Saturday, 23 July 2016

A Tale of Three Cities, Part III, Rome

On our way back south through the Italian countryside, we decided we couldn't miss Rome since we were stopping there anyway. I wasn't completely stoked as I thought another big ole dirty city with heaps of tourists, hot and tired from that past week. I mean, what else could top Florence and Venice, right? Boy, was I wrong, I instantly fell in love with Rome too. The size and massiveness, the architecture and art everywhere we turned, every street, nook and cranny, was overwhelming to say the least. I don't know any other city built to such exquisite detail and grandeur. As soon as we found our hotel, dropped our bags, we headed for Trevi Fountain. Wow!

 Rome's history spans more than 2-1/2 thousand years. While Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome at only around 753 BC, the site has been inhabited much longer, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe. Eventually, the city successively became the capital of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and is regarded as one of the birthplaces of Western civilization and by some as the first ever metropolis. It is referred to as "Roma Aeterna" (The Eternal City) and "Caput Mundi" (Capital of the World), two central notions in ancient Roman culture.

After the fall of the Western Empire, which marked the beginning of the Middle Ages, Rome slowly fell under the political control of the Papacy, which had settled in the city since the 1st century AD, until in the 8th century it became the capital of the Papal States, which lasted until 1870.

Beginning with the Renaissance, almost all the popes since Nicholas V (1422–55) pursued coherently four hundred years of an architectonic and urbanistic programme aimed to make the city the world's artistic and cultural centre.

Due to that, Rome became first one of the major centres of the Italian Renaissance, and then the birthplace of both the Baroque style and Neoclassicism. Famous artists, painters, sculptors and architects made Rome the centre of their activity, creating masterpieces throughout the city. In 1871 Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and in 1946 that of the Italian Republic.


You can read about Rome, you see it in the movies, you can hear about it, but when you are actually standing there immersed in all the old sites, not to mention all the little alleys and cafes, does it really hit you, what the Romans had done and has endured to this day. It seems as if the Roman Empire was just yesterday. Walking through the forum you can almost hear the vibrant old city, siting in the Coliseum, you can hear the cheers and shouts of that day. And then there's St Peters, the most impressive church I have ever seen, anywhere. And of course, the Vatican's treasure of artefacts they have collected over the years is unsurpassed in any museum.

After a couple of days, "Roma Aeterna" really sinks in. I love Rome and Italy and if it wasn't for the Schengen insanity, we would have stayed much longer. I certainly envision coming back for a much longer stay.

So that's the news from EQ, where the winds are fair, the seas calm and the crew content.

With Equanimity and Joy...

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A Tale of Three Cities, Part II, Venice

Venice at last!!!! after all these years of dreaming about it. We're glad we didn't bash the 500nm up the Adriatic just to sail into here, as it would have been very difficult to bring a yacht here. Everything - fire trucks, ambulance, delivery trucks, buses, taxis, construction equipment, I mean everything including the ubiquitous tourist gondolas  - navigate the canals. And it is total chaos, but somehow it works and has been getting on for all these centuries. Arriving by train on one end and navigating the narrow alleys to find our hotel in the middle of the city was quite the adventure in itself. GPS doesn't work so well with all the masonry construction and narrow alleys.

The history of Venice goes back way more than a millennial, first as traders on the rivers of northern Italy, then gradually expanding into the sea. While most communities expanded their influence by acquiring more land, the Venetians expanded by acquiring trading rights on the water, first in the northern Adriatic, then ever expanding further into Med, into the Atlantic and even over land. They weren't so interested in acquiring possessions as to defeating piracy and maintaining and developing fair trade. To this as well as being known as excellent seafarers and warriors, as well as craftsmen, they became very famous.

Among the many cities that have ever been made, Venice stands out as a symbol of beauty, of wise government, and of communally controlled capitalism. The distinctiveness of the environment in which the Venetians built gave an obviously unique quality to their city's charm. It's watery setting contributed also to an aristocratic tradition of liberty. Venice was the freest of Italy's many cities. It had no city walls but a lagoon, no palace guard except workers from its chief shipyard, no parade ground for military drill and display except the sea. The advantages of its site fostered also an economy which combined liberty and regulation in ways as unique as Venice's urban arteries and architecture.

The institutions which make Venice memorable evolved during many hundred years of effort. From the 6th century AD to the end of the 18th, the Venetians were a separate people. In terms of their livelihood, those 12 centuries divide into three major periods which overlap considerably and are each about 400 years long. Until about 1000 AD, the Venetians were primarily boatmen or barge men operating small craft across their lagoons and up and down the rivers and canals leading into the mainland of northern Italy. After 1000 AD, they became a seagoing nation, sailing, trading and fishing in many parts of the Med and from the rivers of southern Russia to the English Channel. Finally, Venice became a city of Craftsmen, functionaries, and a few aristocrats, a city renowned for its skill in handwork, finance, and government.

The life of the Venetians before 1000 AD was relatively obscure, but a series of naval victories began in that year and came to a climax in 1204 with Venice's part in the conquest of Constantinople by western crusaders. The conquest made Venice an imperial power, and from that date on, its history is entwined with all the shifts of power within the Med. During the following centuries the Venetians as seamen maintained the wealth and reputation of the Republic in the face of revolutions in nautical, military and commercial technologies and in trade routes. While neighbouring empires rose and fell, they elaborated a republican government in a form which aroused the envy of many other Italian city-states.

At the beginning of modern times most medieval communities the size of Venice were overwhelmed by the rise of large, strongly organized monarchies. Oceanic trade routes undermined traditional sources of prosperity. But Venice, however, perfected her distinctive republican institutions as a city-state, preserved her independence by diplomatic skill, and prolonged her prosperity by adjusting her trade and especially her manufacturing to new opportunities offered by an expanding Europe. By 1600, when Venice was less a nation of seamen than of craftsmen, she reached a high peak of influence as a centre of artistic creation.

To this day, the charm and magnificence that has always been Venice, is still alive and well. Three days to explore this lovely city is no where near enough time and we hope to come back for a much longer spell, off season of course.

So that's the news from EQ, where the seas are flat, the winds fair and the crew content to finally see a dream in real life. Venice is certainly a dreamy city.

With equanimity and Joy...

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Tale of Three Cities, Part I, Florence

In the middle of the summer heat and the height of the tourist season, we are determined to head for Venice since we bailed out on bashing north with EQ in the Adriatic. The worst time of year for such a journey, but we are determined. :) We just can't visit Italy without seeing Florence, Venice and Rome (as a minimum), not to mention the Italian country-side. So off we go on the high-speed (200km/hr) train, zoommmmm, from bottom to top and back again in 8 days.

Santa Maria del Fiore, "The Duomo"

First stop, Florence! Wow! What an amazing city, the art work, the architecture, not to mention the history. Ground zero for the end of the dark ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The history goes back to before the Romans, with many wars and different ruling families over the years, but by the 15th century, Florence became an important trading hub and the cradle of Italian and eventually European culture. Many great personalities such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Donatello, to name just a few, all worked and lived here. The art work and architecture is unsurpassed anywhere, to this day.

Neptune Fountain, The Palazzo Vecchio

Florence has a charm like no other place I've ever been. We were awestruck the moment we arrived, in spite of the throngs of tourists, and that feeling continued at every corner, every coble stone street, every museum, every courtyard, every fountain, every little nook and cranny. If I could live in a city, this would be it. No one builds like this anymore. It's absolutely timeless.

Palazzo Vecchio Courtyard, home to the Medici family

The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence. It overlooks the Piazza della Signoria with it's copy of Michelangelo's David statue as well as the galley of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. In 1299, the commune and people of Florence decided to build a palace that would be worthy of the city's importance, and that would be more secure and defensible in times of turbulence for the magistrates of the commune.

Duke Cosimo I de' Medici (later to become grand duke) moved his official seat from the Medici palazzo in via Larga to the Palazzo della Signoria in May 1540, signalling the security of Medici power in Florence.

The Vasari Corridor above Ponte Vecchio

When Cosimo later removed to Palazzo Pitti, he officially renamed his former palace to the Palazzo Vecchio, the "Old Palace", although the adjacent town square, the Piazza della Signoria, still bears the original name.

Cosimo commissioned Giorgio Vasari to build an above-ground walkway, the "Vasari Corridor", from the Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti. Cosimo I also moved the seat of government to the Uffizi.

The palace gained new importance as the seat of united Italy's provisional government from 1865–71, at a moment when Florence had become the temporary capital of the Kingdom of Italy. Although most of the Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum, it remains as the symbol and centre of local government; since 1872 it has housed the office of the mayor of Florence, and it is the seat of the City Council. The tower currently has three bells; the oldest was cast in the 13th century. Throughout the Palazzo, the art work, the walls, ceilings, every single room, is exquisite.

"David", Michelangelo's Masterpiece

Speaking of exquisite art work, the Galleria dell Accademia is a must see. In particular is the original of Michelangelo's David, as well as an extremely important collection of his sculptures. Unbelievable work.

But the list of unbelievable places to visit is long. How about the Uffizi Gallery with Botticelli's "Primavera" and "The Birth of Venus". There's Leonardo's "Annunciation" and Michelangelo's "Tondo Doni". How about Paolo Uccello, Albrecht Durer, Rosso Fiorentino, Bronzino, Raphael, Titan, Andrea del Sarto... The list seems endless of incredible artists.

There's so much to take in, the mind becomes numb you can't remember what you saw where, especially since we only had two days in Florence. It's a small livable city, but the charm and pull on the heart is enormous. We certainly want to go back and stay much longer, off season of course. :)

So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds (or whirlwinds) are calmly trying to take it all in, the seas (of people) are vast, and the crew in love with the land cruising for a change.

with Equanimity and Joy...

Friday, 8 July 2016

Pompeii & Herculaneum, in the Shadow of Mt. Vesuvius

The Forum & Temple of Jupiter with Mt Vesuvius lurking
The excavations at Pompeii are enormous and this is only a small part of the original city. Herculaneum is a much smaller dig and closer to Naples, but even more impressive.

The Bath House

Walking through the old cities was mesmerizing, you could really imagine what it was like living in those times. Having indulged in a Turkish bath a few times, I particularly could imagine what the old Romans enjoyed. They sure knew how to live.


In Herculaneum, you can really see how much ash and rock buried the city.  To dig out more of the old city, they'd have to remove all the newer buildings which sit on top of the original towns. But nonetheless, what was preserved by tons of ash is extraordinary. Pompeii was first settled in the 6-7th century BC and came under Roman rule in the 4th century. In 79 AD, Mt Vesuvius blew its' top and buried the cities and its 11,000 citizens under 4-6 meters of volcanic ash and pumice. The city was completely lost for over 1,500 years until the 1700's. Buried under tons of ash, the original city (and its inhabitants) were preserved for centuries due to the lack of air and moisture.

The Café

We saw many of these places scattered about the residential areas. These were the local cafeterias (Thermopolium) or cafes where the locals would hang out. Many homes of the working people didn't have a kitchen so they could get hot meals here and hear the latest gossip.

Mosaic Floor

The mosaic art work was amazing as well. This was all done with small stone pieces of different colours, so survived the hot mud flows. Many buildings and homes had extensive art work painted on the walls. You can see the lower areas were destroyed by the hot mud flows, but the upper areas were preserved by the dry ash which was cooler.

Extensive Art work in many homes

So that's the news from EQ, were the winds are calm (windless hot days), the seas flat (EQ's in a marina), and the crew content to be tourists doing land cruising for awhile.

with Equanimity and Joy...

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Italy or Bust

After a lovely last night in Greece, in the little harbour of Lakka on the north side Paxoi Island, we set off across the Ionian bound for Italy. The winds cooperated some, but we still did a lot of motoring. We rounded the bottom of the Italian "foot" at dawn and motored up into the Messina Straits, the body of water between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Now, mind you , the Straits are notorious, since antiquity, for violent squalls, water spouts, fast running tidal currents and giant eddies that will swallow ships, or so the legends go. We had no idea what to expect as we approached with wide eyes and vigilant recognisance, except Homers Greek mythology about Scylla and Charybdis.

Scylla and Charybdis were mythical sea monster on opposite sides of the Straits. Scylla was a rock shoal (described as a six-headed sea monster) on the Italian side and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. Many idioms came from this, like "having to take a narrow path between two bad choices", or "between the devil and the deep blue sea" or "between a rock and a hard place". Now a days, you also have high speed ferries and heaps of fishing boats to contend with. But hey, if this guy can do it, so can we, no worries.

And so as it turned out, we only got tossed about a bit, no violent squalls (early in the morning), no monsters tugging at the keel, nor any water spouts to flip us over. We did have to actively make our way across the shipping lanes full of rather boisterous eddies and rips. At least we were able to keep moving forward, unlike the Komodo islands with their massive tidal currents.

And so we kept going and landed later that day on the side of another daunting natural wonder; Stromoli, a very active (though somewhat sleepy) volcano, complete with puffing clouds of smoke, streams of lava and floating pumice known as "the wandering rocks". We hoped she would stay asleep so we could get some sleep ourselves before heading off to Pompeii and another notorious volcano; Mt. Vesuvius. We also had in the back of our minds that this area is called the "Aeolian Triangle", not much different than the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic. Hummmm...., and we still have 130 miles to get to Pompeii. Gales blow here without any prediction, but brave little sailors we are (and fingers crossed) we set off the next morning, nothing in the forecast to worry about. We did make it as we are still here, though we had to motor the whole way, again.

The next morning, we found ourselves sliding along the cliffs under the Sorrento, a beautiful peninsula to make landfall on the Italian mainland. The Roman ruins, some dating back to 600 BC, are obvious and grand, still standing with many buildings perched on top.

But we are on our way to Pompeii where we have a marina berth reserved so we can leave EQ safely while we travel inland to Venice, finally. :)

So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds are fair (if at all), seas calm (flat), and the crew content to be in Italy. Hippeeee. PIZZA!

With Equanimity and Joy...

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Ionians

Approach to Galaxidi

FINALLY! a decent sail in the Med! We managed to get the timing right to actually have the wind behind us, all day even. After a lovely stop and meal in Galaxidi, we left early for the 70nm run down the Gulf of Corinth, under the massive new Rion-Antiron bridge and into the Gulf of Patras all the way to the Ionian Sea. 25-30 knots behind us was very welcome and kept us scooting along just fine.

And so, after 3 times cris-crossing the Aegean, EQ finally makes some more westward way, now in the Ionians, a favourite cruising ground for the Italians. But that doesn't make it any easier as there are so many boats and not enough decent anchorages. So many lovely little spots are full of boats backed up to the shore with anchors in deeper water. It's like a car park, but it's the only way you can fit so many boats into such tight little bays. We managed to sit on a rocky little mole outside a bay, until the wind switched, our anchor came loose and we had a late day fire drill to resettle in sandy shoal waters.

But the islands are lovely. Beating up into the wind through the Lafkada Canal was interesting. We had to drop anchor near the town and wait a few hours for the bridge to swing open. Once it did, a few dozen boats beat as hard as they could to make the dash through before they closed it again for all the road traffic. We let the madness pass and managed to scoot through at the end of the pack, just as the bridge was swinging back. :)

Corfu is quite the destination as well. There's a huge old fort on the east side. Corfu has heaps of history as well. Even though now a part of Greece, since 1864, they were mostly under Venetian rule since the early middle ages, so there is much Italian influence.

Speaking of Italy and sailing into Venice, just kidding. :) We are a few weeks too late this year as the winds have set in from the north for the summer. So, plan 'B', we sail to Italy around the bottom and take the train to Venice, not to mention Rome and Florence as well. :) Beating into it for 500 miles just didn't get us excited.

So, that's the news fro EQ, where the winds are fair (finally), the seas calm (and behind us) and the crew content.

With Equanimity and Joy...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Bye-bye to the Aegean

EQ has finally done it, headed out of the Aegean and into Ionian waters. It wasn’t easy, especially with our Greek friend Dino telling us we need to stay in Greece, particularly the Aegean, for at least 3 years to really understand the Greek islands and way of life. There certainly is a lure and pull on the heart strings to stay, but we finally got excited about a particular plan which overshadowed the enticement to stay, not to mention a decent weather window to head west. So we got ourselves to the Corinth Canal and successfully got through, no dramas, no worries. More on that in a minute.

I spent a couple of months in Finike doing a haul-out and replacing halyards, dock lines, sheets, etc. and a number of small projects to get EQ ready for another long journey, that is if we could escape the allure of the Aegean. Just in case as it were. Finike was a great place for EQ to hold up for the winter while I was off down under working at the NZ and OZ Vipassana centres, not to mention taking some time away from the trials and tribulations of life aboard EQ, which was a long season last year, like a 7026nm journey from Thailand.

Apollo's Temple, Didim
So, now in a much better heart and soul space, and more fenders to deal with charter boats J, we ventured out for the third time crossing the Aegean. We had some pretty good runs and nice stops along the way. I first worked my way up the Turkish (“the Emerald”) coast again, which was a good time for reflection and solitude. I always wanted to come to this coast for as long as I can remember, so was good to take some time and enjoy it again, the slow and easy way. Stopping in Fethiye for a full Humum (Turkish bath) endeavour was certainly a welcome stop. At Didim, I managed to get up to Apollo’s temple, an amazing old Ruin.

Pythagoras, Samos

Along the way I got an email from an ole friend from NZ (Elspeth) saying she was in Samos working for “Doctors without Borders” helping out at the refugee camp. She had no idea what hemisphere I was in, but I just happen to be 100 miles from there heading that way. So, that was an awesome surprise and loved catching up with her for a few days, waiting for my new crew to arrive. J

Interior by car, Samos Island

And so EQ’s new crew, Kim, did finally arrive, big smiles all around. I think EQ was even smiling as she likes a feminine touch. We stayed in Pythagoras a few days, rented a car and saw a good bit of the island. Samos is a lovely island and we hope to get back someday (more of that Aegean magic pulling on those heart strings).

Ermoupoli, Syros

But we finally did break away, caught a northerly down to Amorgos, and then a southerly up to Paros and then Syros. Syros was fantastic as always. We managed to catch a “Tango” performance in the old theatre of the main town, which was amazing. An excellent Argentine Tango performance (8 couples and 3 musicians) in Spanish in an 1800’s old Greek theatre was fully a Syros special event. J We loved it.

But sadly, it was time to make way again, which says a lot for the enthusiasm for the plan to head west, particularly after having a great dinner with Dino and Elli the night before.

So, what is this plan, you ask? J Sailing into Venice of course, what else could possible pull us away from Syros? J But it was necessary to make a stop in Poros once more, a delightful village on the water, where we had a lovely dinner on the waterfront with a warm breeze to say goodbye with. So, from there on, EQ is in new waters and a wonderful new Journey of the Heart and Sail in the making. 

Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal is quite the journey in itself, not to be missed. The canal is 3.2 nm long and maybe 50 feet wide. There’s no turning around or stopping in there, you just keep pushing on. We were in a convoy of 5 yachts and a big tourist boat behind. The walls are steep and we lost GPS signal, but you can’t get lost. You can bang into the old walls though if you’re not paying attention looking at all the old stone work. Luckily it wasn’t windy and we had the 2 knot current running with us.

The Charm of the Aegean...

Now we are off to Galaxidi in the morning, but that’ll be another story.

 So, that’s the news from EQ, where the winds are fair, the seas following and the crew content. J

With Equanimity and Joy…