Greece - Crete
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Greece - The Southern Ionian II (2011).
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Greece - Rhodes.
Log Entry Monday 16th May - We leave for Rhodes.
We very rarely sleep well the night before a trip, excitement I guess, or possibly fear? We are awake early and await dawn to leave, it soon arrives.
The Lagoon is like glass not a breath of wind in the air, we start our engine and make our way out, not a sound other than us?
As we approach the Island local fisherman appear, returning back to harbour after a night of activity. We know form conversations, most of these people have more than one job at this time of year, during the tourist season they are also working in associated areas. A long day for those people, many of them husband and wife teams, the women often seen repairing nets as they return?
Once clear of the headland the winds are light but useable, up goes the canvas and off goes the noisy, but necessary engine. We watch Crete slowly disappear into the mist.
We know the trip to be of approximately 36 hours, depending on wind etc, as darkness begins to fall, so does the wind so, once again we are accompanied by our engine's drone, we motor without incident through out the night. We begin our sleep shift pattern, it is more difficult to sleep under power, not only because of the noise but also the heat produced - some times better to try and sleep on deck?
We wake up to a display of colours, the water by now, again like glass. We are to the west of the islands Khalki and Alimia, these two islands only a couple of miles to the west of Rhodes.
In time we round the two islands, as doing so we are joined by a small group of four dolphins, slowly and gracefully moving through the water only a short distance from us. In time, through the mist the island of Rhodes appears in the distance.
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Greece - Rhodes.
Log Entry Sunday 15th May - At last we make the trip to Spinalonga Island.
What with the winds and the reluctance to leave Sailaway unattended in them we were a little short of time, we had a break in the weather making it ideal to leave for Rhodes on Sunday, today but we had not yet had time to visit Spinalonga Island. We did not want to miss the visit so our plan was to leave on Monday, hopefully there would be some wind left for us, if not it would be a long way to motor, some 36 hours?
The trip to the island was a must, the trip to Rhodes would be, what it would be? At first we considered moving Sailaway up towards the island and facing the barrage of trip boats, this would allow us to visit the island with our own dinghy? We thought long and hard but eventually decided to take our dinghy ashore and use one of the trip boats, I offered my assistance should the skipper feel he would need it?
We are soon under way, we had met an English couple while we were waiting for our boat - Ann and I soon got the laughter going? It was not long before we were passing Sailaway, our newly made acquaintances finding our story fascinating as they have a sailboat on the Solent? Spinalonga has had a mixed history, locally during the Venetian occupation a substantial salt industry was developed. In 1581, 45 salt works were in operation within the lagoon making it the largest production area in the eastern Mediterranean, the salt mainly shipped to Venice. During the Turkish occupation production fell off, some surviving works continued until the 1970's controlled by the Greek Salt Monopoly Authorities. It was also the Venetians that developed Spinalonga to transport agricultural produce, merchant ships transporting almonds and olive oil from the Lagoon. The Island had a turbulent history throughout the Venetian and Ottoman rule, the islands inhabitants saw prosperity, wealth along with decline, imprisonment and ultimately slavery. There is documentary evidence to prove over a period there was a total of over 600 of it's residents, men women and children were sold into slavery.
The island's greatest legacy was that of a 20th Century Leper Colony founded 1904, 130 people in the original settlement, men, women and children were taken through the "Dante Gate" - "the gate to hell" as it was known? For many years they literally survived in isolation with no assistance from the authorities at all? A solicitor from Athens, who's name I missed was sent to the island after his contraction of leprously. He fought and won the peoples right to social security payments, soon the island had a hospital, school, bakery etc. They became almost self sufficient with there own produce. They even had two "Raki" tavernas, Raki was also made on the island. They were also awarded their full, due medical resources, previously not even bandages had been supplied?
With the recognition, hard work and internal investment they developed their own shops, supplying their needs, previously money had not even been in existence on the island?
The settlement church remains well preserved were birth, death and marriage ceremonies were carried out.
Above is shown the hospital that was built for the island, and eventually, fully trained, medical staff supplied. There was a second gate to the fortress, used by the "fit"and the avenue in which any required produce from the mainland would be supplied through?
In 1930 they won the right to have visitors and they were awarded an electrical generator - the settlement had electricity before the neighbouring mainland?
In 1941 to 1943, the Germans occupied Greece but they continued to support the island ensuring supplies and visitors were still delivered - perhaps afraid that they may wish to leave the island? In 1948 a cure was developed, today's cost of £20/per person (Multi Drug Therapy) - soon the islanders life began to change. In 1957 - All were cured,the island was officially closed but some occupants had problems leaving due to the stigma attached to their disease. A home was created in an Athens hospital where the cured could live out there lives in isolation if so wished? In 1958 - the last occupant left the island. Over 120 children were born on the island, non with leprosy - all were adopted or put into homes in the main land. Today there is one survivor, a lady of 98 years old still lives in the home in Athens, during her life on the island she had two children.
The cemetery brought a real sadness to our tour, initially single graves of which the evidence was clear? As time went on and I guess, space became a premium they began cremation in a purpose built oven. The ashes were then deposited in the cemetery, originally in single, then multiple plots. The stone work changed to concrete slabs some with steel handles still attached, not one grave is identified?
Overall an interesting trip, historically superb, some remains quite well preserved. The use of the island as a 20th Century Leper Colony questionable, but a clear indication as to how one man can treat another?
Log Entry Saturday 14th May - The Road Train up to Selles in the surrounding mountains.
We have just spent the last three days baby sitting Sailaway through over 30 knot winds, ensuring our anchor remains secure. Not a foot ashore for three days, still the winds are due to begin to drop off Sunday therefore, hopefully we should be leaving for Rhodes early Monday, a trip of 36 hours or so from here. We had seen the road train through binoculars from Sailaway, a little further research (a chat with a lovely lady from Glasgow, who moved here 15 years ago, I will spare you the rest of her private life, Greek partner etc.) convinces us the trip looks worth while?
The trip lasts about three hours, but that includes lunch, we will take the road north, around the lagoon, then climb up to a small town call "Selles", said to be once Crete centre of olive oil production. On the return trip we will stop at "Vrouhas", one of the few remaining traditional Raki villages. Raki is said to be medicinal, it is said to be perfect to settle ones stomach, especially if "over fed", if one can suffer the taste? The added benefit it that it is 80% proof, and if need be, you can soften the taste with a mixer? Vrouhas is also of of the few remaining typically Greek villages, property developers and the tourist industry have not yet found it?
We are soon off, first of all skirting along the waterside tavernas, the driver sounding his horn/bell and the proprietors, staff and the less miserable guests waving back to us. I think this train could be a superb "babe magnet", the amount of women that appear to be waving just to me is unreal, most of them do seem to have small children on their arms but I do not think that is an issue? I explain my theory to Ann - she seems unconvinced some how? A lot of the waterside hotels have small, what appear to be man made beaches on the other side of the road, numerous white people burning themselves?
The trip is nice and relaxing, for us, well Ann especially, as she seems to prefer public transport rather than me driving for some reason?
We turn into "Plaka", a highly developed tourist town, at first we thought we may stop but thank goodness we did not, nothing resembled Crete, or even Greece in our opinion?
We then climb high into the hillside and stop at a panoramic view stop for photographs. The scenery is very impressive, the camera never depicts the true beauty as we keep saying, we can see Sailaway, a small pin point far to the south of us. When you seen the seaward opening to the Lagoon, it seems so easy and straight forward in the day, compared to our 1am arrival that morning? Things look so different in day light as opposed to total darkness? We look down to the Island of Spinalonga, up until 1958, a twentieth century Leper Colony. Originally a Venetian fortress further developed by the Turks during their rule it remained occupied by a turkish settlement until 1904 when Greece exiled 130 registered Lepers, men, women and children to the island, said to be an attempt to drive the turks out of Greece - I am sure it worked, in recent years it has been written about, serialised and films made.
We plan to visit the island in the morning, as it does have real significant historical value. Due to the stigma associated with lepers the original ruins remain, no one wanted a house made from that brickwork, nor, in later years did property developers want to move in? We are shown a quay down below - this was the original service quay for the island and provided there needs from the mainland, and a one way ticket for some unfortunately.
We climb up into the hills and eventually reach Selles, a small town now of approximately 35 people, originally over 300. The streets are paved, laid out with central, small square where the original water source for the village remains, a well. Obviously now today the water is piped in, the large 150mm (six inch) diameter pipeline could be seen on the road side, feeding a manifold in the town where small 25mm (one inch) pipe work feeds the properties.
After a short walk around the village, nothing or no one to be seen, although we did see one parked car, we head back to the road train to visit the old olive oil press. The old press was refurbished by the family that have produced oil here for over 200 years we are told. They now have a more modern factory just out side of the village, and by chance they also own the taverna opposite the old mill - our lunch stop?
The old press was quite interesting, our guide has a key to let us in, superbly renovated in side.
The process is explained:
Stage 1:The olives are removed from the tree, large fine nets are spread on the ground underneath, these are used to collect the olives. The fruit is then effectively "raked, or beaten" from the tree, the olives fall on to the netting. It is explained that today they are raked with an electrical agitator, as apposed to hard manual work. We had seen this process first hand on Levkas, on our wanders into the country side, a family was raking the olives on to the nets manually?
Stage 2: Originally the olives would have been transported by donkey to the press - this too we had seen?
Stage 3: The fruit is then fed into the silo, from there they were fed on to the presses stone wheels, a donkey was used in this case to work the press, turning the three grinding wheels on the stone as the olives where fed. The wheels compress the olives into a form of dough, which runs in to a trough and off the press in to a container.
Stage 4: The dough is placed into cloth sacks, and placed into a manual press, pressure is applied through a winch and a series of pulleys. This produces a mix of oil and water, separated from the solid residue. The oil is then separated by gravity, the liquid is placed into a larger container and allowed to stand. As oil is lighter than water it floats to the surface and is lifted off - this is 100% pure olive oil! We we found it interesting any way!
We are then invited to have a drink or food in the family taverna across the lane. There is no menu, you take what the family have made that day - or not? We have eaten at these small, "traditional tavernas" before - no all day "Full English, nor "Fish & Chips" here? We are told that all of the produce is made by the family, the Greek Salad and bread is mandatory, with two vegetable dishes offered, we share one of each between us. We wash it all down with their home made wine, rather strong and potent, it tasted very much like a fortified wine - importantly it went down very well. All for €11.00, it would have been easily twice that in one of the resort type town - good value and excellant quality. We all bid our farewells and climb back onto the road train, the proprietor comes out to see us off!
We now make our way down the hillside, passing many of the old windmill ruins, it is pointed out as we pass a collection of about six, that an Englishman had bought them and rebuilt one as his home? As we descend we see many of the bee hives, they have great pride of both their oil and honey on Crete? We also pass today's windmills, originally they were used to produce flour for baking, the latest version produce electricity.
We eventually arrive at Vrouhas, we were originally told that the town was famous for it's Raki, but as we passed a "Raki Shop" the owner came out to beckon us in, we were hustled passed by the guide and taken to the village church - very confusing? The church was said to be one of the original orthodox churches on the island? It was destroyed during the war, it was rebuilt by the town folk's funding and the inside filled with donations from other churches.
It was some what a mix of the very old, some pictures over 200 years old we were told, and the relatively new, and in a typically Greek fashion unfinished?
From the church we were taken to the war memorial, we were all introduced to a delightful old lady who, we were told come out to every visit made by the train? She loves her picture being taken we are told, and obviously not a word of English spoken?
The rest of the journey down the hillside we took in the view, the hills and the valley looked rather rugged and harsh.
Once we arrived back in the town we bid our farewells, we were told that any tips are donated to an animal rescue centre. The Greek people treat there animals in a totally different way, the word "pet" does not truly exist as we know it? Many animals (cats and dogs) can be left to fend for them selves, or even abandoned on the roadside. We have met a couple of ex-UK individuals who have taken pity on such animals and set up such shelters, the guide tells us she has eight cats and dogs? There is no formal organisation here as most countries have to care for such creatures?
It has been a great day, very interesting we thought, what a better way to finish it off in our favourite waterside taverna with a cool drink before dinner?
Log Entry Thursday 12th May - We move across the Lagoon to Skhisma.
We have strong to gale force northerlies due this evening, it looks as if we may be here until Monday? We decided to move across the lagoon to Skhisma yesterday to seek as much shelter as possible but the move also gives us access to the town, shops for provisions and whatever else they offer? As we wake up we could hear the hard sound of rain on our decks, it had rained most of the night. Ann calls out "not rain again, it's May, the weather has gone to pot!" I replied, in my usual concerning way "rain again - when did we last see rain, people in other parts of the world have a shortage, and you are complaining?" We looked at each other for a few seconds, neither one of us could work out when we had last seen rain, but it must have been some time ago - we burst out laughing at Ann's little out burst?
We wrap up, climb in to the dinghy and head ashore, one always tries to make the dash between the showers but that never works out? It is not too difficult to find some where to leave our dinghy, we keep clear of the main harbour and numerous trip boats in operation and land on one of the small municipal beaches.
There are no queue for sun loungers today, although there were not that many tourists around yesterday, perhaps a little early? There is a small reconstructed windmill separating two small beaches, not now operating as the canvas on it's wheel completely blown out, still it's doorway kept Ann dry?
We begin our wander around the small town, plenty of stores offering the usual wears, just no buyers, we come across a open back truck full of oranges, in it a young man picking up his wife and child. We ask him how much for one of his huge bags of oranges, he seems a little hesitant to sell but after a quick look around, he leaves with our money and we have a sack of oranges we can hardly lift never mind carry around town. We return to the dinghy and leave the sack in the dinghy to await our return.
The town has a special car park for the coaches that bring in the groups of tourists to visit Spinalonga Island, they then make there way to the water front and usually from what we have seen have a meal included in one of the water front restruant's, additionally there are the independent visitors, making their own way to visit the island of which the lagoon is famous. The town, due to the weather is clearly lacking visitor, the streets almost empty apart from the people in shorts and raincoats adamant that they will enjoy it - it must be quite disheartening to have any form of holiday with this weather? We decide to have a coffee in one of the tavernas called "The Ferryman", we had see it from Sailaway and was curious as to it's name if nothing else? We get talking to the owners, a couple from Cramlington, a town in the north east of England (Gods country!), they have lived here for some years now and they love it. They now have their business up for sale, looking forward to retirement we guess, did not like to ask? We bid our farewells and leave to check out the so called supermarkets, plenty of them but all small and poorly stocked, with regards to our beloved salad and fruit there is only one store that seems not to leave it's stock out on display until it rots, still we are Ok for oranges?
We make our way to the small waterfront, numerous trip boats and ferries and the usual array of small colourful fishing boats, very picturesque. We now have to decide what we are to buy and where from, we visit the first supermarket and buy what we can there. There is now a need to visit a second store, the salad and fruit can be bought on the way back to the dinghy. In such a situation, I always suggest we set up a base camp to allow the safe storage of our goods between store visits and of coarse shelter from the heavy periodic showers in this certain example - I suggest the waterfront taverna "The Eden". I volunteer to make sure our provisions are secure? The proprietors are two Greeks, brother and sister, they complain of the poor business blaming every thing from the political unrest (strikes etc in Athens) frightening tourist off, to the weather - who knows? They explain that their season used to start in March, now late May, early June, must be a little disheartening? A British couple arrive and we begin talking to them, they spent six months in Scotland and six months here, they have a house in a small nearby village. They explain that when they left, there was a movie to be made about the Leper Colony, a follow on from the book "The Island". When they left, their village was being turned into a movie set as it could resemble the island with some work and imagination - they even covered the cobbled streets with earth for effect? The small village apparently suffered quite an upheaval, but they were leaving for the Uk for six months, it would all be back to normal when they would return? Upon their return, someone had decided to leave their village "as is" and better still, bring the visiting tourist coaches through the small village? The village gets no gains as the coaches do not stop at either of the two small tavernas - they just pass through, slow enough for photographs - still this is Greece? After the shopping is complete and we are suitably refreshed we bid our farewells and return to Sailaway via store for the fruit and salad.
The strong winds hit as predicted, the shelter here is reasonable, however as is normal, little sleep is achieved until confidence is gained on the setting of the anchor? At least the rain will pass and the sun should return tomorrow, that will make Ann happier, possibly?
Log Entry Tuesday 10th May - We awake in Spinalonga Lagoon
We are awoken about 0800 hours, a little sooner than we had hoped for by passing trip boats ferrying tourists to the island of Spinalonga - it does not matter where you are tourists get in the way? We gradually pull our selves out of bed, today is to be a lazy day, not much to do really, we clamber on deck to have a further cupper and a look around at our new surroundings. We have another series of gales due in two to three days. We will sit them out here and when the time is right, leave here for the island of Karpathos to the east, then onto Rhodes.
The lagoon is surrounded in all directions but the south by steep hillside on the mainland especially, a bridge and roadway to the south, joins the land mass to our east with the mainland. There appears to be no building what so ever on this land mass? The mainland to the west however, has the small port of Skhisma, and numerous tourist complexes, some complete, many not? To the north of the lagoon is the island of Spinalonga with it's dominating Venetian fort and a complex of Venetian and Turkish buildings, now uninhabited. It was a lepor colony up until the end of the Second World War, now a tourist attraction - pity they let the tourists back out actually?
Our day is spent putting on sail covers and packing sails away, we drink refreshments and watch the world pass us by.
The traffic is busy past our anchorage, both trip and fishing boats, it is our plan to move over to the port of Skhisma tomorrow, putting us nearer to civilisation, and shops, as a supermarket can be seen.
Our day is taken up fully doing "stuff", we have a glass of wine or two in the afternoon enjoying the sunshine. In fact we only take off our night clothes to allow us to shower, and then get back into them! As the sun goes down we settle down to a movie and retire early, the closing of a perfect day.
Log Entry Monday 9th May - We move further east to Spinalonga Lagoon.
We had been watching the last series of strong to gale force northerly winds fall off, two aspects to consider, the primary being the sea state they create. The typical steep, short pitched waves make progress, if any, very uncomfortable, we had watched a sailboat fighting it's way out of the harbour through waves still well over two meters high. Thank goodness we were safely in a shore side taverna with chilled, local white wine? That sailboat was obviously under some form of time pressure, we are not, so our decision was to give it a further 24 hours to let the seas settle further, and hopefully catch the tail end of the dying winds.
We always sleep poorly the night before a trip, we woke early that Sunday morning, our plan was to leave as close to day break as possible, as we sat with our breakfast we could hear dozens of those noisy tourists making their way along the water front, back to their beds - disgusting! There does not appear to be any where here to complain about their behaviour, good job we are leaving? We loosen off our lines from the stern and the bow lines from the pontoon and moved away from the quay. We had paid up until Monday so we lost one nights berthing costs but at €1.50/night, not a great loss - thank god for all that EU investment that paid for these marinas? We sit in perfect calm in the harbour, with only a breath of wind. This allowed us to complete our tidying up in the harbour, fenders, ropes etc all stored in their proper place. We knew of a freighter that had arrived yesterday as we sat in the taverna and dropped anchor outside the harbour. The quay was full of loaded trucks ready to load up the freighter "All we need would be for that freighter to lift it's anchor and make it's way in as we were leaving?" I said to Ann.
And guess what, as we gained out side visibility approaching the harbour entrance the freighter's anchor was indeed just appearing out of the water? We took a coarse due east along the beach to allow clear access for the vessel, an old naval saying "if they are bigger and/faster than you - stay out of their way?" That's just what we did, we watched as she slowly passed us and turned into the entrance making for the west quay. We re-adjusted our coarse, heading for the headland "Ak Khondros Kavos." We still had a slight southerly, northerly forecast, but who cares - up went the canvas and off went the engine, we were making a good 4 to 5 knots and no noise - perfect!
As we crossed the large bay we watch Rethymno disappear into the distance, the cloud began to lift a little, "Lefka Ori" could be seen to the west, still a slight covering of snow but nothing like on the morning of our arrival offshore almost three weeks ago - where does the time go to?
As we made the headland, we could make out "Ldi (Psiloritis)" it too with a good covering of snow on it's peaks, the wind began to drop off also and the sea turned glass like, back on went the engine.
We could see wind on the surface of the water further off shore, we headed off coarse to the north to try and capitalise on it. Soon we had a slight north westerly wind, we unrolled the headsail and off again went the engine. With the headsail "poled out" we were making a could 3 to 5 knots, we stayed with this for most of the rest of the journey, the wind varying at times slightly in both strength and source.
The northern coastline changed also, no beaches and resorts now only steep shorelines and very little fishing traffic now, probably due to the lack of local harbours etc? We passed the headland "Ak Stavros" we now crossed the large open sea area across to "Ak Ay Ioannis", well off shore to Iraklion the capital of Crete. We had initial though of visiting Iraklion, but once we looked at the hugh concrete jungle ashore, we felt the decision to pass was the correct one? The commercial traffic now increase also, passing both east and west of "Dhia" island, we gave the island some distance to the south of the island as not to loose our northerly wind.
Dhia is a very rocky, uninhabited island with very little vegetation. It does have a couple of anchorages which we clearly be utilised by local boats, crossing over from the mainland for day out or lunch trips? We watched as a couple of west bound sailboats motored into the anchorages to spend the night and perhaps continue on in the morning? We considered that option, but checking the weather for tomorrow there would be less wind still, currently we were still making good way under sail so we decided to carry on as tomorrow looked like a definite motoring day to us. Ann prepared dinner, pork chops and a glass of wine went down very well - I did offer to wash up but Ann insisted that washing up would occupy her mind - who am I to argue?
A large trawler came our way, quite fast from the shore, he dropped his nets and gear and took a route parallel to ours, only a mile or so off. He stayed with us well into darkness. As we continued east we watched the sunset, we had brief company of an Italian sailboat, they waved as the motored at speed on a westerly coarse, darkness fell. Eventually the wind fell completely, we dropped our canvas and on went the engine. We made Ak. Ay Ioannis about midnight, we now had a short trip of 8/10 miles almost due south to the anchorage in Spinalonga Lagoon. We made our way into the lagoon, between the island of Spinalonga and the mainland, an entrance of only a couple of hundred yards wide with only a little over three meters of water over the entrance. We dropped our anchor about 1am, we then tidied up down below, putting away wet gear as the nights are still cold , also life jackets etc. We then have to celebrate our safe arrival with a glass of wine as is the custom and retire about 3am - a lie in ahead of us, so we thought?
Log Entry Monday 2nd May - The summer is here now?
The weather has definitely warmed up over the last week, our early arrival on the island had initially been greeted with much colder temperatures that the islands to the north? For the most of yesterday we had been subject to southerly gales, gusts up to 40 knots we were told? Our aging instruments gave up at 35 knots, but the wind could be heard accelerating past that. The gale had been forecast for three days, therefore we were prepared, we had gone "along side" on the pontoon and had used the traditional "tailed lines" to hold us off the pontoon. Inside the marina, especially those boats on the north wall, had their owners duly occupied trying to reduce the effect of both wind and waves pushing them hard against the quay wall.
We listened to the winds die off in the early evening a little later than forecast, Tuesday brings the same again. We had been told to revert back to the "tailed lines" today but it is pointless as we need to re-assume the same safe position tomorrow. We will sit where we are and deal with any of the requests from the marina management?
We are constantly reminded that we are in fact an island, there is a constant stream of commercial freighters coming in, bring the produce in from the mainland, and of coarse, there is the constant "buzz" of small fishing craft. There is one in particular begs one's attention, on board the owner always has his young Alsatian dog. On the outward trip the dog is constantly barking non stop - it's owner seeming totally oblivious to the noise? On the return trip into the harbour the dog is as quiet as a mouse, almost as if it is looking forward to getting home? Another good sign is that when the low cloud clears one can see that the snow is significantly reduced on the mountain top - summer is definitely coming!
Today with such a lovely day we head into town, we have not been off Sailaway for two days, nice to feel the firm ground occasionally under your feet. As we do, we decide to have a drink in one of the small cafes in the square - and of coarse "people watch?" There are now so many pale/white tourists dressed in shorts and floppy hats? This is our first trip to this cafe, Ann's attention is drawn to the picture advertisement of a floured ice-scream drink. Further discussion with the waitress reveals the total lack of calories within the drink, especially the mocha flavour? The young lady is some what taken back when I accused her of saying any thing to get a sale? Ann ordered the mocha flavour in good faith, but after wadding through the ice scream begins to question about "the total lack of calories, a little unbelievable?"
The beaches are slowly filling up too, with more people venturing into the water?
The commercial section of the port had two arrivals last night, two cruise ships belonging to the same company. We had seem "Panama" the large sailboat two weeks previously in Pilos to the north, already in operation. Both of the vessels are being cleaned, washed down paint work touched up, Ann sees "completion" with regards to the paint work, we both agree Ann's methods are far more professional. As we sit aboard Sailaway a working boat is launched, a power boat called "The Beast" (what else) ready for the seasons parasailing.
Log Entry Tuesday 26th April - A visit to The Fortress of Fortezza, Rethymno.
The fortress had been on our "list to visit" since it's impressive structure first came into view off shore during our arrival on that cold morning. As we sit on Sailaway it looms over us, becoming even more intriguing? With all that said, if one would have been given the information leaflet prior to paying the €8 for the two of us to enter I would certainly have questioned it worth? Still, we made the visit so we shall continue, how ever in my option the €545,000.00 invested by, yes, the EU was certainly not invested in the Fortresses true history, more so in what "some one thought it should be spent on?" Please do read on, I put a lot of effort into it?
We chose the quickest walk to the fortress, through the old town, it's narrow streets filled with cafes and tavernas. The fortress was said to be built by the Venetians, on the rocky hill of Palaiokastro, known as the "Fortezza" it does indeed dominate the town. It is believed that the ancient city of Rithimna was situated on the same spot. The foundation stone was said to be laid on the 13th September, at 3.30pm, the time (in hours) is obviously unknown, that is just me being cynical? The fortress was built on the principles of the bastion system of construction, consisting of four main semi bastions on the south and east sides and three main salients in the north and west walls. Originally it was said that inside were mostly public building. After the fall of the city to the Turks in 1646, the great Mosque was built following the destruction of the Cathedral of Ayios Nikolas, the number of dwelling were increased, by the 19th Century a large settlement had been created in the fortress.
In the 60's the internal buildings, said to be mostly ruins were first flattened and then, at the same time the first of the restoration work began?? The restoration work was said to be intensified in the 90's onwards and continues onwards, co - financed by many??? Enough of the printed literature and on with our story.
The fortress walls from the outside are very impressive, however once inside the old and the new is clearly visible, still it gets the €4 out of each visitors pocket? I quote "The Eastern Gateway Complex, north of the vaulted passage of the main entrance there are three intercommunicating vaulted roofs built into the structure, these spaces have been turned into a ticket office and gift shop" - Not actually finished yet, not sure if this was started in the 60's? I quote " The Armoury - this two storey building located near the main gate was constructed in 1581 for the purpose of storing cannons, weapons etc (we may see the canons later?) It is used for periodic exhibitions today" The original building may have been built in 1581, today the building is new, partially unfinished (for effect possibly) with superb marble floors. There are many white wooden podiums for things to be stood on, but no lighting, no exhibits, no advertisement of such - one would certainly question if it had ever been used?
The views of the city and it's surrounds are excellant, one can see the length of the island (weather permitting), the east wall looks over the harbour, and in the distance, Sailaway.
I quote " The Mosque of the Sultan Ibrahim Han - after the Turks captured the city in 1646, a mosque was built dedicated to the reigning sultan over the remains of the Catholic Church of Ayios Nikolas. The main feature of the mosque are the hemispherical dome (one of the largest in Greece). Following it's restoration it is now being used as a location for musical events." Well, the building is certainly not original, superb marble floors and roof - not long finished? Musical events, well? A group of workman were busy building a 17th century structure next door?
Above shows the complex of Magazines at the Northern Gate, and yes, part of it, the building above to the right has been developed for "periodic exhibitions" - it was unfinished and locked?
The above two pictures on the right shows "The Residence of the Rector", built between 1575 and 1582, it's restoration completed in 2000 and it is intended to house a permanent exhibition relating to the history of the Fortezza. We every thing takes time, the exhibition is not quite there yet, and yes it was locked?
I could go on all day about what was and was not there, what was and what was not happening, but I will not, unlike me I know? There was a theatre area, circular in shape obviously, with early 21st century seating. Nearby a pile of over grown rusty old canons, probably been dropped by some litter bug, or, perhaps waiting since 2000 to go into the permanent exhibition in the Residence of the Rector?
Log Entry Monday 25th April - A walk out on a Cretan Easter Day.
Today is to be a lazy day for us, nothing to do, very little open to see, Easter in Greece is traditionally one of the most important family days of the year - more important than our Christmas? Even all of the shops are closed today, the normally "busy until late" shopping areas are deserted.
We leave Sailaway on the pontoon and make our way into town, for no reason other than to see what is going on? Traditionally the families would roast "the lamb of God" today, we actually have an invite to the lamb roast at the Europcar car rental store, plenty of food and drink we were told by "Stenos", and we do not even have to rent a car?
We walk along the water front as not to have to "run the gauntlet" of the bar and restruant owners all toting for your business - not that we are cowards, it is just easier to stay out of the way? A lot of the establishments are closed, a couple offering roast lamb on their menus - some even offer to take your photograph by the roast - no obligation to eat of coarse? We are looking for some lunch but Ann has her favourite place in mind, a waffle cafe. We called in a couple of days ago, tried one between us, it was beautiful, the owner advised Ann as to which flavour ice scream she should have with her "Nuttela Waffle" next time. This time we have to have one each as I cannot have any of hers - expectations were clearly met!
Now, as women do after eating some thing like that, guilt begins to set in and we have to walk it off. We head towards the "Fortress of Fortezza", unfortunately it is closed but it is a pleasant day, we plan to return Tuesday.
One the way back to Sailaway, Stenos and the boys have the roast going at Europcar, Ann can not be tempted, not even for a drink - still there is always next year?
Log Entry Sunday 24th April - Happy Easter, we are still cold, the tourists obviously not!
The temperature since we arrived as shown to be around 14C with the wind chill, 20C without? We are wearing fleeces and wish we were further north! A friend of ours said "the further south you go, the warmer you will be!" - we have not spoken to her since! The mountains around us still have a covering of snow which does not help?
Tourists obviously think the weather is great, plenty of shorts being worn but only a few using the beach?
Log Entry Wednesday 20th April - We leave Pilos and continue south to Crete.
With day break calling on us again Crete was now clearly ahead of us, Ak. Maleka, the great head land north of Soudha could be seen, in the distance snow could also be seen on the mountains, that made us feel even colder? Soudha was the great NATO Naval Base of the eastern Med., lots of restricted waters around, Submarine training areas and all that good stuff. We were now only a few miles north of 30 Degree's, it is here the Lybian naval embargo begins, effectively a war zone, it was hard to believe we were now actually so close? We are so detached from the real political issues as we take little interest in the news, for two selfish reasons, firstly, it is always bad, and secondly, it has little effect on us, living as we do, other than the exchange rate!
The wind now picked up from the west, up went our canvas and off went the noisy engine - peace again at last. We were now once again making great speed through the flat water with only a very shallow swell from the north as we had become accustom too. In a matter of a few hours the sun rose fully to the east of us, it's light producing an angry coloured sky - "red sky in the morning, sailors warning" as we seafarers say? The wind began to stiffen, we now had over twenty knots of our starboard stern quarter, great sailing!
I took a long look around for traffic and popped down below to check our position, once done I returned to the cockpit, it appeared the wind was changing. I shouted Ann up "quick it looks like we may jibe?" I was now focused on all indications of the wind direction, flag, wind generator and gauge, all seemed a little erratic? I had no sooner got the words out of my mouth when I saw the needle on the wind gauge showing the wind direction spin and the boat jibed. The wind change pushed us hard over and all of the sails were now on the wrong side, we had a preventer on the main sail so damage was minimalised? Then, as quickly as the wind had changed previously, it changed again releasing the pressure on our sails, Sailaway popped up right, sails flapping in the wind? Ann looked up from below, "what the hell was that?" I called looking around us for a cause? Ahead of us in the great bay north of Rethymno, tornados could be seen reaching down from the sky, creating water spouts as the wind drew the water up from the sea towards the sky. Ann was now in the cockpit with me - "get all canvas down!" I called, I was quite proud of us, it was all down and secured in what seemed like seconds, strange thing fear! The sea was now quite violent and the wind strong and confused, Sailaway was now motion less, bouncing in the swell. "We will sit it out here until things settle down" I called, on went the kettle! We watched as we saw at least six of these spouts develop to different degrees, it was hard to get good pictures as the motion of Sailaway was quite violent. The spouts appeared to the east, west and ahead of us and went on for over thirty minutes. We were not alone, a large passenger ferry sat off shore with us, the weather system was easily identifiable now, we watched it progress south, onto the land. The ferry moved before us, well, he was bigger, we again started the engine and moved apprehensively towards Rethymno.
We watched the wind and weather around, the wind was again now steady and a good twenty knots, out went the head sail and off went the engine. The head sail was large enough to give us 5 knots plus and a much smoother ride than the engine in the building swell. The snow on the Psiloritis ldi Mountains was now more visible however the weather around spoiled any opportunities of good pictures.
We very quickly made up the ten miles of so, the harbour wall easily identifiable to the east of the large impressive "Fortezza", we in time started up the engine, rolling up the head sail we surfed into the harbour on what was now a good two meter swell. A freighter was being loaded/unloaded on the commercial quay, we were to make our way into the marina. We had been told by friends we had met in Pilos that it's costs were cheap and they were "nice people". We hung around making our intension's to enter clear in the now stiffening wind, no one came to offer assistance or guidance, the wind strength was going to make berthing interesting, we decided just to enter and see what happens? As we began our entrance in amongst the pontoons we were welcomed over to pontoon "A" at the entrance by a gent off another boat, he was along side, he was pointing to a space between his bow and an eight meter sailboat which was "bows too" on the same pontoon. Within moments the couple from the small sailboat were on deck, others had joined on the pontoon to offer assistance, or have a good laugh as we "messed up" especially in the cross wind? Now with the ongoing communications sailaway had been blown past the pontoon, a number of berthing options were being given on "Pontoon A". It was clear there were pick up lines, we chose the best option for us, we would turn around and take the first berth offered, this would allow me to cruise in abeam to the wind which would blow us on to the small sailboat. The sailboat would hold us in position until we tired up! Selfish I know, but the best, and certainly the less humiliating for us as the wind was now very strong? We entered the berth as planned and tired up with perfection, the 10 mm lead lines we were give by the crowd never brought up the main/thicker lines, these berths were clearly for much larger vessels? We secured Sailaway with the 10 mm lead lines, alongside vessels had done the same, I asked questions about the organisation of the marina but got no clear indications. The lovely people who had offered assistance were the "winter community" we had been told about, two vessels nearby were visitors. The wind was now too strong to reposition Sailaway so we secured a couple of these 10 mm lines to our stern and further lines to the quay to keep Sailaway off our neighbours. We now needed a good fry up and some sleep, the marina staff seemed uninterested in us so they could wait.
All secured and tidied below we sat down to a full English and a bottle of wine to celebrate our safe arrival, we had indeed made the passage ahead of the winds as planned. As we lay in our bed we quoted what some one close to us (that shall remain name less - Mum!) once said to Ann "We are too old for this!" We slept until early evening, had dinner then slept again, as we lay in the early ours of the morning the forecast northerly gale hit.
Log Entry Thursday 21st April - Our first day in Rethymno.
Well it was clear that the gales had arrived as forecast, the wind was cold, the skies black, but there were still holiday makers in shorts, we were well wrapped up.
We now felt bound to clear in with the authorities where ever they were, we also had two days of rubbish to dump, that was the easier of the two tasks?
We wandered around looking for the marina office, eventually we broke an ongoing conversation on board a British sailboat, we were give clear instructions, the marina is actually the harbour authorities. We made our way into the building, a charming helpful lady took copies of our documentation and the fees declared, for us at 12 meters it would be €1.50/day, water and electric extra - extortionate! We were asked for how many day we would like to pay, it was clear we had to make a decision there and then, we declared five days, thinking "to hell with the money!" Once the charming lady had checked the grand total of €7.50 twice on the calculator I handed over the money, it was refused and taken to another office. Ann had miss heard declaring "€150 for 5 days - that's not cheap?" I wanting to have a little fun did not correct her, once in flight she is amazing to watch! We were politely handed over to a gentleman who created the invoice on the system, this process and the rechecking of the grand total on the calculator twice again took a further ten minutes, not a word was spoken? Ann, clearly not wanting to disturb this very solemn occasion said nothing, but her face shall expressions were amazing, I eventually corrected her only to be presented with abuse? We were presented a magnificant invoice for the €7.50 and the money was paid. I thanked him and wished him farewell in Greek, the gentleman answered with a smile. As we leave the office I declared to Ann " it has just cost three or four times the invoice worth to complete that process?" Ann seems disinterested, I do not think I am forgiven yet about the €150?
We left the marina and harbour complex onto a main road - this was the big city to us, it was fast and noisy, traffic every where. There were Pelican Crossings, you pressed buttons to cross the road, not just step out? We had not seen this sort of required behaviour since our return the the UK last October, we agreed that we had not missed it either? The water front road was full of car/bike hire stores, shops advertising "Holiday Accessories" and restruant's and bars - too much noise for us "converts".
The Tourist Information Office was also out side the marina, we popped in to get up to speed with what was around and of coarse what was happening for Easter, we had been told of wonderful parades as Easter is traditionally celebrated more than Christmas? The gentleman was very helpful with regards to the city, we asked a specific question but had to under go a full barrage of information that the chap probably repeats hourly if not more often? He does tell us however that at Easter, in the city little happens and points out a couple of churches were things might happen. He tells us that most people go back to their home villages for Easter - not much good to us, but if that is the way it is? We leave the building loaded down with stuff to do, on the adjacent beach diggers are busy clearing the beaches of their winter debris as we had seen else where.
We wander off to source gas, once the source was found we make our way to the old town as the young gent had suggested, in the streets off the front one is sheltered from the wind. The streets are very cosmopolitan, dozens of shops all selling the same products, one wonders how they survive as there is clearly strong completion on pricing.
We wander through the streets, numerous cafes it was clearly a very "modernised old town" - lots and lots of the same.
We walk in the direction of the old "Venetian Town and Harbour" a great place of interest declares our pilot book?
The small harbour looked attractive I guess, but you were given little time to look around as you had to fight off the restruant owners as the tried to pull you into their establishment, some you can have a polite chat with, some overbearing but some, just bloody annoying and this was only April? The mainly open restruant's were too bloody cold to sit in anyway - after the third restruant we stormed through, giving little lee way to any one. We had already chose a venue for this evening, a small steak house just out side the marina, and covered in - Ann had earlier been converted to waffles, they were not even sold here?