Greece

Monastery of the Birth of the Virgin

On the island of Kira Panagia there is a constant. A single soul – the Father of the Monastery of the Birth of the Virgin, since 993. (No, I didn’t forget a 1 before that, that’s 993 AD).

We left our safe harbor at Kira Panayia Bay to venture to the other side of the island to Monastery Bay where we were told the lone monk is known to entertain visitors.

We passed the rocky and rugged side of the island and made our way to Monastery Bay.

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We anchored in Monastery Bay and took a dingy in to the rocky rebuilt quay to ascend the hundreds of steps to the monastery.

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When we arrived the Father was cleaning a few fish he had caught and throwing the entrails to some of the cats that account for his companions on this desolate isle. He invited us in for Greek coffee, mint tea (from the island) and Turkish delight. While he left to the kitchen he invited us to look around the chapel and grounds.

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This monastery was the replacement to the ruin we saw the night before at our other anchorage. It dated from the1800s and is currently undergoing extensive restoration with new pointing on the interior and exterior walls, new gate, solar panels, battery cells, and soon to be new oak floors. And an old olive press that they hope to one day restore to working order. There were extensive gardens (olive trees, vegetables, and lots and lots of grapes)
Our tour continued outside the walls on the cliffs above the Aegean with Byzantine and Greek flags flying where he gave us his sermon on the immortality of the soul.

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He was a sweet and charming man who assured us that he was a worse sinner than any of us and would most certainly be going to Hell, but we, of course, where such nice people we had little to worry about.

Just to make sure, I slipped a 20 Euro note into the coffers of the chapel. It never hurts to have a little insurance policy.

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Stormy Near Miss

Thursday morning we woke to mixed weather. A few showers sprinkled with sun breaks. We left Steni Vala and headed up the east side of Alonissos past many caves. One called the Blue Cave (which is said to be deep enough to easily paddle into and explore) and 3 other nearby caves which legend says that a sea monster lives in the third cave and nobody who has ventured into is has ever returned.

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As we headed out across Steno Palagonisou (Palagonisou Strait) we could see a storm brewing on the horizon and coming straight for us. The only thing North of us now as we crossed to Nisos Kira Panayia is a great expanse of frothy Aegean. We battened down the hatches, had Clara get her life vest on, put things away down below and braced ourselves for getting windy and wet.

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We were very lucky. This storm missed us by meters. We had an 3-4x increase in wind and some raindrops. But nothing like this storm was packing. We skirted it. Afterwards the weather looked much better so we raised sales and headed for the cool blue waters of Kira Panayia Bay. We slipped in behind Pelerissa Rock and dropped sail to find an anchorage in this tranquil bay that featured an old rock wall, an abandoned monastery ruin, a few goats (apparently a breed unique in this world to this island) and an old olive grove. We went ashore and tried to find a trail to the ruins but with no luck. We returned for a day of swimming and I cooked a dinner of penne and chicken with a metaxa (Greek liqueur) cream and made plans for exploring these uninhabited islands of the lesser Sporades.

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Stormy Night Before Steni Vala

Wednesday night was wild with wind, thunder and lightning assaulting us us most the night. The Gods clearly still displeased with our further encroachment upon their sacred isles.

At 2am we had to adjust our mooring to ensure we didn’t hit a fishing boat near us. It proved a very restless night but a lazy morning as it was cold and poured rain most of the morning. We waited for a break in the weather before making our own break for Steni Vala further up the eastern side of Alonissos. As we made our break we saw about 8 or 9 other boats coming out of Patiriri that had been holed up there due to weather as well. We assumed they were all heading to the same place, and were correct, because there are few other anchorages in this area. We had an advantage in the race to Steni Vala because Votsi was slightly further North than the main port of Patiriri. As Steni Vala is a tiny port it was important that our 3 boats got their first.

We were far enough ahead to make a quick detour into Kokkinokastro, a beautiful bay were evidence of humans with Stone Age tools dating from 10-30K years B.C. There are some archeological digs you can explore there, but we didn’t have time so we headed out of the bay for Steni Vala.

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Steni Vala is a cute little family owned bay with a few small stores and tavernas. We found a good spot right in front of the Ikarus Cafe where we were told to find Kostas, “Who will have answers everything you need to know about the Sporades”. He was easy to find.

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After our onboard happy hour we asked Kostas which is the best restaurant to eat at. “This is difficult for me to answer. You see, this is my cousin” (pointing to his left) “And this is my cousin” Pointing to his right. “Any the next one my cousin”. So we rephrased the question. “Where would you eat?”. And he said, “At home with my wife”. So we choose a taverna based on their hand painted menus.

On the way to dinner Judy stopped off at her boat, “Delos” which due to so many problems they’d renamed “Doris”. Stern ties are common in the Aegean but in this particular moorage it was very shallow by the quay so they had to pull anchor out further which wouldn’t allow their gang plank to reach. So Barry had Barry-rigged a bunch of lines to use their dingy as a step to/from the boat. However, one of the ropes to the quay was tied to short so when Judy pushed herself off the quay to glide to over to Doris the dingy stopped suddenly short causing Judy to fall into the harbor.

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Just outside the restaurant we saw a local with a jig fishing off the pier. He took one quick throw and pull and had his dinner for the night.

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Votsi Storm, Caves, and an Exceptional Meal

Literally within seconds of dropping anchor in the crowed fishing boat bay of Votsi and rafting our boat “Sonia” along side our friend’s boat “Deep Blue” there was a crack of thunder, bolts of lightning followed by a deluge like non I’d ever seen. We scrambled to batten the hatches and pull in the towels, laundry, Kindles, and iPads.

Tawny and I donned our suits and headed out into the rain with some soap. It had been several days since we had a shower and the rain was so torrential it took the soap off you before you could lather it. The unexpected hail was exfoliating. The thunder and lightning all around us was a bit disconcerting since we were the highest mast in the bay. But the refreshment of a cool shower was worth it. We caught several buckets of the soft rain water from the boat’s dodger to keep for future bathing. On shore we saw flash flooding with torrents of rain coming down the street by the tavernas and waterfalls forming on the cliffs around us.
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We sat below for an hour or two waiting for the storm to pass. Eventually it did and Tom, Clara, Tawny, and I ventured out in the dingy to explore the caves nearby the bay. There are so many caves along the shores of the Sporades that after awhile it was so commonplace I stopped photographing them. Many of these caves had been above waterline at one time and have evidence of human inhabitants that dates back to pre-neolithic times.
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We went ashore during a sun-break and walked around the bay scoping out tavernas that we may want visit that night. The air was fresh and clean and the bay looked beautiful.
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We zeroed in on a cute little taverna built into the hillside that had a great view. It looked like another mom and pop place because we could see in the windows a baby play pen just off the kitchen. We returned to the boat and waited for them to open (many places don’t open until 6 or 7 pm and people really don’t arrive until 9 or 10pm.

The place turned out to be a mom and pop place but with a young couple, an Italian woman and her Greek boyfriend and their baby girl. Her Italian sister and her Greek boyfriend were also part of the restaurant. It was very chic variation on modern Greek and Italian food. Perhaps one of the best meals we’ll have in Greece. It was certainly the best to date. The seared tuna was a hit as was the garbanzo bean salad, the homemade tagliatelle with shrimp, but the best was the gnoci with browned butter.

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Patiriri – Old Town

Wednesday morning we took our boat with Jim, Carol, and Tom and went to the port of Patiriri for the day and met up with Barry and Judy. We hired a 3 taxis who took us to the ancient hilltop town of Patiriri. It was spectacular.

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Yes, that donkey was carrying kegs of beer.
We had a late breakfast in the hill top town and again the food was excellent. Clara had a great Greek omelet and Tawny had this divine Greek yoghurt with honey and fruit and the most blissful fig I’ve ever eaten. I had a Mythos beer.

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From the top of the hill we could see storms and rain coming. We called for our cabs and quickly returned to the port to get on our boat and return to our anchorage in Votsi.

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Votsi

Tuesday evening we tried to get into the port of Patiriri on the island of Alonnisos but the port was very full so we had to go to the fisherman’s bay northeast of the main town. Although Barry and Judy were able to find a berth in Patiriri on the quay. The fisherman’s bay turned out to be a very protected bay called Votsi that we liked so much we decided to stay in for 2 nights.

We nestled in between small fishing boats and settled in for happy hour.

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During our happy hour a man appeared on the cliff above where we were anchored and hailed us. He motioned to his mouth and pointed behind him. We assumed he may have a food truck or something in the parking area above the cliff from what we could see.

We went ashore (about 10 feet in a dingy) and clambered up the path the fishermen had made along the cliff wall. When we got to the top we saw not a food truck but a brand new restaurant – empty. We were early in the season and we were the only tourists staying in Votsi, so we decided we’d eat there for the night. One of the best meals we had in Greece to date! It was fantastic! Literally a mom and pop restaurant as the only two people there. Very new (kitchen looked like it never had a meal cooked in it, bathroom was perhaps the cleanest bathroom I’ve ever seen!)

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It was a great meal and we settled back onto the boats with some difficulty even with a 10 foot water crossing late at night and in the dark.
The wind kicked up and there was considerably thunder and lightning again which provided another wild night of anchor watch started about 4am as the rafted boats began to drag. We came very close to the shore and to another fishing boat but were able to tighten the stern ties to the shore and set the anchor to keep the drift to a minimum.

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Mama Mia Church

Tuesday, in the early afternoon, we left Skopelos Town for Alonnisos and the port of Patiriri. But first we had to make a detour by heading up the rugged northern windward coast of Skopelos island so we could see the Church of the Virgin Mary made famous in the film Mama Mia.

It was a bit cloudy and foggy out. We had pretty rough seas with a strong northerly blowing in. The previous night we had quite a wild wind and considerable lightning in the distance. Zeus and Poseidon apparently not pleased with a gaggle of Americans and ex-pat Brits from Dubai invading their waters.

As we approached the church it was more majestic precariously perched high on a seaward rock than it appeared in the movie. We found a few ABBA songs on our iPhone and played Dancing Queen as we approached the rock.
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The seas were quite rough but we dropped anchor in the heavy seas and Tawny, Clara, and I braved the swell, boarded the dingy, and navigated the jagged rocks for the nearest shore.

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Its was either 199 or 200 steps to the top (in the sweltering heat we lost count). The steps were treacherous but clearly a railing had been added in recent years to cope with the influx of tourists that visit the church.

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The church was considerably smaller inside than the movie would make it seem. So small, it was difficult to take a photograph inside the dark and confined space. But it did contain a lot of religious art and artifacts.

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Outside the church upon the grounds were a few weathered and ancient olive trees vibrating with the sound of cicadas in their branches.

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And an outhouse perched on the edge of the cliff. This one put the long in the term commonly used for outhouses – long drop. No, I didn’t use it.

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The heat was nearly unbearable and so we headed down and back to the boat to make our way to Alonnisos. The swell on the way had us all pretty nauseated. But as we rounded the south cape of the island the swell subsided and we could see the ancient city upon the hill.

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On the way into Alonnisos we had a dolphin swim right up along our port side. “Dolphin off port”, I yelled, grabbing my camera. The dolphin swam to the bow wake and took two quick jumps before I could ready my camera. I missed it. Hopefully I’ll get another opportunity.

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Going Off The Grid

Since last post we sailed from Skopelos Town up the rough Northern Coast of Skopelos to see the Mamma Mia church. Will post more about that later.

We sailed to island of Alonnisos to ports of Patariri and Votsi and on to Steni Vala. We’ve had wild unsettled stormy weather. Thunder, lightning, high winds and torrential rain.

We’ve had great food but spotty cell phone and wifi.

We’ve provisioned in Steni Vala and are heading to the deserted islands of the Lesser Sporades (Peristera, Kira Panayia, and possibly Psathoura and Yioura) We’ll be off the grid for a few days now until we land in Skyros early next week.

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Limnonari Beach & Skopelos Town

Monday morning we pulled anchor on Panormous and headed down the southwest side of Skopelos island toward Skopelos town.

We saw dolphins as soon as we pulled out of the harbor.

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The island is riddled with caves, in which many artifacts dating back to the early Minoans have been found. They conjure images of early mythical times.

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We took a quick break for a swim at picturesque and secluded Limnonari Beach where you could sit in a hammock hung from an olive tree.

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We pulled around the dramatic southern cape of Skopelos island and headed towards the harbor of Skopelos town. Skopelos town is about as picturesque as it gets, with 120 small churches and whitewashed homes with red tile roofs.

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This was our first Mediterranean style moorage (where you drop anchor and back in between other boats and drop a gangway to the dock off the stern). Mooring this way was easier than expected, but others didn’t fare so well, with dragged anchors, crossing anchor chains with other boats, mooring to close (so when ferry traffic came in the wake caused the masts to cross, hit, and damage each-other). Gale force winds came up in the afternoon and started many of the boats to scramble, with several boats careening into each-other. Jim, Carol and Tom had to move their boat. The boat next to us had to move as well as he dragged anchor in the wind and smashed into the sailboat next to him. Several boats (not in our group) were damaged. The wind continued to build through the night and it was a maelstrom of lightning and high winds all night. Not a restful nights sleep as we had to periodically check the lines and readjust the bumpers to keep our moorage from cutting loose overnight.

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Famous Skopelos Cheese Pie in Loutraki, Moorage in Panormos

We set sail from Skiathos for Skopelos on a hot and sunny day at our brisk swim on Tsoungria.

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After a few hours we pulled into our fist port on Skopelos to a small port town called Loutraki to take lunch at a small family run taverna where I had my first taste of the famous Skopelos Cheese Pie (which is feta cheese rolled in phyllo pastry and then deep fried!).

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From Loutraki we headed down the coast to anchor for the night in Panormos. Panormos is a striking anchorage, with a very protected cove and crystal clear waters. A few tavernas on a nearby secluded beach provided us dinner for the night.

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