Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back in the Dodecaneses

On the Quay at Symi
Back on the island of Symi to be more precise. And Symi is my very favorite Greek island. One of our favorite places anywhere as a matter of fact. But why, you say? Ahh grasshopper, many reasons! As a man I am accused of being visually oriented. I like stuff that looks good. Few places are prettier than Symi. The island has the usual craggy and sparsely vegetated Aegean aspect surrounded by the clearest and bluest of seas. Its thinly populated with most of the inhabitants clustered in Symi town itself. There are a few lovely isolated anchorages but what really makes Symi special is the town itself. Its terraced up the sides of the mountainous little bay which forms its harbor. 

Views of Symi town
Masonry homes with red tile roofs painted in light shades of yellow, blue and brown amongst the bare stone. Narrow nearly vertical passage ways between the homes. Bougainvillea, olives and figs growing alongside and overhead as arbors. From the ultimate heights above town the view is simply magnificent. And the town remains unspoiled despite an active tourist trade. It retains its "flavor" and, compared to some island towns which now could be anywhere after  thirty years of mass tourism,  its a haven. 

The sweet streets of Symi
There's no airport on the island and its unlikely, given the terrain, to ever have one.  We stopped here on the way north last spring, anchored in Pethi, and took the bus to town. This time we're fully 'documented' and on the quay in town itself. This evening we'll check out of Greece, our ninety day visas are up, and head back into Turkey. With maybe a stop or two on the way.
Temple of Hera, Samos. One free standing pillar remains since 560BC
Our last update was from Samos at Pythagorion. We stayed there ten days exploring around and killing a little time until Janet's sister Susan and her husband Jim could come over from touring around Turkey a little and meet us. Of course the day they were to catch the ferry from Kusadasi to Samos was the day the Greek government and the Turkish ferry company decided to escalate an old pissing match over new taxes and the Turks cancelled the ferry indefinitely. Perfect timing! There  were enough permutations of this silliness that I won't go into it all but they did arrive after only a thirty six hour delay and we were happy to have them aboard at last.
Vineyards on Samos
We rented a car and drove around Samos for a couple days prior to their arrival and with them. Samos is a beautiful island. It's like most Aegean islands but written large with higher mountains and more vegetation and lots of vineyards inland. There are truly beautiful mountain villages.
Jim, Susan and Janet on Patmos
View from the monastery
From Samos we had a smooth trip over to Patmos which had been a major goal for their visit. Patmos is another airport less island. The port of Skala is nice enough and the island is barren/beautiful but the real reasons for visiting Patmos are the Chora (village) and the Monastery of St. John above the port and the cave of the apocalypse where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation while being banished there in 95AD. 
Monastery of St. John, Patmos

Patmos is almost a Cycladic town in  the cubist white washed homes with blue trim. In the chora itself there's little evidence of foreign influence and its a quiet and beautiful place with lovely views. The monastery is a massive fortress built in the 11th century which still has an active population of about a dozen monks and much of it is closed to the public. Of course the chora was built around the fortress/monastery as protection against pirates.
Interior of the monastery
We anchored out the second night in Patmos at a nice spot and had that most rare of Aegean experiences, a nice anchorage and we were the only boat there all night, amazing!
Skala village, Patmos
From Patmos we had a nice thirty mile broad reach down to Kalymnos and the anchorage at Emborios. Kalymnos a very rugged and precipitous island with little vegetation anywhere, starkly beautiful. We had a mooring for once. As a matter of policy I don't trust moorings so I did a quick little snorkel to check this one out before we spent the night. Turned out there was a massive new chain from the surface buoy down to a concrete block that weighed at least ten tons. Very nice indeed.
Emborios anchorage, Kalymnos
Jim and Susan had to catch a flight out of Kos the next afternoon so we departed early and motored in calm conditions to the marina at Kos. We had time for nice lunch at the marina and they were off to the airport and a flight to Athens and then home. It was very nice to have them aboard but the time was too short.
Broad reach to Kalymnos
For those of you contemplating a little time in the Dodecanese I will say the marina at Kos is the best we've encountered all year and the prices are very reasonable, especially when compared with what the Turks charge just across the straits at Bodrum or Turgetreis. The marina has all the amenities and is well run and a very nice place to spend a little easy living time.
Asklepion of Hippocrates, Kos
Unfortunately Kos is that other side of Greek island tourism in that it's almost totally lost its identity. It's completely flavorless, as a friend said, it's been neutered entirely. You can walk the streets of Kos and have to look twice to know you're not in Puerto Vallarta in the winter or Skagway in the summer. Once tourism reaches a certain level it seems to devour identity and masses of 'all-inclusive' weekend travelers wonder the streets looking at each other shopping the same shops they would anywhere else in the world.  The last day we were in Kos there were sixty four flights in from northern European destinations. There are things around Kos worth seeing, the castle is excellent and the Asklepion of Hippocrates is lovely and serene, but Kos town is an example of what not to let happen to your beautiful city.
Inner keep of the castle, Kos
We had another motor in nearly calm conditions to the island of Nisiros where there is a very nice small anchorage. Its a sweet and unspoiled island. We had the best swimming to the trip on the other side of the breakwater from the quay. The visibility was more than 100 feet and there is a nice drop off into deep water and the best fish population we've seen this year. Unfortunately our visas are running out and its time to get to Symi where we can take care of the formalities. We'll see Nisiros again next year.
Palon harbor, Nisiros
So we're happy to be back in Symi. It's Saturday and the ferries  dropped off about two thousand people a couple hours ago. I'm sitting in the cockpit of our boat watching them stroll back towards their drop off point. Another couple hours and they'll be gone somewhere. Symi has managed to enrichin itself a little  yet retain its soul. Good for Symi, I wish them and all the Greeks, who are amongst my favorite people,  the very best.
Cat on the menu, Samos

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

PS: Any of these images can be viewed full size by double clicking on the photo.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Food poisoning! Yetch! We're on the quay in the village of Pythagorion, the island of Samos, Greece. Lovely place. Two nights ago we ate at a  recommended restaurant and had a lovely meal, well served, with friendly cats begging under the table. I had Kokinnsto, which is a rich beef stew in a red wine sauce. Absolutely delicious, memorable. Shortly thereafter I was praying to the porcelain goddess with all the other symptoms as well. It took another twenty four hours to feel human.  Janet was fine, her Moussaka was harmless. I'll never be able to order Kokinnsto again.
The quay at Pythgorion
Pythagorion, named after Pythagoras who was born on Samos, is the main yachtie hangout on the island. Of course there are a number of nice anchorages and we spent three nights anchored out at Posidonion, which is a classic Aegean spot. Vathi is the main town on the island but the bay there isn't well protected from the the Meltimi (the prevailing north wind this time of the year) and few boats want to get beat up in Vathi. Here there are about twenty five boats on the quay and another dozen anchored out. Its costing us six Euros a night and so far no one has said anything about charging us for shore power or water. What luxuries. We have nice neighbors, a Brazilian couple to starboard and Canadians from Montreal to port. Pythagorion itself is a touristy place but its nicely done and pleasant enough. 
Janet and friend, Pythagorion
Once off the main drag the town has character and the usual recorded history going back at least three thousand years. The island of Samos has always been a rich and influential place in the eastern Aegean. Polykrates brought the place to prominence in the 5th century BC until the Persians invited him over to a little diplomatic meeting where they crucified him. The rest of the history is similar. Samos played a major part in the Peloponnesian War and  throughout the centuries, including the Greek War for Independence, has always been a very involved place. Physically its a big mountainous island with some agriculture inland, some very good white wines and great rugged beauty.
On the quay at Mandraki
The last blog post was from Psara. From Psara we did a short passage twenty miles east to the island  of Oinousses just east of the northernmost point of Chios. The town there is Mandraki. What can I say? Another beautiful quiet mountain side village? Yes, but this one is a little different in that  a few of the wealthiest ship owning families in the world call it home. There are some truly regal mansions on that mountainside. There's also one of the nicest maritime museums we've seen with one of the best collections of ship models anywhere outside the Smithsonian. The town is very quiet and I don't think we ever saw more than twenty people during a day. 
Lovely, quiet, Mandraki. Chios in the distance.
However, there is a rather nice yacht club near the quay, open to the public. By about midnight the place is blasting away with Greek boom boom music and it doesn't stop until six in the AM. Incredible! One night I went up just to see what was going on and the place had 100-200 Greeks between the ages of 25 and 45 having a very good and very loud evening out. There are only about 450 people on the island, supposedly, and no nightly ferry service. Where these folks come from and where they hang out during the day is still a mystery.
Chios countryside
From Mandraki it was ten miles down to the 'marina' on the island of Chios. I say 'marina' because although it is a well constructed and secure facility it was never completed and sits untended and completely empty except for the concrete quays. No one watches over the place and there's no charge for being there so naturally cruising yachts come in and tie up for a secure, and free, berth. Its only about a click into the the main town of Chios where there's another poorly protected harbor so the 'marina' is the place to be. We rented a car for a couple days of driving around Chios where there are some of the most interesting medieval fortified villages we've ever seen. 

Village scenes, Chios
Much of the island is stark and barren mountain after mountain with tiny villages set back from the sea. The town of Chios was leveled during a huge earthquake in 1855 so its relatively modern in appearance and not so charming but with a population of thirty thousand it had some amenities we hadn't seen for some time including English language newspapers available for purchase.
Chios Town
It was pretty bleak and barren at the marina so we moved a few miles to the Emborios anchorage at the very SE tip of the island. Emborios is very nice and as sweet as the 'marina' was bleak and barren. A couple nights there and we were ready for the major passage to Samos.
Anchorage at Emborios
  This is sixty five miles from Emborios to Posidonion and by Aegean standards a major event. The forecast was  for a nice breeze on the beam building through the day. It worked out to more wind than that, 25-30 knots backing around to almost astern so it made for a fast and boisterous sail around to the east end of Samos where we dropped sail and motored into Posidonion. 
Posidonion anchorage, Samos Strait and Turkey
 So we completed one permutation of a circumnavigation of the northern Aegean. We last were in Posidonion the 4th of June when we were headed north along the Turkish coast and decided to make a little 'undocumented' visit into Greece. This time we were legal and stayed three nights before moving here to Pythagorion.
Table beggars at Posidonion
The end of the season is in sight. We have family arriving in a couple days. Jim and Susan Tighe, Janet's sister and her husband, will join us for a few days and we're looking forward very much to the visit. We'll move into the Dodecanese with them and visit Patmos with out much of a set itinerary.  Our Greek visas are good until the 22nd of September so then we've got to go back into Turkey. We'll get back to Marmaris, put the boat on the hard and be home by the 15th of October. That's the plan!
Small world, Corona in Mandraki
Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream