby caves of Dhrogarati and Melissani. Alicja recommended taking a taxi to Dhrogarati, where the driver would wait and then drive us to Melissani from where it is an easy 45 minute walk back to Sami along the waterfront. Dhrogarti is a fairly small cave but is well lit to highlight the stalagmites and stalagtites. It was fascinating, especially for Liz and Kath who have not visited caves like Jenolan before, and we had the benefit of being the only people in the cave. Although not deep, the main chamber was huge with a large level circle in the middle which apparently is occasionally used for concerts due to the spectacular acoustics. As we were walking out, the lady at the ticket office mentioned that she was locking up and that Melissani would also be closing. It was at this stage that Liz pointed to the sign saying strictly no photos in the cave – I don’t know how we missed it on the way in as it was huge and in red writing. Another benefit therefore of no one else having been in the cave to witness me snapping away happily!

The taxi driver had waited for us at the cave entrance for ½ hour and carried on the journey to the Melissani Cave was closed by the time we arrived (as we knew it would be although it was 1 ½ hours before the guide book had indicated) – and something the taxi driver should (and I’m sure did) know, although he feigned surprise as he drove up to the shuttered ticket office. It was quite disappointing as the Melissani Cave has a lake in it and an opening through to the roof which lets in the light and it’s supposedly quite impressive.

The walk back along the seashore was very picturesque (more rocks to bring home!) We saw a donkey, a pond with several ducks and a small stream with two little turtles sunning themselves.

Dinner was in a tavern on the wharf. The wharves at the villages we have stayed at usually have several tavernas lining the waterfront and consequently the waiters are always touting for business, explaining that they have the freshest fish or the best prices. They have all of their sales lines down pat so you are never really sure whose restaurant is the best. Fortunately so far we haven’t had a bad meal. This time I had a great Black Snapper. We followed dinner with ice-cream at a nearby bar – back to chocolate and rum and raisin for me rather than the exotic Mastic.

Thursday 1st July

After breakfast we sailed further north along Kefallonia as we are heading to a night stop at Fiskardo on the northern tip of the island.

Stoping at the obligatory cove for a morning swim we notice a middle aged couple have just arrived in kayaks. Judging by their kayaks and the provisions they are carrying they are travelling the islands by kayak and camping on remote beaches at night. Once they beached the kayaks the husband headed to the water with a spear-gun, looking for lunch we presumed. Judging by the fact that they then took off all their clothes they were also naturalists! I think some on the yacht felt a little uncomfortable with this – the woman doing stretching exercises on the beach probably didn’t help! No photos!

Liz and I went snorkelling (although we had to change our direction at one stage as Mr Spearfisher was drifting our way) and were excited to find a couple of starfish like the ones Dustin had found a couple of days ago – I decided they could become a new fashion statement for headwear but Liz just preferred to hold them. Finding them was interesting as the seabed was just a large expanse of white rock with occasional patches of seaweed and then the starfish were like solitary red beacons shining from the bottom. I wondered why such a brightly coloured starfish would be there without any camouflage – it was almost as if someone had just dropped it there for the benefit of the excited tourists!

When I came out of the water and was showering on the stern of the boat Kath noticed something on my back. Yesterday Liz and I had been playing a bit of a game of dare to see who would do a forward somersault off the bow of the yacht. Eventually I was the one who decided to go first but soon found out that I wasn’t high enough to fully complete the somersault before my back crashed into the water – kind of a “backflop” – with a loud slap. Not wanting to put Liz off her attempt I just smiled as I gritted my teeth! Not convinced, Liz decided just to jump in for her first attempt even with much encouragement from Ashley who was explaining the idea of visualising what she was going to do. Keen to improve on my first jump I went back for some more punishment hoping to spin a bit faster, unfortunately to no avail as my back once again broke my fall! Liz took her position on the bow again for her second attempt and after many countdowns and some knee knocking she eventually took the plunge and somersaulted into the water. She got further over than me and landed on her bum in a far more dignified fashion than me. Anyway what Kath had seen on my back were the purple bruises inflicted by the concrete like water!

Today’s lunch menu was as good as usual with Jordi chipping in today to make a lovely Spanish style frittata cooked on the stove.

The sail to Fiskardo was not “plain sailing” so to speak as we were heading straight into the wind and therefore had to regularly tack to make forward progress. It was good fun however as I took the wheel for a couple of hours. After my stint at the wheel I went to sit in one of my favourite places on the yacht – the small bow seat in front of the genoa mast. With a strong wind in my face and perched on the small timber platform with my legs hanging over the bow I felt like Kate Winslet in Titanic. It was only thanks to a numb bum that I decided to vacate the seat after half an hour.

Fiskardo is a very popular destination and when we arrived there were several yachts moored outside the main marina so it was looking unlikely that we would get a convenient berth. Local knowledge helped though as Thanos knew that the small area at the end of the jetty marked with “no parking” signs was reserved for “day boats” and could be used at night as long as we left fairly early the next day. As we carefully manoeuvred into the space it became obvious that the boat which had just moored in the space next to us was in some difficulty. It had reversed too close to the jetty and its rudder had become grounded on a rock so it was stuck. The family on the yacht were obviously renting it and weren’t seasoned sailors so they were beginning to run out of ideas (and were no doubt thinking of how they were going to explain a potentially broken rudder to the charter company). They tried using the anchor motor to drag the yacht forward off the rock but it wasn’t powerful enough, eventually tripping the fuse. Lucky for them that Thanos and Alicja happened to pull alongside and offer to help. Eventually it was Alicja who came up with the solution which involved using one of the yacht’s winches to pull the yacht to the port side (technical boat talk!) whilst people tried to tilt the boat to the starboard side – this was achieved partly by Alicja swinging on their mast above the water like a Spider monkey! There were cheers all round when the rudder suddenly slid off the rock and the yacht started bobbing free on the water again – the crew thanked Alicja and Thanos and started talking about the need for a beer or two.

Entertainment over, it was time to explore some of Fiskardo. First stop was a small island museum founded and maintained on a voluntary basis by locals. Compared to many of the grand museums and galleries we have seen on the trip so far it seemed like a very amateur display, which it was, with many of the exhibits looking like school projects. However it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable of all we have seen thanks to the personal touch and the sense of pride the creators had obviously felt in wanting to share the history and culture of their little community. One interesting discovery was a description of Mastic as a tree sap that the ancient Greeks used to stick false eyelashes on with! My description of tiling grout wasn’t too far off – I should have said “liquid nails”. I can’t wait to let Thanos know and to check out his eyes to see if he is wearing false eyelashes! The other exhibits were really interesting and informative, including the skeleton of a young whale that has died and washed up on shore many years ago. It was charming to hear the story of the local farmer whose land it was buried on who agreed to allow the skeleton to be dug up as long as it was put on display in the museum. There was also the story of two British airforce pilots whose Bristol Beaufighter was shot down by Germans on the island. They both survived to get back to England with the aid of the Greek Resistance. Liz enjoyed it so much she wrote a lovely comment in the visitors’ book and we popped €5 in the donations box.

Liz was yearning for another swim by now so she and Kath went to a beach whilst I went for a walk to the ruins of a small lighthouse and little fortress up a hill on the other side of the bay. At first I thought the lighthouse would be locked up but the old wrought iron gate squeaked open and so I ventured up the 20 or so steps to the open top and surveyed the horizon. There wasn’t much left of the fortress but it was a pleasant walk in the afternoon sun. By the time I got back to the yacht I was ready for a shower though and smiled as I walked past another yacht where a guy was hanging up a plastic bag of cold water to have a “bush shower” on the deck whilst I was almost at my ensuite bathroom with a hot shower waiting for me – what a life!

Feeling refreshed we walked to a nearby bar for a pre-dinner beer, wine, coke and a chance to catch up on world news using the bar’s wi-fi – it’s important to check every few days as we want to make sure Australia hasn’t got another new Prime Minister in the meantime.

Being a fishing port we decided to try some of the local catch for dinner. Fiskardo is a popular destination and has become quite trendy with the wealthy and consequently the prices reflect that market. But after our €8 gyros meal we were happy to spend more at a more formal waterfront restaurant and we were rewarded with lovely fish. Kath had red mullet (quite small but lots of them) which were scrumptious and I had a whole sea bream which was very moist and tasty. Liz had a curious fish called “chicken nuggets”! We also indulged in a bottle of champagne to compliment the meal. As usual for Greece we had started dinner late and were not surprised to see it was already almost 11pm. Liz had had an afternoon siesta so she was still bouncing around when we arrived back at the yacht but eventually settled down and we all retired for the night...until the Austrian guys in the catamaran next to us arrived home at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night completely wasted. They were so loud! One of them had the giggles and he was obviously finding something very amusing as he just could not stop. Eventually we drifted back off to sleep but I hate to think what they are going to feel like in the morning.

Friday 2nd July

This morning’s beach stop was only a few minutes out of Fiskardo so we had 3 hours to explore before lunch. I spent the first hour updating the diary while Kath and Liz went snorkelling. Then it was time to explore a cave that Alicja had pointed out earlier. To get to the cave we used the dinghy and pulled it onto the small rocky beach just inside the entrance of the cave. Once inside it became apparent that there were man-made tunnels leading to the left and right. The cave had actually been mined for the soft white rock (limestone I think) under the hill. Dustin had lent us a small head lamp to help see in the pitch black tunnels which we eventually discovered led in a long circle back to the cave entrance. For some reason Kath’s sense of humour deserted her when I put my hand over the lamp at one stage and said that it was broken. This was a really good find and it was quite weird wandering around, tens of metres underground, through the dark tunnels and caverns.

Lunch just seems to get better every day. Today we had a tuna salad, tomato salad, zucchini quiche, tzatziki, eggplant dip, dolmades, salami, brie and crusty bread followed by a panna cotta desert. I practically sank when Liz and I dived in for our afternoon swim. Fortunately, as I have already mentioned, the very salty sea provides a good deal of buoyancy so Liz and I decided to relax like surface starfish.

The sail to our night stop at Sivota on the south of Lefkas Island was much faster than yesterday’s battle as the wind was in our favour today. Thanos found a berth directly in front of his favourite bar in town and was sitting down with a cold beer and chatting with the owner within minutes of tying off. One thing that is apparent is that over the years Thanos and Alicja have built up strong relationships with many locals in the villages as they are always welcomed like old friends at bars, taverans and shops. At one shop later in the afternoon the shop owner was telling what a lovely man Thomas was whilst she kept me occupied to allow the girls more time to shop – and trust me they used the time effectively as we walked out with a dress for Liz, shorts for Kath and some assorted jewellery.

As Liz was having a siesta on the yacht when we arrived and it was next to the bar, Kath and I also sat down in the bar for a milkshake and to watch the Wimbledon men’s semi final between Berdich and Djokovich – a change from the soccer. By the time the match had finished Liz was up so we went for a stroll around the small town which has some lovely shops and tavernas with bright red bougainvilleas on them and we found a small beach for some stone skipping. Kath and Liz, who have fallen in love with the cats of Greece were amused to see a cat laid out fast asleep in a no parking zone – reserved for cats perhaps.

Tonight’s “final dinner” together was held at a favourite tavern of Thanos and Alicja. Normally the final dinner would be tomorrow in Lefkas but Thanos’ parents are meeting them for dinner, and bringing another food parcel from the garden. The girls all looked spectacular dressed in their “best boat clothes” (the boys always looked good whatever they wore) and we had a fun evening enjoying a great meal and great company.

From our point of view one of the best things about the trip has been how welcoming and inclusive all of our fellow travellers have been of Liz, and tonight was no different as she was involved in the lively chat around the table. When it came time for everyone to show off any peculiarities they had, Liz happily showed how she can bend her thumb back behind her hand and how her elbow seems to bend in a funny way. Jordi was able to explain the mechanics of it as the orthopaedic surgeon and also explained what would have happened years ago when Liz’s elbow joint was “dislocated”. I can imagine he would have a great patient/surgeon relationship. Montse showed us her party trick of being able to touch her nose with her tongue! (Don’t worry Montse I won’t publish the photo on the blog for the world to see). And along with many other stories exchanged during the evening Dustin told us of the time he and some friends drove over a rattlesnake and decided to wrap it in foil and bake it in a fire pit – apparently it tasted good.

Saturday 3rd July

We can’t believe that we are waking up to our last full day on the yacht – where has the week gone?

This morning’s swim was at a cove on Aristotle Onassis’ private island – well actually it is now his granddaughter’s as Aristotle and most of the rest of the family are dead. One of those “money doesn’t always buy happiness” family stories. The island is rarely used these days as the granddaughter lives overseas so it is maintained by an army of staff just in case. The staff includes security staff who drive down to the beach when we arrive as if to remind us that the island is private and whilst we can swim in the bay we can’t come onto the beach. Which is a pity as there is a building that once upon a time would have been the scene of no doubt extravagant beach parties as Aristotle entertained family and friends. The island has a house for the family, guest cottages, a floodlit tennis court, staff quarters and a chapel and cemetery. Apparently all of the family have been buried on the island. The island is up for sale except for the area containing the cemetery which Aristotle said in his will could not be sold.

Even though we couldn’t access the beach I enjoyed the swim as much, if not more, than any other day. The water seemed warmer to me (Alicja thought it would be 24 degrees), and I had a great time snorkelling and following fish who seemed quite unconcerned at my presence. The fish life has been nothing like the abundance of brightly coloured species you would find on say the Great Barrier Reef but in some ways it has been more exciting when you do occasionally spot something a bit different. Today’s find was a shell lying on the sea floor that was reflecting the sunlight in a rainbow of sparkling colours. When I brought it to the surface the outside of the shell was a dull brown colour and it was the inside which was spectacular. It is now in Liz’s 20kg collection of assorted rocks and shells – she doesn’t seem to believe me that they will be confiscated by the “rock police” at Sydney airport.

With time running out, Kath decided today would be the time to try sitting on the bow seat (remember heights are not a favourite) and she was pleasantly surprised at how much she enjoyed it – next cruise she’ll even jump off.

Eventually we had to bid farewell to Island Onassis as we had to head back to our starting point, Lefkas, for our last night on board.

The whole week we have managed to avoid any clothing, which was pegged to the railings for drying, going overboard. However with the sails being brought down for the last time on the voyage as we are about to motor back into Lefkas, my board shorts are knocked off by the genoa line as the sail is taken down! Fortunately they are white and surprisingly buoyant as I was able to keep an eye on them until the sail could be secured and the engine started. The rescue mission was underway when it became apparent that another yacht, still under sail, was heading straight for them and there was nothing we could do but hope he missed them. They survived by a couple of metres and soon Alicja had hooked them and they were safely back on board. Alicja joked that if they were prepared to go back for a pair of shorts it just proved that they would have rescued one of us if we’d gone overboard!
The white dot in front of the passing yacht is my board shorts. Alicja used the hook to haul them out of the water.

Lefkas was packed and docking the yacht was like trying to park in Chatswood Chase shopping centre on a busy Saturday morning – we had to motor up and down the dock waiting for a space to become free. Eventually Thanos decided to temporarily moor in the fuel refilling area and wait. When a space did become free it was from a boat smaller than ours leaving so the reverse park had to be very accurate and the protective inflatable fenders strategically placed along the sides of the boats did their job. I can see a market for these fenders on many of the four wheel drives being reversed into the concrete columns in Chatswood Chase! One thing Thanos did comment on was that the boat on our starboard side had positioned its anchor on an angle so that our anchor line had gone over theirs – more on this tomorrow!!

We had plenty of time to further explore Lefkas in the afternoon but to be honest it was very noisy and “touristy” after the smaller villages we had been enjoying for the last week. We eventually decided to sit in the bar of a hotel, have a drink and watch the soccer quarter-final between Germany and Argentina. It seems that many countries have a dislike for the Argentinean soccer team, besides England and the “hand of God” episode, and the Greeks are no different so it was hilarious to hear the rousing applause every time the Germans scored another goal. The owner of the hotel laughed when she saw Maradonna’s dejected face declaring him a monkey!

Even though Thanos and Alicja couldn’t join us, the rest of the happy holidayers shared a final dinner at a taverna down a back street that Jordi and Montse had discovered last Saturday night. It was a very traditional taverna with some live music (which unfortunately had only been going for a short time before we left). One of the funniest things about the place was the way the tables were set out. The taverna was in a narrow street with tables outside. When the tables were full and new customers came along the waiters simply went inside the restaurant and carried out another table and started lining them up down a side street in front of neighbours’ houses!

The walk home was interrupted twice. Once by a man acting like a clown impersonating passers-by and making fun of people, which we watched for a while. Dustin was most taken by this impromptu comedy routine and so hung back to watch whilst the rest of us carried on. He reported back that things got ugly when an accordion player wandered into the clown’s territory and a fight ensued with hands round throats and much cursing. The second interruption was by a waffle, ice-cream and chocolate sauce extravaganza which I think had been recommended by Ashley. Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks though – this time it was one waffle and 3 spoons!

Sleeping on the yacht wasn’t ideal tonight as Lefkas is a much noisier port, it was a hot night and the mosquitoes were back. They must thrive in Lefkas as we haven’t encountered them for days.

Sunday 4th July

We can’t believe that the cruise is over after breakfast. It only seems like yesterday that we were boarding the yacht and making the initial introductions. Over breakfast we talked to Alicja about the range of guests they have on board over the years and she told us some great stories. There were the nouveau riche Polish guests who didn’t like to use the toilets on board so tried to wait until they were in dock. They smoked large cigars, drank copious amounts of brandy and tried to outdo each other with stories of what they had done and the places they’d been – catching crocodiles by the tail on safari for example. We decided that Dustin could embellish his rattlesnake story by saying he grabbed it by the tail and killed it with his bare hands rather than running over it in a truck! Also they recently had a group of Aussies who were based in London. They enjoyed a drink or 10 and Alicja described the yacht as a party boat one day and a hospital boat the next – although the excuse was usually that they “must have had something bad to eat the night before!” One morning they had asked for sewing needles and Alicja found them trying to pick urchin spikes out of their feet. Apparently they had decided to take a late night swim to see some fluorescent plankton that Alicja had told them about but were so well “anaesthetised” that they didn’t feel the urchin spikes until the woke up the next morning!

Back to the story of the anchor chain. After breakfast I went onto the deck to get the towels off the railings when the Spanish lady on the yacht next to us asked if we were leaving. When I said no she tersely pointed out that she was leaving and our anchor chain was over hers. Thanos was still in his berth reading so I called Alicja to take up the discussion. Well it got unpleasant fairly quickly as the Spanish captain made accusations about our ability to moor a yacht and Alicja tried to calmly point out that they had no choice as she had incorrectly placed her anchor in the wrong place. The Spanish lady then launched into Alicja telling her not to lecture her on how to sail as she was a professional and that she was right and we were in the wrong and that she would just take our anchor up then. The thing that I wanted to point out was that every yacht in the bay had their anchor line directly in front of the boat except her but I decided to leave it to the experts. After a while Thanos came up and in his very calm voice asked if there was a problem. Off went the Spanish lady again, explaining that she was the expert and had a house in Greece (as if this made it more likely that she would be in the right!) but this time Thanos gave it back to her in bucket loads, suggesting that she needed to change her attitude if she wanted to be in his country and that if she didn’t she would not be welcomed by anyone. To finish the story, they pulled out and as expected did lift our anchor chain with their anchor and then took ages to clear it. Even Dustin and I thought she seemed to be making a meal of it for a “professional”. Eventually when she was finally clear Thanos suggested she deserved a round of applause, which we were happy to oblige with. It will be interesting if Thanos and Alicja encounter her again on the high seas!

Alas it was time to say farewell and present Thanos and Alicja with a thankyou card from everyone and a small token of our appreciation for them to enjoy a nice dinner together in their week off in a couple of weeks. Of course Liz presented them with an obligatory clip-on Koala (and also one to Ashley and Montse) and we donated the Australian flag to the yacht. Liz posed with her koala “Gary” at the helm. Final group photos were taken with the help of the (friendly) captain on another neighbouring boat. With 4 cameras on his arm and around his neck he was starting to solicit best offers for cheap cameras from one of the guys who worked on the wharf.

Photos taken, we went for one last stroll around Lefkas (and one last mango sorbet for Liz!) before returning to the yacht to give Alicja a hug goodbye and then get into Thanos’ car for the drive to the bus station – far more civilised than the walk last week! Before we knew it we were on the bus and bidding our fantastic week on the Ionian seas a fond farewell. Great weather, great yacht, great food, great times in the villages and in the water but most importantly we met and enjoyed the company of some lovely people from Greece, Poland, Spain and America! Hopefully we will keep in contact in the years to come.

Time to head back to Athens for a day to regroup, repack and prepare for the UK leg of our European tour.


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