.. and is there honey still ..

…  for tea? - see box

Well, maybe not for tea but with yoghurt in the morning, dripping from , baklava as a treat after a late night ouzeri trip or mixed with nuts and fruit anytime.

I’m up early, the water torture of a North Westerly wind crashing up our backsides, noisily slapping under the bunk is not conducive to rest.  So this is a good opportunity to finish writing about the last few weeks.

Where boats are concerned, plans can never be rigid, you can never tell what is going to crop up and on this trip the worry about the anchor windlass has prevented us from going further north to Thessaloniki and Chalkidiki.  But we are determined to do this next year, and already have a loose plan hatching.  In the meantime we have really enjoyed this Northern Sporades group of islands, the so called ‘scallywags’ that Lawrence Durrell wrote about in his ‘The Greek Islands’ (a wonderful book with magical observations that capture the islands at a specific time, I think in the 1970’s) who conveniently ignored Alonissos as it ‘spoils the euphony of my (his) theme’.  Well, he may have dismissed it with a fancy word that sent me to the dictionary, but we found it charming and it has the clearest waters we’ve ever seen.

We are in Skyros, where King Lykomedes got so fed up with an aged Theseus boring on and on about his exploits that he flung him off the cliffs; it is the island where Rupert Brooke died in 1915 on a French hospital ship and is buried in a rather grand tomb surrounded by olives overlooking the sea (the part of a foreign field that is forever England) and where Achilles was famously sent by his mother, disguised as a girl, to avoid his going off to the Trojan wars and his predicted early death – didn’t work – clever old Odysseus found him out and off he went to fulfil the prophecy.  This sojourn of his apparently explains why there are still transvestite elements in festivals on the island.  Anyway to get back to the travel, I always seem to begin at the end, but now will go back to the beginning.


Skiathos

In Skiathos we anchored underneath the Kastro early one morning before anyone else had arrived.  This dramatic, pirate proof old capital is perched on top of an imposing rocky cape on the north of the island.  For around 300 years it provided safety for the people. There were hundreds of houses and at least 20 churches, the only access being by drawbridge.  Now it is a tumble of old stones, most of it in ruins except for four churches, tiny chapels really, that have been restored and the only mosque now houses building materials.  It is beautiful; the winding, roughly cobbled stone paths lead you up and under shady figs, around old olive trees and over their knobbly roots.  Had we been there a few weeks earlier there would have been a brighter riot of colour from flowers, wild and cultivated, as it was they were in abundance still, thistles, prickly pear, lavatera, hollyhocks, geraniums, iris and wild flowers I cannot name creeping through rocks and spreading colour over the ground.  Outside one of the churches, the most fragrant of roses filled the air with its scent before we stepped down out of the daylight and in through a small dark door into the smell of old incense that enveloped us in an air rich with spirituality.  Candles burned dully, dimly reflecting light on the bronze candelabras and old frescoes appeared in patches on the walls.

From the topmost point where the old cannon lies we got tremendous views and admired Selkie Dancer bobbing at anchor and being threatened, not by pirates, but by the first of the tripper boats arriving.We descended to a ‘taverna’, a rather grand name for a makeshift hut and decking put together with what seemed like, and could easily have been, cast off planks and drift wood.  I asked for a cappuccino and got a gentle laughing response to the effect that this was no hip city cafe and that I could have a cold Nescafe or beer.  I wondered how all the supplies got to this remote place as there are only steep paths amid thick vegetation.  I thought possibly by boat but when he pointed upwards I could see the mule and that’s how it is!


Skopelos

Skopelos town is really pretty, built amphitheatrically with white washed houses topped by red or flat greenish stone roofs crammed together and churches everywhere among them. Here, we made contact with Kath, who is in my Edinburgh Greek class and conveniently has a flat here, and was here on holiday. So she has acted as courier and brought all the bits and pieces Andy needs to fix the windlass.  He did all the work, not a comfortable job taking the windlass out of the small anchor well, bringing it into the forward heads, replacing the bearings and putting it all back together again.  I returned from a trip to town and the boat was like the Marie Celeste, tools and bits scattered down below, no sign of my husband; I talked to the fisherman sitting on the dock and he thought he’d seen him going off with the electricity and water man, then a head popped up out of the anchor well and there he’d been all along!  It has since transpired that it is an electrical problem so after another sweaty few hours putting everything BACK the way it was and then of fiddling around with hidden trip switches we didn’t know we had, all is now well.  All of this has been with the support of John from Paisley who has been advising from long distance!


Mama Mia

‘The winner takes it all!’  Abba! (aghh! the tunes rush around your head unbidden, for the rest of the week). Our ipod is blaring loudly in the cockpit as, accompanied by dolphins, we approach a rocky outcrop where, right at the top, is built a chapel to St John. This is where the final scenes of Mama Mia were shot. Meryl and Pierce sang here, Jinti and Andy made a weak attempt.  This spot, like the stage show, is enjoyed by many nationalities and a family of Korean visitors were there snapping photos and playing their iphones on the Mama Mia soundtrack.  We finished our visit with a fabulous swim in the clear, clear water, then lunch and off for a brisk sail to


Alonissos

It is so pretty, the water indescribably clear, part of a marine park, although what that actually means we never found out – it is the home, of the rare monk seal.

A walk from Patitiri up to the old village which having been badly damaged in an 1965 earthquake is now being gentrified and occupied – a lot of German and British.  It is an undeniably attractive setting on the top of a hill looking out over the sea and islands, colourful with shutters and doors and flowers but here they are not planted in old oil or feta cheese cans but in arty pots tastefully selected. Up there we met two great Irish ladies who were going to sail with us to Skopelos had they been able to swap their boat trip to another day.  Sadly they couldn’t.  We had been to an ouzeri the night before and I had asked if it would be possible to buy some of their starters so before we left I arrived armed with my containers and they were filled with skordalia, tzaziki, and melanzanasalata – then the owner joked that he would charge me an extra euro for giving me the recipes.  I have tried the aubergine dip and it was delish.


Kira Panayia

Is a deserted island.  In the guide it says there is a monastery, one monk, a bull and some goats.  We saw the goats, no bull but a pony.  The monastery must be in use a little as there are patches of neatly tended olive groves, only very few, most of it is rugged and empty.  The northern anchorage was much the prettiest and we had a good swim and while sitting watching our feet being approached by little fishes (who needs to go to the high street to get their feet nibbled?) we were surprised by a squid rushing past our feet, it reminded Andy of a jet propelled Martian of Eagle comic fame!  Things do rush along here. Yesterday an orthodox priest raced by standing at the helm of a fast motor boat, tall hat defying the wind, beard and black cassock flying; a squadron of Mediterranean shags, looking like a flotilla of submarines swim out of the bay and then dive delicately into the water; little Mediterranean shearwaters gather in busy groups and then with a rapid, loud flapping of wings take to the air, swooping and gliding.  Anyway back to Kira Panayia, sadly we had no sighting of monk seals and so we left for a long boring motor to Skyros - en route we had a fright when we both thought we heard an unusual noise.  All unusual noises get checked out anxiously – well,  Andy convinced himself that there was something amiss with the prop and it’s easy to get spooked and with imagination not hard to visualize your prop falling off, so we reduced power and took an hour or two longer. We dug out the Scotsman crossword book in desperation and were totally humiliated.


Skyros

Above our first anchorage off Skyros there was a crumbling building, the area around it fenced off. Goats were in occupation their bells clanged constantly and in the morning with an early flurry they all came out for first playtime, there was the usual protester out on the roof and a solitary escapee on the rocks;  the others all crowded together to decide what to do today – oh let’s forage for a change!

The only port in Skyros is Linaria - although there is a scandal of an unfinished ‘marina’ on the hostile east coast, one that will never be usable.  Unusually, in our experience, Linaria is organized and clean.  We were hailed by the port manager, it seems to be run by a kind of co-operative, who assisted in shoe horning us in between the Hellenic coastguard (the familiar orange and blue vessel of an RNLI boat!) and a large German Bavaria.  Selkie Dancer came in very nicely, once again the midships line proving its value.  We’ve been handed the Skyros Port Fund information booklet, booked the hire car for tomorrow, actually it is already in the car park, unlocked and waiting for us.  We’ve handed over 35 euros cash, no driving licence needed just bring the car back full and leave the keys under the driver’s mat and, by the way, don’t lock it because that doesn’t work so well!

Here, when the daily ferry arrives it plays ‘Thus spake Zarathustra’ loudly over its PA system. For the rest of the time it is sleepy, calm and clean.  It proclaims itself to be amongst the ‘cleanest ports of the Greek archipelago’ I’ve never seen so many notices admonishing you not to do this and encouraging you to do that, so many recycle bins that are actually doing their job.  The leaflet goes on with the usual endearing interpretations of English, a few examples – “The port fund is exhausted within the limits of Linaria”, “Valaxa isle has been renown as a reach lamb and goat feeding place” and I love the fact that because of the extraordinary environment on an adjacent islet, plants show “a trend of gigantism”, and “waters are swallower and warmer”


Skyros is the most southerly and most remote of the Northern Sporades group and is very different.  The island is thin in the middle, almost splitting itself with different topography and vegetation north and south.  The northern part is mountainous with  thick pine woods to the west.  Everywhere, like the rhododendron at home, pink and white oleander grows like a weed spreading up the water courses. The southern part is barren and rocky with only a Naval Base monopolizing a huge, wide, beautiful and sheltered bay.  The road to the South is lined with massive rough stones that have been stacked up and built into primitive sculptures – we did one too and then, so exciting, looking out of the window searching for the elusive Eleanora’s Falcon, I noticed an unusual movement and there, perched right alongside, was a tiny owl, large round eyes surveying us coolly.  The Chora, the capital, more resembles the Cyclades in architecture, with white cubist houses and colourful shutters.  Here, on our way up to the high Kastro, we were beckoned by a small black clad, bewhiskered lady, whose door was open.  She wanted us to look in and see a typical Skyrian house.  It was lovely, reminded me of a black house only more sophisticated.  Basically it was one room, dark panelling surrounded by colourful ceramics, embroidery and copperware – where wood could be carved or painted it was – there was a screen about two thirds of the way down ornately carved which separated and hid the working area of the house, preparation of food, cooking etc. from the ‘best room’.  Stairs led up to an area above where the whole family slept.  

The Kastro is being renovated and so closed to all but the French who have the gall (no pun intended) to wander everywhere and shrug their ignorance if challenged.  Unfortunately I understood the word ‘forbidden’ and like the law abiding person I am did what I was told.  I turned away to see a builder approaching up the path, smudged white tee shirt, torn and faded cut off jeans, hard hat and a heavy bag slung over his shoulder, it was only when he moved past me that I saw, to my horror, that it was not builders’ materials but the bloody corpse of a sheep or goat – I guessed work was about to cease for a spit roast lunch.

There is a statue to Rupert Brooke in a square overlooking the sea and nearby two good museums.  An archaeological one showing finds from a Bronze Age fortress at Palamari which we later visited and found fascinating and another which was a private museum.  This was part art gallery, part library, part folk museum, a labyrinthine many layered house with an eclectic mix of old wooden farm or industrial implements, writings, paintings, books, sculptures and a great deal of art of the founder’s son Manos Faltaits, who, as we were leaving, was holding forth to an enraptured group.

The wild Skyrian festival before Lent is a very important to tne islanders; they are very proud that it has an unbroken tradition.  It is a very deeply rooted in the island psyche.  Masked in sinister goat’s skulls and draped in animal skins, hung around with goat bells these unsettling apparitions scare away the winter to make way for the spring.  Traditionally men do the dressing up and there are brides for the disturbing, part animal part humans to career around making merry, feasting and creating a lot of noise

The moon is on its constant chase of the sun across the sky, it has fattened over the last few weeks and now, because I’ve taken so long to write this all it is waning again!  The days are hotter and the seas warming to a more acceptable temperature and so we proceed south west to the Saronic Gulf and Andy’s relations.


Jinti

10 June 2012

If I should die ….

Andy in the Skiathos Castro - Selkie Dancer in the bay

Jinti approaching the Kastro Drawbridge - Selkie Dancer sits serene

 .. in through a small dark door into the smell of incense that enveloped us ..

Dolphins en route to Mama Mia

Jinti on the Mama Mia set

Aground or in 3 metres?  The very clear water of Alonnisos

Jinti builds our cairn

Jinti signs the book in the folk museum - miniature adult furniture as the houses are so small.

Presumably an owl

*extract from ‘The Old Vicarage’ by Rupert Brooke


‘And after; ere the night is born,

Do hares come out about the cornmon?

Oh, is the water sweet and cool,

Gentle and brown above the pool?

And laughs the immortal river still

Under the mill, under the mill?

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?

And Certainty? And Quiet kind?

Deep meadows yet, for to forget

The lies, and truths, and pain?....oh! yet

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?

And is there honey still for tea?


Linania Harbour

Heading south from the Sporades for warmer climes

Click this text for the chart for  April to July  2012