We have been travelling up the West coast of the island of Evia, the second largest of the 16,000 Greek islands. A spine of mountains curves up most of its length, the largest at 1743m is Mount Dirfyn which has been in our sights the whole time, with snow clinging to its steep sides. On this coast there are inlets and bays, pine woods, beaches and some great sailing. The passage up the coast of Evia and into the Gulf of Volos has included consistently good sailing – today our average speed must have been 6 knots and a lot of the time 7 and, sometimes, 8 showed up. There has been more wildlife too than the Ionian or the Peloponnese with sightings of dolphins and fish along with plentiful birdsong.
At the narrow point between the mainland and Evia at Khalkhis, we tied up between, and were dwarfed by, two huge ships. We were met by a fellow yachtsman who was really happy to see us as the Port Police were reluctant to open the bridge for only one yacht. Now we were two and stood more of a chance of getting through that night (the bridge only opens once a day - at midnight!). We had to move from our rather grand berth to the marina and raft up to await radio instructions from the port police. So darkness fell and we prepared ourselves to negotiate the famous Evripous Channel where the current changes direction many times daily and the speed can reach 6 knots. Here, so the story goes, Aristotle flung himself in to the waters in despair and drowned because he failed to make sense of this phenomenon – no Eureka moment. As we obediently followed behind ‘Miss Behavin Again’ we witnessed the fascination that the water still holds as both banks were crowded with spectators. After anchoring for the night just north of the bridge we set off early for
The Lonely Planet describes it as a ‘sedate spa resort’. We loved it but found it sadly crumbling. There are therapeutic sulphur waters, no smell but steam rising up out of the drain covers and hot water bubbling down the street gutters. We stumbled across a really lovely old Roman (we thought) bathhouse, sadly it had gone to ruin but must have been wonderful in its prime.
I had a pre birthday treat at the Thermae Sylla Hotel – it was gorgeous, designed in the image of a grand Roman Villa, we must have reduced the average age quite a bit -- and that is saying something. There were many ladies of a certain age and speed, shuffling along in their white towelling robes to take the waters or take advantage of a massage by a fit young man. We were not au fait with how it all worked and took our showers at the wrong time/place and paddled out from the indoor to the outdoor pool clutching our books and shoes only to see others sauntering along a path to the same destination - duh! Not natural spa people but it was all worth it to see my husband decked out in a towelling robe and we did enjoy our little taste of sophistication and we got CLEAN. My feet were lovely and pink rather than the rather grubby grey black they become on the boat in summer.
Three big fishing boats were tied up opposite and crewed by Egyptian fishermen. My informant, Leonides who made it a habit to come down after lunch on his scooter to visit every day, said the Egyptians were cheaper than Greeks, could be paid in kind, were thankful to be away from Egypt and were the best seamen you could find. It was a peaceful scene on the boats, groups of men sat quietly under the awnings smoking their hubble bubble pipes, washing strung out on the line, nets neat and tidy ready for the evenings’ work and the more religious amongst them observing their prayers at regular times of the day. However they didn’t look particularly friendly, not like the Greeks who always find something to start a conversation about. One man broke ranks and came to us and asked for beer then later delivered us a great deal of slivery slivery sardines – we realised we had done a barter. On our first night Andy counted no less than 27 fishing boats scattered along the horizon, including our three. About four hours later our boats came steaming back to port and in the slickest operation we have witnessed, tied up on the seaward side of the harbour wall, unloaded their catch and had them loaded into a van so fast it was hard to keep up with the count, but we reckon there were 60 boxes per boat. All this before midnight so the fish would make the early morning markets and a good price and a bonus for the Egyptians, we hope. It was over in a flash and then the boats were back out again.
Our last stop on Evia was timed to coincide with Tim and Louise getting married in the UK. We anchored, opened a bottle of champagne and toasted the newlyweds with lots of good wishes at exactly the time that they were getting hitched. We then turned north into the Gulf of Volos and a week of cloudy and windy weather – twice we were stuck on the boat for a couple of days and yesterday the cabin temperature was down to 16’, we breakfasted on porridge and needed hot water bottles and wore socks – unbelievable!
Our Greek is coming along and our latest ploy and breakthrough has come with the Olympia Radio shipping forecast. Suddenly the light has gone on – Oh it’s so satisfying! – ‘To all sheeps, to all sheeps, to all sheeps’ is ‘pros ola ta plia’ so simple why didn’t we get it ages ago? It is so exciting to decode the words and we are furiously trying to untangle the rest but she speaks so fast I am still processing one word, or was it three, and she has finished the sentence.
I have to say a word about my salad garden which I sowed in a trough while still in the boatyard. Tonight with a little sadness I harvested some. I have watched the them grow and I have nurtured them, it felt quite a betrayal to eat them. However I did it all with respect, preparing them with a last water and touch of the sun before dousing them with caper and lime vinaigrette and eating with fried Halloumi – yummy.
When is a Taverna not a Taverna ?
We really have to get smarter at reading the signs of places we visit. We had psyched ourselves up for a taverna and had prepared the appropriate phrases. The waitress was funny. She looked a bit put out when we asked for wine and a more substantial dish from the limited menu and she was very inflexible about the placing of chairs. The table was small and the four chairs made it a bit crowded so I moved one to another table as did Andy. At this point there was nobody else in the place but with a great tutting and a tirade in Greek they were smartly placed back in their original position. Later we noticed the form – you sit on one and place your feet on the rungs of the other – obvious.
She obviously knew her clientele extremely well and what they would order. Our deserted taverna was turning into the happening place to be in this empty little village. I don’t know where they all came from but she had the trays ready; 2 little bottles of ouzo, a bowl of ice, water and two little plates of mezedhes – fish, beans, octopus and the bill squewered on a metal rod. It was then that we realised that our taverna, was an Ouzeri.
Sunshine and the Sporades
Today the sun came out for the first time in a week and we have arrived in the Northern Sporades. Lawrence Durrell calls them the ‘scallywags’ - Skiathos, Skopelos and Skiros, so ................... Scallywags here we come............…
Jinti and Andy
21 May 2012
Selkie Dancer Salad