Athens!

After Andy and Clare left we were back to just the two of us again. The weather turned and got worse and worse over the next few days. Howling northerly gales, cold temperatures and a good amount of rain. Fortunately we had got the eberspacher heating system working on the boat which kept things bearable but we kept thinking of Andy and Clare cycling and camping and hoped that the weather further west wasn’t so biting.

We had a number of jobs to do on the boat before Kate and George arrived on Saturday. The main ones being bailing out the rest of the water from the bilge compartments and fixing the hole where the water was coming in due to a loose pipe connection to the windlass (the powerful winch which pulls up the anchor). Here is Paddy lodged into the chain locker fixing the pipe.


Paddy spent the next day re-wiring the navigation lights while me and tandem took a ride into Lavrion to source replacements for some of our waterlogged electronics. It was the first time I had ridden the bike properly from the front and I got a lot of laughs and funny looks – it occurred to us after how ironic it probably looked to see someone riding a tandem on their own on Valentines Day!!


Kate and George’s flight arrived early evening on Saturday so we decided to spend the second part of the week visiting Athens for a few days. We were both looking forward to getting back on the bike and wanted to test out our new gearing system and check things were working well. Unfortunately a boat isn’t the best storage place for a bike and so there was some maintenance jobs we had to perform on tandem before he was road worthy – mainly rust control on the chain and frame.

It’s an easy 65km cycle from Lavrion to Athens and we arrived by 2pm. It was a nice cycle through the Greek countryside and although our legs were tired by the end we haven’t lost our fitness as much as we feared. We hadn’t been able to organise a warm showers host so we booked three nights into the cheapest hostel we could find (9 euros each a night). It was a nice place and super central but we have both agreed that Athens may be our last capital city of the trip.

The afternoon was spent wondering around the streets in the sunshine and then in true tandemonium city tradition I sourced the cheapest most local indian restaurant I could find. It ended up being a really cool local place in the heart of the Pakistani quarter of the city and we ate a huge feast for a total of 14 euros!

We woke up to pure brilliant sunshine and very warm temperatures the next morning and so we set off early to explore Athen’s main tourist draw – the Acropolis – which towers over the city from one of Athens’ three hills. We first walked up the craggy outcrop called the Aeropagus whch sits directly beneath and boast spectacular panoramic views across the city. The judicial Aeropagus council used to sit here to decided cases of murder and arson. 

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February is clearly a great time to visit the city – not too crowded and not to hot for walking around the site which in summer must be scorching and incredibly crowded. The first thing we get to is the Odeion of Herodes, one of the later additions to the site (160 AD) and built as a musical and theatrical venue. It’s a beautiful structure 76m across and has a capacity of 6,000 spectators. When built it would have had a beautiful roof of cedar. It’s been renovated over the years and is still used for musical performances today.

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Next we ascend the hill to walk through the grand entrance or Propylaia, and pass the small temple dedicated to Athena Hygieia (Health), and the first of many temples which are dedicated to versions of Athena. Here we enjoyed great views all the way out to the coast and marvel at how the citizens of Athens would probably have been able to watch the victorious sea battle of Salamis against Xerses’ Persian fleet unfold from where we stood.

After stopping at a few other buildings we reach the Parthenon – the shining star of the Acropolis and the most important building in the sanctury. It was built during the re-establishment of the site following the invasion of the Persians in 480 BC and is dedicated to Athena Parthenos (Virgin), has a height of 15m, and although they are still in the process of restoring her you get a sense of how incredible the building was.

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We made a quick visit to the Olive Tree which sits at one of the oldest sacred spots of the Athenians and marks where Athena and Poseidon fought for the patronage of the city. The tree, the story goes, sprung from the ground when the goddess struck the rock with her spear thus giving her the victory.

We wondered down through the Sanctury of Dionysos before wondering out to find a souvlaki which we sat on a sunny wall to eat. The afternoon was spent lounging in the rocky gardens under the Acropolis in the sun before heading back to the hostel to make fajitas and spend some time chatting to some other travellers.

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Saturday was another beautiful day so we again headed out early to stroll around the Agora – the sprawling site of temples, stoas, government buildings, gardens and avenues which was the central hub of Classical Athens and where democracy was born.

There was an excellent little museum which showed amongst other things, the clay cylanders used by Athenians to cast their votes in elections, an amazing jury service upright tablet which was designed to randomly select who was to be part of the jury that day, and a Sparta shield which Paddy asked me to stand next to so you can appreciate it’s size. It’s been really great learning about the chronology of histroical events of Greece especially having cycled through both ‘Persia’ and many of the old Byzantine areas in Turkey.

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On our stroll back to the hostel we were overrun by a large rowdy crowd of locals who were all dressed in different costumes, incluiding a group of traditionally dressed maidens, a bride and groom and rather randomly, three 70s hippies… This must be the start of the Greek spring Carnival called Apokries where Greeks dress up in costume, get together, drink, eat and parade through the streets. After following this parade we sit and watch the group perform a circular dance in a square before turning our backs on the festivities in search of lunch.

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Kate and Geroge arrived that evening and we enjoyed a meal of chilli at the hostel before heading out to the streets of Athens for a few drinks. We found a great bar sprawling out onto the street with a live jazz band from America so we danced the night away drinking warm punch in the chilli night air.

Feeling a little tired the next morning Paddy and I prepared to get back on the tandem while George and Katy got ready to hit the Acropolis before finding a bus which would take them to the Lavrion and the boat. We had the whole day and with no rain forecast Paddy and I decided to cycle along the mountain road which would take us up and over the Dasos Kesarinias mountain east of the city.

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Outside the Panathenaic Stadium ready to tackle the hill 
This area is a favourite spot with sporty Athenians and as it was a Sunday we were accompanied by many other cyclists, mountain bikers, runners, ramblers, and motorcross riders. Once we reached the top we had a great view and we stopped for lunch overlooking the sprawling white city beneath us. We had 7km of off road after that to get us back down to a road which would take us south to Lavrion. It’s been a great few days and we really enjoyed exploring Athens. Tomorrow we set sail south-west heading to the island Aegina. It’s going to be good to have George and Kate on board as they are very experienced sailers and with Kate bringing her usual week of sunshine with her we were set to have an amazing week.

 

 

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Week 1: Sailing the Northern Cyclades with Andy and Clare

We only had a day to sort the boat before Andy and Clare arrived, and the first thing to do was to store tandem in the rear port-side berth. We’re not sure how he feels about being displaced by the boat but hopefully he will get out and about on some of the islands… Andy and Clare arrived late afternoon. The last time we had seen eachother had been outside a restaurant in Bishkek so it felt slightly surreal seeing them pushing their loaded bikes along the marina. They kept us in good spirits the whole week, helped us shift back into the travelling mindset and made great crew members onboard….

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Monday & Tuesday

Monday ended up being quite a late one, spent sitting around the dining table drinking beer and red wine. The good weather wasn’t due to roll in until Wednesday so Tuesday was spent storing gear in the hold, rigging the sails, shopping for supplies, blowing up the tender (dinghy) and getting the additional two bikes stored on top of tandem in the spare berth.

The Aegean is characterised by a infamous prevailing wind called the meltemi which blows Northerly throughout the summer months. In the winter the winds can shift from different directions and having looked at the weeks forecast we were expecting a shift from northerly to southerly and back to northerly. Rain wasn’t due to roll in for a good five days.

Taking this all into account Paddy decided to stick to a loop which would keep us in the Northern Cyclades. This would give us plenty of scope to island hop but would mean we wouldn’t have to sail upwind too much to get back to Lavrion.


Wednesday 

The next morning the skies were blue, the sea was calm and the wind had dropped (perhaps too much!). We got going with just the jib (smaller, front sail) and headed southerly down past Makronisi island. We were headed to Kea island which would be our first stop. We took a small detour around to the temple of Poseidon at Sounion which sits on a craggy outcrop overlooking the sea. We’d all cycled past the temple ruins from the road on the other side so it was good to see it from this angle.

As we got further out, the wind almost completely died so we ended up motoring a lot of the way. I spotted three dolphins pop up together crossing the boat’s path but despite keeping an eye out they didn’t appear again. After the excitement we laid out our sleeping bags on deck and I enjoyed a nap in the sun.

Tandem helming
Cat nap…
We headed round Kea island aiming for the secluded bay at Ormos Polais which sits on the S-E edge of the island. After dropping his overnight net a small fishing boat heads out leaving the bay completely secluded. We drop anchor and Andy, and a reluctant Paddy, dive into the water. It’s a beautiful evening and we manage to enjoy gin and tonics on deck before it gets too cold and Andy cooks us up a delicious risotto.
Evening swim


Thursday

After a breakfast of scrabbled eggs, we all climb into the dinghy and row ashore. This port was home to a small city state called Karathia with a population of around 1500 people and we enjoy exploring the old city ruins, amphitheatre and three temples dedicated to Athena and Apollo. The site offered a great view down to Encore. After practising our stone skimming skills the sun came out and was warm enough for Andy (at least) to swim back.

Old amphitheater
Andy and Clare were uneasy at first but we assured them that the tender can hold up to six people!
Skimming stones
Great view

Again, not much wind so we motored out towards Kithnos island heading to its ‘main port’ of Merikha. Both islands have been quite barren and rocky with a small number of houses dotted here and there. 

Parking the boat is often the most stressful time but we got there in the end with the help of a friendly port attendant and Paddy’s manoeuvring skills. Merikha is a tiny, picturesque port with a smattering of quayside cafes and restaurants. Being February everything is mostly closed up and the town is very sleepy. We manage to log onto wifi for a few hours and enjoy a beer in the warm afternoon sun. Andy and Clare have been great company – we love their appreciation of ‘well deserved beers’.

Preferring to be in a secluded spot we motor back north around to Fikiada bay and drop anchor. Clare cooks delicious bean chilli which we follow up with a competitive game of happy families (a game all adults should play with wine and without children). 

Anchor duty

Friday

We wake up to a greyish morning after quite a windy night. Paddy had to get up early to try and stop all the rigging banging against the mast. The blue sky soon appeared though and although the wind kept up it was a gorgeous morning with lots of white horses on the deep blue water out at sea so a promise of a good sail ahead. 

We row ashore to the sand bank which sits in the middle of the bay and enjoy a lovely coastal walk around the headland to the next beach. For a while we search for a hot spring which we had seen marked on a map.

We made an excitable friend along the way who – despite my obvious dismissive attitude – insisted on sticking to me throughout the walk. We never found the hot spring but did enjoy the stroll and after an early lunch of the standard cheese, salad and crisp sandwiches got ready to sail around the headland. 

Puppy dog!
Warm sunshine as we head back to the boat
Quick sandwich round
Once out the bay we enjoyed a good 15 knots of wind and decided it was best to just sail with the jib rather than bothering with the main. As promised the wind had turned and was now blowing from the south so we headed north back around Kithnos island and decided to anchor in a secluded sleepy bay just around the corner from the main port of Ormos Loutron. This 2 hour sail gave me the chance to practise my helming skills while Andy and Clare helped out with the jibing when needed. 

Wanting to avoid another night of rolling around and to avoid Encore drifting too much in this shallow bay Andy and I took a couple of stern lines ashore in the dinghy. In all the excitement Paddy lost his glasses overboard. These have travelled with us since Vietnam and were a sorry loss so Andy volunteered to stick his head under while Paddy rowed around the boat in the dinghy. Despite their best efforts we never found them. We had a quiet evening of reading and film watching that night.

Saturday

We all felt in need of a shower by Saturday morning and so we motored around to Kithnos’ main port and executed a perfect alongside mooring. The beach at this port boasts a natural hot spring which seeps into a shallow pool before running into the sea. We all enjoyed the warm free bath and spent a long time lying in the pool enjoying the sensation of being right next to the sea. 

After a tricky manoeuvre off the jetty because of the wind direction we got both sails up and steamed out of the harbour and into 19kn of wind. Today we were headed to Syros island which acts as the main administrative centre for the Cyclades. Andy did most of the helming and it took us a good 3 hours to reach our intended destination. This meant Andy and Clare had to get to grips with the important skills of tea making and sandwich eating while the boat was keeled over. 

After an exciting mooring session where the wind kept blowing us off and we nearly left Paddy on the quayside after one of the bow lines came untied, we managed to successfully tie up stern-to and made friends with the local gang of cats who padded down to see what all the commotion was. With the southerly wind keeping the air temperature a touch warmer we enjoyed another peaceful night of beers on deck as the sun set.

Sunday and Monday 

Monday was to be the last good day of weather before rain and colder temperatures were due to roll in on Tuesday. We planned to see out this bad patch sheltering in Syros’ capital Hermoupolis. We were also low on provisions and needed somewhere with a good power and water supply. It was a good 3-4 hour sail to reach Hermoupolis and we had some pretty crazy gusts along the way. Paddy took the helm, steering us into a sheltered bay so we could take down the main and just sail into the harbour with the jib. 

The town is built like an Amphitheatre around the port and was a very picturesque place to be. Encore was the only boat in the port so we enjoyed excellent service from the port official Thanassis and were well looked after while we were there. In the summer this area of Greece is buzzing with yachts and charter companies so it was kinda cool to be the only ones braving the ‘cold’ weather. 

Hermoupolis town
Amazing sun sets
Alone down in the port

Andy and I were in desperate need of some blogging time and we were able to go on some nice walks around the town. Tuesday was a complete wash out but that was OK as we had enjoyed some late night revelry the night before, having turned Encore into our own little ‘nightclub’. We all enjoyed a long lie in and cooked a warming stew with the leftover red wine.

With the weather looking pretty decent for Wednesday we planned to head back NW to the mainland. We decided it was best to cover the distance over two days, sheltering in a port overnight on Kea before completing the loop back to Lavrion on Thursday. 

Wednesday

Getting away by 10am we had a lovely sail and with the wind blowing from behind, Paddy was keen to get the spinnaker up. It was so warm that we all had shorts on and enjoyed the easy morning sailing. 

As the afternoon approaches the wind really picks up and we zoom along at 5-6kns. We reach Limin Ay Nikolaou at 4:30pm, drop anchor and enjoy the incredible sunset.

Preparing to hoist the main sail
The colourful spinnaker
From Limin Ay Nikolaou looking out to sea
Thursday 

The wind really picked up over night and although we only had a short way to get home it was going to be a bumpy ride, sailing up wind. Paddy took the helm and we all clothed up with our waterproof gear. It was all pretty exciting with the wind picking up to 25kn, Encore’s bow crashing into what were the biggest waves I’ve ever been out in, as we approached the northern tip of Makronisi on a tight starboard tack. The wind headed us and we struggled round the headland.

Wind swept and heart racing we managed to get the sails down and motored into the Lavrion Marina. Ready to enjoy a hot shower and relaxing cup of tea, Paddy and I crawl into our cabin to change and discover that everything is soaking wet. As we pull everything out onto the deck and prise up the storing compartments we discover lots of water washing around underneath. We’re able to salvage most things and then move out into the saloon where we prise up the floor to discover more waterlogged compartments. Andy and Clare were heroes and helped us get rid of most of the water and start drying the waterlogged gear. 

Waterlogged!

After assessing the damage the source of the problem is located and it’s not as bad as it sounds. Not the most ideal end to what was a really lovely week of island hopping but that’s sailing for you! 

We finally said goodbye to Andy Clare on Friday as they decided to get back on their bikes and start their cycle west despite the gale force winds. The next time we we see them we will probably all be back in the UK having completed our journeys! Paddy and I now have a week to get Encore sea worthy again before my sister Kate and boyfriend George come out to visit us. 

Wrapped up from the wind and ready to go
Getting shipshape for the next visitors

The start of our cycling ‘encore’ ! 

It feels slightly strange to be back blogging. In total we have now been away from the tandem for a full 6 weeks, enjoying creature comforts back in the UK while catching up with friends and family. We had a lovely time and the trip home cemented many things and hopefully opened up a few new possibilities for when we finally get back. 

Enjoying dressing up for John and Clara’s wedding with a quick pic underneath the Tibetan flags which Paddy’s parents decorated the house with for our return! 🙂

Catching up with old buddies at New Years
Quiet family Xmas dinner
Neither of us did much cycling while we were back. Me an afternoon ride around Falmouth in Cornwall and Paddy took his dad’s new carbon road bike out once while in Dublin. We both agreed it was very strange being on a single bike and I found the alien concept of pedalling, steering, breaking, and changing gear all at the same time very overwhelming! 
Our next six weeks won’t see us doing much cycling either as we plan to live on Encore, Dermot’s sailing yacht, while we cruise around the Aegean Sea and wait for the weather to get just that little bit warmer before we cycle north towards Albania. The hope is that the sailing will be a great stop-gap in Greece to ease us back into that travelling mentality before we get going again. 


Our only concern is that our fitness levels will be so low by mid-March that those climbs will feel pretty taxing. Fortunately, we decided to give the tandem some important upgrades while we were back including a completely new chain, cassette and smaller front cogs which now means we have a few more lower gears to make the climbs that little bit easier. We also got a bomb proof Surley steel front rack which we are both very excited about.

So we arrived safely back to Lavrion where the boat is currently moored and found everything as we had left it before Xmas. It didn’t take much time to settle back in. 

For so many reasons, we are very fortunate to have the use of Encore for the next six weeks. We have had many amazing summer holidays on the boat so we associate being on her with many good times. In this way she feels like a little home away from home… 

Island hopping with the boat

One of the best things about Encore is that she is big enough to accommodate six people comfortably so it’s easy to have friends come and visit us while we’re here. 

We had last seen cyclists Andy and Clare in Kyrgysztan back in June. They had also spent the summer and Autumn steadily making their way across to Europe too and we had always had vague plans of meeting up on the boat in early 2017. A lot of things can change over 7 months when cycle touring though, so we were really glad when they replied to our message confirming that they were still in Greece and had time to come and join us for a week of sailing. With some relatively good weather promised it was time to get back exploring, this time by sail.