On one of our last days in Greece we had to get across the 1700m high pass called the Katara. We didn’t want to take the busy toll motorway route for obvious reasons (especially because of the long tunnels) so we were following the old Aroad route which was working out very well.
But we hit a snag… The A road was suddenly blocked by a barrier. We decided to take it even though we could see snow at the very top of the pass… We’d had 7 days of pure sunshine so we hoped it wasn’t much and that we would only have to pull the bike across a few 100m of snow at the very most…
It didn’t end up like that but we don’t like turning back (especially after climbing for 20km) so where there’s a will there’s a way…
This little video sums up the rest of the story pretty well…
One of the great things about our route through Greece has been the scenery. I guess all our previous experience of the country has been on its coast – most people’s is I think – and we hadn’t appreciated how dazzling the scenery inland would be.
Coming out on top (it was recently voted the most beautiful place in Greece) is the Meteora.
The Meteora is collection of curious rock formations which jut out of the ground to a height of 600m plus. Weathering and erosion overtime along the fault lines means that many of the rocks now stand alone, reaching into the sky like long fingers. There’s hardly any vegetation and they all share the same smooth, grey, uniformed surface which makes them almost impossible to climb.
Oh yes, and I forgot to mention… Many of them have monasteries built on top of them:
There was once a total of 26 orthodox monasteries perched on these various rock towers. Now only six remain housing between 3-16 monks or nuns in each. The first monastery was built in the 14th century (although buildings existed there before this) and over a period of 200 years more were added. The buildings are impressive, some of them as big as castles, and the buildings look as if they’ve been melted onto the rock. Before the stone steps which now provide easy access for all the tourists, the only way up was via rope ladders or baskets on a winch which could be pulled up in a matter of seconds.
The hermit monks used this ‘basic’ form of defence time and time again against the threat of external invasion and persecution – the Ottoman Turks and later against WW2 German and Italian forces.
Despite Paddy’s vertigo we managed to visit a couple but we spent most of the day cycling around and enjoying taking in the formations from different angles.
From here we head north – more mountains to come including a 1700m humdinger to look forward… Not long before we reach our first border crossing of 2017!
From Eptalafos we enjoyed a long downhill to Lamia. Central Greece is essentially made up of mountain ranges with rich fertile plains nuzzled in the middle. These are heavily farmed with wheat, vines, fruit trees and vegetables and we’ve also seen a lot of cotton plants. The farmers are all out busy ploughing.
We were due for a re-stock, it’s amazing how much food we eat… – and we already had the Lidl in Lamia marked on the map. In fact, our OSM map is able to mark all the Lidls in Greece and so we have, quite literally, been making out way across the country Lidl by Lidl… (Paddy’s pun, not mine!)
It’s not just that the they are far cheaper than any other shop, there are certain commodities which are far superior in quality which we have become accustomed to. Mainly Crownsfield muesli which is 50% fruit, nut and seed = divine. The days of salty oat flakes cooked with filtered river water are certainly behind us… For now at least anyway…
It seems we’ve left winter behind us and everyday now is warm, sunny and dry and the days are getting longer and longer. We’ve seen lots of people out foraging – they seem to be picking a mixture of green leaves, and wild herbs a few of which I recognise… The spring flowers and tree blossoms are fully out now and one evening we enjoyed camping in this lovely olive tree grove.
We have enjoyed the mountain roads and passing through the small hamlets snuggled into the side of the valley – their terracotta tiled roofs, tidy veg patches and packed dirt tracks leading to remote farms all give a sense of calm, bucolic tranquility. There has been some big investment in both wind and solar energy which is great to see.
We’ve spotted lots of familiar wildlife with many different birds of prey, lizards, tortoises, badgers (!?) and many songbirds. We also have to keep swerving to avoid the long lines of caterpillars who seem intent on crossing the busy roads. We were confused by a very loud and bizzare gurgling cry for a few days until we realised it was being made by the mating toads who inhabit the roadside irrigation banks. They are really loud!!!
The only other thing of interest was the British Military cemetery which we passed. A lovely, well kept garden with snow-capped mount Pernassos in the background with around 200 graves, all dated between October 1918 and Jan 1919. I guess British soldiers who died helping Greece agains the Turkish invasion…
The Greek people are really friendly and we’ve had some nice encounters including being given a carton of fresh orange juice from a cafe waitress and being invited in for coffee and breakfast by a round faced lady and her children. We’re making steady progress and are heading towards Kalabaka where there’s some interesting monasteries to visit.
When my sister Kate was visiting us on the boat she told us that we had to go to the archaeological site at Delphi. So here we are! Although there is evidence that the site was used to worship Ge the earth God during the Mycenaean period the Delphic sanctuary reached its Panhellenic importance (incorporation of all the individual Greek states) starting at the beginning of the 8th century BC and reaching its peak between 500-300BC.
The shrine was dedicated to the cult of Apollo and was where the clairvoyant Pythia lived with her high priests. The Pythia was an old woman dressed as a young maiden who would enter a trance before pronouncing her oracles. These would often predict the fates of the various city-states.
Delphi was so renowned that even foreign leaders visited the oracle and contributed significant sums to its building program – people such as Midas the Phrygian King (central Turkey) and other leaders even further east.
The site is built on levels cut into a steep and impressive valley and the view looking out is incredible. Naturally there is a theatre which sits at the very top of the site and which offers an amazing panoramic view of the gorge.
The next level is where the huge temple of Apollo would have stood – occupying the most prominent position in the sanctury. A few of its epic columns still stand along with some noticeable foundations. Apollo was the God of music, harmony and light.
Homer mentions the Delphic site as a place of great wealth. All the city-states built elaborate votives – statues, temples, treasuries and tripods – all offered as tributes and filled with treasures, often from the spoils of war. These were all built along the main causeway called the ‘Sacred Way’ which led up to the main Temple of Apollo.
So the site not only functioned as a place of worship and pilgrimage but also as a shared arena where the different city-states could showcase their battle victories, noble deeds and economic power to one another! The Athenians could show off to the Spartans, the Boetians to the Corinthians etc…
Many of the statues and buildings which, are in themselves the finest examples of Classical Greek art, were inscribed. So the site gives historians an incredibly complete and diverse picture of Panhellenic history and cultural practices. For example on the wall of the Treasury of the Athenians is inscribed the Delphic Hymns – some of the earliest known notated musical score.
The tripod of the Plataeans was the sole common votive by all the Greeks following their victory over the Persians in the battle of Plataea in 479BC. The tripod was later transferred to Constantinople by Constantine the Great who found it in 330AD and placed it in the Hippodrome. There is still stands.
There is also The Naval, or sacred omphalos; a naturally occurring conical shaped stone which was identified with the story of Zeus discovering the centre of the earth. He released two golden eagles to fly in opposite directions, and where the birds met he threw down a stone to mark the centre. It apparently landed in Delphi. That night we camped on a ridge overlooking the same valley and, not that we ever need much of an excuse, celebrated St Paddy’s day with a beer before climbing into the tent to start watching the documentary series on the BBC all about Greek history. It’s been a great addition to our time here even if we find the presenter a little OTT!
The next morning we had to climb back up towards Arachova and over the two passes to reach the village of Eptalafos. It was a Saturday and there was a lot of cars with skis strapped to the roof. We presumed that the Pernassos ski resort would be closed so late in the year, but clearly not, and once we started to climb the next mountain we saw there was plenty of snow still left. The opportunity to do a day of skiing was too tempting to miss out on. Neither of us had been for three years, not since we went to visit P’s friend Harold in Switzerland.
The ski resort is a 16km detour up the mountain and would be far too cold for us to camp. So we hatched a plan to get down to Eptalafos, find somewhere suitable to camp on its outskirts, check we could rent equipment at the resort and then hitch a lift early in the morning.
We found a perfect camping spot in a little park next to a church and asked a lady in the house nearby if we could camp there. The colder weather that we experienced last week has gone and we were able to sit out under the trees until well past sunset.
The next morning we packed up and cycled down to the main square. The Sunday morning bells were ringing, blue skies were forming and we saw a lot of locals making their way down to morning mass. We simply left the loaded bike locked outside an open bakery tucked into a corner of the square. Inconspicuous but well in sight of the cafes and shops surrounding the square. Experience tells us it would be fine.
It didn’t take us long to catch a lift. Dimitri and his young daughter Elektra were on their way up to the resort too and were kind enough to stop and give us a lift.
We had a brilliant day – Paddy snowboarding and me skiing. It was good to go and do something completely different despite it making a bit of a dent in our budget. Pernassos is quite a small resort with mainly blue runs interspersed with a few reds so perfect for our level. It wouldn’t be big enough for a week of skiing and by the end of the day we had done most of the runs. The weather was beautiful and the resort boasts incredible views all the way out to the Gulf of Corinth on one side and the Gulf of Malia on the other with spectacular snow capped mountain ranges sandwiched in the middle.
It took a little longer to hitch a ride back as most people were heading back the other way towards Athens. We ended up doing the journey in three legs – the last guy driving us 5km out of his way to drop us off – and we were back at the bike by 5:30pm. We braved a (very needed!) cold water shower in the river when we got back which wasn’t as bad as we were expecting before setting up the tent back near the church.
We packed up the boat and then a half day cycle saw us complete a good 50km to a beachside camp spot where George, a Caribbean bar tender, let us have use of his inside tap and swanky toilets – so our first camping spot of 2017 was very luxurious! A good way to ease back in. The rest of the roast chicken also made a good addition to our curry for dinner.
Next morning was quite unpleasant as we needed to get through busy Piraeus which involved lots of cycling on dual carriageways and across large overpasses. By lunch we’d broken the back of it though and the afternoon saw us start to tackle our first major climb of the year. We soon discover that Greece is very very mountainous!
We manage a long day hitting 87km before pulling the bike off the road to a big clearing where the ruins of an old farm house sit. We’re not that high so it’s not too cold although we’re finished with dinner (Risotto) and in the tent by 7pm.
A 6.30am start sees us complete another big climb where we then shoot down the other side to Plataea and the wide, open, fertile valley beyond which was where the Greeks had the final victorious battle with the Persians. We see a nasty weather front heading in from the north but manage to shelter under a picnic area as it rolls past us. The rest of the day ends up being quite warm and before the next climb which was due to take us all afternoon Paddy spots a large canal carving its way through the valley. After a quick look on the map we confirm that the canal is going in the same direction and we can link back up to the road in 20km – a much easier option that struggling with those hills. We stay on the dirt road next to the canal for the remainder of the day and camp 1km from where it meets back onto the road.
The scenery around here is so spectacular and very different from our time on the coast. Once you get away from the sea the country here feels much more remote and parochial (but not in a bad way). Fewer people speak English and we pass a lot of rundown dwellings. These are still very much farming communities. There are also many half-completed building projects – all of them having ground to a halt in 2008 with the crash.
The next day was another big climbing day but first we needed to get the tandem back onto the road via a very broken and stony path. For that half an hour it felt like we were back on the Pamir Highway.
The roads are pretty steep in places and we’re certainly using our new low gears as our bodies adapt to the cycling again. We have a gorgeous day twisting and turning up through the alpine forests and just before our tea break catch our first glimpses of Helicon Mountain which has supposedly inspired many poets and storytellers; Paddy remembers learning the Seamus Heany poem, ‘Personal Helicon’ in school for his leaving cert. We stop for a tea break – our friends Andy and Clare had inspired us to finally invest in a thermos flask and we really don’t know how we ever managed without one!
We complete the climb before dropping down to the picturesque town of Kyriaki where some nice ladies let us replenish our water bottles. From here we have a steady but short climb to reach the next valley which really is breathtaking. I have never seen so many olive trees!
We stop for lunch and half way up the mountain across from us is Hosios Loukas – a large monastery. It is famed for its Byzantine architecture and it’s the only known church built on mainland Greece during the 10th century. More climbing that afternoon and very tired we pull tandem off the road and down onto a sheltered, hidden patch of grass. We were due a cold night that night and we were at 700m so we forage for wood and prepared a fire before setting up camp and eating dinner.
The plan was to reach the famed archaeological site of Delphi the next morning – a easy 23km away. We stoped at Arachova to replenish food stores. A very nice town right at the top of the climb, perched on the edge of the deep valley. You can see all the way out to the Gulf of Corinth and the Peloponnese from the town which looks like it’s literally tumbling down the mountain. A pretty awesome place and obviously doing well all year round due to its proximity to both the Parnassos ski-resort and to Delphi.
Since we’ve been back on the bike we have upped our game on the campsite cooking side of things. Now that we’re no longer really eating out its been important for morale not to just repeat veg pasta every night. Our new spice bag is helping a lot as is the discovery of dried beans which are a great meat substitute even if you do have to go through the process of soaking them for 24 hours… Luckily it turns out that our small water bottle is the perfect bean-soaking device.
To finish here are some pictures of food – our best meals we’ve had over the last week…
Our last week was very low key. We enjoyed some nice anchorages and gorgeous coastline walks but also had some very bad weather where we were trapped on a mooring in the boat for 24 hours.
Luckily this gave us both time to finish our hardcopy books and I finally got round to finishing the cross stitch which was intended to be given to Paddy on his birthday three weeks ago!
Today is our last day on the boat getting everything ready to get back on the road. Lots of washing, packing and fixing things.
It feels slightly surreal trying to remember how we packed everything in before and we’ve certainly bought way to much food – forgetting that we actually have to carry it all on the bike!
It’s been fantastic living on the boat. I’ve really got into the sailing and last night we both agreed that our lives the last month have been slightly ridiculous – pottering about the Greek islands on a yacht, anchoring in secluded bays, sunbathing in February – all while enjoying the company of friends and family who have been able to come to visit. We are both certainly looking forward to retirement!
But the reality of heading home has now set in and we are both looking forward to getting back on the bike. The last few days have seen high winds and torrential rain so we just hope we don’t see too much of that as we head north…
We celebrated our last night on Encore with a full chicken roast dinner! It’s now time to get back to cooking on the diesel stove.
From Idhra Paddy I planned to head a bit further south round Spetsai Island and then north up into the Argolic Gulf. We had two weeks before we needed to get Encore back to Lavrion on the mainland so we set our sights on Navplion which sits right at the top of the gulf. A week to get there and a week to get back. This would leave room for any days we would want to explore ashore with the tandem as well as some wiggle room if any bad weather rolled in at any point.
Sunday and Monday were spent getting round to Koiladhia – a small picturesque town which sits on the north coast of the gulf. We stopped over on Spetsai and found a convenient mooring in a secluded bay called Anaryiroi on the island’s south-west coast which offers loads of great places to anchor away from the main hustle and bustle of the port. The bay was a great place to stop and we rowed ashore for a walk along the coast to find Bekeris’ Cave which, so the locals relate, was used by smugglers to hide from the authorities. It took a little while to find the small opening but once inside it’s pretty cool – a quintessential smuggler’s cave – a deep cavern 10m deep and 20m across, complete with a narrow water channel entrance, large beach for storing your cargo and even a natural well of fresh water running in from the rocks above! The next day we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast in the sun on deck, a fresh morning breeze heavy with pine trees blowing down from the valley opposite.
We’re coping well double-handed and the second day of sailing in particular was pretty nice although Kate and George had taken the best of the sun away with them. Now that we were back just the two of us it was time for me to get to grips with a few safety procedures – mainly the MOB or Man Over Board procedure in the unlikely event that Paddy fell over. We fashioned a ‘body’ with a bucket tied to a large fender and practiced a couple of times before pulling down the sails and motoring into Koiladhia. We arrive in plenty of time and park stern-to amongst some big fishing boats.
The next morning we got tandem out and went in search of the Lidl which we knew was only 6km away. We took the opportunity to stock up on a lot of food and drink here because it’s so much cheaper than any other shop. Then, supplies complete, I rowed us across the bay to Koiladhia’s main attraction.
Francithi Cave has provided Europe with the best and most complete prehistoric remains dating back to before 40,000BC and thus giving archaeologists important insights into European Neolithic life. We had great fun exploring the 150m tall cavern as we were the only ones there. Paddy got the raw deal rowing back right into the wind.
The next day of sailing was quite exciting, after a quiet morning the wind picked up to 20kn in the afternoon and we zoomed along north towards Khaidhari. We spent some time practicing the MOB procedure again which is a lot more stressful in stronger winds but Paddy said I managed OK. After messing up my beam-reach the first time I did get the man back in the end! A really big lone dolphin joined us for a long time playing in the pressure wave of the bow. It’s unusual to see them alone like this but we were glad he joined us for so long.
Kaidhari is a deep fjord-like inlet with high cliffs rising sharply from the water. At the mouth of the inlet are the remains of a Venetian fort which was presumably built to guard the entrance. It was destroyed by the Turks when Pasha Khodra took the inlet as part of his Argolic Gulf campaign. Because of it’s length the inlet is normally incredibly sheltered but we caught it at a bad time. Nevertheless we managed to pick up a mooring amongst the many other boats and once secured we could relax with gin and tonics and a game of scrabble.
The next day we headed up around to Nafplion. We pull up the main sail hopefully but the wind hadn’t picked up yet so we ended up motoring. The prevailing wind here is called the Bouka Doura, a thermal sea breeze, so it doesn’t get going until early afternoon. The coast line is beautiful around here and the remaining snow on the mountains to the south were a reminder that the warm temperatures we’re experiencing here haven’t quite reached the higher ground in-land. We’ve done well to wait a while before setting off north to Albania on the bike I think.
We stop at a picturesque inlet and anchor for lunch. It’s a gorgeous spot and the sun is shining strong so we take advantage of the hot water created by the running motor and get some clothes washing done. We then enjoy a sunbathe while dismantling and servicing the winches on deck.
This is a messy and time consuming task but one of the many small jobs that needs doing before Dermot puts Encore through her paces in the Fastnet Race later this year and we’re more than happy to help out. We manage to service four of the six winches before the wind starts to pick up and we agreed it’s time to finish the last stretch to Navplion.
Navplion’s a nice place and we were the only yacht there again! A spectacular fortress built by the Venetians overlooks the town from the Palamidhi mountain behind. It was taken by the Turks in 1717 until they surrendered it to Boubalina, the infamous female sea commander from Spetsai who won many battles for the Greek independence movement. Navplion was Greece’s capital from 1828 to 1834 until Otto of Bavaria moved it to Athens and the old town is full of neoclassical architecture, picturesque squares and upmarket shops.
Despite it’s own interesting history Navplion’s main draw for us is it’s proximity to two ancient sites, Mycenae and Epidhavros, which are both a manageable days cycle away. So the next morning we pulled tandem out, made up a packed lunch and headed inland towards Mycenae.
The site was the centre of the Mycenaean world between 16-12th centuries BC and is allegedly the home of Agamemnon and thus conjures up the heroics and pathos of the Trojan Wars captured in the Illiad and Odyssey.
You can understand why they chose the spot for the city – the site sits on an elevated cliff with an impressive red rocked mountain on one side and spectacular views across the flat, fertile planes running all the way out to the coast on the other. It’s position meant it controlled all communication and trade routes very successfully and it’s demise in the 11th century is still a bit of a mystery to scholars today.
The first bit we get to is what’s called the Teasury of Atreus (ancestor of Agamemnon who butchered and served up his own nephews and nieces to his brother after he had seduced Atreus’ wife). The structure, which is actually a large tomb, is built in a honeycomb pyramid shape and is well over 3000 years old. It’s completely intact although the mound of earth and grass which now covers the outside wouldn’t have been there originally. The entrance is 6m tall and incredibly impressive despite the lack of it’s decorative pillars which were hacked off by some British plunderer and are now kept in the British Museum in London… Real treasures were discovered in the tomb including a gold death mask which is popularly said to be agamemnon’s.
We then walk up to the main site passed the grave circles and granary and into the main entrance of the old palace: the Lion’s gate.
Naturally the majority of it is now very weathered with only foundations left (the exception being the underground cistern which you can still walk down into) but it’s a really lovely site to walk around especially at this time of year.
We drop off at the excellent little museum on the way back to have a look at all the artefacts uncovered during the excavations and then walk back to the bike to eat lunch before cycling home.
The next day we headed north towards the opposite coast to Epidavros where the ancient healing sanctuary of Asklepios once prospered circa 400BC.
The cycle was slightly longer than the day before and with much more uphill, something neither of us mind because climbing often goes hand in hand with more dramatic scenery. The surrounding countryside didn’t disappoint with plenty of mountains and valleys populated with neat olive trees, the hedgerows peppered with wild irises and poppies. A more unsavoury sight was the road kill we passed that day – the worst we’ve seen – a total of 5 dogs, 2 stoats and a badger.
We arrive in good time and lock tandem outside. Epidavros reached its peak in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC at which time pilgrims from all over journeyed there to be cured in its Asklepieion sanctuary; named after Asklepios the famed God of healing. The sanctuary’s reputation meant it was inundated with financial patronage which fuelled its ambitious building programme.
Pilgrims arrived through an impressive Propylon (entrance) and were housed in special accommodation on site. They were purified in the specially designed bath house and then led though a number of rituals in the many impressive temple buildings which were adorned with beautiful sculptures and freezes. Sacrifices were offered up to Asklepios and other gods such as Themis, Artemis and Aphrodite and patients were prescribed specific diets to eat in the shared dining hall. Bathing and water healing were integral to the methods used as was sleep healing during which patients were visited by deities in their dreams and woke up apparently cured. Exercise and study in the sanctuary’s library and stadium, and attending theatrical and musical contests in the odeon and 14,000 seater amphitheatre were also important features of this famed holistic medical approach.
The theatre is the best preserved example of a Greek amphitheatre anywhere. It’s spectacular and Paddy encouraged me to test out its famed acoustics by singing a song from centre stage. There wasn’t too many people around and I was keen to test it out myself so I did end up having a little go, and although I got told off by the security guard after, the other tourists didn’t seem to mind.
After three centuries of prosperity the Asklepieion was dealt a series of blows including Roman, pirate and later, Goth plunder. Earthquakes finished this off in AD 522 and 551 which buried and destroyed a lot of the buildings until excavations started in 1879.
It was a very speedy cycle back being downhill the majority of the way and we get back to Navplion in time to climb the 857 steps up to the Palamidhi fort to enjoy the sunset across the town.
From our elevated position we can see a stage being erected in one of the squares and a sound system being tested and so assume there must be something happening that night in celebration of the marathon event which we knew was taking place the next day. After enquiring with one of the security guards in the square we’re given an incredulous look and told that ‘Onorama’ would be appearing at 8:30pm. We didn’t know who or what Onerama was but from this meaningful exchange and by the crowds already forming in front of the stage we deduce that they must be a pretty big deal.
We retire back to the boat for dinner and a few drinks before heading back out to check it out. A crowd of mainly teenagers has gathered in front and at the fashionably late time of 8:55 Onerama appear and strike up a catchy pop tune. Everyone knows the words including all the parents and after striking up a conversation with the gaggle of teenagers next to us we get told they are very famous in Greece.
We have a fun time listening and dancing to the band but after their rendition of Stand by Me followed by MM’s eight mile song we decide it’s time to call it a night as the plan was to set off early the next morning and head back down the gulf.
We now have a week to get back to Lavrion. Some bad weather is due on Wednesday so the aim is to get to Poros for then.
Monday morning was spent preparing once again. Kate and I took tandem for a spin to the large supermarket so we could stock up on food and drink for the week. We had a very successful cycle there and loaded the panniers with everything we needed. However, we slightly over did it with the beers, tonic and gin and this meant that our panniers were so heavy that when we tried to set off again we kept toppling over onto the concrete. How does Paddy do it!? After a number of attempts we ended up having a, albeit one sided, argument in the car park which consisted of me being very grumpy that I hadn’t managed to be able to steer us home while Katy was weak with hysterics. All’s fair when you’re sisters right?! In the end we had to hail a taxi for Kate and the bags, and I cycled tandem home alone.
In a way it was good that Kate and I took so long because while we were away Paddy and George managed to drop one of the tender oars into the water where it duly sank to the bottom and they had spent a long time designing a lasoo/noose contraption to fish it out.
Once everything was stored and packed away we were ready for the off. We headed out of the marina and got the sails up. The wind was blowing straight from the south at a good 15kns so we got both sails up and reached straight across to the island of Aigina. It was a good sail of 30 nautical miles but we managed to reach the east side of the island by 4pm. We motored around a bit and decided to anchor in a small bay just south of Ayia Marina. There was a bit of swell so we had a slightly rocky night. Paddy woke at 2am to check we weren’t dragging but all was fine.
Next morning we enjoy a celebratory birthday breakfast for Paddy then all go ashore and hike the 5km around the island to the impressive temple ruins of Aphaia. It was a really lovely walk in the sunshine. Spring is really springing here now with lots of wild flowers out and all the locals milling about tending their fishing boats and gardens. The tourist season is still a way away yet though, and most of the hotels, restaurants and cafes remain closed. The temple is set high on a hill with great views over to Athens on one side and the Peloponnes on the other.
Once back on the boat we had a quick lunch before pulling up the anchor and motoring south to the island of Poros. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the water was like a glassy lake so we stuck the autopilot on and enjoyed lying in the sun reading, drinking tea and eating digestive biscuits. Poros sits very close to the coast of the Peloponnisos and it’s a spectacular sail into the narrow channel which provides plenty of shelter for boats to moor.
We tie up and crack open the gin and then take a walk along to find a water front cafe where we all gorge on pork and chicken souvlaki. On our walk home we get chatting to three German lads who are moored near us. Lino, the boat’s owner, is a 21 year old explorer who, with the help of his parents, bought and did up this beautiful 1963 classic Carter 30 named Stella. His companions Ben, who is helping out while searching for his own boat to do up, and Timon Lino’s friend from home, were both lovely guys too and we ended up chatting late into the night around their cockpit table listening to excellent reggae music.
The next morning was beautiful and I enjoyed a fab run around the harbour and up through the higgledy-piggledy streets of the town. After a lazy breakfast we all enjoyed some time on deck in the sun watching and listening to our new neighbours who had arrived just that morning; a big group of friends from Russia who were enjoying the first day of their chartered yacht holiday. They were having a great time already; drinking beer and having a good ol’ sing song. They were so entertaining that the bar just opposite us came out with free 10am shots for them all. Great stuff.
Some time after, the three guys sailed past us on Stella. We had all agreed to meet in a sheltered bay on Idhra island which sits just south around the headland and so around an hour later we set off to try and catch them up.
It was a perfect day for sailing and we enjoyed following Stella’s wake as we slowly caught up with the guys. Katy and I were chief helmsman and tactician while George and Paddy prepared an excellent spread for lunch which also included a ‘salad off’ – a competition of who could make the best salad, not a salad that was off… Anyway, it was a lovely day with George even getting half an hours read in his favourite spot.
By 3pm Encore had easily caught up with Stella and so we each managed to get some great shots of each others boats as we sailed along. That night we combined dinner forces and managed to cook enough food to feed at least 10 people.
The next morning George stayed aboard while Kate, Paddy and I walked around the headland to Idhra town which is such a beautiful place. The island itself remains completely motor-vehicle free (apart from the dust-lorries) and so Idhra’s inhabitants either walk, cycle or take one of the little sea taxis which buzz around the island. Donkeys are a very popular way of transporting most things. In fact, that very morning, we had watched four of them deliver eight new doors to a villa which sits overlooking the bay where we were anchored.
The three of us had a lovely walk around the sleepy town before heading back loaded up with more feta and olives. That afternoon we headed to the island of Dokos which sits just west of Idhra. We anchored in a very peaceful spot after enjoying a short spell with the spinnaker up.
The next morning we all climbed in the tender and rowed the 2km across the bay to the other side of Dokos where we had heard there was a Mycenaean archaeological site. We never found this, but we did spend a great 20 minutes with a very friendly Greek lady and her mother who lived on the hill overlooking the bay. She offered us Retsina and showed us around her house and extensive garden and olive grove before seeing us on our way. We meandered down around the headland through the knotted olive trees and finally came back to the coast where we found a huge tortoise and lots of washed up sea anemones. We were all pretty hungry by this point and were complaining about the fact that we had to get back to the boat before eating when George mischievously produced a block of feta, a bag of olives, a loaf of bread and beers from his bag. We sat eating and sunbathing on the beach before rowing back.
That night was to be Kate and George’s last so we headed back to Idhra so they could easily catch a ferry the next morning back to Piraeus. To celebrate our last evening together we spent a good hour collecting wood and had an epic barbecue on the shore.
It has been terrific week with them both and now it’s time for Paddy and I to start our two week adventure on our own… The Argolic Gulf awaits…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.