Sunday, 17 July 2016

The 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…

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Hora and the Bougotsa

So, there we were, sitting at a café in the main square of the Hora, looking at the menu for lunch. Now, on most of the Cyclades islands, the Hora (or Chora) is the main village perched on top of the highest hill over looking the main harbour. The Cyclades islands are those postcard picture-perfect islands in the middle of the Aegean Sea, between Turkey and Greece. Most all the homes and businesses are painted bright white with blue trim (the traditional Greek colours), presumably every year as most are pristine. They really do look after their homes and villages with pride.

The Hora's were built many centuries ago, mostly to afford protection against the pirates that controlled much of the Aegean, on-and-off over the years. There's a long history of seafaring here, but that's another story. What would happen when an unknown ship showed up in the harbour was that everyone retreated to the Hora to wait for them to leave. If they didn't leave within a day or two, they would send an old woman down to ask what they wanted. If she came back alive, they knew it was ok and they could relax and get back to life as usual, trading, tending to their fields and goats or fishing boats.

Part of the protection against attacks was to build close together with narrow lanes. There is also limited room on top of a these steep hills so everything got packed together. Today, there's usually a narrow switch-backed paved road up to the base of the Hora, but from there on, you're walking up steeply stepped lanes. It's all very charming and laid-back. Most all the buildings are masonry to keep it cool in the hot summer. It's also very windy in the Aegean during the summer and stormy in the winter, so everything is built very well.

Still today as has always been, donkeys are used to get supplies, food, water, building materials, etc. up to your home. Being a donkey operator is an old and respected, not to mention invaluable business. They can also make an extra buck giving silly tourists a ride. They're lovely animals, gentle but strong, true beasts of burden, a long standing companion to humans. Imagine donkeys loaded with bags of concrete and piles of brick trudging up narrow steep lanes. They're always grateful for an extra carrot you might be carrying in your pocket.

Anyway, back to that menu. It was unusual as it was thick and packed with poems and quotes, mostly in Greek. But the first one was in English by a Greek philosopher.  God (I mean Zeus of course) knows there have been many Greek philosophers over the centuries, but this one is more contemporary. In our travels, I find it all so interesting to try to understand how the local people think, what's important in their lives, their views on life and death, and the daily trials and tribulations they deal with.

So, here's the quote that says it all:

" The Hellenic way of existence denotes 4 types of behaviour.
  • To accept the truth that derives from nature, not the quasi-truth that the human mind creates
  • To live according to morality of knowledge, not the molarity of superstition
  • To deify beauty because beauty is as mighty as your mind and corruptible as flesh
  • And what is most; to love man. How else! Man is the most tragic being in the universe."
              Dimitris Liantinis, "The Greek"

On June, 1st 1998 Liantinis disappeared, leaving a letter to his daughter, Diotima, where he stated his decision to vanish by his own free will after a lifelong and step by step preparation. As it was natural, his unexpected disappearance, evoked public opinion and led to many controversial speculations. After seven years (July 2005), Panagiotis Nikolakakos, cousin of Liantinis, revealed to Diotima the crypt in the mountain Taygetos, where her father layed,as has been instructed to do so by Liantinis himself prior to his "departure".

And so goes life (and death) in the Greek islands, year-after-year, century-after-century, which of course brings me to "Bougotsa". Bougotsa is a Greek speciality, found in most all bakeries in all the islands. It's a cream filled, usually semolina custard wrapped in phyllo dough and baked to perfection. It's usually served hot out of the oven, if you get there in time that is. When you're too late getting to the bakery in the morning and it's all gone, you tend to think about Dimitris as you walk away, shoulders slouched over, and moist eyes. But when you do make it, well, life couldn't be any better and you think Dimitris spent too much time in the city and not enough in the island cafes and bakeries.

So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds are fair (somewhere on the planet), the seas calm (on very rare occasion in the Aegean), and the crew content (that it's finally cooling off after 3 years in the topics).

With Equanimity and Joy,


Monday, 7 September 2015

Glorious Greece - Part V: Southern Cyclades and the mouse

packed quay at Serifos
Serifos view to the Chora
We are working our way slowly back east across the Aegean to Rhodes and then to Turkey. We've stopped at Serifos, Sifnos, Kilimnos, Milos, Folegandros and are now sitting at anchor in Ios with the Meltemi blowing strongly. Each of these islands has it's own charms and challenges. Serifos has a beautiful Chora (main town) perched high atop the cliffs and a small harbor town below, but the anchorage was small and we decided to tie up to the quay when the winds looked like they'd come up into the bay from the south. They quay was jam-packed and people were noisy all night... not our thing.

Kilimnos Hora
We anchored in Vathi, a small bay on SW Sifnos island. It has beautiful turquoise green waters but not much else and with good conditions we decided to head on to Kilimnos then Milos. We found a lovely little spot just north of Psathi on Kilimnos and enjoyed a long swim through rock arches and along the coast. We didn't go ashore here either and the following day headed for Milos and to check out a few possible anchorages for the upcoming Meltemi blow. The Milos bay harborfront was generally uninspiring, but we picked up a solid mooring, which we liked. We decided we didn't really want to spend more time in Milos and headed back for a good anchorage we spied along a sandy beach under Kilimnos and happily sat there for a few days until we could continue on to Folegandros.

Folegandros Hora
The "main" harbor of Folegandros is small with a little bay and quay. There was only one boat tied there and we decided it would be better to tie up then to anchor... bad decision. Although it was easy to check in/out and the bus stop was steps from our boat, we had the typical issues of boats muscling their way in and being packed like sardines. And then there was the mouse.

There is always a possibility of getting rodents on board when tied to shore, but there were tons of cats around so I thought it was unlikely we'd have a problem. We took the bus that evening up to the Chora, then walked a zigzag path higher to the summit and enjoyed spectacular views across the island from the church above. We found a place for gyros (yummy!) and a Greek salad for dinner and then returned to the boat for a good night's sleep. And then there was the mouse...

Roger woke during the night feeling something tickling his hair and got up to take a look around. He spied a tiny mouse in the cockpit, which jumped up and through the open windscreen. Although I love mice, having any sort of rodent on board is awful because they love to chew on electrical wires, which would compromise our navigation and other critical systems on board. We needed to get him out. So armed with a fly (mouse) swatter, we moved the dinghy around on the bow, hoping to scare the small beast out and off the boat the same way he came. We discovered mouse droppings on the stove top the next morning so there could be more than one and they could be anywhere. Off I went to the only hardware store on the entire island, to buy a mouse trap. Once back on board we decided to leave the quay and anchor so we didn't acquire any additional unauthorized crew on board and to get away from the incompetent cruisers tied up next to us. We set the trap and our expectations of hearing it go snap in the night, then went to bed. Next morning, empty trap and no droppings. We were considering the possibility that our stowaway thought better of remaining on board and headed to shore. Two days later, still no sign of him. We're still keeping watch but we're hoping he made it off safely. On further consideration, all the cats at the harbor were pretty skinny, so what's up with that?

With Equanimity and Joy,